2015 Pensions Policy
The state should ensure that pension systems are portable, flexible and fair to all teachers.
Utah offers the option of a defined contribution plan or a hybrid plan for all teachers. All new teachers have up to one year to choose, and the choice is irrevocable.
Utah's hybrid plan closely resembles a defined benefit plan. It is not fully portable, does not vest fully until year four and does not provide any guaranteed employer contribution for teachers who withdraw their accounts. It also limits flexibility by restricting the ability to purchase years of service.
Utah's hybrid plan consists of a defined contribution component funded by teachers' contributions and possible employer contributions, and a defined benefit component funded by employer contributions and, if needed, teacher contributions. Employers contribute 10 percent. If the defined benefit component's expenses are less than 10 percent, any excess goes into the teacher's defined contribution account. If the costs exceed 10 percent, teachers are required to contribute the difference (by automatic deduction from their salary) to fund the defined benefit component, and no employer funds will go into the employee's defined contribution account. Therefore, depending on plan expenses and market conditions, teachers may end up better off or worse off than a traditional defined benefit system. For fiscal year 2017, the cost of the defined benefit component was 8.22 percent; therefore, 1.78 percent from employers was deposited into the defined contribution component. Employees may make their own optional contributions to their 401(k) accounts.
Vesting in a defined benefit plan guarantees a teacher's eligibility to receive lifetime monthly benefit payments at retirement age. Non-vested teachers do not have a right to later retirement benefits; they may only withdraw the portion of their funds allowed by the plan. Utah's defined benefit component's vesting at four years of service is better than most states'; however, it still limits the options for many teachers who leave the system prior to this point. According to a recent report, 52 percent of employees in Utah's teacher-covered pension plan vest, meaning that 48 percent of teachers do not become eligible for a pension and, therefore, can only collect their refundable contributions. For the defined contribution component, teachers vest immediately in their own contributions and at four years of service in the optional employer contributions.
When teachers leave the system they may withdraw the portion of their accounts in which they are vested. Teachers with less than four years of service may only withdraw their own contributions with earnings or losses. Teachers with at least four years of service may withdraw their own plus the possible employer contributions with earnings or losses. Teachers may be leaving the system with no savings beyond Social Security. Furthermore, teachers who remain in the field of education but enter another pension plan (such as in another state) will find it difficult to purchase the time equivalent to their prior employment in the new system because they are not guaranteed any employer contribution.
Utah's defined benefit plan limits teachers' flexibility to purchase years of service. The ability to purchase time is important because defined benefit plans' retirement eligibility and benefit payments are often tied to the number of years a teacher has worked. Utah's plan allows teachers with four years of service to purchase unlimited time for previous teaching experience. While unlimited purchase is better than what most states allow, because teachers have to wait four years to purchase service, the cost may be much more expensive than if they were allowed to purchase all years at the start of service in Utah. In addition, the plan does not explicitly allow for the purchase of approved leaves of absence, such as maternity and paternity leave. (The state does allow the purchase of time while on short-term disability.) This is a disadvantage to those who need personal leaves of absence during the course of their career. Utah's defined contribution plan is fully portable and flexible for teachers.
In Utah's defined contribution plan, the full employer contribution of 10 percent goes into the teacher's account. The employee may make additional contributions. In defined contribution plans, full vesting entitles teachers access to their funds and any available employer contributions. Utah's defined contribution plan, like its hybrid plan, vests at four years for employer contributions and immediately for employee contributions (if any). When vested teachers end their service in Utah, they may withdraw their contributions, the employer contributions and their earnings or losses.
Utah Retirement Systems, Tier 2 Public Employees Contributory Retirement System Highlights, 2016-2017. Utah Retirement Systems, Final Tier 2 Retirement Contribution Rates as a Percentage of Salary and Wages, Fiscal Year July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017. Utah Retirement Systems, Purchasing Service Credit, revised May 2011.
Increase the portability of the defined benefit component of its hybrid plan.
If Utah maintains its defined benefit plan, it should allow all teachers that leave the system to withdraw their employer contributions. The state should also allow teachers to purchase at least one year per approved leave of absence and decrease the vesting requirement to year three. A lack of portability is a disincentive to an increasingly mobile teaching force.
Offer a fully portable supplemental retirement savings plan.
If Utah maintains its hybrid plan, the state should at least offer teachers the option of a fully portable supplemental defined contribution savings plan, with employers matching a percentage of teachers' contributions.
Utah did not respond to repeated requests to review this analysis.