The state should ensure that pension systems are neutral, uniformly increasing pension wealth with each additional year of work.
Vermont's pension system is based on a benefit formula that is not neutral, meaning that each year of work does not accrue pension wealth in a uniform way until members reach conventional retirement age, such as that associated with Social Security.
Teachers' retirement wealth is determined by their monthly payments and the length of time they expect to receive those payments. Monthly payments are usually calculated as final average salary multiplied by years of service multiplied by a set multiplier (such as 1.5 percent). Higher salary, more years of service or a greater multiplier increases monthly payments and results in greater pension wealth. Earlier retirement eligibility with unreduced benefits also increases pension wealth, because more payments will be received.
To qualify as neutral, a pension formula must utilize a constant benefit multiplier and an eligibility timetable based solely on age, rather than years of service. Basing eligibility for retirement on years of service creates unnecessary and often unfair peaks in pension wealth, while allowing unreduced retirement at a young age creates incentives to retire early. Plans that change their multipliers for various years of service do not value each year of teaching equally. Therefore, plans with a constant multiplier and that base retirement on an age in line with Social Security are likely to create the most uniform accrual of wealth.
Vermont's pension plan no longer utilizes a constant benefit multiplier. The multiplier is 1.67 percent for years of service 1-20 and 2 percent for each year after 20. In addition, teachers may retire before standard retirement age based on years of service without a reduction in benefits. Teachers who were not within five years of retirement as of June 30, 2010, may retire with unreduced benefits when they qualify for the "Rule of 90," meaning their age plus years of service equal 90, while other vested teachers may not retire until age 65. Therefore, teachers who begin their careers at age 22 can reach the "Rule of 90" with 34 years of service by age 56, entitling them to nine additional years of unreduced retirement benefits beyond what other teachers would receive who may not retire until age 65. Teachers who were within five years of retirement as of June 30, 2010, are able to retire with 30 years of service or at age 62. Not only are teachers being paid benefits by the state well before Social Security's retirement age, but these provisions also may encourage effective teachers to retire early, and they fail to treat equally those teachers who enter the system at a later age and give the same amount of service.
The Vermont State Teachers' Retirement System, “Eligibility for Retirement,” http://www.vermonttreasurer.gov/sites/treasurer/files/pdf/retireTeacher/misc/Group%20C2%20Ret%20Eligibility.pdf (accessed 10/25/2016). The Vermont State Teachers' Retirement System, “VSTRS Group C Plan Description,” http://www.vermonttreasurer.gov/content/retirement/vstrs-plans/group-c (accessed 10/25/2016).
Utilize a constant benefit multiplier to calculate retirement benefits for all teachers, regardless of years of service.
Each year of service should accrue equal pension wealth. Vermont should use a pension formula that treats each year of service equally.
End retirement eligibility based on years of service.
Vermont should change its practice of allowing teachers whose age and years of service equal 90 to retire early with full benefits. If retirement at an earlier age is offered to some teachers, benefits should be reduced accordingly to compensate for the longer duration they will be awarded.
Align eligibility for retirement with unreduced benefits with Social Security retirement age.
Vermont allows all teachers to retire before conventional retirement age, some as young as 56. As life expectancies continue to increase, teachers may draw out of the system for many more years than they contributed. This is not compatible with a financially sustainable system (see pension sustainability goal).
Vermont did not respond to repeated requests to review this analysis.