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An employee pension plan is one of the biggest perks of the Virginia Retirement System

The Virginia Retirement System, or VRS, is the state agency that administers the pension fund for state employees. The pension fund is the 19th largest in the U.S., and paid out roughly $5 billion in benefits to about 214,000 retirees and their beneficiaries in 2019. VRS also manages life insurance benefits, long-term care programs, severance benefits, military leave benefits and the 457 deferred compensation plan. If you are nearing retirement and need help planning your finances, our SmartAdvisor tool can match you with up to three financial advisors.

Types of Retirement Systems in Virginia

In general, VRS covers full-time permanent, salaried employees. It also covers public college and university faculty and employees, school division employees and employees of VRS-participating political subdivisions. Additionally, some part-time permanent, salaried state employees are members. Your plan depends on your exact position. Beyond that, your age, average final compensation and accrued service credit will determine your benefits in the Virginia Retirement System.

– Full-time/salaried employees of participating counties, cities, towns, commissions and authorities of the state (political subdivisions)

– Employees and officers appointed to a deputy, director or counsel position by the state governor, attorney general or lieutenant governor

Virginia Retirement Systems
Plan Title Eligible Employees
State Employees, Teachers and General Political Subdivision Employees – Full-time/salaried employees and teachers at state universities, colleges and local public schools
State Police Officers’ Retirement System (SPORS) – State police officers
Political Subdivision Employees Eligible for Enhanced Hazardous Duty Coverage – Local police, firefighters and emergency technicians
– Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs
– Superintendents and officers at regional jails
Virginia Law Officers’ Retirement System (VaLORS) – Capital police, conservation police, campus police, state correctional, state juvenile correctional, state parole, marine resource and commercial vehicle enforcement officers
– Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) special agents
Judicial Retirement System (JRS) – Elected or appointed judge of the State Corporation Commission or the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission
– Elected or appointed commissioner of the State Corporation Commission or the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission
Hybrid Retirement Plan – State employees, school division employees, political subdivision employees and appointed or elected judges beginning a term on or after 1/1/2014
– Must have no past service credit and have become a member on or after 1/1/2014
Optional Retirement Plan for School Superintendents (ORPSS) – New school superintendents
– Those hired prior to 7/1/2010 or anyone who’s re-hired with past service credit from before 7/1/2010
– Employees hired on or after 7/1/2010 with no service credit
Optional Retirement Plan for Political Appointees (ORPPA)
Optional Retirement Plan for Higher Education (ORPHE) – Full- and part-time teaching, administrative and research staff at participating public institutions
– Presidents at participating higher education institutions
– Chancellors and presidents with the Virginia Community College System
Commonwealth of Virginia 457 Deferred Compensation Plan – Both waged and salaried employees of state agencies, school divisions and political subdivisions

Overview of Virginia’s Retirement Systems

Smiling Virginia State officers, who are members of the Virginia Retirement System

Benefits and rules for the first four systems listed below depend on whether you are part of “Plan 1” or “Plan 2.” Here’s how to determine which one you belong to:

  • Plan 1: Hired/rehired prior to 7/1/2010 OR have at least five years of service credit by 1/1/2013
  • Plan 2: Hired/rehired prior to 7/1/2010, but do not have at least five years of service credit by 1/1/2013 OR hired/rehired from 7/1/2010 to 12/31/2013

State Employees, Teachers and General Political Subdivision Employees – This plan comes in two variations: Plan 1 and Plan 2. They’re largely similar, with one distinct difference in how monthly retirement distributions are calculated. Plan 1 takes an average from 36 months of your highest creditable pay. Plan 2 increases that to 60 months.

State Police Officers’ Retirement System (SPORS) – Monthly pension payments are based on the average of 36 or 60 months of your highest compensation for Plan 1 and Plan 2, respectively. For holding a “hazardous” job, you have access to a 1.85% retirement multiplier.

Political Subdivision Employees Eligible for Enhanced Hazardous Duty Coverage – This includes benefits that are very much in line with what the State Employees, Teachers and General Political Subdivision Employees plan provides. For holding a hazardous profession, you will receive distribution multipliers.

Virginia Law Officers’ Retirement System (VaLORS) – Pension payments through VaLORS is determined by service time and average final compensation – 36 months for Plan 1 and 60 months for Plan 2. You also have access to disability coverage, long-term care benefits, life insurance and other financial benefits for your beneficiaries.

Judicial Retirement System (JRS) – Depending on a few time-related factors, JRS members are either in Plan 1, Plan 2 or the Hybrid Retirement Plan. Plan 1 and Plan 2 are nearly identical, with just a few differences in the way your monthly retirement payments are computed. As its name suggests, the hybrid plan combines the perks of a defined benefit plan and a defined contribution plan. This gives participants much more choice over their retirement plan investments.

  • JRS Plan 1: Membership date is before 7/1/2010, vested prior to 1/1/2013, have not taken a refund and appointed/elected to an original term before 1/1/2014
  • JRS Plan 2: Membership date is from 7/1/2010 to 12/31/2013, have not taken a refund and appointed/elected to an original term before 1/1/2014
    • Also covered under Plan 2 if membership date is before 1/1/2010, vesting date before 1/1/2013 and appointed/elected to an original term before 1/1/2014
  • JRS Hybrid Retirement Plan: Appointed/elected to an original term on or after 1/1/2014

Optional Retirement Plan for School Superintendents (ORPSS) – Should you choose the ORPSS, you will be joining a defined contribution plan. As with many other retirement plans, your investment choices include exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds and individual securities.

Optional Retirement Plan for Political Appointees (ORPPA) – The ORPPA has many of the same benefits as the ORPSS. Again, investment options include mutual funds, ETFs and individual securities. You choose your investments once you accrue $2,500 in savings.

Optional Retirement Plan for Higher Education (ORP) – The ORP provides access to health, long-term care and life insurance and allows for military or educational leave if necessary. Also, you are eligible to join the Commonwealth of Virginia 457 Deferred Compensation Plan (below).

457 Deferred Compensation Plan – With the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 457 plan, you can choose to make tax-deferred contributions or post-tax (Roth) contributions to your account. One big plus: there is no federal penalty for taking early retirement payments.

Retirement Taxes in Virginia

Federal

Once you retire and start receiving your pension, payments are subject to federal income tax. As with your paycheck, you can have taxes withheld from each check. Alternately, you can pay estimated taxes every quarter.

State

In the Virginia Retirement System, pensions earned in Virginia are subject to state income taxes. But you can deduct as much as $12,000 on your return if you are at least 65 years old. Also, you must make less than $50,000 as a single filer or $75,000 as a joint filer.

Current Financial Health of the Virginia Retirement System

The Virginia Retirement System helps public servants in their golden years

The 19th largest pension system in the country, the Virginia Retirement System consists of roughly 732,000 current and former public employees and their beneficiaries. Current members include 148,000 teachers, 111,000 political subdivision employees and 89,000 state employees. For fiscal year 2019, the pension fund reported a 6.7% return, net of fees, and ended the fiscal year at an all-time high of $82.3 billion.

Tips for Retirement Planning

  • Don’t go it alone. SmartAsset financial advisor matching tool will connect you with up to three financial advisors, based on your preferences. It’s free and takes only five minutes.
  • Set a concrete savings goal for retirement. Our retirement calculator can help you home in on a number that even takes local taxed into account. This number gives you something real to focus on, so you can be strategic and intentional.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Bill_Oxford, ©iStock.com/kali9, ©iStock.com/Sean_Pavone

Chris Thompson, CEPF® Chris Thompson is a retirement, savings, mortgage and credit card expert at SmartAsset. He has reviewed hundreds of credit cards and loves helping people find the one that best matches their financial needs. Chris is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. He graduated from Montclair State University where he received the Journalism Achievement Award. Chris’ articles have been featured in places like Yahoo Finance, MSN and Bleacher Report. He lives in New Jersey and is a Mets, Jets and Nets fan.
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