Frequently Asked Questions
Retirement when Your Employer Dissolves
Updated April 2016
Occasionally, public employers that participate in the Wisconsin Retirement System dissolve and the services previously provided by those public entities are privatized. Under federal government rules, private employers are not allowed to participate in public pension plans, such as the WRS. The purpose of this document is to answer some of the frequently asked questions from individuals who have a WRS account and who no longer work for an employer that is in the WRS.
What happens to my WRS retirement account if my employer is privatized?
Your WRS account will remain with the Department of Employee Trust Funds, the state agency that administers WRS benefits, until you decide to take it out. Although you and your employer won’t make contributions to the account once your employer dissolves, you can keep your account with ETF. There is no fee to keep your WRS account with ETF and your account will continue to earn interest. No action is necessary to keep your account with ETF.
When and how can I take out my WRS account balance?
There are three ways:
- Retirement Benefit: You may apply for a retirement benefit once you have terminated all WRS employment, you have reached minimum retirement age for your employment category and you are vested. If your WRS account meets minimum balance thresholds, you will qualify for a monthly annuity, which is payable for your lifetime. Depending on the annuity option you choose, it may also include a death benefit. If your WRS account does not meet minimum balance thresholds, you will be restricted to a one-time lump sum payment. See the Applying for Your Retirement Benefit (ET-4106) brochure for additional information.
- Separation Benefit: You may take a separation benefit if you no longer work for a WRS employer and are not minimum retirement age. A separation benefit is a one-time lump sum payment consisting only of employee contributions, additional contributions (if applicable) and accumulated interest. By taking a separation benefit, you would forfeit all of your employer’s matching contributions and the interest earned on those contributions (approximately one-half of the value of your WRS account). For more information, see the Separation Benefits (ET-3101) brochure.
- Required Minimum Distribution: If you are no longer working under the WRS, federal law requires you to receive an annual disbursement known as a required minimum distribution (RMD) beginning in the year in which you reach age 70½.
- ETF will notify you in the year you turn 69½ of your options. You will be able to apply for your benefits, rollover your benefits to another qualified plan or defer your benefits until March 1 of the calendar year in which you reach age 71½.
- If you do not respond by December 31 of the year you reach age 69½, ETF must make an automatic distribution of the entire account balance on or after the next January 1. This could result in undesired outcomes such as a tax consequence or an effective date or type of payment that you do not want. It is important for you to contact ETF before an automatic distribution is required.
How does not being an active employee for a WRS employer affect my WRS retirement account?
You can leave your account balance in the WRS after your employer dissolves. However, if you do not subsequently become employed with a different WRS employer in a position that meets WRS eligibility criteria, you will become an inactive WRS member.
- If you die as an inactive member, the death benefit includes only employee-required contributions, voluntary additional contributions (if applicable) and accumulated interest. This is approximately one-half the value of your WRS account because an inactive death benefit does not include employer-required contributions.
- If you die as an active WRS employee and have not reached minimum retirement age (age 55 for most, age 50 for protective occupations), the death benefit consists of your full WRS account value including all employee and employer-required contributions, voluntary additional contributions (if applicable) and accumulated interest.
- If your death occurs after you begin a WRS annuity, any death benefits available are determined by the annuity option you selected upon retirement.
Who do I contact if I have questions about my WRS retirement account and benefits?
The Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds
- Call us toll free at 1-877-533-5020. Benefit specialists are available by phone from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (CST) Monday-Friday
- Email us by visiting www.etf.wi.gov/contact.htm
- Visit the ETF website for additional information, and to find all the brochures listed here
You should also speak with your payroll office about things like health insurance COBRA rights, possible life insurance conversion and potential reinstatement rights.