Frequently Asked Questions
Wisconsin Retirement System
Where can I find the monthly tax withholding
Is there a minimum number of years that
I have to work under the WRS (Wisconsin Retirement System) to be
You may have to meet one of two vesting laws depending on when
you first began WRS employment.
- If you first began WRS employment after 1989 and terminated
employment before April 24, 1998, then you must have some WRS
creditable service in five calendar years.
- If you first began WRS employment on or after July 1, 2011,
then you must have five years of WRS creditable service.
If neither vesting law applies, you were vested when you first
began WRS employment. If you are not vested, you may only receive
a separation benefit.
What is the earliest age at which I can
All vested employees other than those in the protective category
(police, firefighters, etc.) can retire and receive a retirement
benefit at age 55; participants who have protective category service
(other than purchased service) can retire at age 50. If you are
not vested, regardless of your age, you may only receive a separation
What happens if I leave the WRS before
my earliest retirement age? Do I have to withdraw my retirement
No, you do not need to withdraw your account. If you terminate
employment before age 55 (age 50 for participants with protective
category service) you can either:
- take a separation benefit (take a lump sum refund of contributions
plus interest); or
- if you are vested, wait until you reach age 55 (50) or later
and apply for a retirement benefit, which is based on both employer
and employee contributions.
In the past, I worked in a position covered
under the WRS, but I left my job and withdrew my funds. Is there
any way I can get back the creditable service I forfeited when I
withdrew my money from the retirement system?
Yes, if you are currently employed under the WRS and meet the eligibility
criteria you can buy back your creditable service. Please refer
to the Buying Creditable Service
(ET-4121) brochure for detailed information about the eligibility
requirements and the cost of buying back your forfeited service.
Can I use my teaching or other government
employment with out-of state employers toward my WRS benefits?
Yes, if you are currently employed under the WRS you can purchase
your years of service with federal, state or local government employers
as creditable service in the WRS under the Other Government Service
I was not covered under the retirement
system for my first six months of employment. Is there any way I
can get credit for that six months toward my retirement benefit?
Yes, if you started employment as a non-teacher before 1973, you
served a six-month qualifying period before you became covered under
the Wisconsin Retirement System. You can purchase your six-month
qualifying period before you retire.
Can I get credit for my military service
toward my retirement benefit?
If you meet all eligibility criteria, you may be eligible to receive
WRS creditable service for active military service. A Military
Service Credit (ET-4122) brochure is available that provides
detailed information about eligibility for military service credit
in the WRS.
Can I get a lump sum benefit when I retire,
or am I limited to receiving a monthly annuity?
If your benefit is at least $350* per month (this amount increases
annually), you are restricted to a monthly annuity paid for your
lifetime. If your account provides an annuity of less than $350
per month, you are eligible to choose between a lump sum retirement
benefit or a monthly annuity. If your annuity is $172* or less per
month, you are restricted to a lump sum retirement benefit.
*The thresholds apply to retirement benefits that become effective
in 2012. The amounts of the thresholds change annually.
What should I do if I become disabled?
Are any disability benefits available through the WRS?
If you become permanently and totally disabled while you are actively
employed under the WRS, you may qualify for disability benefits.
If you meet the service requirements, your disability does not have
to be work-related to qualify.
For temporary or less severe disabilities, the Department of Employee
Trust Funds (ETF) also offers Income
Continuation Insurance to state employees, and to employees
of local WRS employers who have elected to participate in the Income
Continuation Insurance program.
When should I request retirement benefit
estimates, and when do I apply?
You should request your retirement estimates approximately six
to 12 months before you retire. We can accept your retirement application
up to 90 days before the date you terminate employment.
Do I need to come to your office when
No. You can request
your retirement estimate packet online, by
phone or in writing. You can submit your request online any
time. If you prefer to request it in writing, print the Retirement
Estimate Request (ET-4207).
The estimate packet will include: your application for benefits,
information about options and the How
to Retire brochure (ET-4133). The How to Retire brochure includes
directions on how to complete your application, general information
on many subjects and links to other brochures for further details.
Contact us if you have
questions about your estimates or applying.
You can submit your application in person or by mail. If you prefer
to handle your retirement in person, contact
us a few weeks in advance to make an appointment with a benefit
How do I find out who I have designated
as my beneficiary?
You may call or write ETF to request information about your current
beneficiaries, and we will send the information. ETF cannot provide
beneficiary information over the phone. If you file a new designation
form, it will supersede all forms you filed in the past. It will
govern your retirement account and your life insurance benefits
if you have the group life insurance coverage offered through ETF.
If you have not filed a beneficiary designation, any death benefits
will be distributed according to the statutory
It is extremely important that you keep your designation up
to date. Under the law, all death benefits must be paid according
to the most recent designation filed by you, regardless of any changes
in your personal situation such as divorce, remarriage, birth of
your children, etc.
Do I have to pay taxes on my retirement
If you live in Wisconsin, most of your benefit will be subject
to federal and state income taxes.
- The portion of your benefit that is based on pre-tax contributions
will be taxable. This includes your employee-required contributions.
- The portion of your benefit that is based on post-tax contributions
will not be taxable. This includes any additional contributions
that you made to your account with after-tax dollars.
If you live in another state, your benefit will be subject to the
state income tax laws in that state.
For more information:
I am not currently enrolled in the Variable
Fund and would like to participate. How do I elect Variable Fund
You are eligible to participate in the Variable Fund if:
- you have never participated in the Variable Fund; or
- you previously participated but canceled your Variable participation
You are not eligible to elect participation in the Variable Fund
- canceled your Variable participation after 1998; or
- terminated all employment covered under the WRS before 2001,
and you have not subsequently returned to WRS-covered employment.
Your Variable election applies only to new contributions made after
the date your Variable election becomes effective. No monies in
your existing account balance are transferred to the Variable Fund.
Once your Variable election becomes effective, 50% of all new contributions
to your account are deposited in the Variable Fund. This includes
service purchase payments and any voluntary additional contributions
made to your account.
A booklet entitled How Participation
in the Variable Trust Fund Affects Your WRS Benefits (ET-4930)
provides detailed information about the effect of Variable participation
on your WRS benefits.
I am currently enrolled in the Variable
Fund. How does participation in the Variable Fund affect my WRS
benefits? Can I cancel my participation in the Variable Fund?
If you are already enrolled in the Variable Fund, the annual Variable
investment returns will affect any WRS lump sum or monthly benefits
paid from your WRS account. A booklet entitled How
Participation in the Variable Trust Fund Affects Your WRS Benefits
(ET-4930) is available that provides detailed information about
how your benefits will be affected.
You can withdraw from the Variable Fund by filing an election to
cancel your participation.
- Your election to cancel becomes effective on January 1 of the
year after the year in which ETF receives it. Your account will
be credited with the Variable gain or loss for the year in which
we receive your election.
- Once your election becomes effective it is irrevocable; you
can never re-enroll in the Variable fund.
If I file an election to participate in
the Variable Fund, when will it become effective?
The effective date of your election depends on whether you are
a new or an ongoing WRS participant.
- If you are a new WRS participant and ETF receives your Variable
election within 30 days after the date you began WRS employment,
your election is effective on the date your WRS-covered employment
- If you are already a WRS participant, your Variable election
is effective on the January 1 after the date ETF received it.
I plan to retire within the next few years.
What impact will it have on my retirement benefits if I elect to
participate in the Variable Fund?
The closer you are to retirement when you elect to participate
in the Variable Fund, the less effect it will have on your retirement
benefit. Since only new contributions are split between the Variable
and the Core Funds, the amount you will have in the Variable Fund
will be smaller than if you had chosen to participate earlier.
- If you enroll in the Variable Fund shortly before your retirement,
the Variable adjustment to your formula annuity will be fairly
small because you will have a small percentage of your total account
invested in the Variable Fund.
- Most of your annuity will receive annual annuity adjustments,
only a small portion will receive the annual Variable adjustment.
Please read the How Participation
in the Variable Trust Fund Affects Your WRS Benefits (ET-4930)
booklet for a detailed explanation of how Variable Fund benefits