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Frequently Asked Questions

Wisconsin Retirement System

Where can I find the monthly tax withholding tables?

Is there a minimum number of years that I have to work under the WRS (Wisconsin Retirement System) to be vested?

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 retire?

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 benefit.

What happens if I leave the WRS before my earliest retirement age? Do I have to withdraw my retirement account?

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 purchase provisions.

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 I retire?

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 specialist.

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 standard sequence.

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 benefit?

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 participation?

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 before 1999.

You are not eligible to elect participation in the Variable Fund if you:

  • 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 began.

  • 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 are calculated.

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