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WRS News Online Vol. 3, No. 4 - November 2017

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When Should You Retire?

When is the best time to retire – before the end of the year, or just after the start of the new year? Many members ask this question and our response is always the same: Picking a retirement date that provides the optimal annuity amount depends on your individual Wisconsin Retirement System account history.

Here are some key to-dos every member should know and factor into their decision-making process:

  1. Know whether your projected annuity amount would be higher under the Formula or the Money Purchase benefit calculation. How to find that out? Request an official WRS retirement benefit estimate; see section 10 in your most recent annual Statement of Benefits; or use our WRS Retirement Benefits Calculator.
  2. Learn how interest crediting affects your benefits. Specifically:
    • Know what ETF's calculations for effective rates are projected to be for calendar year 2017 (we use an actuarial assumption of 7.2%).
    • Take a look at 2017 calendar year-to-date returns for the Core and Variable Trust Funds (keep in mind: effective rate calculations are based on returns for the full calendar year – 12 months).
    • And speaking of the Variable Fund: know whether you currently participate in the Variable Fund and/or whether you have participated in the past; participation in the Variable may affect your benefit amount.

How does interest crediting affect my retirement benefit? Although it depends on your circumstances, interest crediting could play a role in providing a higher benefit, depending on the effective date of your annuity. The scenario below illustrates how interest crediting works:
WRS member Joan is thinking about retiring soon. According to Joan's account:

  1. She participates in the Core Fund only;
  2. She has never participated in the Variable Fund; and
  3. Her Money Purchase calculation would pay a higher annuity amount than her Formula calculation.

If Joan decides to make her annuity effective date in December, her WRS account balance will be credited with prorated 5% interest for the 11 months she worked in 2017 (which comes out to 4.583%).

If Joan decides to make her annuity effective date on or after January 1, 2018, her account balance will receive the actual effective rate of interest for 2017. This rate is announced in February and it incorporates 2017 calendar year investment performance.

For More Information


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Are You Financially Fit?

Financial stress can affect your personal health in many ways as it spills over into your home life, career, and friendships. In fact, research shows that financial stress results in $100 billion in lost profits and employee productivity annually in the U.S.

The Financial Fitness Program can help you get financially fit and feel more confident about your financial future. This free online program, available to all WRS members, offers exclusive education and planning tools to help you feel confident about setting and reaching your financial goals.

Start with a Financial Fitness Checkup, a confidential and secure online survey that helps you discover your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to personal finance, saving and investing, and retirement planning. Complete the check up in just 10 minutes – afterward, you can access:

  • New and improved tutorials, calculators and tools in the online Financial Fitness Academy; and
  • Financial Fitness Coaches who will work with you to understand your personal financial situation and help you set goals, create a plan, answer your questions, and much more!

Here are some of the helpful online tutorials you will find in the ACADEMYTM:

  • Introduction to Retirement Planning
  • Principles of Financial Planning
  • Personal Finance Basics
  • Save Money on Taxes While Saving for Retirement
  • Automatic Savings and Investment Plans
  • Financial Planning Made Simple

Get started on your financial wellness improvement journey today!

Sponsors and Partners

The Financial Fitness Program is offered by the Department of Employee Trust Funds in coordination with the Wisconsin Retired Educators Association, Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, and state and local government employers. Our project partners include:

  • Financial Fitness Group
  • Ameriprise Financial
  • Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
  • Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Personal Finance Employee Fund
  • University of Oxford

For More Information

  • Informational webinar (recorded), Get Financially Fit: ETF's Financial Fitness Program
  • Financial Fitness Program FAQs and more


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WRS Contribution Rates to Decrease

Wisconsin Retirement System contributions will decrease slightly for most members in 2018. How will this affect your paycheck? The table below shows the rates, expressed as a percentage of your salary. Contribution rate changes, whether increases or decreases, are considered normal for retirement systems that pre-fund retirement benefits.

WRS Required Contribution Rates 2018

Employee Category

Total Rate 2017

Total Rate 2018

Employee Share of Total Rate

Employer Share of Total Rate


General/Elected Official/Executive/Judge






Protective with Social Security





No change

Protective without Social Security






While the overall rate for Protective Occupation with Social Security category employees (i.e., law enforcement) in 2018 will be the same as 2017, the employee share will decrease slightly (.1%) and the employer share will increase slightly (.1%). For Protective without Social Security category employees, the employee share will decrease .1% in 2018 and remain the same for employers.

The WRS receives funding from three separate sources: employee contributions, employer contributions and investment earnings. Together, these must be sufficient to meet the present and future pension benefit commitments of the system. This "shared risk" feature is a major contributor to the stability and sound funding of the WRS, which is considered one of the best-designed, well-governed public pension plans in the U.S.

Keep in mind these important points:

  • Your WRS retirement benefit is pre-funded. Contributions and investment earnings are deposited into your account during your working years.
  • The ETF Board's consulting actuary annually examines WRS funding requirements to ensure the system can meet its obligations.
  • Core Trust Fund investment returns are smoothed over a five-year period. Smoothing helps mitigate the effects of stock market volatility and, therefore, works to keep annual contribution rate changes stable.

For More Information

  • Review our brochure, Your Benefit Handbook.
  • Review the webpage, WRS Contribution Rate History, which shows WRS employer and employee contribution rates since 1989, broken out by employee categories.
  • Review this National Association of State Retirement Administrators Issue Brief examining what's happening on the national stage in terms of employee contribution plan designs, policies and trends.


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For State of Wisconsin Group Health Insurance Program Participants

New Video Series: Your Health Benefits in Retirement

How will your health benefits change in retirement? What happens when you become eligible for Medicare? Find out everything you need to know about transitioning your group health insurance program benefits into retirement – and your health benefit options – with this new series of ETF videos and resource sheets.

Topics include paying for planning for post-retirement health benefits, paying for benefits in retirement, supplemental benefits, Medicare, and accessing health benefits while out of state. To ensure you review relevant information, all videos and resource sheets are labeled for either All Participants or State & UW Participants.


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Reminder: Information for Domestic Partners

If you have a domestic partner, the law that provided you and your domestic partner certain benefits when you registered has been changed by 2017 Wisconsin Act 59 (2017-19 biennial budget), which was signed on September 21.

Even though you will no longer be able to cover your domestic partner on your health insurance, you should remember that your domestic partner still has important rights concerning your other Wisconsin Retirement System benefits.

This new law will not change your current WRS benefits – specifically your death benefits and joint and survivor annuity annuities.

  • WRS death benefits are always paid per the most recent, valid beneficiary designation on file with ETF prior to your death. If you don't have a beneficiary designation on file, death benefits will be paid to your registered, surviving domestic partner according to standard sequence. Note: Your beneficiary information does not automatically change when a life event occurs, such as a marriage or a domestic partnership termination. Be sure to keep your beneficiary information filed with ETF up to date so that your benefits are paid according to your wishes.
  • A WRS joint and survivor annuity will be paid to your domestic partner if your domestic partnership has been registered with ETF for at least one year at the time you begin your annuity. Your domestic partner may waive this right.

If you want to end your partnership, or if you have married, please submit to ETF an Affidavit of Termination of Domestic Partnership (ET-2372). This will terminate your domestic partnership for all purposes with ETF; there is no partial termination of a domestic partnership.


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Second Call: Technical College Teacher Member Seat on TR Board

Here's your chance to serve on the Teachers Retirement Board, an important Wisconsin Retirement System governing board. Any WRS teacher participant employed by a Wisconsin technical college is eligible to run for this seat on the board. Nomination packets are due Friday, December 15. Check out current TR Board member R. Thomas Pedersen's column on the benefits of serving.

For an insider's perspective on the rewards of serving on the board, see current board member R. Thomas Pedersen's column, Wanted: Community-Minded Technical College Teacher.

Download a nomination packet now. You may also request a packet by writing to: ETF, Teachers Retirement Board Liaison, P.O. Box 7931, Madison, WI 53707-7931; or send an e-mail to Completed nomination materials must be received by ETF by 4:30 p.m. December 15, 2017.

For information on the WRS governing boards, including current board rosters, board member responsibilities, meeting schedules and agendas, visit our Governing Board webpages.


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Farm Bureau Memorial Returns to Home Agency

Preparations big and small continue for ETF's move to the new Hill Farms state office building.

On a recent Saturday morning a Wisconsin Air National Guard unit dismantled a commemorative plaque honoring Wisconsin farm men and women who served in the military and relocated it to its new home at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The memorial was dedicated 60 years ago, to mark the opening of the new office building at 801 W. Badger Road. The building was to be the headquarters of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and the Department of Agriculture. The memorial was moved in preparation for construction of Madison College's new South Madison Campus.

According to agency records, more than 2,000 people attended the official dedication of the building and the memorial on June 9, 1957. The ceremony also featured a special "gifts of the soil" presentation, in which soil samples from each Wisconsin county and the 47 state Farm Bureaus were mixed into the surrounding flower beds. 

In a letter to stakeholders, Farm Bureau president Curtiss Hatch wrote that the "fine new building...symbolizes the accomplishments of our members, past and present, in giving agriculture in Wisconsin its position of respect and importance."


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Tips for Finding a Financial Advisor

The Department of Employee Trust Funds is here to assist you with your Wisconsin Retirement System pension, health and other benefits. But how do you find a qualified expert when you need advice on personal finances and retirement financial goals? In short: do your homework before you hire.

These helpful tips, adapted from WISER Fact Sheets: How to Find a Financial Planner and Financial Planner Alert, provide great starter advice:

  1. Understand the various professional designations and decide which type of professional would meet your needs.
  2. Know what you want in a financial advisor – someone with expertise in one area, such as estate planning or investments, or with a broad range of expertise and services?
  3. Ask how the advisor makes money. Straight salary? Fee-only? Commissions? Get an explanation for services and fees in writing.
  4. Ask for the advisor's references – and check them out.

Bonus tip: Take advantage of the free financial advising available to you through ETF's Financial Fitness Program. This exclusive program, available to all WRS members, offers free online financial educational resources for 12 months and a free consultation with a financial advisor for 30 days. Start with a Financial Fitness CHECKUP, a confidential and secure online survey that helps you discover your strengths and weaknesses of your personal financial knowledge and situation. The checkup only takes 10 minutes to complete! Learn more about the program.


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Why Are You in Public Service?

Tell us why you are working to serve the public, your community and the people of Wisconsin. Take our survey today and learn more about how the WRS is strong for Wisconsin.


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Save the Commute: Online Appointments Are Convenient and Easy

If you have your retirement estimate in-hand and want the opportunity to meet with a specialist to review your options and ask questions, save yourself the commute and get it done with an online appointment instead.

Online appointments are secure, private retirement appointments with an ETF benefits specialist; they cover the same ground as our face-to-face appointments. Together, you and the benefits specialist review your retirement estimate and annuity payment options, discuss the retirement process in general, address questions. It's easy and convenient!

To schedule your online appointment, send us an email or call 1-877-533-5020.


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Make Time for End-of-Year Considerations

If you're considering making any of the following decisions related to your Wisconsin Retirement System benefits, please be aware of important deadlines associated with each of these processes:

  • Making additional contributions to your WRS account
  • Withdrawing a health insurance application/change submitted during the It's Your Choice open enrollment period
  • Purchasing service
  • Electing or canceling Variable Trust Fund participation

Making Additional Contributions
Deadline: December 29, 2017

Did you know that you can make after-tax additional contributions to your WRS account to supplement your benefit? Contributions receive annual Core and Variable (if applicable) effective rates of interest and you can pay either through payroll deduction or direct pay. See our web page showing Core Trust Fund and Variable Trust Fund returns, rates and adjustments since 1984.

Additional contributions can be made at any time while you are actively employed by a WRS employer, but December 29, 2017, is the deadline if you want your contribution to have interest credited for calendar year 2018.

Withdrawing a Health Insurance Application/Change
Deadline: December 29, 2017

If you want to withdraw the health insurance application/change you submitted during the It's Your Choice open enrollment period, you must notify your employer's benefits/payroll office in writing by December 29, 2017.

Purchasing Service
Payment Deadline: January 2, 2018

If you are eligible to purchase creditable service, it may be to your advantage to do so. Benefits of buying service:

  • a higher benefit if your annuity is calculated as a formula benefit; and
  • a higher special death benefit for your beneficiaries (if you die as an active employee)

The best time to purchase creditable service varies, based on individual circumstances. In order to make the service purchase at all, application and money must be received prior to WRS employment termination. If you want to buy service based on 2017 calendar year earnings at the current cost, your application and payment must be received by January 2, 2018. If your earnings are based on fiscal year earnings, changes in contribution rates will affect how much you pay.

Contribution rates change each year; review the 2017 and 2018 rates for your WRS employment category here.

Variable Trust Fund Elections and Cancelations
Deadline: January 2, 2018 (elections and cancelations) or December 29, 2017 (rescind a cancelation)

If you wish to either elect to participate in the Variable Fund or cancel your Variable Fund participation with an effective date of January 1, 2018, ETF must receive your election/cancelation prior to the close of business on January 2, 2018. Exception: A cancelation form received by ETF via fax or as an e-mail attachment after 4:30 pm on January 2 but before 12 a.m. on January 3 is still considered received on January 2. These dates are not postmark dates.

Q. Why January 2 for Variable Fund cancelations?

A. The deadline is the last day of the year. However, when a deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, it's extended to the first working day after the deadline, per Wis. Stat. §990.001(4).

For More Information

Review our brochures:
Buying Creditable Service (ET-4121)
Additional Contributions (ET-2123)
How Participation in the Variable Trust Fund Affects Your WRS Benefits (ET-4930)

Sign up for our live, interactive webinars and ask questions:

You can also watch recorded webinars on these topics.


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Well Wisconsin Wednesday Webinar: The Greatness of Gratitude

When you focus on the good things, your upbeat attitude helps fight stress and depression. Research shows that practicing gratitude may also improve your social life and enhance your physical health. Join us Wednesday, November 15 for this Well Wisconsin webinar, The Greatness of Gratitude. Register via the Well Wisconsin portal.

Other planned webinars:

  • Wednesday, December 20 – Tips for celebrating with energy and cheer through the New Year.


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Board Meetings

The next Group Insurance Board meeting is set for Wednesday, November 15. ETF Board, Wisconsin Retirement Board, and Teachers Retirement Board will meet next on Thursday, December 14. Find out what the boards review and discuss, review past meeting minutes, and more here. Review 2018 SWIB meeting calendars and materials.


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WRS Trust Funds Investment Performance

As of October 31, 2017, the preliminary return for the Core Trust Fund is 13.3% (Benchmark: 12.8%) and the Variable Trust Fund is 18.8% (Benchmark: 18.6%). To stay informed about investment performance:


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Update: ETF to Move to Hill Farms

The Department of Employee Trust Funds is set to move from its current Badger Road location to the new Hill Farms state office building March 26-30, 2018. After the move, our new physical address will be 4822 Madison Yards Way, Madison, WI 53705-9100.

Please continue using our current telephone numbers and P.O. Box address for returning forms and correspondence; these will not change with the move:

  • 608-266-3285; 1-877-533-5020; Wisconsin Relay: 711
  • P.O. Box 7931, Madison, WI, 53707-7931

Watch for additional details on our new building, directions, parking and services on the ETF website and Twitter.


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What is SWIB?

SWIB invests for the financial security of more than 600,000 WRS employees and retirees and their families. Check out SWIB's new brochure, What is SWIB?, to learn more about SWIB's role in the WRS, investment strategies, and low cost of management. You'll also find key contacts for more in-depth information.

What is SWIB is available to download on the Publications menu of SWIB's website or by calling SWIB at 1-800-424-7942. Send an email to


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WDC Program Lets Your Money Work For You

Will you have enough money to live the retirement of your dreams? A Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program account helps you save early and often. Open an account with just $5 a paycheck and let your money work for you (while you work on setting retirement goals).

The WDC is a supplemental retirement savings program available to state and university employees. Local government employees, including those working for school districts, may also be eligible if their employers offer this optional program. When you enroll in the WDC, growing your supplemental retirement savings is easy (paycheck deductions), inexpensive (comparatively low fees) and lowers your taxable income with tax-deferred investments. Roth options are also available.

To set up an account, contact the WDC: or call toll free: 1-877-457-9327.


Last Revised: November 13, 2017
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