Frequently Asked Questions about Retirement
1. Is the university's retirement program mandatory?
Yes, employees are required by Ohio law to participate in the retirement program. Ohio public institutions do not participate in the federal Social Security system, other than required contributions to Medicare.
2. What retirement programs are available to me?
Newly hired, full-time employees of the university have a choice between two retirement systems: the state system Ohio Public Employees Retirement System [OPERS] [staff] or State Teachers Retirement System [STRS] [faculty] and the Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP). The ARP is only available if your appointment is 100% FTE. The decision is irrevocable; once a retirement system is chosen, the employee remains with that system throughout his/her employment with the university.
OPERS and STRS offer a choice of three plans within their system to new members. Those who have previously contributed to a state retirement system should contact OPERS (1-866-673-7748) or STRS (1-888-227-7877) to verify options. New members will receive information from OPERS/STRS shortly following employment.
3. What is Ohio Public Employees Retirement System [OPERS]?
The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) is a retirement plan option available to staff. For further details see the OPERS website.
Eligible staff and librarians will be enrolled in OPERS unless they choose the ARP. Staff who are not eligible to enroll in the ARP will automatically be enrolled in OPERS.
4. What are my options under Ohio Public Employees Retirement System?
Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) is available for eligible staff of any FTE. Staff employees are automatically enrolled in OPERS. Staff who are 100% FTE may elect to participate in the ARP. If enrolling, in OPERS, you have 180 days from your eligible appointment date to elect enrollment in one of the three OPERS plan options:
Traditional Pension Plan - Guaranteed pension plan where your retirement income depends on your age, years of service and final average salary. This is your default plan.
Member-Directed Plan - Defined Contribution Plan that gives the employee the responsibility of making the investment decisions.
Combined Plan - This plan combines the Defined Benefit Plan option with the Defined Contribution Plan option.
Additional information on OPERS is available on the HR website.
5. What is State Teachers Retirement System [STRS]?
The State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) is a retirement plan option available to faculty members. For further details see the STRS website.
Eligible faculty will be enrolled in STRS unless they choose the ARP. Faculty who are not eligible to choose the ARP will automatically be enrolled in STRS.
6. What are my options under State Teachers Retirement System?
State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) is available for eligible faculty of any FTE. Faculty are automatically enrolled in STRS. Faculty whose FTE is 100% may elect to participate in ARP. If enrolling in STRS, you have 180 days from your eligible appointment date to elect enrollment in one of these three STRS plan options:
- Defined Benefit Pension Plan - Guaranteed pension plan where your retirement income depends on your age, years of service and final average salary. This is your default plan.
- Defined Contribution Plan - Gives the employee the responsibility of making the investment decisions.
- Combined Plan - This plan combines the Defined Benefit Plan option with the Defined Contribution Plan option.
Additional information on STRS is available on the HR website.
7. What is the Alternative Retirement Plan [ARP]?
The Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP) is available to any university employee (faculty or staff) whose appointment is 100% FTE. Additional information on ARP is available on the HR website.
8. What are my options under the Alternative Retirement Plan?
The Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP) is an alternative to OPERS/STRS for eligible faculty and staff. It provides a retirement investment program but does not offer additional benefits after retirement. ARP is a Defined Contribution Plan option where the employee chooses both the vendor and the investment options.
ARP is available for eligible faculty or staff with an FTE of 100%. If enrolling in ARP, you have 120 days from your eligible appointment date to elect enrollment in ARP. You must choose from one of nine (9) state approved vendors and activate an account with your chosen ARP vendor.
The HR website has a list of ARP vendors.
9. Can I change my ARP vendor?
You may change your ARP vendor at any time by completing and returning an ARP Vendor Change Form to Human Resources. Your new vendor election will become effective with the first available payroll period following receipt of your request.
10. What is the mitigating rate?
According to state law, Ohio Revised Code Section 3305.6(d) allows the public retirement systems to withhold a portion (up to 6%) of the employer's contribution to offset any negative financial impact the Defined Benefit Plans may experience by the offering of alternative retirement plan options. OPERS and STRS may annually determine if the alternative retirement plans offered (OPERS Member-Directed Plan, OPERS Combined Plan, STRS Defined Contribution, STRS Combined Plan and the Alternative Retirement Plan) have had a negative financial impact on the OPERS/STRS Defined Benefit Plans. If a negative impact exists, then OPERS/STRS may require a percentage of the employer contributions be redirected to the OPERS Traditional Plan and STRS Defined Benefit Plan in order to compensate for the loss.
11. How do I select my retirement plan?
Eligible employees must enroll in one of the university retirement plan options within 120 days of their eligible appointment date. if you fail to elect a retirement program within 120 days, you will default into the state retirement system (OPERS or STRS). To make your elections, download and complete the Retirement Plan Election Form. The completed Retirement Plan Election Form must be received by the Human Resources Department by the 120 day deadline or you will default into the public retirement system.
If eligible, during the 120-day enrollment period, you may elect to participate in the Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP). Only those faculty and staff whose appointment is 100% are eligible to elect participation in the ARP.
12. When is the enrollment deadline?
Your deadline is based on date of eligible appointment, which may be:
- Initial employment date
- Date of transfer from an ineligible appointment to an eligible appointment
The HR website has current year deadlines.
13. Can I fax or email my Retirement Plan Election form to Human Resources in order to meet their deadline dates?
No, the original document must be mailed or brought in person to the Human Resources Department, University Hall, Suite 340 or Mail Location 0039. The Retirement Plan Election form must be received by the deadline date. The HR website has current year deadlines.
14. What happens if I don't make an election?
If you fail to elect a retirement program within 120 days, you will default into the state retirement system.
15. When can I change my retirement elections?
Retirement elections are final and irrevocable and once you have elected or defaulted into a retirement plan you do not have an opportunity to make changes to your retirement plan election.
1. If I leave the university and come back, may I then change my retirement election?
You may only receive a new retirement election opportunity if you leave the university and have a break in service of 365 days or more. If you leave and return within a year of leaving you will default back into your original retirement election from your previous position at the university.
2. What happens to my retirement benefit when I leave the university?
OPERS and STRS members should contact their respective retirement system to learn about the distribution options available at the time of separation of employment.
ARP participants should contact their provider to learn more about the distribution option available following separation of employment.
3. I am a former staff, librarian or student employee. How can I get a refund of my OPERS contributions?
Your employment must be separated in order to be eligible for a refund of your OPERS contributions. In order to begin the process, you should contact OPERS to request a Refund Application. Submit the completed application to Human Resources for certification. The Refund Application will not be certified unless your employment with the university has ended.
You can reach OPERS at 800-222-7377 or log onto the OPERS website at www.opers.org.
4. I used to work for UC and would like to purchase or redeposit service time from OPERS/STRS. How do I go about doing this?
Contact OPERS/STRS to request the appropriate form. Submit your request and completed form in writing (via email) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include as much information as possible - such as SSN, date of hire and date of termination (mo/day/yr), job title(s), any other names used when working for UC (for example, maiden name), and phone number. The request will likely take at least 60 days to research, verify and complete. The completed form will be sent directly to OPERS/STRS.
1. I have a deduction on my check for OPERS. What is OPERS?
Employees (including student employees) of Ohio public colleges and universities do not participate in the federal Social Security system other than contributions to Medicare. Instead, staff, librarian AND student employees contribute to the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS). From your initial date of hire, you are assigned to OPERS if you have chosen not to complete the OPERS Student Waiver.
2. I understand that as a student employee I may be eligible to be exempt from OPERS contributions. Is this correct? How do I go about requesting this exemption?
Optional exemption is only available to student employees working for the University of Cincinnati while currently enrolled at UC on at least a half time basis. Participants in the cooperative education program are not eligible for exemption during their work terms. Undergraduate students must be taking at least six (6) credit hours and graduate students five (5) credit hours to be considered enrolled half time.
The following requirements must be met:
- The Request for Optional Exemption as a Student (OPERS Form F-3, under the heading Colleges/Universities only) form must be signed and received within 30 days of a student employee's start date. Forms received after the 30 day period will not be processed. The properly completed Form F-3 is submitted by the University of Cincinnati to OPERS for certification.
- Student Exemption Forms must meet the following criteria in order to be approved:
- Form must be signed by the student. The student signature must be handwritten and cannot be altered (whited out, crossed out, or written over).
- The student signature date must be within 30 days of the employment date and cannot be altered (whited out, crossed out, or written over).
- Must contain either the social security number or employee identification number.
- Form F-3 will be applicable in the payroll period during which it is received (as long as received within 30 days of start date).
Students should review the benefits of membership in the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System. Exemption is optional and must be completed by the student. Information regarding the benefits of membership can be found at www.OPERS.org or call 1-800-222-7377 to speak with a member services representative.
3. I am a student employee currently enrolled for 10 credit hours but will change to 3 hours during summer term. I will be working for the university during the summer. Is my student exemption valid during the summer?
Except during the intersessions between academic terms, OPERS contributions will be STARTED or STOPPED each pay period based upon the student's current enrollment status. If the student's current credit hours fall below the required minimum (5 for graduate students; 6 for undergraduate students), OPERS contributions will START during that payroll period. If the students enrolled hours increase to more than the required minimum, OPERS contributions WILL STOP automatically that payroll period as long as the student has a Form F-3 on file and remains a student-employee. Note that Medicare tax deductions and the applicable student exemption are based on the same enrollment criteria, and will start and stop following the same registration data.
4. I am a co-op student. Am I eligible to be exempt from OPERS contributions?
Participants in the cooperative education program are not eligible for exemption during their work terms.
5. I am a graduate student teaching two classes. Am I eligible for exemption from OPERS contributions?
Optional exemption is only available to student employees working for the University of Cincinnati while currently enrolled at UC on at least a half time basis. Graduate students must be taking five (5) credit hours to be considered enrolled half time.
6. I am an international student employee. Am I eligible to be exempt from OPERS contributions?
You would be eligible providing you meet the exemption eligibility criteria. The optional exemption is available to student employees working for the University of Cincinnati while currently enrolled at UC on at least a half time basis. Undergraduate students must be taking at least six (6) credit hours and graduate students five (5) credit hours to be considered enrolled half time.
7. I have an OPERS Student Waiver on file but have received a letter from OPERS indicating that I am enrolled in OPERS. Why am I enrolled if I am not contributing?
If you become ineligible for the OPERS Student Waiver at any time throughout the year you will have OPERS contributions deducted from your pay. These funds will be applied to your OPERS account.
8. I have terminated my employment with the University of Cincinnati. Can I apply to receive a refund of my OPERS contributions?
Before a refund is made, the law requires that three months must elapse from the date you terminated public employment as certified by your employer. If you terminate your employment, you are not required to take a refund of your contributions. You may leave your contributions on deposit with OPERS after you terminate public employment.
1. I am going to retire and I have questions about OPERS, STRS or other retirement plans.
Retirement is a very important life event and it is vital that you take time to plan. OPERS and STRS offer various pre-retirement services including counseling and seminars to assist you with this process. STRS and OPERS can also provide you with retirement benefit estimates.
You may also contact the Human Resources Department to discuss your plans for retirement. HRSC staff can answer many of your questions. The phone number is 513-556-6381.
2. I am planning to retire, where can I learn more?
The HR website has retirement planning resources and educational tools that are available to you.
3. How far in advance should I begin my retirement process?
It is recommended that you start this process at least 90 days prior to your intended retirement date.
4. What steps should I follow to successfully complete my retirement from the university?
HR has a checklist that will assist you in this process.
5. How soon should I notify my department or supervisor of my intent to retire?
The best time would be as soon as you have made your decision to retire and can provide an exact date of your retirement.
6. When will I receive my first pension check after my retirement date?
Check directly with the appropriate retirement system or Alternative Retirement Plan vendor.
7. What university retiree benefits are available to me?
Currently, university retirees receive certain benefits. HR has a detailed outline of retiree benefits available.
8. How can I learn more about Emeritus status?
The Office of the Sr. Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost has more information on Emeritus status.
9. I will be 68 when I retire. How do I apply for Medicare?
Contact the Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov.
1. What is a Supplemental Retirement Account?
A Supplemental Retirement Account (SRA) allows you the opportunity to contribute to an additional retirement account. There are two types of SRAs - Deferred Compensation Programs (457 plans) and Tax-Deferred Accounts 403(b) and 403(b) 7 plans. SRAs allow you to enhance your mandatory retirement plan savings through voluntary pre-tax contributions.
2. When can I change my SRA elections?
You can change your SRA contribution amount and/or your SRA vendor at any time by submitting a completed Salary Reduction Agreement to Payroll Operations. Your existing account balance may remain with your previous vendor, or any portion may be transferred to the new vendor. (Applicable transfer fees may apply.)
3. What are catch-up contributions?
Under certain circumstances, you may qualify through either SRA plan for the "catch up" contribution provision. Catch-up contributions are amounts you can contribute in excess of the annual plan contribution limits. If you have already contributed the maximum amount(s) under the plan(s) and you are at least age 50, you may make additional contributions, which are limited based on federal guidelines. Your vendor will calculate and inform you of your maximum contribution level, including catch-up contributions, based on federal guidelines for the applicable calendar year.
4. What investment options are offered for the SRA?
Each vendor offers a variety of options in which you may elect to invest your contributions. You assume the investment risk; all earnings and losses accrue to your account. You assume the cost for any management fees associated with your investments, which may vary from vendor to vendor.
5. Can I access my 403(b) contributions during my employment with the university?
- The HR website has more information about the university's Basic 403(b) plan.
- The HR website has more information on the Grandfathered 403(b) plan.
6. Can I access my 457 contributions during my employment with the university?
The Ohio Deferred Compensation website has more information on the Ohio Deferred Compensation Program.
7. Who are the current Supplemental Retirement Plan providers?
The HR website has a current listing of approved providers.
8. How can I learn more?
- The HR website has more information about the university's Basic 403(b) plan.
- The HR website has more information on the Grandfathered 403(b) plan.
- The Ohio Deferred Compensation website has more information on the Ohio Deferred Compensation Program.