Reciprocity: If you're vested in STRS, you're vested in PERS
by Janet McCulloch, Regular Faculty Member in the English Department
You could be receiving more retirement benefits than you realize! Many faculty have worked in a variety of retirement systems including the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), and yet many do not realize that retirement systems in California have reciprocal agreements regarding vesting and the calculation of final compensation. For many faculty who have worked in the CSU system or a K-12 district that participated in CalPERS, this is very good news.
According to the CalPERS School Benefits Handbook, "There is no transfer of funds or service credit between retirement systems when you establish reciprocity. You become a member of both systems and are subject to the membership and benefit obligations and rights of each system. You must retire from each system separately, but it must be on the same date for all the benefits of reciprocity to apply. Once you've retired, you will receive separate retirement checks from each system" (17).
For example, I am fully vested in CalSTRS with more than eighteen years in that system, but I have only 2.69 years of service in CalPERS. Although the normal vesting period for both systems is five years, because of "reciprocity" I am automatically vested in CalPERS and will receive a lifetime defined benefit from both systems. Even more important is the fact that CalPERS will use my CalSTRS final compensation from SRJC to calculate my defined benefit in their system.
If you have ever worked in CalPERS, you are eligible for a pension from that system provided you are eligible to repurchase that service credit. It may be worth your while to make an appointment with a CalPERS counselor to discuss your options. You may contact them at 1-888-225-7377 or at www.calpers.ca.gov. Also helpful is a guide from CalPERS, "When You Change Retirement Systems."