Description of the WRS
Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) participation is automatic for all eligible employees, with coverage beginning on the first day an employee is eligible. The employee and employer WRS Required Contribution Rates are updated annually. The employee share is deducted on a pre-tax basis. Your retirement income will be based on your years of service, your age at retirement, and the average of your highest three years of earnings or based on the total cash value of your account, whichever is greater. WRS also provides death, permanent disability, and separation benefits.
You must meet the following requirements in order to be eligible for coverage under the WRS:
Must be in a Unclassified Faculty, Academic Staff, Limited or Classified appointment; and
- If you first became a WRS participating employee on or after July 1, 2011, you must be expected to work at least 2/3 of full-time for at least one year*.
- Classified: 2/3 of full-time is equal to 1,200 hours worked per year (58% appointment)
- Unclassified Faculty, Academic Staff, and Limited: 2/3 of full-time is equal to 880 hours worked per year (42% appointment for twelve-month employees and 56% appointment for nine-month employees); or
- If you first became a WRS participating employee prior to July 1, 2011, you must be expected to work at least 1/3 of full-time for at least one year*.
- Classified: 1/3 of full-time is equal to 600 hours worked per year (29% appointment)
- Unclassified Faculty, Academic Staff, and Limited: 1/3 of full-time is equal to 440 hours worked per year (21% appointment for twelve-month employees and 28% appointment for nine-month employees)
*For nine-month employees, one year is considered the academic year and an expectation to return the following academic year.
An employee who does not meet the WRS eligibility requirements on their date of hire can subsequently become eligible and must be enrolled. If your expectation of hours worked and/or the duration of your employment changes to the extent that you now meet the WRS eligibility criteria, you will be enrolled in the WRS. Also, at your one-year anniversary your employment will be evaluated and if you did work the minimum amount of hours to be eligible (see above based on your hire date) you will be enrolled in the WRS. If you are determined to not be WRS eligible as of your one-year anniversary, eligibility monitoring on a rolling 12-month basis will begin. Employees who work the required hours in any 12 consecutive months will be enrolled in the WRS on the day after they have worked the required number of hours.
If you are a WRS covered employee and you terminate and are subsequently rehired in less than 12 months at the same employer (this includes all UW System employment) you will be re-enrolled in the WRS immediately upon rehire, regardless of whether or not the new employment period is expected to meet the WRS eligibility criteria
The minimum number of years of covered WRS employment needed to qualify a participant for a retirement benefit. Some participants must meet one of two vesting laws based on when they first began WRS employment.
- Participants who first began WRS employment after 1989 and terminated employment before April 24, 1998 must have some WRS creditable service in five calendar years.
- Participants who first began WRS employment on or after July 1, 2011 must have five years of WRS creditable service.
If neither vesting law applies, participants were vested when they first began WRS employment. Vested participants may receive a retirement benefit at age 55 (age 50 for protective category participants) once they terminate all WRS employment. Participants who are not vested may only receive a separation benefit. For more information, refer to Your Benefit Handbook
If you leave UW employment prior to being vested or if you are vested and you take your funds out of the WRS prior to minimum retirement age, you are only eligible for a separation benefit and will lose the employer matching amount.
The WRS consists of two fund options, the Core Fund (which is the default fund) and the Variable Fund. Your contributions will go into the Core Fund, unless you elect to participate in the Variable Fund then 50% of your future WRS contributions will be deposited in the Variable Fund and 50% will be deposited in the Core Fund. You are able to cancel your Variable Fund participation effective 12/31 of the year the cancellation form is received, please refer to the cancellation form for more information on the consequences of cancellation.
Getting Ready to Retire
ETF calculator: This tool will help you estimate your monthly retirement annuity. Your ETF annual statement of benefits contains helpful information for completing the WRS Retirement Benefits Calculator.
You may request a retirement packet annually beginning at age 54 (49 for the protective category).
Compare your retirement estimate to your current pay, subtracting your benefits deductions and savings contributions (TSA, WDC) that you will not have in retirement. This will help you see how close your take-home pay and retirement income will be. Also, consider calculating your Social Security benefits.
Termination of all WRS Employment: In order to retire from the WRS you must terminate all WRS covered employment.
Age and Years of Service: If you have no protective category (typically law enforcement, firefighters, etc.) service and you are vested, you may begin a retirement benefit any time after you reach age 55. If you have protective category service and you are vested, you can begin a retirement benefit as early as age 50. However, if you retire before reaching your normal retirement age, your monthly annuity payment will be reduced to reflect the longer period over which your monthly annuity payments will be made. For more information: Your Benefit Handbook and Calculating Your Retirement Benefits
Use of Sick Leave in Retirement: Upon retirement your accrued sick leave is converted to a dollar value to pay for health insurance premiums in retirement. This is done by multiplying your highest hourly rate by your earned sick leave hours. This account may only be used to pay for health insurance premiums in retirement and does not have any other cash value. Please use the Sick Leave Estimator to estimate your sick leave balance. If you have other comparable health coverage available to you during retirement, you are able to escrow your sick leave account for future use.
15 Years of Continuous Service/SHICC: Upon obtaining 15 years of continuous service you are eligible for matching sick leave hours, additional matching hours are available after 24 full years of continuous service: Sick Leave Conversion Credit Program.
December vs. January - money purchase or formula calculation: If your benefit is calculated through the money purchase calculation your annuity may be affected by what month you retire, for more information, see When Should I Retire?
How Benefits Are Calculated
There are 2 methods used to calculate annuity benefits, the formula method and the money purchase method. Learn more about how your annuity is calculated: Calculating Your Retirement Benefits.
Participation in the Variable Fund also has an impact on your annuity: How Participation In the Variable Trust Fund Affects Your WRS Benefits
UW Madison Benefits Services conducts Pre-retirement Workshops: Register for a workshop.
You may also set up an appointment with a retirement counselor.
The Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF) also conducts group presentations.
The IRS issues benefit/compensation limitations for highly compensated employees. Per 415(b)(1)(A) and 401(a)(17).
All options pay for the duration of the employees/annuitants life: Choosing an Annuity Option
What happens to the annuity if you die?
- Annuity stops and no death benefits are payable OR
- Annuity is payable for a guaranteed period, and remaining payments are made to a beneficiary OR
- If joint survivorship was selected, payments continue at a specified percentage as long as the named survivor is living (can also be paid to a joint survivor and over a guaranteed period in the case of the joint survivors death)
If you retire under age 62, you will be eligible for an Accelerated Payment which provides a higher monthly annuity until age 62. At age 62, the WRS annuity decreases by the anticipated monthly amount payable from Social Security. Use the Accelerated Payment Cost Calculator to estimate the cost.
Annuity payments can change from year to year depending on the funds performance. Annuity payments related to the Core fund will not reduce below the initial annuity amount and interest credited to the Core fund is averaged over 5 years to reduce the impact of large market fluctuations. Annuity payments related to the Variable fund may reduce below the initial annuity amount and the interest credited is not averaged over 5 years, this may result in greater variations to Variable fund payments. Investment Earnings Distribution Report
You have 60 days from the date of your first payment or the date your lump sum payment was issued to change your annuity option. After 60 days your selection is final.
Payments are made on the 1st of the month for the month that has just passed. For example, if you retire on September 1, the first payment is made October 1 for the month of September. If you retire in the middle of the month, your first payment will be prorated based on your termination date.
Your annuity will begin based on an estimated payment amount. ETF estimates the amount as they do not always have the final information about earnings, service and contributions by the time a retirement benefit begins. ETF will recalculate your annuity benefit between 6 and 12 months after retirement, based on the final information submitted to ETF. ETF will send you a Notice of Final Calculation. If your annuity was underestimated, you will receive a lump sum for the difference. If your annuity was overestimated, your annuity will be permanently reduced by an amount that results in recovering the overpayment during the life of your annuity (this is a present value offset). To avoid the permanent reduction, you can send a check to ETF for the overpayment.
Tax Liability on WRS Benefits
Your retirement benefit is taxable as income. The tax treatment is generally similar for federal and Wisconsin income tax purposes. Benefits are not subject to Social Security or Medicare taxes.
By January 31 of each year, ETF will send you a 1099-R form showing the amount of income tax withheld, the total amount of your benefit and the taxable portion of your benefit for the prior year. You will need to file the 1099-R form with your income tax return.
Health Insurance and Other Benefits at Retirement
State Group Health
Employees must be enrolled in State Group Health Insurance coverage at the time of retirement and take an immediate annuity to be able to have their sick leave certified and continue the health coverage (may be enrolled as a dependent on another State employees plan to have sick leave certified at retirement). If not currently enrolled in the State Group Health coverage, employees may enroll in the Standard Plan within 30 days prior to retirement and have their sick leave certified. The application to enroll must be received by the first of the month that the employee retires.
May continue on the State Group Health Plan coverage provided premium payments are made. There is no employer contribution toward the annuitant health coverage.
Employees covered under the WRS may use the value of their sick leave at retirement to pay for health insurance premiums. Please use the Sick Leave Estimator to estimate the value of your sick leave. Sick leave credits may only be used to pay for health insurance premiums in retirement; they have no cash value for other purposes. You must be enrolled in the State Group Health plan as an employee or a dependent at the time of retirement to have your sick leave hours certified for use in retirement. If you have over 15 years of continuous service you may be eligible for additional matching credits. For more information, please see ETF's sick leave policy.
If you have other comparable coverage at the time of retirement or at any point during retirement, you may set aside (escrow) your sick leave for future use. Sick Leave Credit Escrow Application
Upon obtaining Medicare age, ETF will require you to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B.
You are able to change health plans in retirement due to the following reasons, moving from service area, the annual It's Your Choice open enrollment period, or a qualifying life event such as marriage/establishing a domestic partnership or birth/adoption of a child.
State Group Life
You are able to continue your State Group Life coverage at retirement paying the group rates. To calculate the cost of the coverage, use this calculator: State Group Life Calculator. Upon obtaining age 65, the basic unit of State Group Life becomes a paid up policy and no further premium payments are necessary, the face value of the basic unit decreases to 75% of the highest annual State earnings at age 65 and finally to 50% at age 66. The supplemental and additional units of the State Group Life coverage terminate at age 65. You may also convert the final value of your State Group Life coverage to pay for health insurance premiums in retirement.
You may also be eligible for a living benefit through the State Group Life plan and may apply to receive all or part of the value of your life insurance coverage while still living, provided you are diagnosed with a terminal condition and have a life expectancy of 12 months or less.
If you have health or long-term care insurance through ETF and your life insurance has been reduced to its final amount, you may elect to use the present value of your life insurance to pay premiums for your health or long-term care insurance.
At retirement you may convert the following coverages (if enrolled at the time of retirement to individual policies) to individual plans: UW Employees, Inc. Life Insurance, Individual and Family Life Insurance, Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D).
At retirement you may continue the following coverages (if enrolled at the time of retirement to individual policies) at premium rates comparable to what was paid as an active employee: EPIC Benefits +, Dental Wisconsin, VSP Vision Insurance
- Attend a UW Madison Pre-Retirement Workshop
- Select your retirement date. It is recommended that you work with your divisional/departmental Human Resources staff as well as Madison Benefits Services to assist in selecting a retirement date.
- Order retirement packet (estimates and application) from ETF, or call ETF at 1-877-533-5020.
- Make an appointment to meet with a UW benefits counselor and/or ETF upon receipt of retirement packet.
- Submit your retirement application to ETF.
See the Roadmap to Retirement for long term planning information.
- Additional Contributions
- Are You Considering Early Retirement?
- Death Benefits
- How Divorce Can Affect Your WRS Benefits
- How Part-Time Employment Affects Your Benefits
- How SWIB Investments Affect an Employee
- Options for ALRA/Sabbatical Account Balances at Retirement
- Purchase WRS Service with TSA Money
Emeritus status is an honorary designation conferred upon retirees to recognize their contributions and accomplishments over their university careers. Requirements include completion of ten or more years of distinguished service at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and permanent employee status at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with eligibility to receive an annuity from the Wisconsin Retirement System.
Talk with your supervisor, department chair or administrator to discuss your eligibility and department support for submitting a request.
Working After You Retire
After retirement, there is no effect on your WRS annuity or benefits if you work for an employer not covered by the WRS.
You may return to work with a WRS employer as a rehired annuitant*, provided certain requirements are met.
*A rehired annuitant:
- Is receiving a monthly WRS annuity (If you received a lump sum retirement benefit, you are not considered a rehired annuitant.)
- Had a valid termination; and
- Served the minimum required break in employment between retirement and returning to work; and
- Now works for an employer covered by WRS
ETF refers to "two-thirds" time, for UW purposes that equates to the following:
- University Staff Employees: you are expected to work one year and 1,200 hours (58% appointment)
- Unclassified Faculty, Academic Staff and Limited: if you are expected to work one year and 880 hours (42% appointment for twelve-month employees and 56% appointment for nine-month employees)
UW Retirement Association - Sponsors an array of activities, information and volunteer initiatives.
PLATO (Participatory Learning and Teaching Organization) - Sponsors courses, lectures, socials and special events for people who live in and around Dane county.
Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery - Sponsors programs, lectures, outreach and volunteer opportunities.