Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Virginia Retirement System (VRS)?
- How does my retirement plan work?
- Does VRS offer a tax-deferred savings program?
- If I have service in a previous public position, can I get credit for this service in my VRS plan? Can I transfer my VRS service to a non-VRS covered position?
- What other benefits does VRS offer?
- What if I leave employment before I am eligible to retire?
- How do I …
- How can I learn more about my retirement and other benefits?
1. What is the Virginia Retirement System (VRS)?
What is VRS?
The Virginia Retirement System (VRS) is an independent state agency that administers retirement and other benefits for members of VRS, the State Police Officers' Retirement System (SPORS), the Virginia Law Officers' Retirement System (VaLORS) and the Judicial Retirement System (JRS). Membership is automatic with employment in a covered position. Members include full-time permanent, salaried state employees; public college and university employees and faculty; school division employees; and employees of VRS-participating political subdivisions. Some part-time permanent, salaried state employees also are covered under VRS.
How do I know if my employer offers VRS retirement and other VRS benefits?
Employers that provide VRS retirement and other VRS benefit programs include state agencies, public colleges and universities and local public school divisions. Counties, cities, towns, public authorities, commissions and other political subdivisions may elect to participate in VRS on behalf of their employees instead of offering their own plan. Contact your human resource office to find out if your employer participates in VRS. See also VRS Participating Employers.
2. How does my retirement plan work?
- About the defined benefit plan
- Calculating your retirement benefit
- Retirement contributions and funding your benefit
- Qualifying for retirement
- Enhanced coverage for hazardous duty service
- Retirement benefit payout options
- Deferring retirement
- Mandatory retirement age and required distributions under the defined benefit plan
- Optional retirement plans
- After you retire
About the defined benefit plan
The defined benefit plan provides a monthly benefit in retirement based on your age, creditable service and average final compensation. The amount of the benefit is calculated using a formula, not the amount of money in your member contribution account. For more information, see VRS Retirement Plans.
Vesting is the minimum length of service need to qualify for retirement if you meet other age and service requirements for your plan, or to receive a full refund of your member contribution account balance if you leave employment and request a refund.
Calculating your retirement benefit
The amount of the unreduced retirement benefit is based on a percentage of your average final compensation multiplied by your total years of creditable service at retirement. The percentage is called a retirement multiplier. If you retire with a reduced benefit, VRS will apply an early retirement reduction factor to the benefit you would receive if you retired with an unreduced benefit.
Retirement contributions and funding your benefit
You contribute 5 percent of your compensation each month to your member contribution account through a pre-tax salary deduction. Your contributions are not taxed until you receive them as part of your future retirement benefit or as a refund if you leave employment and request a refund. Your account accrues 4 percent interest, which is compounded annually on the balance as of the previous June 30. Note: If you are a state elected official, judge or optional retirement plan participant in Plan 1, your employer pays the 5 percent member contribution. If you are a school division or a political subdivision employee hired before July 1, 2012, your employer may have elected to phase in your payment of the 5 percent member contribution.
Your benefit is funded from your member contributions and interest, a separate contribution your employer makes to VRS and investment earnings. When you retire, your benefit is paid first from the contributions and interest in your member contribution account. Once these funds are paid out, your benefit is paid from employer contributions and investment earnings.
Qualifying for retirement
VRS Plan 1 for general state employees, teachers and general political subdivision employees:
- Unreduced retirement: Age 65 with at least five years of service credit or age 50 with at least 30 years of service credit.
- Reduced retirement: Age 55 with at least five years of service credit or age 50 with at least 10 years of service credit.
VRS Plan 2 for general state employees, teachers and general political subdivision employees:
- Unreduced retirement: Normal Social Security retirement age with at least five years of service credit or when age and service credit equal 90 (e.g. age 60 with 30 years of service credit).
- Reduced retirement: Age 60 with at least five years of service credit.
Plan 1 and Plan 2 state police officers, Virginia law officers (VaLORS) and political subdivision employees eligible for enhanced hazardous duty coverage:
- Unreduced retirement: Age 60 with at least five years of service credit or age 50 with at least 25 years of service credit.
- Reduced retirement: Age 50 with at least five years of service credit.
Enhanced coverage for hazardous duty service
You have enhanced coverage for hazardous duty service if you are a state police officer covered under SPORS; a Virginia law officer covered under VaLORS; or a full-time salaried, sworn sheriff, deputy sheriff, regional jail superintendent or regional jail officer covered under VRS. You also have enhanced coverage if you are a full-time salaried, sworn local law enforcement officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician covered under VRS whose employer has elected enhanced coverage for hazardous duty employees. Enhanced coverage provides for retirement eligibility at earlier dates as well as a hazardous duty supplement in retirement, if you qualify. For more information, see Transferring between Hazardous Duty Positions or the Hazardous Duty FAQs for Members.
Retirement benefit payout options
When you apply for retirement, you elect how you want to receive your benefit. There are four options: the Basic Benefit, Survivor Option, Partial Lump-Sum Option Payment (PLOP) and Advance Pension Option. The option you elect is irrevocable, meaning you cannot change it once you retire with the exception of the Survivor Option under some circumstances. For more information, see Benefit Payout Options.
If you are eligible for retirement and leave your position, you can defer receiving your retirement benefit until a later date. You will be considered a deferred member. You also are a deferred member if you leave employment before you are eligible to retire but do not take a refund of your member contributions and interest. If you are vested, you may be eligible for a future retirement benefit if you meet the age and service requirements for your plan. If you defer retirement, be sure to submit the Name and Address Declaration for Deferred Members (VRS-3A) to your human resource office before you leave your position.
Important note for state employees considering deferred retirement: If you are a state employee and defer retirement, you will not be eligible to enroll in the State Retiree Health Benefits Program. You must take an immediate retirement to be eligible for state retiree health coverage. For more information about the program, visit the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM).
Mandatory retirement age and required distributions under the defined benefit plan
There is no mandatory retirement age for members of the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), members of the Virginia Law Officers’ Retirement System (VaLORS), or VRS-covered sheriffs and regional jail and jail farm superintendents. The following members are subject to a mandatory retirement age:
- If you are a member of the State Police Officers’ Retirement System (SPORS) or a political subdivision employee eligible for enhanced hazardous duty coverage, the mandatory retirement age is within six months after you attain age 70.
- If you are a judge (JRS), you must retire within 20 days of the next regular session of the General Assembly.
- If you are a commissioner with the State Corporation Commission, you must retire within 20 days of the next regular session of the General Assembly that occurs after you attain age 70, unless the General Assembly is required to appoint a commissioner due to another vacancy. In this event, you may delay your retirement until either 20 days following the commencement of the regular session of the General Assembly that occurs after you reach age 72 or the expiration of your term, whichever is earlier.
Optional retirement plans
VRS administers the Optional Retirement Plan for Political Appointees (ORPPA), the Optional Retirement Plan for School Superintendents (ORPSS) and the Optional Retirement Plan for Higher Education (ORPHE). These are defined contribution plans. The benefit under this type of plan is based on the participant’s account balance, which includes contributions paid by the participant and/or the employer and investment earnings. Vesting in these plans is immediate. If you are eligible to participate in an optional retirement plan, you will choose either the optional retirement plan or the VRS defined benefit plan upon employment. This election is irrevocable. VRS also administers the Virginia Supplemental Retirement Plan (VSRP) for certain school employees as a supplement to the VRS defined benefit plan. For more information, see Defined Contribution Plans.
After you retire
After you retire, you will be eligible for an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and also may qualify for group life insurance coverage, retiree health insurance or the health insurance credit. Learn more about retiree benefits and working after retirement.
3. Does VRS offer a tax-deferred savings program?
- State employees
- Public college and university employees and faculty members
- School division and political subdivision employees
If you are a state employee, you are eligible for the Commonwealth of Virginia 457 Deferred Compensation Plan. If you were hired before January 1, 2008, participation in the plan was voluntary. If you were hired on or after January 1, 2008, you were enrolled automatically upon employment with an opt-out option. If you are not participating or you opted out of the plan, you can enroll at any time. You will be eligible for an employer cash match through the Virginia Cash Match Plan equal to 50 percent of your contribution, not to exceed $20 per pay period.
Public college and university employees and faculty members
If you are an employee or faculty member of a Virginia public college or university, you are eligible to participate in a 403(b) plan your institution may offer as well as the Commonwealth's 457 Plan. If you participate in both plans, you are eligible for one employer cash match equal to 50 percent of your contribution, not to exceed $20 per pay period.
School division and political subdivision employees
If you are a school division or a political subdivision employee, your employer may offer the Commonwealth's 457 and Virginia Cash Match Plans, a 403(b) plan or another tax-deferred savings plan. Contact your human resource office for more information about your tax-deferred savings opportunities. Your employer also may provide automatic enrollment in these plans upon employment.
4. If I have service in a previous public position, can I get credit for this service in my VRS plan? Can I transfer my VRS service to a non-VRS covered position?
Purchasing prior service
If you have service from previous public employment or certain periods of leave, you may be eligible to purchase this service as credit in your plan. Eligible types of prior service include:
- Active duty military service
- Full-time salaried federal or public service other than previous VRS service
- Non-covered service with a VRS-participating employer
- Approved leave for the birth or adoption of a child or approved educational leave
- VRS refunded service
- Workers' compensation leave
- No-cost military leave
- Non-ported service
- Sick leave conversion at retirement if you are eligible
For more information and how to apply, see Purchase of Prior Service.
Transferring VRS service to a non-VRS covered position
If you take a position with a non-VRS participating public Virginia employer with which VRS has a portability agreement, you may elect to transfer your retirement assets in your plan to purchase service credit in the other employer's plan. VRS has portability agreements with the City of Charlottesville, City of Danville, City of Newport News, City of Norfolk, City of Richmond, City of Roanoke and County of Fairfax. VRS determines the amount that is eligible for transfer. The employer determines the amount of service credit the transferred assets will purchase in the employer's plan.
If you are coming to a covered position from one of these employers, you may be eligible to buy the previous employer's service as credit to transfer to VRS. VRS will determine how much service your purchase will buy. If you have funds in a defined contribution plan administered by VRS, you may be eligible to transfer these funds to another qualified plan.
For more information about portability, contact your human resource office.
5. What other benefits does VRS offer?
- Group life insurance
- Disability coverage
- Severance benefits
- Long-term care programs
- Death-in-service benefits
- Health insurance credit
Group life insurance
If your employer participates in the VRS Group Life Insurance Program, you are covered under the Basic Group Life Insurance Program upon employment. You also may purchase additional coverage for yourself, your spouse and your dependent children through the Optional Group Life Insurance Program.
If you are a state employee covered under VRS, SPORS or VaLORS, you are enrolled automatically in the Virginia Sickness and Disability Program upon employment. Eligibility periods for non-work related disability coverage and certain income replacement levels vary depending on when you were hired. If you were hired before January 1, 1999, you had the option to transfer to VSDP or retain your eligibility to be considered for disability retirement.
If you are a teacher, political subdivision employee or judge (JRS), you are eligible to be considered for disability retirement if you cannot perform your job because of a medical condition that is likely to be permanent.
If you are a state employee and are involuntarily separated from employment for causes other than job performance or misconduct, you may be eligible for severance benefits under the Workforce Transition Act. If you are a teacher or political subdivision employee, you may be eligible for benefits under the Transitional Benefits Program if your employer has elected to offer this program. For more information, contact your human resource office. See also Severance Benefits.
Long-term care programs
If are a state employee or faculty member participating in the Virginia Sickness and Disability Program (VSDP), you have coverage under the VSDP Long-Term Care Plan at no cost to you.
If you are a state employee or faculty member, or a school division or political subdivision employee whose employer participates in the Commonwealth of Virginia (COV) Voluntary Group Long Term Care Insurance Program, you and select family members between the ages of 18 and 79 are eligible to apply. If you are retired and under age 80, you are eligible to apply regardless of whether your former employer participates in the program.
If you die while you are an active member from a non-work related or work-related cause, your named beneficiary or your spouse, natural or legally adopted minor child or parent may be eligible for a death-in-service benefit. A death-in-service benefit is a payment of any member contributions and interest in your member contribution account upon your death. The benefit may be a lump-sum payment, a monthly benefit or both. This payment is in addition to any life insurance benefits you may have.
Health insurance credit
If you retire with at least 15 years of service credit from an employer that participates in the health insurance credit program, you may be eligible for this tax-free benefit. The health insurance credit assists with health insurance premiums you pay for single coverage, excluding any portion of the premiums covering a spouse or dependents. You also may be eligible for the health insurance credit if you retire on disability, retire under an optional retirement plan authorized or administered by VRS or go on long-term disability under the Virginia Sickness and Disability Program (VSDP).
6. What if I leave employment before I am eligible to retire?
Taking a refund
If you leave covered employment, you are eligible to request a refund of your member contributions and interest. You will receive a full or partial refund of your member contribution account balance depending on whether or not you are vested when you leave your job. Taking a refund cancels your membership and eligibility for any future benefits. If you are in Plan 1 and take a refund, this cancels your membership in VRS. If you return to a VRS-covered position, you will be rehired under the currently applicable retirement plan for that position. For more information, see VRS Retirement Plans. Before requesting a refund, read the IRS 402(f) Special Tax Notice.
Leaving your member contributions with VRS
You have the option of leaving your member contributions with VRS and becoming a deferred member. You may be eligible for a future retirement benefit if you are vested and meet the age and service requirements for your plan. If you are a deferred member and return to covered employment, you will be rehired under your current plan. Be sure to submit the Name and Address Declaration for Deferred Members (VRS-3A) to your human resource office before you leave your position.
For more information, see Leaving Employment.
7. How do I …
- Apply for retirement?
- Designate or change my beneficiary?
- Request a refund?
- Change my name or address?
- Give someone access to my VRS record or take actions on my behalf?
Apply for retirement?
Submit your Application for Retirement (VRS-5) and other required documents to your human resource office at least 60 days, but not more than four months (120 days), before you want to retire. Your employer will certify your application and submit it to VRS. If you are submitting your application after 12 months from the date you left employment, or if you are retiring after being on long-term disability through the Virginia Sickness and Disability Program (VSDP), submit your application to VRS. Retirement is effective on the first of the month. For more information, see Getting Ready to Retire.
Designate or change my beneficiary?
You can designate or change your beneficiary for life insurance benefits as well as member contributions and interest while you are an active or deferred member or after you retire. You can name any living person or entity, such as an eligible trust or charity, as your beneficiary. Submit a Designation of Beneficiary (VRS-2) to VRS. Be sure to keep a copy for your records. You will not receive a copy or confirmation of receipt. VRS is required by law to pay benefits according to the latest beneficiary designation in your VRS record. If you need to change your beneficiary, submit a new VRS-2 to VRS as soon as possible.
For more information about changing a beneficiary for the Commonwealth of Virginia 457 Deferred Compensation and Cash Match Plans or an optional retirement plan, see Defined Contribution Plans.
Request a refund?
To request a refund, register or log into your myVRS account and submit an online request. Refunds cannot be processed until you've met the following criteria:
- You must have left your VRS-covered position.
- After separating from your job, you must have a one-calendar-month break in service during a period you would normally work. If you are a teacher in a 9-, 10- or 11-month contract, the full calendar month starts when your retirement contributions were last reported to VRS and must take place during a period you normally would work. Summer breaks or intersession periods do not count toward this break in service.
- Your employer must report your separation to VRS.
Once all criteria have been met, VRS will process your refund via electronic funds transfer in three to five days. You can check the status of your refund through your myVRS account at any point in the process.
Change my name or address?
If you are an active member, notify your human resource office of a change of name or address.
If you are a deferred member, submit the Name and Address Declaration for Deferred Members (VRS-3A) to VRS.
Give someone access to my VRS record or take actions on my behalf?
You can allow one or more individuals to speak to a VRS representative about your VRS benefits and account information by submitting an Authorization to Discuss VRS Account Information (VRS-900). This authorization does not allow the individual(s) to take actions on your behalf. If you would like to name someone as your agent to take actions on your behalf with respect to your VRS benefits, submit a VRS Durable Power of Attorney (VRS-901). Note: Individuals you designate under the VRS-900 or the VRS-901 will not have access to your myVRS online account.
8. How can I learn more about my retirement and other benefits?
Look up your benefits
Through the secure myVRS online system, you can look up your benefits, member contribution account balance and other information from your VRS record. Log in or create an account.
Education and counseling
Free member education for members at all stages of their careers is available online and on-site. See Education and Counseling.
Meet with a counselor at the VRS Retirement Counseling Center at 1111 East Main Street in downtown Richmond. Sessions are held on a first-come first-served basis with limited scheduled appointments available. The hours are 8:30 a.m.–4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Get directions to the center and the parking deck; the first hour of parking is free.
If you are eligible to participate in the Commonwealth of Virginia 457 Deferred Compensation and Cash Match plans, the Deferred Compensation Plan Regional Education Meetings review the basics of financial planning, investments and distribution options.
Money Matters for Virginians provides free online courses about financial basics. No registration is required.
The Handbook for Members and other VRS publications provide information about membership, benefit programs, qualifying for retirement and getting ready to retire. See Member Handbooks, Retirement Guides and Publications.
Stay up to date on your benefits by subscribing to the online Member News.