Retirement Benefits News & Events

‘Start Early and Start Now’ — Insights From CalPERS Benefits Education Events

Candee Torrez

Planning your retirement future isn’t something to be left for the last minute, or even the last few years. That’s why we offer our keystone event — CalPERS Benefits Education Events, or CBEEs — several times a year, for free, for members at any stage of their career.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to witness CalPERS members learn about their benefits to make more informed decisions that afford themselves a more comfortable future,” said David Rubio, chief of our Customer Education & Outreach Division, which hosts the event. “We encourage all members, especially those earlier in their careers, to take advantage of these events. You can’t put a price on knowledge.”

Our recent Riverside event attracted 1,500 attendees, making it the highest attended CBEE since returning to in-person events after the pandemic. We found several attendees who are early to midway through their careers getting an early start on their retirement planning. Here’s what they had to say:

Won Choi

Won Choi, 45, Cal Poly Pomona

Won Choi, an academic counselor at Cal Poly Pomona, has learned to “beware of water cooler talk” when it comes to his retirement, health care, and other CalPERS benefits.

“Not everything that applied to my now-retired supervisors and co-workers will uniformly apply to me,” said Choi, who at 45 years old and with 22 years as a public sector employee, attended his first CBEE in Riverside in February. “It’s been great to hear from CalPERS officials who clarify misinformation.”

He’s not looking to retire now or even soon, but perhaps in another 20 years. But he wants to know his options now regarding deferred compensation plans, health care, and pension payouts — so he can plan for the time in between.

“There are so many intricate details in the policies and regulations, and even though I can call HR at any time, and they’ll answer my questions, I don’t always know the right questions to ask,” Choi said. “Being here, I am able to hear other questions that apply to me. Now I can go to a financial advisor or HR with more information on my side.”

Tari Harmon

Tari Harmon, 28, City of San Luis Obispo

Tari Harmon, a 28-year-old with the city of San Luis Obispo, said her agency is rife with newer employees, and it’s hard to keep them due to the cost of living vs. pay.

“We have so much turnover, and we’re losing long-time employees with institutional knowledge to retirement,” said Harmon. “We’re all kind of lost in the sauce about everything when it comes to our benefits.”

When she and her colleagues attended a CBEE in Riverside recently, she jumped at the opportunity to learn and ask questions. After attending a class on deferred compensation plans for those early to mid-career, she now has answers to questions hanging over their collective heads.

“This event has been insanely helpful,” she said. “Many employees don’t know you can have two retirement plans at the same time – your CalPERS pension, and a supplemental savings plan. I didn’t know until today you can have more than one supplemental plan going at once, which is awesome.”

Candee Torrez

Candee Torrez, 39, Beaumont Unified School District

Prior to becoming a mother, 39-year-old Candee Torrez intended to return to work after exhausting the eight weeks of Paid Family Leave. But she wanted to be there for her three-month-old boy Ezra’s early development.

“Now that I’m a mom, I don’t know what the future holds with my school district job – because I like my mom job,” Torrez said.

Torrez has been a librarian with the Beaumont Unified School District in Southern California for nearly 10 years. But until attending a CBEE in Riverside, she didn’t know how much protection she has as an employee, plus the protections over the funds she’s contributed toward her CalPERS pension.

“I’m happy to hear my pension is held for me if I don’t return to work right away, or ever,” Torrez said. “There is so much flexibility with what I’ve contributed, and there are so many options in my favor.

“I wouldn’t have learned all this on my own – I’m grateful for the education I’ve had today.”

Cathy Chien

Chien “Cathy” Chien (center), 32, California Department of Health Care Services

“Start early, and start now,” is Cathy Chien’s motto when it comes to saving extra to supplement her eventual CalPERS pension. At 32, the California Department of Health Care Services worker has two CBEEs under her belt, and she’s not done learning.

“Every time I come here, I get new information,” said Chien. “I began a 457 plan after my first CBEE — it’s important to know your income options beyond what’s already in place.”

Chien said the deferred compensation plans available through CalPERS can be better than what’s available through other avenues. “I’m planning for my future today, because you never know what can happen,” she said. “You can’t put a price on the feeling of knowing you’ll have enough money in retirement, because you took the time to educate yourself early in your career.

“Knowing I will be ok when I retire is priceless.”

Our next CBEE will be held virtually April 10 and 11, and registration opens in early March. Subscribe to our Member Education Bulletin to be notified of future educational events in your region.