Retirement Benefits

Your Top 10 Retirement Questions Answered

CalPERS Regional Office

These questions are at the top of the list when CalPERS members are preparing to retire.

  1. How much money am I going to get?
    The answer is always, “Let’s run an estimate and find out.” Since you are basing life decisions on these numbers, it’s a good idea to use the myCalPERS Retirement Estimate Calculator, which will give specific estimates based on your specific information. Log in to your myCalPERS account to get started.
  2. What’s the best day to retire?
    For each person, that magic date varies. There are three dates that may have a financial impact: fiscal year, birthday quarter, or cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). You’ll want to pick the one that best suits your needs:

    • Fiscal year – If you start working in July, it is possible to earn one year of service credit by the end of April (10 months), as service credit is earned in tenths, not twelfths.
    • Birthday quarter – Based on the classic 2% at 55 formula, you are eligible to retire at age 50 with a multiplier of 1.1. That multiplier increases every three months after your birthdate; at age 63 it reaches the maximum of 2.5%. If you are under 63, a birthday quarter may help to increase your benefit payment.
    • COLA – The exact percent is based on the annual calculation of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all U.S. cities the year following your retirement, up to a set limit based on your contract. If you retire on December 31, 2020, your COLA would be based on the CPI for 2021, and you would receive your first COLA May 1, 2022. If you retire instead on January 1, 2021, that single day’s difference can delay the first eligibility by up to one year.
  3. When will my benefits run out?
    Your lifetime benefits do not end when your contributions are exhausted.
  4. Can I get CalPERS health benefits in retirement?
    As a retiring member, you can only get the coverage that is offered through your employment, and you must apply for coverage within 120 days of the date of separation (the date you leave the CalPERS-covered job).
  5. What is the difference between a survivor and a beneficiary?
    Survivors are set by law and are funded by the employer. Beneficiaries may be anyone you assign, and they receive part of your benefit. When you use the Retirement Estimate Calculator in myCalPERS, you can see the estimated amount both you and your beneficiary will receive, according to the option you choose. Running different estimates based on different options can help you understand how your choices will affect your retirement benefits. Not every employer offers a survivor continuance benefit, so you should check with your personnel office to see whether that benefit is in your contract.
  6. When will I get my first check?
    We are usually able to process a service retirement within 15 days of the following month of the retirement date. For example, if you retire February 15, you’re eligible to receive your first payment March 15, which would be the prorated remainder of February. The first full payment for the month of March would be in April. Monthly payments are usually deposited on the first business day of each month.
  7. Can I leave my money to my spouse, then my child, then my grandchild, and so on?
    Your payment is a set amount based on a mathematical formula. You can assign one or more lifetime beneficiaries to receive portions of that amount when you submit your retirement application, but your beneficiaries cannot pass those benefits on to subsequent generations.
  8. How is my benefit calculated?
    Benefits are based on a three-part formula that uses service credit, benefit factor (also known as the multiplier), and average final compensation. We encourage you to take a retirement planning class to understand each element. Webinars are also available, as well as the Three Retirement Calculation Factors video on the CalPERS YouTube channel.
  9. What is the most popular retirement option? What do most people choose?
    We recommend that you view our video Understanding Your Retirement Benefit Options on the CalPERS YouTube channel. As your pension is just one element of your retirement picture, you may want to meet with a personal financial planner and determine an overall strategy based on all your income. We don’t track the most popular option, and we are not financial advisors.
  10. Have I forgotten to ask anything?
    We offer a number of videos that can help answer your retirement questions, and others that focus on new CalPERS members and retirees. You can find all our videos on the CalPERS YouTube channel.