The Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) is a retirement plan for public employees of Idaho, made up of members from over 850 employer organizations across the state. The $22 billion plan offers retirement, disability, and death benefit programs to over 177,000 members. In 2022, over $1 billion in benefits were paid to PERSI retirees living in Idaho, with an average monthly benefit of $1,800. 

Whether you’re a new public employee just entering PERSI, or you’re nearing retirement and thinking about your future, understanding PERSI’s retirement rules can help you in your retirement planning. Having a comprehensive plan that includes your PERSI benefits can lay the foundation for a secure and comfortable retirement in your golden years. 

Understanding PERSI Basics

PERSI was founded in 1963 as a defined benefit retirement plan to offer a measure of retirement security for Idaho’s public employees. Through the plan, retirees receive a fixed monthly pension based on factors including years of service and salary. 

During its first 35 years, PERSI’s plan was a traditional defined benefit plan, now known as the PERSI Base Plan; in 2001, PERSI added a defined contribution plan, called the PERSI Choice 401(k) Plan, to supplement the Base Plan. 

  • Base Plan: Enrollment in the defined benefit Base Plan is automatic, and once vested, you’ll receive a lifetime benefit at retirement. Both you and your employer make contributions to the Base Plan, which are invested and grow over time. Your contributions go into your personal account, while employer contributions are pooled in a trust fund to cover future benefits for all members. 

For 2023, as a general member, you contribute 6.71% of your annual salary to the Base Plan, and your employer contributes 11.18%. This percentage varies if you are a public safety member or a school employee member, and it will increase for all members in 2024. Retiring as a vested member means you’ll receive a fixed monthly payment for the rest of your life.

  • Choice 401(k) Plan: Participation in the defined contribution Choice 401(k) Plan is voluntary, unlike the Base Plan. The Choice 401(k) Plan allows you to contribute a portion of your salary, pre-tax, via payroll deductions. You can direct your investments among several investment options. The amount available in your Choice 401(k) at retirement is dependent on your contributions and the performance of your investments.

The combination of these two plans from PERSI offers an optimal blend – the security of the Base Plan, and the opportunity for self-directed investments and voluntary contributions in the Choice 401(k) Plan.

PERSI Eligibility and Retirement Rules

Understanding how to join PERSI and what it means for your retirement is paramount for utilizing this helpful benefit and resource. 

Joining PERSI

When you work in an eligible position for one of over 850 PERSI employers, you become a PERSI member. As an eligible employee, you accrue service credit for each month you work; the credited service is used to calculate your PERSI benefit at retirement. You’ll earn one month of service for each calendar month worked, with at least 20 hours worked during a week. You won’t earn additional service credit by working overtime.

Once you’ve earned 60 months of service credit, you’ll be considered vested and receive a lifetime benefit at retirement. The five-month vesting period doesn’t need to be with the same PERSI employer – you can change public service jobs without impacting your PERSI membership.

Planning for Retirement

To receive your full PERSI retirement benefits, you must reach your service retirement age; or, you must meet the minimum age requirement when you retire, have at least 60 months of credited service, and you also must meet the Rule of 80/90. These requirements differ if you are a general member, or public safety member – police officer or firefighter.

The Rule of 80/90 = your age + your years of service = 80/90 (or more)

For general members, you must be at least 55 years old and meet the Rule of 90. For police officers or firefighters, you must be 50 years old and meet the Rule of 80. For members with mixed service, your requirements depend on your ratio of general and police-firefighter service –  you’ll have to be between 50-55 years old and meet a Rule of 80 or 90, with both depending on your ratio.

If you retire before reaching your service retirement age (65 years old for general members, 60 years old for police and firefighters), or before reaching the Rule of 80/90, your retirement benefit will be reduced.

If you decide to work beyond your service retirement age or the Rule of 80/90, your retirement benefit will continue to increase.

Calculating Your PERSI Retirement Benefits

Determining the amount of your PERSI retirement benefits and how much income you’ll receive can help you better plan for retirement. PERSI benefits are calculated using a straightforward formula involving your average monthly salary during a Base Period (currently 42 months), a multiplier of 2% for general members or 2.3% for police officers and firefighters, and your months of service.

Average Monthly Salary during Base Period  x Multiplier x Months of Service

For example, if you’re a general member, your average monthly salary is $3,000, and you have 360 months of service:

$3000 x 2% x 360 months = $21,600 

÷ 12 months = 

Monthly benefit of $1,800

The value of your PERSI benefits typically far exceeds your contributions – within the first 3-5 years of retirement, most PERSI members have received a return greater than the money they contributed while working. And you’ll continue to receive your benefits payment for the rest of your life. PERSI also considers cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to Base Plan benefit payments annually. Your PERSI benefits are a guaranteed, long-term source of retirement income – something very difficult to find in another investment.

Planning for Retirement with PERSI

There are several retirement distribution options available for PERSI members to choose from. The Regular Retirement option provides the largest benefit, with full payment throughout your life, but it has no Contingent Annuitant (CA) protection for your spouse or dependents. PERSI offers two CA Allowance retirement distribution options with either 100% or 50% CA allowances, as well as a Social Security Adjustment option and two options that are a CA/Social Security blend.

If you’re planning on retiring in the next few years, or even if you’re years away from retirement, knowing how the PERSI retirement process works can help make it more efficient and seamless. PERSI provides a helpful retirement checklist to follow throughout your career as a guide.

Comprehensive Retirement Planning

A comprehensive retirement plan that includes income and investments beyond your PERSI Base Plan and Choice 401(k) Plan will offer you more opportunities to save for retirement and reach your financial objectives. Your goals for retirement are based on your unique situation, and working with a financial advisor can help you create a retirement plan that is customized to your individual circumstances, risk tolerance, timeline, and objectives.  

At Five Pine Wealth Management, we work with you to develop a financial plan and retirement plan that is tailored to your specific needs. As fiduciary financial advisors, we have your best interests in mind as we help you reach your retirement goals and realize your vision of retirement. To find out more about how we can help you supplement your PERSI retirement plan with other retirement strategies, send us an email or give us a call at: 877.333.1015.