No matter where you are in your career, it's never too early to start planning for the financial aspects of your retirement.

The Human Resources Department regularly fields questions from employees, managers and judges about the retirement process. At workshops and other training sessions, there is significant interest in accurate information about this important area of life planning.

When should I retire? The decision to retire is based on a number of factors, including family needs, health status, job satisfaction, and interest in new areas. Underlying all of these factors, however, is the difficult question: "Can I afford to retire?"

Trial Court employees are fortunate to have a defined benefit pension plan. In broad terms, this means that once we are vested in the retirement system, we will qualify for a pension based on our age, years of service, salary and group classification. Most Trial Court employees are in Group 1. Court Officers and Probation Officers are in Group 2. Judges have a separate pension system and a mandatory retirement age of 70 years.

As of March, some 27 percent of Trial Court employees had 20 or more years of service.   

Helpful resources. Your planning process should be based on accurate information about whether you can expect to receive a pension, when the pension can begin, and how much that pension will be. That information has become easily accessible… 

State Retirement Board website. There is extensive information available on the State Retirement Board website at http://www.mass.gov/treasury/retirement/state-board-of-retire/. This should be your first step to learn about your post-working income stream and health insurance. The website includes educational videos, locations and office hours of the Retirement Board, a new judicial retirement page for judges, links to all of the retirement publications and forms, and a pension calculator.    

Anyone contemplating retirement in the next five to ten years should take the time to learn about this important online resource. Employees with a longer timeframe should still learn the basics of their future retirement income so that they can make informed decisions about investments needed for additional income, post-retirement employment, eligibility for social security benefits, and so on.   

HR Checklist. For employees closer to their anticipated retirement date, the Human Resources Department has also developed a checklist [Trial Court Web intranet] to use as a guide to information about social security, continuation of health and life insurance, dental and vision coverage, tax deductions and travel reimbursement, vacation, sick and compensatory time buy-back, deferred compensation, cash flow, and flexible spending accounts. 

Did you know…

  • You’ll need to wait for your first pension check, so you should set aside funds to tide you over. 
  • If you also worked outside the Trial Court and paid into social security, your state pension may impact your social security benefits.
  • You may be able to set aside some of any buy-back into your deferred compensation account.

The HR checklist covers the above issues and more, and is available online at the Human Resources Department’s intranet page.  You can find Human Resources on the intranet (TrialCourtWeb) site index and scroll down to the section on retirement. There is also a shortcut to the pension calculator on the Trial Court’s intranet home page.

Looking ahead. Over the last few years, the Legislature has made changes in the state retirement system, including the method for calculating average highest salary, and retiree contributions to health care premiums. With pension costs continuing to escalate, we can expect additional changes ahead, including perhaps caps on certain buy-back amounts. It is increasingly important to be informed about all aspects of your financial future. 

If you haven’t yet done so, let 2016 be the year that you get the information you need to make the right retirement decisions for you and your family, starting with the available resources listed above.