A. RETIREMENT CONTRIBUTION RATE
While actively employed, Judges of the Trial Court, Justices of the Appeals Court and Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court appointed after July 1, 2010, contribute to the retirement system based on the judge’s date of appointment, or date the judge first entered the service of the Commonwealth or a political subdivision thereof, whichever is earlier. The contribution rate is determined pursuant to G.L. c. 32, §65D(b), as follows:
- If you were appointed before January 2, 1975, or if you are a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court appointed to the SJC before July 1, 2010, you are not required to contribute.1
- If you were appointed between January 2, 1975 and December 31, 1978, the contribution rate is 7% of your salary.
- If you were appointed between January 1, 1979 and December 31, 1987, and did not previously work for the Commonwealth or a political subdivision thereof, the contribution rate is 7% on the first $30,000 and 9% on the balance.
- If you were appointed after January 1, 1988, and did not previously work for the Commonwealth or a political subdivision thereof, the contribution rate is 8% for the first $30,000, 9% for $30,000 - $45,000, and 10% on the amount over $45,000.
Retirement contributions made to the retirement system after January 12, 1988 are made on a pre-tax basis. Such contributions are subject to federal income taxes once a retirement benefit commences as they comprise the annuity portion of a retirement benefit. An overall retirement allowance is not subject to state income taxes if the retiree resides in Massachusetts.
Retirement contributions made to the retirement system before January 12, 1988, the annuity portion of a retirement benefit, is not subject to federal income taxes for the portion of the annuity on which federal taxes were already paid.
Limits on Compensation
Please be aware that state law limits the amount of regular compensation that may be used in determining a retirement benefit for certain members of the MSERS. The state compensation limit found at G.L. c.32, §1 applies only to individuals who became members of the MSERS after January 1, 2011.
The limit provides that the “regular compensation” that may be taken into account when calculating benefits “… shall not include salary, wages or other compensation in whatever form in any calendar year in excess of 64 per cent (64%) of the annual limitation that may be imposed under federal law on the amount of compensation that may be taken into account when calculating benefits under plans described in 26 U.S.C. 401(a) including, but not limited to, the applicable limits for any calendar year under 26 U.S.C. 401(a)(17).”
For 2021, the general compensation limit found in U.S.C. section 401(a)(17) is $290,000. Thus the 2021 state limit on regular compensation under G.L. 32 for persons who first became members after January 1, 2011 is $185,600.00.
If a judge has prior, continuing membership in the MSERS or another Massachusetts public retirement system before January 1, 2011 and prior to becoming a judge, the state compensation limit would not apply.
The Commonwealth’s HRCMS payroll system currently addresses the compensation limit for employees affected by it and halts retirement contributions on regular compensation amounts over the limit.
1 Opinion of the Attorney General (92/93-3) January 15, 1993; See also §30 of Chapter 131 of the Acts of 2010.
B. RETIREMENT BENEFITS FOR JUDGES APPOINTED ON OR AFTER JANUARY 2, 1975
Judicial retirement is governed by G.L. c. 32, §§ 65A-65J and the Massachusetts Constitution. All judges are required to retire at age 70. Massachusetts Constitution, Part II, c. 3, art. 1, as amended by art. 98 of the Amendments. A judge appointed on or after January 2, 1975, must meet one of the following age and service requirements to receive a retirement benefit:
1. At age 70, a judge with ten or more years of continuous judicial service can retire with the maximum benefit allowable based on the salary in effect at the date of retirement. As is discussed further below a reduced survivor benefit is also available as an alternative. G.L. c. 32, §65D(d). Under the maximum benefit a judge receives 75 percent of the salary in effect at date of retirement. G.L. c. 32, §65D(c).
2. At age 70, a judge retiring with less than ten years of continuous judicial service will receive the maximum pension based on the salary in effect at the date of retirement less 10 percent for each year short of ten years of service. For example, if a judge has eight years of service upon retirement at age 70, the judge will receive a pension equal to 60 percent of salary at time of retirement (80 percent of the 75 percent) under Option A. G.L. c. 32, § 65D(d).
3. At age 65, a judge with fifteen or more years of continuous judicial service can retire with the maximum retirement benefit available.
C. EARLY RETIREMENT
Under the so-called early retirement statute, a judge with at least ten years of continuous judicial service and who is at least 55 years of age may receive a retirement benefit. G.L. c. 32, §65H. The benefit the judge receives is calculated using the following formula: (1) the salary of the judge at the time of retirement; (2) multiplied by the number of years and months in continuous service as a judge; and (3) further multiplied by the percent allowable based on age at the date of retirement as shown on the following statutory table:
|PERCENT||AGE AT RETIREMENT|
|5.0||65 OR OLDER|
A judge having the necessary age and continuous years of judicial service is entitled to a maximum benefit ranging from a high of 75 percent of salary to a low of 15 percent of salary. G.L. c. 32, §65H.
D. RELATED PROVISIONS
If a judge under the age of seventy without ten continuous years of judicial service resigns from the bench, the judge will only be entitled to a refund of his or her pension contribution plus interest and payment for any unused vacation days. Opinion of the Attorney General (99/1), September 7, 1999. However, if the judge at the time of resignation has non-judicial Massachusetts creditable service on account with another commonwealth public retirement system, the judge may add the years of judicial service to the years of non-judicial service and, if other requirements are met, may qualify for a non-judicial retirement benefit, calculated under the provisions of c.32, §§1-28. G.L. c. 32, §65D(f).
E. DEFERRED RETIREMENT
A judge who chooses to step down before the mandatory age with at least ten years of judicial service, or who is eligible to retire but for less than the maximum pension due to age and/or continuous years of judicial service and who resigns may under G.L. c. 32, §65H defer the start of the judge’s retirement benefit until the judge reaches the age of his / her choosing. For example, if a judge resigns at age 60 with 22 years of service, the judge could receive a benefit under the early retirement provisions of 55% (2.5 x 22) of the salary at the time of retirement. On the other hand, if that same judge resigned but delayed retirement until age 62, the judge could then receive the maximum benefit allowable of 75% (3.5 x 22). Please note, a judge who resigns without beginning to receive a retirement benefit would have no health insurance coverage through the Commonwealth until the retirement benefit commences. A deferred retirement would also impact a judge’s unused sick and vacation time buy-out.
F. RETIREMENT UNDER MASSACHUSETTS PUBLIC EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT SYSTEMS
A judge who worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a county, municipal or quasi-governmental agency and was vested for a non-judicial retirement benefit prior to becoming a judge or, becomes vested in a non-judicial retirement benefit after stepping down as a judge, may be eligible for the receipt of a separate retirement benefit from the applicable retirement system.
Judges not eligible to retire with a judicial pension who are vested in a non-judicial system are allowed to combine their judicial and non-judicial service for purposes of pension calculation under the non-judicial retirement system, but not for purposes of calculating a pension under the judicial retirement system. G.L. c.32, §65D(f).
A non-judicial retirement allowance is calculated differently than a judicial retirement benefit. Generally, such a benefit is determined utilizing the statutory age factor at retirement, the total amount of creditable service and multiplying the resulting percentage by the average of regular compensation for the highest thirty-six month period. Pension calculator. Additionally, recent legislative changes to c.32 can impact rights and benefits under a non-judicial retirement system like the MSERS. For example, individuals who become members of a non-judicial public employee retirement system on or after April 2, 2012 face different vesting and age requirements in order to receive a non-judicial retirement benefit. Additionally, the minimum retirement age is 60 for individuals who become members of a retirement system after April 2, 2012 and thereafter retire from Group 1. Such members are also required to have their retirement benefits pro-rated based on job group classifications should they have worked in different job groups. G.L. c.32, §3. For further details regarding non-judicial retirement benefits members should contact the MSRB or the retirement system with their prior service on account.
A person who is collecting a non-judicial pension and is appointed to the judiciary, may elect within 30 days of such appointment to join the judicial retirement system provided the judge repays to the non-judicial pension system the total amount of the retirement pension received while retired plus interest. G.L. c. 32, §65D½. If the judge declines to join the judicial retirement system, the non-judicial retirement pension will be suspended until the judge retires.
G. ENTITLEMENT TO JUDICIAL AND A NON-JUDICIAL PENSION
When appointed to the judiciary, some judges may already be vested in another Commonwealth public employee retirement system, entitling them to a non-judicial retirement allowance under G.L. c. 32, §§1-28. As a result, a judge who is so vested in another Commonwealth public employee retirement system, who did not withdraw his or her retirement contributions when appointed a judge, may be entitled to receive two pensions upon retiring as a judge provided the judge meets all the requirements for a judicial pension.
However, a judge who knowingly withdraws retirement contributions from a Commonwealth public employee retirement system before being appointed to the bench and being eligible for judicial retirement benefits may not re-establish the prior non-judicial service for purposes of seeking a separate retirement benefit.
H. FILING FOR A RETIREMENT ALLOWANCE
A judge seeking to file for retirement benefits may file his/her application within 120 days before, or 60 days after the last day on payroll if the judge wishes to use that date as their effective date of retirement.
If an application is filed more than 60 days after the last date on the payroll the effective retirement date will be fifteen (15) days after the date the application is received by the Board.
An retirement application may be withdrawn at any time up to and until the requested effective day of retirement by submitting a written request to the Board. Similarly the selected retirement date may also be changed. No changes as to the submission of the application or to the retirement date can be made after the requested retirement date has become effective.
Click below to download the application for judicial retirement benefits.
I. RETIREMENT OPTIONS
A judge entitled to a pension on retirement may have three forms of retirement benefit options: Option A, B or C depending on the provision under which they qualify for benefits. Under the Board’s interpretation of the judicial retirement provisions, judges retiring under §65D may only select from Options A & C, while judges retiring under §65H may select from Options A, B & C. The differences among the three retirement options are as follows:
Under Option A, a judge entitled to the maximum pension, e.g., age 65 with fifteen years of continuous judicial employment or at age 70 with ten years of continuous judicial employment, will receive a pension for life equal to 75 percent of the judge’s salary at the time of retirement. If a judge retires under Option A and then dies, there are no survivor benefits to the judge’s spouse other than medical insurance. G.L. c. 32, § 65D. A judge cannot retire under Option A unless the judge obtains his or her spouse’s signature, if applicable, acknowledging the spouse’s knowledge and understanding of the option selected. G.L. c. 32, § 12.
The Retirement Board takes the position that judges are not entitled to retire under Option B unless retired under the early retirement provisions of §65H. In the past judges may have been allowed to take an Option B retirement. Under Option B, the judge’s pension will be reduced by approximately 1% -2% than that under Option A depending upon age and the total amount in the judge’s annuity account, i.e., the amount the judge contributed plus interest. Under Option B, when the judge dies after retiring any portion of the judges pension contribution not paid out during the judge’s retirement will be paid in a lump sum to the beneficiary or beneficiaries the judge selects. The beneficiary does not have to be a relative, e.g., the beneficiary could be a church, school or charity. G.L. c.32, §12. Please note that judges appointed prior to 1975 are not eligible for Option B, since they do not contribute to the judicial retirement system.
Under Option C, the judge takes a reduced pension but, upon the judge’s death, the surviving spouse (or other designated beneficiary only under §65H) will receive two-thirds of the judge’s reduced pension for the remainder of the survivor’s life provided the surviving spouse does not remarry. The surviving spouse’s pension terminates on remarriage, G.L. c.32, §65C. Also, for a spouse to be entitled to a pension under Option C the surviving spouse and the deceased judge must have been living together at the time of the judge’s death or, if living apart, they must have been living apart for justifiable cause other than desertion or moral turpitude on the part of the surviving spouse. G.L. c.32, §65C. If a judge elects Option C and the spouse predeceases the judge, the judge’s pension is increased to the Option A level. G.L. c.32, §65C (the so-called pop-up provision).
Until the enactment of the early retirement statute, G.L. c. 32, §65H, in 1992, the only Option C beneficiary for a judge was his/her spouse. The enactment of G.L. c. 32, §65H allows a judge eligible to retire under this statute to select as the Option C beneficiary the judge’s spouse, or with the judge’s spouse’s permission, a judge’s parent, sibling, child or former spouse who has not remarried.
As is the case with the filing of a retirement application the selection of a retirement option may be changed at any time up to and until the requested effective day of retirement. No changes to the selected retirement option may be made after the requested retirement date has become effective.
J. POST-RETIREMENT EMPLOYMENT
Judges Receiving Only Judicial Retirement Allowance
The general statutory rule applicable to retirees who engage in governmental service in Massachusetts (municipal, county, or state) limits a retiree in two ways. The retiree’s service may not exceed 960 hours in any calendar year; and the retiree’s earnings may not exceed the difference between the amount of the retirement allowance and the current salary of the position from which one retired. G.L. c.32, §91(a), (b).
After having been retired one full calendar year, a retiree may earn an additional $15,000 per year beyond the limitations; however a retiree is still limited to the maximum 960 hours per year.
These provisions apply to a retired judge receiving a retirement allowance and who is then serving in a position at the state, county or municipal level in Massachusetts.
Special provisions apply to judges who receive solely a judicial retirement benefit and are recalled and serve in that capacity. G.L. c.211B, §14(c).
Judges Receiving Two Retirement Allowances
The Board’s policy for a judge receiving two retirement allowances and providing services post retirement in a non-recall capacity averages the earnings limits of the retired judge by taking the average retirement benefit of the two allowances, and an average of the salaries of the former positions (judicial and non-judicial) used to calculate the retirement allowances to establish a limit under §91(b). Judges also remain subject to the annual hour limit of §91(b).
Salary Average: $129,847
Less Pension Average: 65,000
Earnings Limit = $64,847
For a judge serving in a recall capacity who also receives two retirement allowances, the Board’s policy implements the provisions of G.L. c.211B, §14(c) for the judicial retirement benefit, but also includes the annual non-judicial retirement benefit received by the judge in computing the §14 limitation.
K. SURVIVOR BENEFITS
Depending on a judge’s age and years of judicial service, the judge’s spouse, or in certain cases an unmarried ex-spouse, or relative, upon the judge’s death, may be eligible to receive survivor benefits through the MSRB. If a judge dies without meeting certain age and years of service requirements as explained below, there will be no survivor benefit. Rather the judge’s estate will be entitled to the refund of the judge’s contribution to the retirement system plus accrued interest.
1. Survivor Benefits Where Judge Dies After Retirement
A judge who retires under any of the circumstances discussed may elect to receive, in lieu of the Option A pension, a pension for life under Option C at a lesser annual rate, with the provision that upon his or her death, a pension shall be paid to the surviving spouse, or other eligible beneficiary (if retired under Section 65H).2 The survivor’s pension shall be at an annual rate equal to two thirds of the rate paid to the judge under Option C. G.L. c. 32, §65C, ¶1.
2. Survivor Benefits Where Judge Dies During Service
The retirement benefit of a judge who dies during judicial service is governed by G.L. c.32, §65C and limits benefits to the judge’s surviving spouse. Such a surviving spouse of a judge, who dies in service with the age and years of judicial service to qualify for the maximum pension, would receive a benefit equal to two-thirds of the Option C pension based on the amount the beneficiary would have been entitled to, had the judge retired taking Option C and later died:
Paragraph 3 of section 65C allows a surviving beneficiary of a judge who dies while in service lacking the age and/or years of service required for retirement at the maximum pension, to receive a reduced survivor benefit in two relevant situations.
i. If a judge forty-five years of age or over but under the age of seventy who would be entitled, upon resigning, to a pension or retirement allowance for life under sections sixty-five A or sixty-five D, except for not having attained age seventy . . .
An example of this situation would be a 68 year old judge who dies in service with 8 years of continuous judicial service.
ii. [I]f a judge forty-five years of age or over but under the age of sixty-five, who would be entitled upon resigning to a pension or retirement allowance under said section sixty-five A or sixty-five D, except for not having attained age sixty-five…
An example of this situation would be a 55 year old judge who dies in service with 14 years of continuous judicial service.
If a deceased judge falls into one of the above categories, then, pursuant to paragraph 3 of section 65C, the survivor’s pension is calculated using the following formula:
[T]he judge’s surviving spouse shall receive a pension or retirement allowance for life computed as provided in the second paragraph except that, in making such computation the proportion of the annual rate of salary payable to a judge under section sixty-five A or sixty-five D . . . shall be reduced by one per cent for each year or part thereof by which the date of death precedes the attainment of the age at which the judge would have received, upon resigning, his pension or retirement allowance for life under section sixty-five A, sixty-five B or sixty-five D respectively.
A fact pattern not covered by G.L. c. 32, §65C is a judge with less than 15 years of service who dies at age 65. The Retirement Board has construed the early retirement statute, G.L. c. 32, §65H, as providing survivor benefits under the aforementioned circumstances. If a judge at the time of death was eligible for an early retirement pension under §65H, the surviving beneficiary under these circumstances would be entitled to a survivor’s benefit based on the amount the judge would have received had the judge been retired at the time of death.
2 A surviving spouse is eligible for these benefits only if he or she was the judge’s spouse at the time of death. G.L. c. 32, § 65C, ¶1.
The SMART Plan is an optional deferred compensation retirement plan for all state employees which supplements the MSERS. It allows participants to set aside a portion of their earnings each year in a savings or investment plan, while at the same time deferring state and federal tax obligations and supplementing retirement funds. The SMART Plan is administered by the Office of the Treasurer through Great-West Retirement Services.
More information on the SMART Plan may be found at https://mass-smart.gwrs.com/login.do or by calling 1-877-457-1900.
Educational Materials Disclaimer
The Massachusetts State Retirement Board (MSRB) posts educational materials on its website and social media channels for the convenience of members of the Massachusetts State Employees’ Retirement System (MSERS). These educational materials include videos, electronic content, booklets, handouts, slide shows and other materials distributed in conjunction with presentations MSRB staff may have made.
Please note that these educational materials are current as of their date of publication. Anyone utilizing these educational materials subsequent to their date of publication is responsible for making sure the content is completely up to date in all respects as it may apply to their specific circumstances.
These educational materials should not be construed as, nor are they intended to be advice regarding the potential retirement benefits of any member of the MSERS. The information contained in educational materials is not intended as a substitute for the Massachusetts General Laws or the regulations and policies of the MSRB.
MSERS members are solely responsible for making their own retirement benefit decisions. Therefore the MSRB strongly recommends that if you are within 120 days to your retirement date, contact the MSRB to speak with one of our retirement counselors and start planning your retirement. The MSRB also strongly recommends that you plan your retirement and that you file at least 30 days in advance of leaving your employment. Certain retirement options will not be available to you once you stop working. To contact the State Retirement Board call 617-367-7770 (Boston Office), 413-730-6135 (Springfield Office) or 800-392-6014 (in MA only).