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Was it constitutional for Proposition 124 to replace PSPRS' permanent benefit increases with a capped 2% COLA?

In this blog I and multiple commenters have broached the subject of the suspect constitutionality of PSPRS' replacement of the old perma...

Monday, August 15, 2016

PSPRS service purchase calculations and how they can cost you a bundle if you're not careful

PSPRS has posted the new service purchase estimator that will be used until the start of next fiscal year.  You will need Microsoft Excel to open it on your own computer.  I would encourage anyone who can buy service time to play around with the calculator just to see the dollar amounts required to buy their service time, now or in the future when it becomes much more expensive.

The calculator has some nice features.  It allows you to break down fractional time into a yearly total, so if you have, for instance, four years, nine months, and 28 days, it will convert that into 4.827 years for you.  I have not looked at my DD-214 in years, but if I remember correctly, it breaks down military service into years, months, and days, which now can be easily converted for your calculation.

There is also a calculator for those who may be interested in purchasing service time via payroll deduction.  Once you calculate the total service purchase cost, you can enter that total into another calculator that will give you a biweekly payment amount.  This biweekly amount can be paid for and length of time up to 15 years for a total of up to 390 payroll deductions.  The payroll deduction also gives you a breakdown of how much you will pay in principal, interest, and in total.

The one feature I do not like about the calculator is how they fix dates for the purchase of time on either the current date or July 1, 2017.  I believe the current date calculation uses the 7.4% expected rate of return that will be used until the start of next fiscal year, while the July 1, 2017 calculation uses the 10-year Treasury Bill rate plus 2% that will be the permanent variable rate starting next fiscal year.  It would have been preferable if members could enter in their own proposed service purchase date.  This is especially true for anyone who is very close to 20 years of service.  This is because the actuarial formula "punishes" you for buying time that push you up to a milestone like 20 or 25 years of service.  This is why most of us already have been told that we should only buy time very early in our careers or after we have hit a milestone like 20 or 25 years of service.  This is pretty verify with the calculator by comparing the cost of buying one year of service at 19 years of service and at 20 years of service.  (Note: I used my date of birth and an average high salary of $75,000 for all the calculations.  Your numbers will vary based on your own data.)  Today at 19 years of service, a single year will cost $51,576 versus only $21,705 at 20 years, or nearly $30,000 more.  Today at 24 years of service, one year would cost $48,835 versus $27,130 at 25 years of service.  However, the strange thing about the 24/25 yer calculation is that you can buy 0.99 of a year and still get the lower calculation ($21,488) even though you are just short of reaching 25 years.  This does not apply to the 19/20 year calculation where buying 0.99 of a year at 19 years of service will still cost you $51,060.

All this is important for those close to 20 years of service because it makes sense to buy as small amount of time that gets you to 20 years of service.  If you have 19 years of service today, you will still want to buy your service time at the higher discount rate (7.4%) before July 1, 2017 because it will make it cheaper.  However, like on the Price is Right, you will want to purchase it as close to July 1, 2017 as possible without going past that date because then you will be pay less under the aforementioned 19/20 years of service issue.  As an example, say today (August 15) is your 19th year of service, which means you have 10 months, 15 days left in the fiscal year, or 0.874 of a year.  If you were to by that time today, it would cost you $45,062 for the 0.874 year which would get you to 20 years of service.  The other 0.126 of a year would then only cost you $2,735 since you were already vested at 20 years of service.  This would cost you a total of $47,797 for the full year you purchased today.

Now what if you wait until June 1, 2017, one month from the deadline.  You would then be buying only 0.83 of a year to get you to 20 years of  service at the cost of $4,290.  The remaining 0.917 of a year would only cost you $19,903 because you would already have 20 years of service.  The total cost of the one year service purchase on June 1, 2017 would now only be $24,193, a savings of $23,604.  This is a particular example for those really close to 20 years of service, but I suspect the problem will likely affect a quite a few PSPRS members.  Another problem I foresee is with those who may be close to 25 years of service.

As we previously discussed, the actuarial calculations are different for those with the 24/25 years of service issue.  A person in this situation will want to make TWO service purchases before the July 1, 2017 deadline.  As another example, say you have 23 years of service as of today, and you have five years of service time you want to purchase.  What should you do?  You should NOT buy the full five years in one chunk, which would cost you $151,930. (This is again using the same high average salary and birthdate as before.)  You would be better off going to your local PSPRS office and buying 23 months and 15 days worth of time (1.958 of a year) for $42,497, waiting 15 days, then buying the other 3.042 years for $82,531.  This would cost you $125,028 and save you almost $26,902 over buying the whole five years at one time.  Unlike the previous 19/20 years of service example, there appears to be no advantage to waiting closer to the deadline in this situation.  I calculate that waiting would actually cost about $3,000 more to do the two purchases nine months later than today.

As we can see it would be very helpful if PSPRS members could enter the future purchase date.  Of course the further away you are from 20 or 25 years of service, the less helpful this would be since the variables in the calculation, such as your high average salary or the 10-year Treasury Bill rate, are less predictable the farther you are from retirement.  PSPRS members with longer retirement horizons may want to check the payroll deduction option, especially if they have only a small amount of time they want to buy.  For example, a member with five years of service and a high salary average of $50,000 could purchase one year today for $10,540.  Over 60 months, he would pay about $191 every two weeks and spend about $905 in total interest.  Buying more time becomes prohibitively expensive, likely eating up the member's full paycheck, and extending payments out longer increases the interest expense.  Also, it would probably be better to wait and see what inflation is like in the future because, if you are like me and believe it will be higher in the future, it may be cheaper to buy service time in the future as the variable discount rate approaches, equals, or even surpasses PSPRS' expected rate of return.

There may be some difficult decisions to be made if you are planning on purchasing service time, whether via payroll deduction or in a lump sum.  I hope that there will be assistance available to members who will be making important decisions that will cost them thousands of dollars.  Also, assurances need to be received that all requests for service purchases made before July 1, 2017 are honored and calculated correctly.  Members also should not be hit with anymore "surprises" about newly-enforced clauses or last-minute legislative changes.  PSPRS members, past, present, and future, have already been serially shafted by various entities, most egregiously by those whose sole purpose was to protect their benefits at the state level.  Why PSPRS members must have their service purchases discounted at a lower rate than PSPRS discounts its own liabilities is a question that the incurious state public safety unions are unwilling to ask of an indifferent PSPRS administration.  Hopefully, the unions locals, who actually care about public safety workers, will at least be provided the necessary tools to take care of their own members.


  1. Why is the Hall case taking so long?

    1. With the Fields case, which dealt with the change to the COLA formula, the Arizona Supreme Court heard arguments on June 4, 2013 and didn't announce a decision until February 20, 2014, which is over 8 months. The arguments before the panel in Hall were only about 6 months ago, so if they take as long as in Fields, we could be waiting until October 2016 for a decision. Furthermore, Hall is dealing with the issue of contribution rates, an issue that is not as clearly protected by the Arizona Constitution, so if they take longer than in Fields and announce a decision sometime in 2017, I would not be surprised.


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