CARES Act frequently asked questions

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CalSTRS benefit payments

Will my CalSTRS benefits be affected by recent declines in the stock market?

The spread of COVID-19 has impacted global markets over the short term. CalSTRS is a long-term investor, and we think in terms of decades—not days, weeks or months. The CalSTRS Investment Portfolio is broadly diversified in order to respond to periods of market volatility and uncertainty. Our members’ retirement benefits continue to be secure.

Furthermore, the CalSTRS’ Defined Benefit, Defined Benefit Supplement and Cash Balance Benefit programs are defined benefit plans in which a member’s benefit is determined by a service-based formula or guaranteed interest rate. Other types of retirement accounts are sensitive to short-term market fluctuations but defined benefit plans are carefully managed for long-term growth and stability, guaranteeing a modest but steady income for the retiree’s lifetime.

CARES Act: Stimulus checks

I don’t earn enough to file taxes and, as a CalSTRS member, I don’t receive Social Security. How do I get my federal stimulus check provided under the CARES Act?

Under the recently signed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, most U.S. residents are eligible for a one-time recovery rebate payment from the IRS. For the vast majority of taxpayers, no action on their part will be required in order to receive these payments. The IRS will use 2019 tax returns to determine eligibility, and in most cases if a 2019 tax return is not available, the IRS will use the 2018 tax return or information from other federal benefit programs.

Individuals who do not typically file taxes due to their low income and do not receive Social Security benefits, like many CalSTRS members, must take one of the following actions in order to receive their recovery rebate checks:

  • File a 2019 tax return

OR

Many low-income taxpayers are eligible to file tax returns online for free through the IRS Free File service. Members should consult a tax professional if they are unsure about whether to file their taxes. For more information, visit irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know.

CARES Act: Required minimum distributions

I heard the CARES Act suspended required minimum distributions. Does this apply to my CalSTRS Defined Benefit, Defined Benefit Supplement or Cash Balance account?

No. The suspension of required minimum distributions in the CARES Act only applies to defined contribution plans, including 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans, as well as IRAs. CalSTRS members are still required to commence distributions by age 70½, or age 72 for those reaching age 70½ after December 31, 2019, as required by the SECURE Act.

CARES Act: Coronavirus-related distributions

I heard the CARES Act allows an active, contributing member of a retirement system to take up to a $100,000 loan or withdrawal from their retirement account as a coronavirus-related hardship distribution without terminating employment. Does this apply to my CalSTRS Defined Benefit, Defined Benefit Supplement or Cash Balance account?

No. The CARES Act does not permit a qualified defined benefit plan to make distributions that are not otherwise available under the plan’s terms, in this case California state law. Because the ability to fund current and future benefits depends on consistent contributions to the system from members, employers and the state, the CalSTRS Defined Benefit, Defined Benefit Supplement or Cash Balance programs do not provide a mechanism for loans or partial withdrawals for active, contributing members.

What about my CalSTRS Pension2 403(b) or 457(b) accounts or other retirement accounts?

If you have a defined contribution plan, including a 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) or an IRA, your plan may allow for penalty-free coronavirus-related distributions and loans under the CARES Act. If you have a CalSTRS Pension2 403(b) or 457(b) account, login to your Pension2 account for more information. If you have another account, visit your plan administrator’s website.

Does the CARES Act apply to any distribution made by CalSTRS?

If a member has terminated employment in all CalSTRS-covered positions and chooses to withdraw from the retirement system, the CARES Act would apply to a member’s refund of accumulated Defined Benefit Program contributions or Defined Benefit Supplement or Cash Balance termination distributions if the member certifies eligibility to receive the refund or termination benefit as a coronavirus-related distribution.

In addition, any other eligible rollover distribution (including disability and survivor benefits) from the Defined Benefit, Defined Benefit Supplement or Cash Balance programs upon disability or retirement, including all lump-sum distributions or annuity distributions limited to less than 10 years, may be designated as coronavirus-related distributions.

Certain rollover eligible distributions to nonmember spouses and other designated beneficiaries, including death benefits, may also be designated as coronavirus-related distributions.

The CARES Act does not allow for traditional lifetime annuity payments to be treated as coronavirus-related distributions.

How do I qualify for a coronavirus-related distribution?

Your eligible rollover distribution may be considered a coronavirus-related distribution if it’s made on or after January 1, 2020, and before December 31, 2020, and you can certify that you’re an individual who meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • Diagnosed with the virus SARS-CoV-2 or with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including a test authorized under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
  • Has a spouse or dependent (as defined in section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986) diagnosed with COVID-19 by a CDC approved test.
  • Experienced adverse financial consequences as a result of you, your spouse, or a member of your household being quarantined, furloughed or laid off, or having work hours reduced due to COVID-19, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to COVID-19, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by you, your spouse, or a member of your household due to COVID-19, having a reduction in pay (or self-employment income) due to COVID-19 or having a job offer rescinded or start date for a job delayed due to COVID-19.

The Internal Revenue Service defines a member of an individual’s household as someone who shares the individual’s principal residence.

What are the advantages of taking an eligible rollover distribution as a coronavirus-related distribution?

The CARES Act relaxes certain tax implications for coronavirus-related distributions up to $100,000 that typically apply to other retirement plan distributions. Coronavirus-related distributions are not subject to the 10% excise tax on distributions prior to age 59½, and CalSTRS is not required to withhold a minimum 20% for federal income taxes on the distribution. Tax withholding will occur at default rates, unless otherwise directed to not withhold by recipients. Coronavirus-related distributions are still taxable at your normal income tax rate, but you may be able to spread the tax payments or roll over the distribution over a three-year period. Members considering these distributions should consult a tax advisor for questions on how the tax implications apply to them.

If I believe I qualify to receive a coronavirus-related distribution, what do I need to do?

You must submit a completed Form RF-789, Coronavirus-Related Distribution Certification, to CalSTRS along with your application for benefits.

Both forms must be completed on paper and submitted by mail with enough time for the benefit payments and any subsequent tax withholding payment to be distributed before the end of 2020.

Generally, this timeline can be accommodated if your application and certification form are received by November 15, 2020. If you do not want federal or state taxes withheld from your benefit distribution, you must elect this option on the certification form. Note that all or part of the tax withholding subject to special Coronavirus related distribution treatment may be issued separately, several days after the initial payment. For more information, call us at 800-228-5453, between 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Is there any other reason a member should not withdraw from CalSTRS and take a refund of their Defined Benefit Program member contributions as a coronavirus-related distribution?

Any member who wants to withdraw from the Defined Benefit Program should consider the consequences carefully before taking a refund:

  • Withdrawing means forfeiting membership in the Defined Benefit Program, which includes forfeiting the right to receive a future lifetime retirement benefit. For almost all members, the value of a lifetime benefit far exceeds the value of their accumulated contributions. Retired CalSTRS members typically will have received monthly benefits equal to or greater than their accumulated contributions account balance within five years.
  • In general, you’re required to receive a Defined Benefit Supplement termination benefit upon refunding your Defined Benefit Program contributions and interest. However, while you may redeposit Defined Benefit Program contributions and interest upon reinstatement, California law does not allow members to contribute additional amounts, even previously contributed amounts, to their Defined Benefit Supplement account.
  • To fully understand these and other considerations before applying for a refund, see the CalSTRS Refund: Consider the Consequences publication.