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Facts & Figures

Facts & Information

Public pension plans like the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) are from time to time scrutinized by outside organizations for their structure, benefits and sustainability. Choosing only select data, select time periods, recalculating liabilities using different assumptions, and combining ASRS with other Arizona pension plans can paint a very distorted, biased, and non-representative picture of a plan designed to provide retirement security to public employees like Arizona’s teachers and government workers.

The Arizona State Retirement System has served teachers and government workers for more than 65 years, through periods of growth and economic downturns, and has always met its obligations of paying monthly benefits to our retirees. It is our mission as outlined in the Arizona Constitution and State Law. 

Here are current facts and information that substantiate why the ASRS is sustainable and in a position to continue meeting its current and future obligations to today’s retirees and actively contributing members:

Plan Design & Funded Status

The ASRS has a current funded status of 72.3 percent based on actuarial value of assets and 74.0 percent when including unrecognized gains. At the inception of the defined benefit plan (1975), the funded status was 37.5 percent.

Likewise, when the ASRS began in 1995 managing the Health Benefit Supplement program, which provides a monthly benefit to help qualified retirees offset the cost of health insurance, the program had a funded status of 52.8 percent. Today, it is one of the most financially sound state retirement health benefit funds in the U.S., with a funded status of 108 percent.

With a solid funding plan in place, the ASRS has stayed the course and seen the funded status rise and fall (due to previous benefit enhancements and market-force ups and downs) and yet remains on target to attain full funding over a period of 27 years; this while maintaining relatively stable contribution rates for members and employers. 

The ASRS retained an independent actuarial firm to audit its assumptions and methods in 2019 which confirmed that the assumptions and calculations are appropriate and are based on generally accepted actuarial principles and practices. In addition, a separate actuarial firm conducted a valuation for the year ending June 30, 2019 and concluded that the ASRS has a solid funding policy and is on a projected path to full funding with stable contribution rates.

Contribution Rates & Benefits Received

The current contribution rate for retirement benefit and health benefit supplement is 11.94 percent of pay for both the active member and their employer. ASRS contribution rates move marginally by approximately 0.3 percent of pay each year, and are expected to fall in 2023. These small changes ensure sustainability of pensions at only a fraction of the volatility that could occur with defined contribution plans similar to 401(k) plans.

Members always have a choice of taking the highest of either the pension they have earned, or the contributions they have made plus interest. Those with a membership date prior July 1, 2011 with five years of service also receive a portion of their employer’s contributions plus interest. A member never receives less than their contributions plus interest. Each and every member is able to choose a benefit that is greater than their contributions, no matter how long they worked or how much they contributed. In addition, all retirees have access to a group health insurance plan, and retirees with five or more years of service have a health insurance supplement to offset their health insurance costs.

The benefits produced by this pension plan are significantly higher - and are provided at a lower cost - than what would be produced by an alternative defined contribution plan.

Investments & ASRS Performance

The ASRS has consistently generated investment returns in the highest tiers among industry peers:

  Fiscal Year End (Jun 30, 2019)

1 Year

3 Year

5 Year

10 Year

  Annualized Returns (net of fees)

6.6%

9.9%

6.6%

10.4%

  Percentile ranking among peer plans

20th

10th

13th

4th

The ASRS has outperformed the assumed earnings rate of 7.5% six of the last 10 years, with a 10-year average return of 10.4%. The ASRS has added significant additional value to the trust fund over time.

OUTPERFORMANCE
Over Peer Median (As of June 30, 2019)

10 Year

$6.6 billion

5 Year

$2.3 billion

3 Year

$1.5 billion

1 Year

$459 million

Operational Effectiveness & Spending on Pensions

As a percentage of government spending on pensions (FY 2016 data according to National Association of Retirement Administrators):

ASRS

2.2%

All Arizona Pensions

3.9%

National Average

4.7%


Independent data from CEM Benchmarking of public pension plans shows that the ASRS spends less to administer the pension and benefits programs than peers, and has higher scores for member satisfaction:

ASRS Average Administrative Cost Per Member

$78

Peer Average

$102

ASRS Member Satisfaction Score

88%

Peer Average

83%

Conclusions & Additional Factual Information

The ASRS has in place significant policies and procedures and acts with openness and transparency in managing sustainable benefit plans for our members, retirees and employers.

For more information, view these reports: ASRS Funding Policy, ASRS Strategic Plan, Annual Reports. Or, contact us at ASRS Public Affairs.

ASRS AT A GLANCE

The Arizona State Retirement System, created in 1953, is a state agency providing retirement benefits, long-term disability benefits and other benefits to employees of the state, counties, municipalities, universities, community colleges, school districts and other political entities.

2019-20 ASRS at a Glance

For a printable copy, download at-a-glance fact sheet. 

ASRS programs as mandated by Arizona Revised Statute

  • Defined Benefit Plan for qualified Arizona public employees – A.R.S. § 38-711
  • Health Insurance premium benefit program for qualified retired members – A.R.S. § 38-782
  • Long Term Disability Program for qualified Arizona public employees – A.R.S. § 38-797
  • Defined Contribution Plan (System) for qualified Arizona public employees – A.R.S. § 38-771
  • Optional supplemental salary deferral retirement savings plans – A.R.S. § 38-951,952

Membership Categories

  • Active Member - Working at a member employer and contributing to the ASRS.
  • Inactive Member - Once a contributing member but currently not making contributions through an ASRS member employer. Such members maintain an account balance but are not contributing or drawing pension benefits.
  • Retired - Receiving a lifetime monthly benefit from the ASRS.
  • Survivor Beneficiary - A surviving beneficiary receiving a lifetime monthly benefit from the ASRS.
  • LTD Member - Receiving a monthly benefit under the Long Term Disability Program.
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