April 24, 2021

Happy Retirement: Life is Calling!

If you are lucky enough to be a school SLP, then you are in the right place when retirement is within your reach. Let’s do the math… if you start working in the schools when you are 22 or 23 and work 30 years in the same state you retire at 52 or 53! You have so much of life left to live and you should be excited about living it.

I remember the first retirement meeting I attended. I was about 5 years out, but because I had started my career in the middle of a school year, I was not sure about the exact year I could retire. I stayed after to ask a few questions and I’m glad I did. Many state pensions use the Rule of 80 to determine if someone is eligible for full retirement, which just means that your age plus years of service equal 80 or more. Because I was going to reach my Rule of 80 before putting in 30 years of work, the person helping me actually said, “You’re golden!” I will never forget stepping out into the sunshine on that day with an ear-to-ear smile and almost skipping to my car. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel!

So, what does this story mean to you and your retirement? I worked in the Missouri Public Schools for 31 years and I am now working part-time in the state of Kansas. This is referred to as “double dipping” and I highly recommend it if you live on the border of two states. Most state public school retirement systems are very similar, and I can only speak about the ones I am a member of, so make sure you know about your retirement system before you sign that contract. It may seem like it’s so far down the road in your career that you don’t need to think about it now, but do your homework in the beginning and it will benefit you in the end.

Let’s start from the day you sign on the dotted line!

Familiarize yourself with your state’s retirement website:

Here are some questions you should think about:

  • How much is my retirement funded? The funded percentage is a measure of pension fund “health”. A higher funded percentage indicates that the pension will be able to meet its commitment, e.g. pay your pension. In the state of Missouri, the Public School Retirement System (PSRS) is 84% funded. This is one of the highest percentages in the country and I was so lucky that I never left my home state.

  • How much percentage do I have to contribute? Your state retirement will deduct a percentage separate from FICA, health insurance, union dues, and everything else that might come out of your paycheck. This percentage cannot be changed, and it may go up during your career. The realization of knowing how much is taken out of your paycheck each month is daunting at first, but it comes back to you at the end of your career. Sidenote, I was encouraged to discover that when I got divorced, my retirement was protected, and my ex could not touch it.

  • How long do I have to work to retire with full benefits? This can vary from state to state, but in most school districts you can retire with full benefits after either 30 years of service or if you hit the Rule of 80. This is helpful to those who may have started their career a little later in life.

  • If I continue my career past 30 years, will it be beneficial to me? In Missouri, we have an option of working to our Rule of 86 (years of experience + age = 86. You will earn a little more in your retirement check, but it may not be financially beneficial to work past this Rule of 86. Make sure you check into your state’s options (if applicable) if you are planning on working longer.

Work in the same state your whole career:

It is understandable that you may not be able to spend your whole career in one state. Life happens and there will be twists or turns in the road, but if you can leave your money in one place you will be sitting pretty at the end of your career!

  • If you have to switch states in the middle of your career as a school SLP and there is a chance you will be back, try to leave your money in that retirement system or know that if you take that money out it will prolong your retirement plans and you will pay a tax penalty.

  • Find out if your new state has a roll-over plan that will allow you to roll over your years from the previous state into your new state’s retirement plan. This seems to be rare in most states, but it’s worth it to find out.

Preparing for retirement:

  • I recommend attending a retirement seminar when you are 10 years from retirement, 5 years from retirement and 2 years from retirement. Retirement benefits may change during this time span, but I felt I was well informed by my last year.

  • Be sure to register for the seminars so the retirement office knows in advance that you will be there. They will then have your personalized numbers and retirement plan ready for you in a nice little folder.

  • Within 2 years from retirement, schedule a meeting with your financial planner or a representative from your state retirement system to go over the retirement options available so you choose the best fit for you.

  • Most retirement incomes are based on your highest 3 years of salary. In some cases, this might not be your last 3 years. If there are extra duty jobs or summer school opportunities in your district, the last 3 years are the time to take advantage of the extra pay. This increases your salary in those last years which increases your retirement paycheck.

  • Check to see if your district offers an “early retirement incentive” if you turn in your paperwork by a certain deadline. I was fortunate that my school district offered to put half my salary into a mutual fund if I informed them of my retirement by a certain date. So now I have a nice little nest egg to supplement my retirement!

  • You also need to understand your health insurance options. Health insurance access, or lack thereof, may be the single biggest reason that some people don’t retire when they can. Insurance is expensive when the district is no longer paying for it, so have a plan in place for your healthcare.

Celebrate and plan your next move:

Your retirement date is here! You changed so many lives as an SLP during your career that you deserve to celebrate, so enjoy this moment and let people shower you with love and admiration! The next step is here, and you may be facing some decisions about whether to jump into a life of leisure or continue to work in some capacity. It’s time to consider the options that await you!

  • Re-invent yourself! Go do something you have always wanted to do! What’s your passion? Discover new volunteer opportunities! The sky’s the limit if you want to do something different.

  • Teach in a neighboring state’s school district. This is the route that I have chosen, and life is good! I work three days a week and get my benefits and insurance covered by the district. I will be vested in just 5 years with this district and plan on retiring again after working 5 years. I am very lucky to have fallen into this situation.

  • Continue working in a school district in your own state. Make sure you check the number of hours you can work and if there is a salary cap on what you can earn. In my state, I could only work 550 hours in a school and I could only make up to $15,000 a year or jeopardize my retirement income.

  • Consider third party or contract employment. These jobs are not limited by law, but If you work as an independent contractor, it is important that you meet the IRS requirements to qualify.

  • Be a teletherapist! We all know how to do this by now, so don’t rule this out as an option. Just make sure you check your state’s requirements on how much you can work without compromising your retirement.

Working as an SLP in the schools was definitely the path for me. There‘s always going to be days when you are just over it! The paperwork is never-ending, but most jobs have its share of red tape and paperwork. Parents can be demanding. Caseloads are overwhelming. SLPs are required to wear many, many hats and sticking it out until retirement may seem like a lifetime away. But I can guarantee you whether you are just beginning your career or approaching retirement, the skills you have acquired over the years will always be marketable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the need for SLPs is expected to grow at a rapid rate between now and 2026. There is an estimated 18% growth expected in the field. That is great news for anyone wanting to work beyond retirement to supplement their income. Whichever path you choose, don’t ever lose sight of the lives that you have changed during your time as a school SLP. My greatest joy is running into former students who thank me for helping them. I know that I played a role in their success and that’s why I chose this profession 34 years ago!

Public School Retirement System-The Missouri Model: \ https://www.psrs-peers.org/About-Us/System-Overview/The-Missouri-Model

About the Author

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Julie Ryan Lindstrom M.S.CCC-SLP currently works part-time in the Blue Valley School District in Leawood, KS, servicing the middle school age population. She previously worked and retired from Lee’s Summit School District in Lee’s Summit, MO, after 31 years as a school SLP. In Lee’s Summit she worked with elementary aged students and students in the 18-21 transition program. Julie received a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Speech Pathology from the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, MO. During her days off in retirement, Julie enjoys playing golf and exploring Kansas City! Plus, she works a few extra part-time jobs: beverage cart person at her local golf course and as an Ambassador for a Fair-Trade company called Noonday Collection. After 34 years as a school SLP she still loves how everyday can be different and how we(SLPs) get to work with a wide variety of disabilities. Every day is a chance to learn something new!!

You can reach out to Julie at: jrlindstrom64@gmail.com