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Active Member Frequently Asked Questions

How do I become an SDCERA Member?
You automatically become an SDCERA Member the month after you begin working in a regular, paid position with the County of San Diego or other participating employer.

What benefits does SDCERA administer?
SDCERA administers your employer's defined benefit plan that provides a lifetime retirement benefit, a one-time lump-sum death benefit and access to SDCERA-sponsored retiree health insurance plans.

How do I become eligible to receive benefits?
You must meet several eligibility criteria based on your Membership Tier that include vesting status, eligibility service and age at retirement. You can learn more about retirement eligibility in the Active Member section.

What Membership Tier am I in?
Your SDCERA Membership Tier generally depends on the date when you first become employed by the County of San Diego or other Participating Employer (see chart below).

Tier Type Requirements
I General Employed in a permanent position prior to 3/8/02 AND opted out of Tier A on or before 3/7/02
A General First hired to a permanent General position on or after 3/8/02 and before 8/28/09
A Safety First hired to a permanent Safety position before 8/28/09
B General First hired to a permanent General position on or after 8/28/09 and before 12/1/12
B Safety First hired to a permanent Safety position on or after 8/28/09 and before 12/1/12
C General First hired to a permanent General position on or after 12/1/12
C Safety First hired to a permanent Safety position on or after 12/1/12

What is Service Credit?
You receive SDCERA Service Credit for the time you work as an employee in paid status and make retirement contributions. For example, if you begin making retirement contributions on January 1 and worked full-time through December 31, you would receive one year of service credit.

Can I purchase service credit?
Yes. In certain circumstances, you may not have made contributions to SDCERA at the time of your employment and may be eligible to purchase the associated service credit (e.g., County service prior to Membership, sick leave, prior public agency service, etc).

A Member can purchase five types of service credit:

  1. Redeposit of withdrawn contributions. If you previously withdrew your SDCERA Member contributions and interest, you do not have service credit for that time. If you have rejoined active Membership, you may restore this service credit by paying back the contributions and interest.
  2. County service prior to entering SDCERA Membership. If you worked for the County of San Diego in a temporary, hourly, or part-time position prior to joining SDCERA, you may be eligible to purchase service credit for that work.
  3. Sick leave or family medical leave without pay. You may purchase up to 12 consecutive months of service credit upon returning to work from sick leave without pay. The sick leave must be for your own illness or injury; time off to care for a family Member does not qualify.
  4. Eligible service from your work in a prior public agency. You may be eligible to purchase service credit for your prior work at certain public agencies as long as you will not receive a retirement benefit from that agency.
  5. Military leave. You may be eligible to receive service credit if you resigned or took a leave of absence from your position with the County of San Diego (or other participating employer) to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and returned to active SDCERA Membership, following honorable discharge. Tier I, Tier A and Tier B Members can restore their military leave service credit at no cost. Tier C Members must purchase military leave service credit.

Purchasing service credit can impact your retirement benefit. Before purchasing service credit, you should consult a financial professional to make sure it is the right decision for you.

You can download a Request for Costs to Purchase SDCERA Service Credit form at www.sdcera.org.

How much will my monthly retirement benefit be?
You can calculate an estimate of your future retirement benefit based on the Unmodified Option using SDCERA's Retirement Benefit Calculator. You may also submit a Request for Retirement Benefit Estimate and SDCERA will mail you an estimate.

How do I change my address with SDCERA?
Active employees must make address changes with their employer, and SDCERA will automatically update the address through payroll data.

Deferred and Retired Members must complete a Change of Address form and return it to SDCERA. Deferred and Retired Members also can notify SDCERA of an address change by calling the Member Service Center at 619.515.6800.

How can I get more information about SDCERA and my benefits?
SDCERA's website at www.sdcera.org is the best source for SDCERA information. Specific sections of the website focus on information pertaining to Active, Deferred and Retired Members and Beneficiaries. Other information about the Board of Retirement, finance and investments is there, too, including SDCERA's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and annual Actuarial Valuation and Review.

SDCERA also conducts seminars throughout the year for Active Members who are contemplating retirement. Visit the Seminars page for more information about dates and locations.

Finally, SDCERA hosts an Annual Meeting, Member "Meet and Greets" throughout the year at various County locations and many seminars at employer locations throughout San Diego County.

 

BENEFICIARY

How do I designate a beneficiary?
You must submit a Beneficiary Designation form.

If you are married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of your death and you name someone other than your spouse or Registered Domestic Partner as your beneficiary, your spouse or Registered Domestic Partner will retain the right to claim those assets after your death unless your spouse or Registered Domestic Partner forfeits their rights in writing.

If you designate more than one beneficiary, each will share the benefit according to the percentage you assign to them.

You can download the Beneficiary Designation form.

What benefits will my beneficiary(ies) receive?
It depends on your Membership status and the beneficiary's eligibility at the time of your death.

If you are vested, your beneficiary may receive a one-time death benefit, a lifetime monthly retirement benefit or a combination of the two.

If you aren't vested, your beneficiary may receive a one-time death benefit and a refund of your accumulated SDCERA contributions and interest.

When should I designate a beneficiary?
Immediately. Because you start earning benefits when you become a Member, if you die before you are vested, your designated beneficiary may be eligible to receive benefits.

You should also update your beneficiary after any milestone event that could impact your beneficiary (e.g., marriage, divorce, birth of a child).

Beneficiary designations you make with your employer do not apply to SDCERA benefits.

When does my SDCERA beneficiary designation take effect?
On the date SDCERA receives your completed form. Subsequent beneficiary designations supersede prior beneficiary designations.

How can I make the death benefit process easier for my designated beneficiary?
Make sure you keep your SDCERA beneficiary's contact information up-to-date so we may contact them upon your death. Notify your beneficiary that you have named them to receive possible benefits so that they contact SDCERA upon your death.

Can I designate my trust as a beneficiary?
Yes, but a trust can only receive a lump-sum benefit. A trust cannot receive recurring monthly benefits.

 

DIVORCE

I'm getting a divorce. What do I need to do?
Because California considers retirement benefits earned during marriage to be community property assets, they must be considered in your property settlement agreement and may be divided by the court. As part of the marital dissolution process, you must join SDCERA as a party to the dissolution proceeding and have SDCERA's Legal Department review your draft domestic relations order (DRO) prior to filing it with the court.

My divorce is not yet final. Can I retire now?
Yes. If you are in the process of a divorce but still want to retire, you may submit your retirement application at any time. The filing of or outcome of a divorce proceeding does not impact your retirement date.

What is a Domestic Relations Order (DRO)?
A DRO is a stipulation signed by all parties and a judge identifying how retirement benefits are to be divided. Sample DROs may be requested by calling the SDCERA Member Service Center at 619.515.6800.

Do I need to file any other document with the court prior to submitting the DRO to SDCERA?
Yes. SDCERA will not accept a DRO until you have filed a joinder with the court and it has been served on SDCERA. SDCERA will identify any changes to be made and return the DRO to the parties for them to finalize and sign. Once the parties have signed the DRO, SDCERA will sign the DRO and return it to the parties to file it with the court.

What if my SDCERA benefit is not discussed in my DRO?
A DRO that does not address SDCERA benefits will not be accepted by SDCERA.

How long will it take SDCERA to process my domestic relations order (DRO)?
Generally, DROs are processed within 30 days after SDCERA receives the court's signed order.

Will SDCERA notify my former spouse of any portion of a benefit they are eligible to receive?
SDCERA does not provide actuarial valuations of a Member's retirement benefits, legal advice, or tax advice concerning the division of a Member's benefits. An actuary may be retained by the parties to determine the present value of the benefit. After the DRO is completed, the parties will be notified of the portion of the benefit they will be receiving.

Can my former spouse contact SDCERA and discuss my benefit?
By law, a Member's retirement records are confidential. To release information about a Member's account, SDCERA must receive one of the following:

  • Written request from the Member authorizing the release of the specific information to be provided to the spouse or former spouse; OR
  • Subpoena duces tecum, which may be served on SDCERA by mail

What if I am legally separated but not divorced?
When a legal separation or marital dissolution action has been filed, the Member should notify SDCERA immediately in writing. The non-Member has an interest in the Member's retirement account if he/she was married to an SDCERA Member while the Member worked for the County of San Diego or participating employer. To protect the non-Member's interest in the plan, SDCERA should be notified in writing that the non-Member is asserting a claim for community property interest in the Member's benefit.

What happens if a spouse or former spouse asserts a claim for a community property interest in the Member's benefit?
If the Member has not yet been retired, SDCERA is unable to distribute any payments from the Member's account until the legal separation or dissolution is resolved. If a Member is retired, SDCERA is required to withhold the spouse's or former spouse's community property share from the monthly retirement benefit pending the completion of the separation or dissolution.

What if the court awarded the Member the retirement as his/her sole and separate property?
Provide SDCERA proof that the court awarded the retirement benefit to the Member as his/her sole and separate property as soon as possible so that your retirement application processing will not be unnecessarily delayed.

What is the SDCERA process for Dissolution or Legal Separation?

  1. Notify SDCERA in writing of pending dissolution or legal separation
  2. Prepare and file Joinder
  3. Serve SDCERA with Joinder
  4. Prepare DRO and submit draft to SDCERA for review/approval
  5. Execute approved DRO and return to SDCERA for signing
  6. File DRO with court
  7. Return conformed copy of court-approved DRO to SDCERA
  8. Update beneficiary designations upon dissolution or legal separation

What if I have multiple DROs from different divorces on file with SDCERA?
Each DRO will be processed based on the community property interest specified in the DRO and the retirement benefit that is available to each former spouse. Subsequent former spouses will not have a community property interest in the amount awarded to previous former spouses.

 

TERMINATING EMPLOYMENT

What if I terminate employment with the County or other SDCERA participating employer without retiring?
If you terminate employment without retiring and leave your contributions on deposit, you become an SDCERA Deferred Member.
As a Deferred Member, you can:

  1. Leave your SDCERA contributions on deposit, and
    1. If you are vested, you may collect a lifetime monthly benefit when you meet the minimum retirement age and time in service requirements to retire.
    2. If you are not vested, you may retire and receive a lifetime benefit, beginning at age 70.
    3. You may establish reciprocity if employed by a reciprocal agency in the future.

    –OR–

  2. Request a refund of your contributions.
    1. If you elect to receive a refund of your SDCERA contribution, you are choosing to permanently forfeit your right to receive a lifetime monthly benefit. You also forfeit your right to establish and maintain reciprocity with a qualifying California public retirement system and to receive a disability benefit (if you are eligible to apply).
    2. Additionally, the refund of your Member contributions may have adverse tax consequences.
Before you request a refund of contributions, you should consult a tax or financial advisor to make sure you understand all the implications of doing so.

Should I contact SDCERA when I terminate employment with the County or other participating employer?
Yes. If you are leaving to work for another public agency or do so within 6 months, you may be able to establish reciprocity. You can contact SDCERA or learn more under the Reciprocity section.

 

RECIPROCITY

What is reciprocity?
Reciprocity is an agreement between certain California public agency employers that allow eligible Members to combine their years of service at both agencies to meet vesting and eligibility requirements for each employer's retirement plan. Reciprocal retirement systems use your highest final average salary under any reciprocal system when calculating your retirement benefit.

Generally, in order to establish reciprocity, you must enter a reciprocal employer's retirement system within six months of terminating your Membership in the first employer's retirement system. You must also leave your contributions on deposit with the respective retirement systems and retire on the same date from all reciprocal systems. You can learn more under the Reciprocity section.

How do I establish reciprocity?
Establishing reciprocity requires that each retirement system confirm the work history and Membership details of the requesting Member.

What contribution rate will I pay after applying for reciprocity?
Your contribution rate will be consistent with your current Membership status until reciprocity is established; then, the rate will be reviewed to see if any changes to the rate are needed.

 

DISABILITY RETIREMENT

What qualifies as a "disability"?
If you have an injury or disease that causes you to become permanently disabled, either physically or mentally, and prevents you from performing the usual duties of your job, you may be eligible for a disability retirement benefit, regardless of your age.

How do I apply for a disability retirement?
Contact the SDCERA Member Service Center at 619.515.6800 to request a Disability Retirement Application. An SDCERA Disability Specialist will discuss the requirements for completing your application.

Following your initial conversation with a Disability Specialist, you will receive a disability application in the mail. If you have questions about completing your application, you may contact an SDCERA Disability Specialist for clarification. Learn more about the disability application process by visiting the Disability Retirement section.

Once your disability application is complete, a disability intake interview will be scheduled.

If I apply, how long will it take to process my disability retirement application?
The disability retirement application process generally is completed within one year, but the actual time can vary because each case is unique. The process includes a comprehensive review of your relevant medical records and claims. The SDCERA Disability Specialist assigned to your application will keep you informed of timelines and next steps throughout the process.

Will I be required to see an SDCERA doctor for my disability retirement application?
Yes, but there is no cost to you for the examination.

May I file for disability after I have terminated my County employment?
Yes, but a disability retirement application must be filed within four months of your employment termination. However, you may apply at any time if you can show that you remained continuously incapacitated, either physically or mentally, from performing the duties of your job from the date you terminated your employment to the date you filed your disability application.

What is the difference between a service-connected and a nonservice-connected disability retirement?
To receive a service-connected disability retirement benefit, your disability must arise out of and in the course of your job, and your work-related injury or illness must substantially contribute to your disability.

A nonservice-connected disability retirement may be granted if you are disabled due to an injury, illness or disease that is not work-related, and you have a minimum of five years of retirement service credit.

If I received a Workers' Compensation settlement, do I automatically receive a disability retirement?
No. The workers' compensation system and SDCERA disability retirement benefits are two separate and distinct benefits and processes. A decision in one is not binding on the other.

How can I get more information about SDCERA's disability policies and procedures?
You can learn more about SDCERA's disability policies and procedures by visiting the Disability Retirement page.

The San Diego County Employees Retirement Association (SDCERA) website provides general information only. SDCERA makes no representations or warranties, express or implied, with respect to the materials found on this website.

SDCERA is governed by the California Constitution, the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937 (Government Code Section 31450 et seq.), as adopted and implemented by the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors and the SDCERA Board of Retirement, the California Public Employees' Pension Reform Act of 2013 (Government Code Section 7522 et seq.), the Internal Revenue Code, and various other rules and regulations, all of which are subject to change. In the event of any conflict between these governing authorities and the information contained on this website, the governing authorities take precedence.

The information on this website is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. SDCERA Members who have these or related questions are encouraged to consult an appropriate professional.