California Teachers Retirement

Last Updated on March 30, 2023 by George

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For California’s 965,000 pre-kindergarten through community college teachers and their families, the California Teachers’ Retirement offers retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. CalSTRS is a division of the State of California’s Government Operations Agency and was created by law in 1913.

California’s teacher-defined benefit (DB) pension system follows a basic structure typical of other states. The value of the pension at retirement is not based on the contributions made by the teacher and those made on their behalf by the state or school district, unlike other retirement plans. Even though these contributions are frequently managed by private equity and hedge funds and invested in the market, a teacher’s pension wealth is not derived from the returns on those investments. Instead, a formula based on their years of experience and final salary is used to determine it.

Finally, most states, including California, had implemented different benefit tiers for teachers depending on when they were hired.

Who Qualifies for a Teacher Pension in California?

Teachers must work for some years before becoming eligible for a pension, as in most states. In California, the vesting period is five years. After five years of employment, educators are qualified for retirement, but the pension may be worth little. Additionally, it is only available to educators once they reach the state retirement age.

Based on their age and years of experience, the state establishes specific timeframes during which teachers can retire with benefits. When new teachers in California reach the age of 62 and have accrued a minimum of five years of service, they are eligible to retire with all of their benefits.

Additionally, California permits teachers to retire early at age 55 after accumulating at least five years of service; however, teachers who elect to do so will see their benefits reduced by the number of years of experience and the timing of their retirement.

How Are Teacher Pensions Calculated in California?

California’s teacher-defined benefit (DB) pension system follows a basic structure typical of other states. In contrast to other retirement plans, the value of the pension at retirement is not based on the contributions made by the teacher and to their school district. A teacher’s pension wealth is not derived from the returns on those investments, even though those contributions are invested in the market and frequently managed by private equity and hedge funds. Instead, a formula based on their years of experience and final salary is used to determine it.

Finally, most states, including California, had implemented different benefit tiers for teachers depending on when they were hired.

Calculating Teacher Pension Wealth in California

2% Multiplier x Avg. salary for highest-earning 12 consecutive months x Years of service

How Much Does California’s Teacher Pension Plan Cost?

Legislature determines these contribution rates, which are subject to change each year. In contrast to the state’s 20.25 percent contribution, teachers made a 10.23 percent salary contribution to the pension fund in 2018. California’s teacher pension fund received a total investment return of 30.48 percent of teacher salaries. But not all of that investment results in advantages. Individual teachers contribute 10.23% of their salary toward benefits, but the state only contributes 9.95%. The pension fund’s debt will be reduced with the remaining 10.30 percent of the state contribution.

Finally, teacher pensions are not portable in California, as in most states. It means that even if a teacher stays in the teaching field after leaving the CalSTRS system, they cannot take their benefits. As a result, a teacher who quits or moves across state lines may have two pensions, but the combined value of those pensions is lower than if the teacher had stayed in one system throughout her career. In other words, if an educator decides to stop teaching altogether or moves across state lines to work in another state, the absence of benefit portability will harm their long-term retirement savings.

Like most state pension funds, the California teacher retirement system gives the best benefits to teachers who stay the longest while giving everyone else insufficient gifts. In light of this, prospective and practicing teachers in California should carefully consider their professional goals and how they relate to the state’s retirement program.

Glossary of Financial Terms

Vesting Period

Before becoming eligible for a pension, teachers must spend a certain amount of time in the classroom. State-specific vesting periods can be up to 5 years, but this is the norm. The right to withdraw one’s contributions, sometimes with interest, is available to teachers who resign before vesting in every state. Still, few of them also permit those workers to receive any employer contributions made on their behalf.

Employee Contribution

A portion of a teacher’s salary is paid to the pension fund each year.

Employer Contribution

The portion of a teacher’s annual salary that the state, school district, or both contribute to the pension fund.

Regular Price

The annual cost of retirement benefits is expressed as a portion of the teacher’s salary, and any debt costs are not included.

Amortization Cost

The pension fund pays an annual amount to cover any unfunded liabilities. This payment is commonly called the pension fund’s debt service expense.

Frequently Asked Questions California Teacher’s Retirement

What is CalSTRS, or the California Teachers Retirement System?

The public pension fund known as the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) offers retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to qualified educators. Founded in 1913, it provides services to over 900,000 members and beneficiaries. CalSTRS manages a hybrid retirement system that combines 401(k)-style and traditionally defined benefit components.

How can I figure out my retirement benefits?

CalSTRS provides an online calculator tool to assist you in estimating the number of your retirement benefits. To use the calculator, you must know your final salary, your age at retirement, and the number of service years credited to you.

How do I apply for my retirement benefit?

You must complete the Retirement Benefit Application (Form STRS-1) and submit it with any necessary supporting documentation to apply for your CalSTRS retirement benefits. Your desired retirement must pass at least six months between your expected retirement date, the application submission, and supporting paperwork. CalSTRS will review and process your application within two to three weeks of receiving it.

California Teachers’ Retirement Pros and Cons


  • Teachers who retire from employment with the State of California, its public school districts, county offices of education, and community college districts are provided lifetime income by the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS).
  • CalSTRS retirement benefits and cost-of-living adjustments include medical benefits, a death benefit for survivors, and a guaranteed monthly allowance.
  • Annual adjustments to retirement income reflect changes in the cost of living.
  • CalSTRS also provides beneficial tax benefits, such as deductions for state and federal taxes on contributions and the fact that investment income generated by retirement savings is only taxed once withdrawn.
  •  Members of CalSTRS may also borrow against their retirement funds to pay for unforeseen costs like home repairs or medical bills.


  • Teachers, employers, and the state must contribute to CalSTRS.
  • The plan requires years of service to become vested, so people who only work in the public school system for a short time may not be eligible for retirement benefits when they leave their jobs.
  • Because CalSTRS has a finite amount of funds available, those who live long enough to use it may incur higher costs for things like medical care or other expenses not covered by the plan.
  • Because the investment income from retirement savings is subject to market fluctuations, a person’s retirement income may change over time.
  • Because CalSTRS does not provide a life insurance benefit, beneficiaries who pass away before becoming eligible to receive benefits might need more money to pay for their final costs.
  • Heavy fines and tax repercussions may result from early withdrawals. Additionally, those who borrow against their retirement funds may be required to pay extra interest or penalties for early repayment.
  • Since CalSTRS does not offer disability benefits, teachers who become disabled before retirement will not be paid. Financial hardship might result in those being unable to work and having no other means of support.

Final Thought – California Teacher’s Retirement

As the primary source of retirement security for teachers, many of whom are not covered by Social Security, pensions make up a sizable portion of public school teachers’ pay. Even though most private sector employers have switched to 401(k) style retirement plans, some public school teachers are still protected by defined benefit pensions that offer guaranteed retirement income and rewards for long service.

The portability of 401(k) plans for a mobile workforce is a benefit, but defined benefit pensions offer more security for retirement income and lower turnover. This study compares the suitability of defined benefit pensions for California teachers to alternative retirement benefits in light of the role that retirement benefits play in achieving both employer goals for workforce retention and employee goals for retirement income security.

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