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Beneficiary Designations

Remember to review and update your beneficiary designations whenever there is a big life event to make sure that your benefits are paid according to your wishes. There are other benefit plans (non- life insurance) that have death benefits as well.

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The Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) provides retirement (pension) benefits to UW System employees and to most public employees across the State of Wisconsin. Participation is automatic for all eligible employees, with coverage beginning on the first day an employee is eligible. The required employee and employer contribution rates are updated annually. The employee share is deducted on a pre-tax basis. You may not opt out of the WRS.

Your retirement income will be based on your years of WRS service, your age at retirement, and the average of your highest three years of earnings or based on the total cash value of your account, whichever is greater.

In addition to retirement benefits, the Wisconsin Retirement System also provides:

  • Separation Benefits
  • Disability Benefits
  • Death Benefits

The WRS is administered by the Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF).


You must meet the following requirements in order to be eligible for coverage under the WRS:

  • If you first became a WRS participating employee on or after July 1, 2011, you must be expected to work at least 2/3 of full-time for at least one year*.
    • University Staff: 2/3 of full-time is equal to 1,200 hours worked per year (~58% appointment)
    • Faculty, Academic Staff, and Limited: 2/3 of full-time is equal to 880 hours worked per year (~42% appointment for twelve-month employees and ~56% appointment for nine-month employees); or
  • If you first became a WRS participating employee prior to July 1, 2011, you must be expected to work at least 1/3 of full-time for at least one year*.
    • University Staff: 1/3 of full-time is equal to 600 hours worked per year (~29% appointment)
    • Faculty, Academic Staff, and Limited: 1/3 of full-time is equal to 440 hours worked per year (~21% appointment for twelve-month employees and ~28% appointment for nine-month employees)

*For nine-month employees, one year is considered the academic year and an expectation to return the following academic year.

NOTE: During the period of July 1, 2011 through July 1, 2013, eligibility for coverage under WRS using the 1/3 of full-time measurement was extended to those employees who had been previously employed by a WRS participating employer, regardless of actual prior WRS participation. As of July 2, 2013, any current or new employee who is not under the WRS, must be evaluated on the 2/3 of full time measurement UNLESS he/she actually participated in the WRS prior to July 1, 2011.

Not eligible at time of hire

If you do not initially meet the WRS eligibility requirements, you can become eligible if the expectation of hours worked and/or the duration of employment changes and you meet the WRS eligibility criteria. At that time, you will be enrolled in the WRS. Your employment will also be evaluated for WRS eligibility at your one-year anniversary. If you did work the minimum amount of hours to be eligible, you will be enrolled in the WRS.

Returning to WRS-covered employment within 12 months

If you are a WRS-covered employee and you terminate and are subsequently rehired in less than 12 months at the same employer (this includes all UW System employment) you will be re-enrolled in the WRS immediately upon rehire, regardless of whether or not the new employment period is expected to meet the WRS eligibility criteria.

Contribution Rates

Employees are required to contribute a portion of their salary to fund their Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) account. The employee contribution is taken on a pre-tax basis for State and Federal tax purposes. The UW System also contributes a portion of the employee’s salary to the WRS.

Contribution rates are based on an employee’s WRS category as follows:

  • Most University Staff employees are covered by the General WRS category
  • Most Faculty, Academic Staff and Limited appointees are covered by the Teacher WRS category
  • Employees whose main duties include law enforcement or firefighting are covered by the Protective WRS category
  • Employees who hold the very highest level positions with the UW System (e.g. president, vice president, chancellor) are covered by the Elected/Executive WRS category

Contribution rates are set on an annual basis.

 2017 WRS Contribution Rates*
General/Teacher Executives** Protectives w/
Social Security
Employee Contribution 6.80% 6.80% 6.80%
Employer Contribution 6.80% 6.80% 10.60%
Sick Leave 1.30% 1.30% 1.30%
Duty Disability N/A N/A 0.40%
Total 14.90% 14.90% 19.10%

*WRS contributions subject to IRS limits – University Staff employees will pay WRS contributions on the first $270,000 of earnings for the calendar year. Employees whose WRS salary is based on a fiscal year will pay WRS contributions on the first $267,500 of earnings for 2016-2017.

**The state’s 2015-2017 biennial budget authorized a change to the Executive Category WRS contribution rates.

Voluntary Additional Contributions

In addition to the employee-required contribution, you may also contribute extra money to your WRS account on a post-tax basis. These deductions can be made through either payroll deduction or by sending a check to the Department of Employee Trust Funds.

There is a limit to the amount that you can contribute on an annual basis. Use the Maximum Additional Contribution Worksheet to determine how much you can contribute this year. To elect additional contributions, complete the Additional Voluntary Contributions Form and submit it to your human resources office.

See the Additional Contributions Brochure for more information.

Additional contributions cannot be withdrawn from your account until you terminate all WRS-covered employment.


WRS investments are managed by the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB).

The Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) consists of two fund options, the Core Fund (which is the default fund) and the Variable Fund. All contributions are automatically invested in the Core Fund unless you file an Election to Participate in Variable Fund which will send 50% of your future WRS contributions to the Variable Fund and 50% to the Core Fund.

Two funds are available under the WRS:

  • Core Fund: 50% stocks, 50% fixed income and other assets
  • Variable Fund: 100% stocks

For detailed information on how WRS funds are invested, see SWIB.

See How Participation in the Variable Trust Affects Your WRS Benefits for more information.

WRS Benefits

Retirement Benefits

You are eligible to receive retirement benefits when:

  • You end all WRS-covered employment; and
  • You are vested* in the Wisconsin Retirement System; and
  • You reach the minimum retirement age of 55 (age 50 for those in the Protective WRS category)

When you retire, you will receive an annuity based on the higher of the two following calculation methods:

  • Formula calculation – annuity is based on your years of service, age and three highest years of earnings; or
  • Money purchase calculation – annuity is based on the total dollar value of your account.


*Employees who are first covered by the WRS on or after July 1, 2011 must have five years of WRS creditable service to be vested in the WRS. Employees who were covered by the WRS prior to July 1, 2011 are immediately vested in the WRS. Once vested, an employee is eligible to receive a retirement benefit.

Looking for information on retirement? See Life Events for more information.

Separation Benefits

If you end all WRS-covered employment before your minimum retirement age or before you’re vested in the WRS, you can either leave your money in the WRS to accumulate interest or close your WRS account by requesting payment of your employee-required contributions and any interest on those contributions. If you take a separation benefit, you will lose any employer-required contributions in your account.

See the Separation Benefits Brochure for more information.

To request a Separation Benefits, contact the Department of Employee Trust Funds.

Disability Benefits

If you become disabled while covered under the WRS, you may be eligible for disability benefits through the Wisconsin Retirement System.

  • Long-term Disability Insurance (LTDI) pays a monthly benefit until your reach your normal retirement age. The basic monthly LTDI benefit is 40% of your final average salary.
  • §40.63 Disability Annuity – if first hired before October 16, 1992, you may be eligible to receive a duty disability annuity instead of LTDI.

See the Disability Benefits Brochure for information about eligibility requirements and how benefits are calculated.

To request a Disability Estimate and Application, contact the Department of Employee Trust Funds.

In addition to the above disability benefits, you may also be eligible for disability benefits through Income Continuation Insurance (ICI), Social Security and/or Worker’s Compensation, depending on your situation. See the Disability page for all plans that may be available to you.

Death Benefits

If you die while you are actively covered by the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), a minimum of the total value of your account is payable upon your death.

If you die while not actively working for a WRS-covered employer and you are not receiving a WRS annuity, half of your total account is payable (the employee-required contributions plus interest).

Once you are receiving an annuity, death benefits will be based on the annuity option you select.

You should complete a Beneficiary Designation to ensure your death benefit is payable per your wishes.

See the Death Benefits Brochure for additional information.

Forms & Resources

last updated: 12/9/2016