3. Establishing Reciprocity With Another Retirement System


Reciprocity is the joining or linking of similarly administered California public retirement systems. Under very specific rules, establishing reciprocity allows employees who move between certain California retirement systems to eliminate disadvantages that members might otherwise experience when moving from one retirement system to another.

ACERA has reciprocity with most public retirement systems in California. See Agencies That Have Reciprocal Agreements With ACERA below for further information.

Benefits of Establishing Reciprocity

There are several benefits to establishing reciprocity if joining ACERA from a reciprocal agency (or leaving ACERA for another reciprocal public employer) The main benefits of reciprocity are:

  1. Earlier Tier: If you entered a reciprocal retirement system before January 1, 2013, establishing reciprocity could put you in an earlier tier—Tiers 1, 2, or 3. Earlier tiers may pay higher benefit percentages in retirement. See our Tier page for more information on ACERA tiers and our section on Age Factor Percentages to see a detailed comparison of the benefits percentages paid by each tier.
  2. Possible Lower Contribution Rate: If you establish reciprocity and are put into Tiers 1, 2, or 3, your employee contribution rate may be lower than it would be under Tier 4 because in Tiers 1, 2, and 3, earlier entry ages mean lower contribution rates (based on your age when you entered the earliest linked reciprocal system). To determine which tier will give you a lower contribution rate:
    1. See our Tier page to determine which tier you would be eligible to join based on your date of entry into the first linked reciprocal retirement system.
    2. Then see our list of Actual Employee Contribution Rates to find your potential contribution rate in Tier 1, 2, or 3 with reciprocity, and compare it your potential Tier 4 rate if you did not establish reciprocity. 
    3. Note that contribution rates change over time based on the funding needs of the plan.
  3. Combined Service Credit for Eligibility: Service credit earned in a reciprocal agency is combined with your ACERA service credit when establishing your eligibility for benefits and eligibility to retire. This means you do not need to “start over” when moving to a reciprocal public employer.
  4. Highest Salary Used for Calculating Retirement: The highest compensation attained under any reciprocal agency is used by all reciprocal systems to calculate your final average salary and determine your retirement benefit. (Take note though that ACERA not adopt the reciprocal system’s determination of “compensation earnable” or “pensionable compensation” if it differs from ACERA’s.)

Qualifications for Reciprocity

To qualify for reciprocity, you must do all of the following:

  • Defer / Leave Contributions on Deposit: Elect to leave your contributions on deposit and defer retirement with each previous retirement system you establish reciprocity with.
  • No More Than 6-Month Gap: Begin retirement-eligible employment under the next system within six months after termination of covered employment in the previous system. (If a member moves back and forth between active memberships in ACERA and a reciprocal system, the member can maintain reciprocity so long as there is at least one break that is less than six months with no overlapping service credit.)
  • No More Than 12 Weeks Overlapping Service: Avoid more than 12 weeks of overlapping service as this may disqualify your eligibility. (See More About Overlapping Service below.)
  • Must Retire From All Systems on Same Day: Retire from all reciprocal retirement systems concurrently (on the same day) if you want the benefit of using combined service credit for benefit eligibility and the benefit of utilizing the highest compensation among the reciprocal systems for calculating your ACERA benefit. (If you’re not eligible to retire concurrently, see the section below on this topic.)

Establishing Reciprocity

When you complete your ACERA Member Enrollment Questionnaire as a new member, you will be asked about your previous experience with public agencies and will be given the option of electing to establish reciprocity.

Once you establish reciprocity, your election is irrevocable. Thereafter, you cannot withdraw contributions from ACERA unless you withdraw your contributions from your reciprocal retirement system (the same rule likely will apply at your reciprocal system(s)).

When you get ready to retire, you must file separate retirement applications with each reciprocal system and retire from each system on the same day. You will receive a separate retirement check from each system based on the service earned in that system.

Agencies That Have Reciprocal Agreements With ACERA

ACERA has reciprocal agreements with most counties in California, with the State of California (CalPERS), and with many of California’s cities. ACERA is also reciprocal with some independent public agencies in California that have full reciprocity agreements with CalPERS.  Below is a list of the counties, cities, and agencies that ACERA is reciprocal with.

County Systems (Retirement Law of 1937)

  • Contra Costa
  • Fresno
  • Imperial
  • Kern
  • Los Angeles
  • Marin
  • Mendocino
  • Merced
  • Orange
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernadino
  • San Diego
  • San Joaquin
  • San Mateo
  • Santa Barbara
  • Sonoma
  • Stanislaus
  • Tulare
  • Ventura

Statewide Systems:

  • California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)
  • California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS)*
  • Judge’s Retirement System I & II**
* Rather than Reciprocity, ACERA and CalSTRS have what’s called “Concurrent Retirement.” If you retire from ACERA and CalSTRS on the same day, ACERA will use the highest salary earned under either system when calculating your retirement. Also, combined service credit between both system will be used for benefit eligibility.
** A judge must have a minimum of six years of judicial service to be eligible for reciprocity. Also, see the section below titled: If You’re Not Eligible to Retire Concurrently.

Other Systems/Independent public agencies in California:

  • Concord City Employees’ Pension Plan
  • Fresno City Employees’ Retirement System
  • Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS)
  • Sacramento City Employees’ Retirement System
  • San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System
  • San Francisco City and County Employees’ Retirement System
  • City of San Jose Retirement System
  • Contra Costa Water District
  • East Bay Municipal Utility District
  • San Luis Obispo County Employees’ Pension Trust

No Reciprocity With University of California Retirement System (UCRS)

ACERA does not have a reciprocity agreement with the University of California Retirement System (UCRS), so previous employment with UCRS does not qualify you for reciprocity (or service purchase).

More About Overlapping Service

If there is more than 12 weeks of overlapping service credit between ACERA and a reciprocal system, reciprocity cannot be established. (For example, if a member is on vacation leave at the end of a previous job during the same time that the member begins a new job in an ACERA-covered position and enters ACERA, this would be overlapping service because the member is on payroll for two different employers at the same time.)

For members leaving active membership in another retirement system and entering ACERA, ACERA may adjust the date a person becomes an ACERA member to as much as 12 weeks after entrance into service in an ACERA-covered position (with appropriate adjustments to service credit and contributions) in order to prevent overlapping service credit and allow the member to establish reciprocity.

Likewise, for members leaving active membership in ACERA and entering another retirement system, ACERA may adjust the date a member terminates service to as much as 12 weeks prior to the member’s termination from an ACERA-covered position (with appropriate adjustments to service credit and contributions) in order to prevent overlapping service credit and allow the member to establish reciprocity.

We recommend you contact ACERA for further information before getting in an overlapping service situation since exceptions may apply before terminating employment or accepting other employment with a different agency.

Special Redeposit Right For Law Enforcement And Firefighter Members

Law enforcement and firefighter members who withdrew their funds upon termination may redeposit those funds, plus interest, if they become active members of a reciprocal retirement system. Once the redeposit is complete, the member’s rights are the same as if the member had never withdrawn the funds. This includes rights to reciprocal benefits if the break in service was six months or less. This special redeposit right is also available to former ACERA members who enter service in a reciprocal system as a law enforcement or firefighter member of that system, irrespective of their membership classification while active with ACERA.

If you are an active ACERA member who previously withdrew contributions from a reciprocal system, you may be eligible to redeposit your contributions in your former system. If you are eligible and make the redeposit, you will be eligible for reciprocal benefits if the break in service was six months or less. These rules apply to law enforcement and firefighter members in ACERA and other members in ACERA who were law enforcement or firefighter members when active in their previous system. 

Reciprocity and Disability Retirement

If you qualify for reciprocity and a reciprocal system grants you a disability retirement, you are automatically entitled to a disability allowance from ACERA (the allowance is usually less than if ACERA granted you the disability retirement). Alternatively, you may retire for service from ACERA when you are eligible to retire for service.

Anti-Windfall Rule

If you were ever eligible for reciprocity between ACERA and a reciprocal system and you receive a disability retirement allowance from ACERA and/or that reciprocal system, ACERA will apply Gov’t Code § 31838.5 to ensure that you not receive more in total allowance payments than you could have received if all service had been under one system.

The Anti-Windfall Rule applies only to disability retirement allowances and service retirement allowances. It does not apply to a withdrawal of your member account. If your ACERA allowance will be subject to reduction under Gov’t Code § 31838.5, you may elect to withdraw your ACERA member account. Also, ACERA will not reduce your ACERA allowance due to your withdrawal of your member account from a reciprocal system. 

The Anti-Windfall rule can be very complicated. Reciprocal members who retire from ACERA or a reciprocal system for disability are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from ACERA staff and staff at the reciprocal system to determine how to maximize their total combined benefits as soon as it becomes apparent that they might be granted a disability retirement from either system. The decisions you make at each system can have a substantial financial impact.

If You’re Not Eligible to Retire Concurrently

If a retiring ACERA member is not eligible to retire from a reciprocal system, the member may retire from ACERA without retiring concurrently from the reciprocal system. Being eligible to retire from a reciprocal system is defined as the member being able to receive a lifetime retirement allowance. For example, a member of the Judge’s Retirement System may retire from ACERA without retiring from Judge’s Retirement System if the member is eligible to receive only an “early retirement” comprised of the judge’s “monetary credits” from the Judge’s Retirement System.

More on Reciprocity

Review ACERA’s Reciprocity Policy document for the Board’s official policies governing administration of reciprocity at ACERA.

Contact Us

If you have questions about other agencies’ reciprocity with ACERA, please contact us.