The following are Frequently Asked Questions and responses to help you understand the underlying details of your pension fund. If you have questions that are not answered here or in the Rules and Regulations, please contact our office and discuss your question with us. In addition to assisting you with your inquiry, we will be more than pleased to add your question and an explanation to our current list of questions and answers to help other participants who visit the site.
Frequently Asked Questions
If this website does not satisfy all of your questions, you may contact us by phone or in writing. Also, if you have a group of firefighters that would like to learn more about the Fund, we would be happy to come to your location and present the materials to your group while answering any questions that they may have.
This may be found in the quarterly newsletter or on the website which is subject to change semiannually with a COLA
Any Firefighter who is permanently compensated by a fire department, works at least 1040 hours for that department and is certified or a candidate for certification by the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council, or is enrolled as a volunteer firefighter with a volunteer fire department or combination fire department is eligible. See OCGA 47-7-1 for full definitions and further references for fire departments and firefighter certifications. There are not any waiting periods, windows for joining, age requirements or physical/medical limitations.
Can I join Georgia Firefighters' Pension Fund if I am a law enforcement officer and I participate in the Peace Officers Annuity and Benefit Fund?
You cannot be a member of both funds by virtue of a position that qualifies you for both, and POAB takes precedence over the GFPF, see OCGA 47-7-40. However, if you are a law enforcement officer and volunteer as a firefighter, you may join the GFPF if your volunteer firefighter service qualifies for pension creditable service.
I am a firefighter with the Georgia Forestry Commission. Why can’t I join the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund?
The enabling legislative Code, OCGA 47-7-1, defines a firefighter for purposes of the pension fund, as a person who is a full time employee of a fire department and a fire department as being both certified by the Standards and Training Council (GFSTC) and rated by ISO. The units of the Forestry Commission do not meet these criteria, and therefore, its members do not qualify for the pension fund.
GFPF is primarily funded by a 1% tax on premiums for fire insurance sold here in the State of Georgia. We also collect monthly dues from each active member of the Fund.
The assets of the Plan are held in a pooled fund, rather than individual accounts for each member.
The Fund’s allowable investments are governed by OCGA 47-20-83 and OCGA 47-20-84, and consist mainly of publicly traded stocks and bonds.
After reviewing an evaluation and recommendation from the fund’s actuary, (typically in May and November,) the Board of Trustees determine the precedence of granting a COLA for January 1 or July 1, respectively.
Very few defined benefit plans provide for the benefits to be adjusted each year to reflect the effects of inflation (called the Cost of Living Adjustment, or COLA). We, however, are one of the few plans that do adjust the benefit for COLA’s when it is deemed prudent to do so.
Any person designated from time to time before or after the approval of an application for retirement by the member in writing on forms prescribed by the Board of Trustees to receive benefits which continue to be payable upon the death of the member.
In the event that the member passes away before being a member for 15 years, the beneficiary will receive a $10,000 death benefit. If however, the member is vested, the beneficiary will begin receiving benefits beginning the month after the member would have turned age 55, or age 50 if the beneficiary chooses the early retirement option.
I want to make sure that my spouse/child will be receiving a benefit if I die while in service. What do I need to do?
Go into the Member Area of the website and make sure that the information that we have for you is accurate. Also, ensure that your beneficiary is aware that, in the event that you predecease the beneficiary, the Fund will need an original death certificate or a certified copy of the death certificate.
You can name a beneficiary for the 10 year certain and life option.
You may fill out a Change of Beneficiary Form, have it notarized and mail it to our office or make the change in the Member’s Area of our website. The beneficiary may be changed at any time, prior to retirement. Once retirement has commenced, you must contact the office to make any changes to your beneficiary.
You have to designate a beneficiary before membership into the Fund is approved. If you have not selected an option, please refer to OCGA 47-7-100 (h) (1) (2) to determine where the money will go.
Please contact our office for further instructions.
The Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund is a defined benefit pension plan.
A defined benefit plan is one set up to provide a predetermined retirement benefit to a member or their beneficiary based on age and creditable service rather than contributions.
With some form of pension plans, you can borrow against your savings. This, however, is not one of those plans, i.e. it is not a savings plan. It has no cash value, therefore, you may not borrow against it.
If you permanently separate from the Fire Service prior to 15 year vesting, your dues are refundable, less a 5% administrative charge.
In the event that the member passes away before becoming vested, (15 years) the beneficiary will receive a $10,000 death benefit after presenting the Fund with an original death certificate or certified copy of a death certificate. If however, the member is vested, the beneficiary will be eligible to receive benefits beginning the month after the member would have turned age 55, or age 50 if the beneficiary chooses the early retirement option. Go to the website, to the members’ area, to verify the information that we have for you is accurate.
Your named beneficiary would receive your earned pension benefit. If the beneficiary is someone other than your spouse, the payment is made under the “Ten Year Certain and Life” option. If the beneficiary is a spouse, then the “Joint & Survivor” option is utilized. If no percentage is selected, 100% is assumed.
Payments should be received in the Pension Fund Office on or before the tenth day of each month. However, direct debits are taken on the 15th.
Direct debit (automatic withdrawal) from your banking account. This not only enables us to receive the money on time, but also saves you the trouble of remembering the payment every month.
The dues increased to $25 per month from $15 per month effective July 1, 2013. This was the first increase in dues since 1988, or 25 years. There are no hard and fast rules regarding the setting of dues. Dues are a small part of the revenue requirements of the fund, and any increase would require legislative approval. There are no dues increases contemplated for the foreseeable future.
In order to purchase previous service (“buyback”) a member must contact the Fund office to determine if you are eligible. It should be noted that buying back time is quite expensive, unless a special buyback period is made available by the General Assembly.
Once you have achieved Vested Status you have earned a non-forfeitable right to a pension when you leave the fire service.
Normally, no. However, we require 60 days to process an application for retirement. During that period, the staff conducts an exhaustive physical audit of your record to ensure that your benefit is computed correctly. You are furnished a letter acknowledging your request for retirement and detailing the results of the audit. You are then afforded an opportunity to contest and correct the record if it is not correct.
Any eligible member becomes vested, (has a right to a pension,) after 15 years of creditable service and becomes “fully” vested, (has a right to a full pension,) after 25 years of creditable service. Such benefits shall become payable when the member reaches 55 years of age, (50 on early retirement,) or when he or she terminates employment as a firefighter or volunteer firefighter, whichever is later.
Your check or direct deposit should arrive by the first of each month. We make every effort to make sure that your benefit payment arrives on time. If you are receiving your benefit by check (we strongly encourage members to receive their benefit by direct deposit) and you have not received your payment by the 10th of the month, you should contact us at the Pension Fund office.
No, pension benefits are awarded as of the date approved by the Board of Trustees, which is normally the date the application is received in the Pension Fund office or the date of retirement from the fire service, whichever is later.
According to OCGA 47-7-100 (b), a firefighter must retire and separate from the fire service to be eligible for a service pension. According to OCGA 47-7-101 (b), a retired firefighter that is re-employed in any capacity as a firefighter by an ISO rated fire department will have benefits suspended by the Fund for the period of re-employment. However, the Board of Trustees has ruled, on advice of counsel, that a retired firefighter may volunteer his/her service pro bono, (that is without compensation,) and continue to receive benefits.
I am one of the healthiest firefighters in this state and would like to continue working as a firefighter after the age of 55 even though I am already fully vested. Can I continue to do so?
A firefighter can continue to participate in the fund and earn 2% for each year of creditable service in excess of 25 years.
Benefit payments are taxable as ordinary income. Paid in dues are deductible based on a schedule provided by the IRS. After retirement, a member will receive information from the Pension Fund Office regarding the amount of dues that were paid over the course of membership. Advice regarding how the dues deduction is to be handled should be sought from the IRS or a qualified tax advisor.
After retirement, I plan to seek employment with another entity and will not immediately need my pension payment for sustenance. Can this payment be rolled into an IRA account without tax consequences?
No. The IRS code specifically prohibits rolling periodic payments such as a pension benefit annuity like this into a tax advantaged retirement account such as an IRA.