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13th Check

Crucial (and complicated) concepts in public money explained.

A perk of some pension programs, the 13th check refers to an extra check retirees (and in some cases, employees) receive at the end of a fiscal year if a pension fund has performed better than expected. The practice is controversial because pension fund rates of return vary from year-to-year and actuaries rely on an average rate of return over multiple years to do their accounting of the fund’s liability. For example, in 2013, San Diego’s pension fund realized investment earnings for the fiscal year (ending June 30) of $241.7 million. Costs for the fund, including retiree payments and broker fees, were $150.7 million. That left a balance of $91 million that was large enough to trigger that city’s 13th check program and retirees received a check at the end of 2013.

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Daniel Luzer is GOVERNING's news editor.
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