Student Exemption FAQ’s - Human Resources at Ohio State

Student Exemption FAQ's

Ohio State employees are required to contribute to a state retirement system in place of Social Security. OPERS is the default retirement system for Ohio State staff. OPERS contributions are mandatory, unless you submit a valid student exemption request and meet the minimum course credit-hour standard. If you are still within 30 days of your hire date, you may be able to submit an exemption request. If you have passed the 30-day exemption deadline, you are automatically enrolled in OPERS. You can select an OPERS plan within 180 days of your hire date.

Upon hire/rehire, OPERS will send a unique link to your e-mail and/or by text message. Visit the link to submit your exemption request. Valid exemption requests must meet all requirements.

When employees contribute to a public retirement system, Ohio State is required to provide an employer contribution. The percentage of funds to which an employee has access is considered the “vested” portion. The vesting scheduled for OPERS Traditional and Member Directed plans can be found here. Any non-vested employer contributions are forfeited upon an account refund, and those funds will remain with OPERS. Please contact OPERS or STRS for questions regarding vesting.

Ohio State will issue refunds of any contributions withheld prior to the exemption being processed, as long as you met all eligibility requirements during those pay periods. Refunds may take multiple pay periods, or up to 60 days, to appear on a paycheck due to timing.

If you have made previous contributions to a public retirement system, OPERS or STRS may continue to send communications. Even if you are exempt and not contributing to OPERS, your earnings are still governed by OPERS regulations.

In order for your exemption to be active in any one pay period, you must be enrolled in the minimum number of credit hours (6 for undergraduate, 4 for graduate, and 2 for post-candidacy doctoral graduate students). If you work at Ohio State during a term, or even just one pay period, in which you are not enrolled in the minimum number of credit hours, such as summer, you are required to make retirement contributions. While employed at Ohio State, these contributions would stay in an OPERS account and cannot be refunded to you. Once you terminate employment, you may contact OPERS to discuss your options for the funds in your OPERS account.

Your exemption will remain on file unless you have a 365 day break in employment. You should not expect to contribute to OPERS on the next payroll as long as you meet the full-time enrollment criteria above.

You have many options once you are no longer a state employee. You may ask OPERS to distribute the funds to you, roll the funds into another retirement account, or leave the funds with OPERS. An early distribution may require you to pay taxes and a penalty depending on your age, and you will forfeit any Ohio State contributions not vested.

OPERS will not refund any contributions until you have been separated from Ohio State for at least 60 days. These funds will be subject to taxation and early withdrawal penalties as appropriate. Employer contributions will be distributed in accordance with OPERS vesting schedules.

Exemption refunds for contributions paid in previous years require a 1099-R form and a separate refund check or direct deposit disbursement from Accounts Payable. This action will result in the refund amount being paid to the employee, and a 1099-R tax document being sent in January of the following year to be filed with taxes for the year the payment was received. The university follows this practice to comply with IRS guidelines.

If you choose to not submit an OPERS exemption request, your retirement elections cannot be adjusted. Rehired or transferred student employees without a 365-day break in Ohio State service may not change their retirement election.

You will not earn retirement service credit during the time in which you are exempt from OPERS. It may be possible to purchase service credit for time exempted from retirement contributions. The cost to do this generally increases over time. Please see The Basics: Membership in OPERS for College Students for more details.

If you switch from being a student employee to a regular full- or part-time employee at Ohio State, you will be required to contribute to a public retirement system.

If you return to student employment prior to 365 days from your last student employment, your previous OPERS exemption will still be in effect. After switching back to student employment, the number of enrolled credit hours will be reviewed each pay period as part of the ongoing processing to determine exemption criteria. If you are a GTA, please see the next question: “How are retirement contributions different for Graduate Teaching Associates?”

GTAs who have an STRS account from any prior public employment are required to contribute to STRS, unless they have an approved STRS exemption form. A GTA has 30 days from the start of the GTA appointment to submit the exemption form.

GTAs are eligible for OPERS if they do not have a previously existing STRS account. In this case, the GTA could participate in or exempt out of OPERS.

A common challenge occurs when an individual is a lecturer over the summer, and transfers to a GTA position in the fall. In this case, any previous OPERS exemptions will not exempt earning under the new GTA role, because of the summer contributions into STRS. In this case, the GTA would need to submit a STRS exemption within 30 days of the start of the GTA appointment if they wish to exempt.

If you change positions, especially from a fellow to a student appointment, and want to maintain a previously approved exemption, it is recommended you complete a new exemption form. However, you may not be able to switch your exemption status. Retirement election or exemption decisions can only be changed if the student has a break in service of 365 days or more. This break in service includes any time spent in a non-student appointment or a position not eligible to exempt from OPERS. These appointments include Graduate External Fellow, Graduate Supplemental Fellow, Graduate Fellow, Graduate Trainee, Undergraduate Trainee and Undergraduate Fellow.

Students are allowed to have more than one job. However, they will only be able to make one retirement election. Students cannot participate in OPERS in one job and exempt from OPERS in another job. Your retirement election will carry over to all eligible jobs. Note: The date for your 30-day eligibility window will be your earliest hire date if you start one job before the other.

Students are not permitted to hold staff and student positions at the same time.