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Optional Retirement Plan (ORP)

Faculty and all exempt benefit-eligible staff have the opportunity to make a one-time irrevocable decision to participate in an Optional Retirement Plan (ORP) in lieu of the Teachers Retirement System. This decision must be made within 60 days following employment.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia is responsible for the administration of the ORP and designates the companies authorized to underwrite the investment contracts. The Board of Regents has authorized the following carriers, which provide a variety of investments, services, and benefits: Fidelity, TIAA-CREF, Valic.

View contact information for the 3 approved ORP companies.

The University of Georgia cannot offer advice on retirement plans or guarantee investment returns, interest rates, dividends, or tax advantages. However, the University does recommend careful review of the ORP company fund prospectuses. You may also wish to consult a qualified financial or tax professional for assistance in deciding which of these two plans better meets your retirement goals.

All newly-hired exempt benefit-eligible staff may choose between the TRS and ORP. (Non-exempt benefit-eligible staff must participate in TRS.) In addition, UGA temporary employees moving to exempt, benefit-eligible positions may choose between TRS and ORP. To view exempt and non-exempt positions, select any pay plan listed on the UGA pay plan page.

ORP: A Defined Contribution Plan

The 1990 session of the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation creating an Optional Retirement Plan (ORP) known in law as the Regents Retirement Plan. ORP became effective October 1, 1990. A copy of the plan document is on file in the Board of Regents Central Office. This information is intended to summarize the ORP in general terms. In all questions of interpretation, the plan document will govern.

The ORP allows portability of accumulated contribution balances and provides flexibility by offering participants a greater choice of investment and distribution options. With an ORP defined contribution plan, the value of your benefit is not based on a predetermined formula. Rather, contributions are made by you and the University of Georgia, resulting in a fund that is used to provide a monthly income during retirement. The amount of your retirement income is based on the account balances you have accumulated throughout your years of employment. This, of course, is determined by the amount of contributions to your plan and the performance of the investment funds you select.

  • Plan year 2019-2020 maximum compensation for computing retirement benefits:  $280,000
  • Plan year 2020-2021 maximum compensation for computing retirement benefits:  $285,000

This maximum compensation limit under Internal Revenue Code 401(a)(17) only applies to those ORP employees hired on or after January 1, 1996. All employees hired prior to this date are "grandfathered" with no maximum salary limitation.

ORP employer & employee contribution limit for 2020
(applies to all ORP participants regardless of hire date, IRC Section 415): lesser of $57,000 or 100% of compensation)

ORP contribution rates effective July 1, 2014
Employer  9.24%
Employee  6.00%

Regular faculty members and other administrative positions, as designated by the President, who are employed at least one-half time in a benefit-eligible position, are eligible for the Optional Retirement Plan. Only newly hired employees or employees first becoming eligible for retirement benefits are eligible to join ORP. Employees who are promoted to an ORP-eligible position, and were previously covered by the Teachers Retirement System, are not eligible to join ORP.

If eligible, you have 60 days from your date of employment to enroll in ORP. This is an important decision because the choice is irrevocable. Failure to make a decision and turn in the required paperwork to the Employee Benefits Department within 60 days of employment will result in automatic enrollment in TRS. Note: participation in a retirement plan is mandatory.


The ORP provides for full and immediate vesting of both employee and employer contributions. Every dollar contributed to your ORP account by the University of Georgia on your behalf remains in your fund for you, even if your employment is terminated. Vesting means ownership of the assets held in your accounts. Vesting does not mean you will have an immediate right to these assets, but merely that you will not forfeit them upon termination of employment.

You contribute a portion of your salary before state and federal taxes are applied. See above for current contribution rates. The University of Georgia also makes a contribution on your behalf to your ORP account. Contributions are based on gross salary excluding extra compensation.

When you make your first ORP contribution, your selected vendor(s) will notify you that an account has been opened and funds deposited into a University System of Georgia-selected default account. You will be provided a link to their respective web site(s) to register your account. At that time, you can elect to move your funds from the default account to any available account, as desired.

Account Distributions
You become eligible to receive distributions from your ORP account when you terminate employment or retire. You should seek the advice of a professional tax adviser or financial planner before making decisions concerning your retirement funds.

Upon termination of your employment with the University System of Georgia you have the following options:

  • You may retain the vendor funds you have selected for investment, allowing for possible growth until your retirement.
  • You may request a direct rollover of your account to a qualified plan, such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). As long as the rollover is made directly from one vendor to another, no taxes will be withheld from your account. Be sure you understand the terms of your ORP contract before you make a transfer. Some accounts impose a surrender fee on an account withdrawal.
  • You may elect a cash withdrawal. Effective January 1, 1993, lump sum withdrawals are subject to 20% Federal income tax withholding. In addition to the 20% withheld for Federal taxes, if you are under age 59½, any amount withdrawn would be subject to a 10% penalty due to premature withdrawal of a retirement account.

Disability Benefits
There are no specific disability provisions under the ORP. However, because the plan provides full and immediate vesting, you will never lose the value of your fund if you are unable to work as a result of permanent and total disability. You will have the option to receive the fund value in a lump sum or have it converted into a retirement annuity upon your disability.

If you participate in the voluntary Long Term Disability (LTD) insurance program available to University of Georgia employees, and become eligible to receive disability income from the LTD insurance policy, there may be coordination of benefits with your optional retirement income. Please refer to the Long Term Disability summary plan document available the Employee Benefits Web site for more information regarding the terms of the plan.

Death Benefits
In the event of your death, your entire fund will be payable to your designated beneficiary. In some cases, it is possible that your beneficiary may elect to receive your fund value in annuity or installment payments. You should review the death benefit options in the retirement contracts you select.

You designate your beneficiary when you complete your ORP company enrollment application. If there is a need to change your beneficiary, you should contact your ORP company.

Retirement Benefits
Under the ORP, the amount of your retirement benefit is based on the total value of your account at retirement. Each ORP carrier makes available optional forms of payments and a variety of retirement payment options designed to allow you to customize your retirement program to meet your financial needs. These may be fixed annuity payments, payments on a variable basis, or a combination thereof.

Regardless of whether you elect to participate in ORP or TRS, you may make tax-deferred contributions on a voluntary basis to a variety of investment opportunities being offered through the University of Georgia Tax Deferred Savings program.

This document has attempted to explain the Optional Retirement Plan in easy to understand language and as accurately as possible. If this summary disagrees with the formal rules and documents that govern the plan or if information is missing, the legal document must be followed.


Revised 5/8/2020