Your Guaranteed Pension
If you have questions about your plan or benefits, contact your employer.
For more information about PBGC’s insurance program, call our Customer Contact Center toll-free at 1-800-400-7242 or visit our Web site at www.pbgc.gov.
TTY/ASCII users may call the Federal Relay Service toll-free at 1-800-877-8339 and ask to be connected to 1-800-400-7242.
You can write to us at:
Processing and Assistance Branch
1200 K Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005-4026
Information in this booklet will be provided to people with visual impairments upon request.
This booklet summarizes PBGC’s rules at the time the booklet was printed. None of the information takes precedence over legislation, regulations, or specific interpretations or rulings.
Representantes que hablan español están dispuestos a ayudarle en nuestro Centro de Contacto del Cliente—número de teléfono: 1-800-400-7242.
A. PBGC is a federal agency created by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to protect pension benefits in private defined benefit plans — the kind that typically pay a set monthly amount at retirement. If your plan is insured by PBGC and it ends without sufficient money to pay all benefits, PBGC’s insurance program will pay you the benefit provided by your pension plan up to the limits set by law. (When a plan ends, this is called "plan termination").
Our funding comes from insurance premiums paid by companies whose plans we protect, from our investments, from the assets of pension plans that we take over as trustee, and from recoveries from the companies formerly responsible for the plans. We do not receive any funding from the U.S. Government. Your insured plan remains insured even if your employer fails to pay the required premiums.
A. PBGC insures defined benefit plans offered by private-sector employers. Most promise to pay a specified benefit, usually a monthly amount, at retirement for life. Others, including cash-balance plans, may state the promised benefit as a single value.
Although we insure most defined benefit plans, some are not covered.
For example, PBGC usually does not insure plans offered by:
- "professional service employers" (such as doctors and lawyers) with fewer than 26 active employees enrolled in the plan (now and at all times in the past),
- church groups, or
- federal, state, or local governments.
PBGC does not insure defined contribution plans, which are retirement plans that do not promise specific benefit amounts at retirement, such as profit-sharing or 401(k) plans.
This booklet covers only single-employer plans, which are normally sponsored by an individual company for the benefit of its workers.
Another PBGC program insures multiemployer plans covering unionized workers of non-related employers in the same industry, such as trucking or construction.
A. The easiest way is to ask your employer or plan administrator for a copy of the “Summary Plan Description,” or SPD. The SPD will state whether your plan is covered by the PBGC program.
PBGC maintains a list of insured single-employer pension plans at http://search.pbgc.gov/single-employer/. While the list is not comprehensive it does include most single-employer plans that are insured by PBGC.
A. There are two ways an employer can terminate its pension plan.
The employer can end the plan in a standard termination but only after showing PBGC that the plan has enough money to pay all benefits owed to participants. Your plan must either:
- purchase from an insurance company an annuity that will provide you with lifetime benefits when you retire. Before purchasing your annuity, your plan administrator must give you an advance notice that identifies the insurance company or companies that your employer may select to provide the annuity; or
- issue a lump-sum payment that covers your entire benefit, if your plan allows for lump sums.
PBGC's guarantee ends when your employer purchases your annuity or pays you the lump-sum payment.
If the plan does not have enough money to pay all pension benefits owed to participants and the employer is in financial distress, the employer may apply for a distress termination. PBGC cannot grant the application, unless the employer proves to us or to a bankruptcy court that the employer cannot remain in business if the plan is not terminated. If the application is granted, we normally will take over as trustee of the plan and pay plan benefits, up to the legal limits.
A. Under the law, PBGC may take action on its own and involuntarily terminate a pension plan to protect the interests of plan participants or of the PBGC insurance program. For example, PBGC will terminate a plan if the plan will be unable to pay benefits when due.
A.Your plan administrator must give you an annual written notice about the plan’s funded status.
You also have a legal right to obtain funding information by requesting the information in writing from your plan administrator. However, PBGC is required by law to calculate the underfunding of a plan using different assumptions than those used by the company. In most cases, this results in a higher estimate of underfunding.
A. If your employer wants to end the plan, your plan administrator must notify you of this in writing. You must get this notice, called the Notice of Intent to Terminate, at least 60 days before the proposed termination date. If PBGC is terminating the plan, we notify the plan administrator and often publish a notice about our action in local and national newspapers as well as on our website, blog and social media. Once PBGC takes over a plan we will notify you.
A. In a standard termination, your plan administrator must send you a second letter describing the benefits you will receive, called the Notice of Plan Benefits. Generally this notice must be sent no later than six months after the date proposed for your plan’s termination.
In a distress termination or a termination initiated by PBGC, our communication with you begins when we take over as trustee of your plan. Initially we will give you general information about the pension insurance program and our guarantees. We will be able to provide more specific information about your benefits after we have had an opportunity to review the plan’s records, assets, benefit liabilities, and the benefits you have earned in the plan.
A. No. You cannot earn any additional pension benefits under your plan after it terminates.
A. PBGC reviews your plan’s records to determine the benefits each person will receive. The amount we pay is subject to limits set by law.
If you are already receiving a pension, we will continue paying you without interruption during our review. These payments are an estimate of the benefits that PBGC can pay under the insurance program. We will pay the benefits in the annuity form you chose at retirement, generally what you were receiving from your plan.
If you have not yet retired, we will pay you an estimated benefit when you become eligible and apply to PBGC to begin payments. About four months before you are ready for your benefits to begin, contact us by calling the Customer Contact Center toll-free at 1-800-400-7242.
We deposit most benefits into participants’ accounts electronically, the safest, most secure, and simplest method.
A. After we have completed our review of all plan data and records, we will notify you in writing of your PBGC benefit. If you are receiving an estimated benefit, the letter will inform you whether your future payments will change and, if so, how much higher or lower they will be than the amount you are currently receiving. You have the right to appeal our determination.
A. If your estimated benefits have been lower than the amount that PBGC ultimately determines you should be receiving, we will make up the difference in a single payment with interest when we have completed our review of your plan.
If your estimated benefits have been higher than the amount you should be receiving, we will correct your future monthly payments to the final amount as calculated by PBGC. Typically, payments will be further reduced by no more than 10 percent each month to account for the higher payments already received.
A. PBGC guarantees “basic pension benefits” as provided by your pension plan, subject to legal limits. These benefits include:
- pension benefits at normal retirement age,
- most early retirement benefits,
- disability benefits, and
- annuity benefits for survivors of plan participants.
The guarantee applies only to benefits earned before the plan terminates; however, if the plan terminates while your employer is in bankruptcy, the guarantee may be limited to benefits earned before the bankruptcy. Additional limitations may apply to certain airline industry plans. The pension benefit PBGC pays depends on:
The pension benefit PBGC pays depends on:
- provisions of your plan,
- legal limits,
- the form of your benefit, and
- your age.
It may also depend on plan assets, and on how much PBGC recovers from employers for plan underfunding.
We do not guarantee health and welfare benefits, severance and vacation pay, life insurance, lump-sum death benefits, certain other death benefits, and other non-pension benefits. PBGC does not make cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to the benefits it pays.
A. PBGC’s maximum benefit guarantee is set each year and is published on our website near the end of the year. The maximum guarantee applicable to a plan is set as of that plan’s termination date except for cases where termination occurs during a plan sponsor’s bankruptcy, in which case the maximum guarantee may be set as of the date the sponsor entered bankruptcy. An earlier date may apply to certain airline industry plans.
For 2015, the maximum guaranteed amount is $5,011.33 per month ($60,136.00 per year) for workers who begin receiving payments from PBGC at age 65. The maximum guarantee is lower if you begin receiving payments from PBGC before age 65 or if you receive your pension benefits in a form that provides benefits for a surviving spouse or other beneficiary. The maximum guarantee is higher if you are over age 65 when you begin receiving benefits from PBGC.
The table at the end of this booklet shows PBGC’s maximum guarantee at various ages. For certain disability benefits, special rules apply (see the following question). Other guarantee limitations that may apply are described in the questions and answers that follow.
A. For 2015 the maximum guarantee for a disabled participant who begins receiving benefits from PBGC at age 65 is $5,011.33 per month ($60,136.00 per year). But unlike the maximum guaranteed benefit for non-disabled participants, that amount is not reduced just because payments begin before age 65, if:
- Your disability dates from before your plan’s termination date or the plan sponsor’s bankruptcy date, as applicable; and
- Your disability meets both your plan’s disability requirements and those of the Social Security Administration; and
- You remain disabled until age 65.
As long as you were disabled before the applicable date, you may still obtain the SSA disability certification after that date. PBGC may require proof that you are still disabled.
Other adjustments to the maximum guarantee are the same as for non-disabled workers: the maximum is increased if you begin receiving payments from PBGC after age 65 and it is reduced if your benefit form includes benefits for a surviving spouse or other beneficiary.
- If your plan was created or amended to increase benefits within five years before the plan’s termination date, your benefit may not be fully guaranteed. PBGC guarantees up to the larger of 20% of the benefit increase or $20 per month for each full year the benefit increase was in effect. If you own more than 50% of the business, stricter limits apply.
- If you became eligible for additional benefits as a result of an event such as the shutdown of a facility that occurred after July 26, 2005, and less than five years before your plan’s termination date, the increase is not fully guaranteed.
- Additional limits may apply if the plan terminated while your employer was in a bankruptcy proceeding and for certain airline industry plans.
- If your plan provides supplemental benefits, such as temporary payments, they may not be fully guaranteed. Generally, PBGC does not guarantee any monthly pension amount that is greater than the monthly benefit your plan would have provided if you had retired at your normal retirement age under the plan's straight-life annuity with no survivor benefits.
Special rules may apply if you are disabled.
A. Yes. PBGC will pay benefits to your surviving beneficiary if you elected a benefit form that provides survivor benefits, whether you retired before or after your plan terminated.
- If you chose an annuity that pays benefits for the life of your beneficiary (such as a joint-and-survivor annuity), we will pay these benefits only to the beneficiary you chose when you retired. In such a case, if you remarry after you retire, your new spouse usually will not be entitled to a survivor benefit.
- If you chose an annuity that can pay a beneficiary only for a limited period of time (such as a certain-and-continuous annuity), upon your death we will pay any remaining benefits to your most recently named beneficiary.
A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) also may affect benefit payments.PBGC allows all future retirees, whether married or not, to elect a benefit form that provides survivor benefits and to name a beneficiary at that time.
If you are married and die before retiring, we pay your surviving spouse a survivor benefit. Your spouse can begin this benefit as early as the date your plan permits you to retire, but typically no earlier than your 55th birthday.
If you are entitled to or are receiving a survivor benefit when your plan terminates, PBGC will pay or continue to pay your survivor benefit for the period provided by your plan.
A. Normally, we pay benefits in monthly payments for life rather than as a lump sum. However, if the total value of your benefit is $5,000 or less, you may be able to receive it in a single payment.
A. Yes, most traditional IRAs or other qualified retirement plans will accept your lump-sum payment from PBGC. If you have PBGC pay the lump sum directly to your IRA or other plan, we will not withhold tax from the payment. With this type of payment, called a “tax-free rollover,” you will not have to pay tax until you receive payments from the IRA or other plan. You can get more information about tax-free rollovers by contacting your local Internal Revenue Service office, calling 1-800-TAX-FORM, or visiting www.irs.gov.
A. Yes, PBGC generally offers you a range of choices if your annuity begins after we trustee your plan. The choices are explained at www.pbgc.gov/wr/benefits/payments/your-pbgc-benefit-options.html. At the time you retire, we will tell you the amount you can receive under each of these annuity choices. If you are married at the time you retire, you may need to obtain the consent of your spouse to elect some forms of benefit.
A. No, there is no cost-of-living adjustment under the law.
A. PBGC only withholds federal income taxes and certain court-ordered deductions. You will have to pay separately any state taxes or other amounts (such as health insurance) now being deducted.
PBGC MAXIMUM MONTHLY GUARANTEES
Examples of the maximum amounts that PBGC can guarantee for a straight-life annuity with no survivor benefits are shown for ages 65, 62, 60 and 55. The maximum is based on your age at the date you begin receiving benefits from PBGC. The age reduction does not apply to certain disability retirement benefits (see page 10). The maximum is lower if the benefit is paid in a form other than a straight-life annuity, such as a form that provides for survivor benefits.
|Your Plan Terminated*||Maximum Monthly Guarantee|
With only one call from you, our customer, we will say:
- what can be done immediately and what will take longer,
- when it will be done, and
- who will handle your request.
We will call you if anything changes from what we first told you, give you a status report, and explain what will happen next.
We will have staff available from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday – Friday to answer your calls. FOR PARTICIPANT INQUIRIES, our Customer Contact Center will be open two hours longer, until 7:00 p.m. If you leave a message, we will return your call within one work day.
We will acknowledge your letters within one week of receipt.