Railroad Retirement and Survivor Benefits

RRB Form IB-2 (2-14)
Employee & Spouse Annuities

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Basic Service Requirement

The basic requirement for a regular employee annuity is 120 months (10 years) of creditable railroad service or 60 months (5 years) of creditable railroad service if such service was performed after 1995. Service months need not be consecutive, and, in some cases, military service may be counted as railroad service.

Credit for a month of railroad service is given for every month in which an employee had some compensated service for an employer covered by the Railroad Retirement Act, even if only one day's service is performed in the month. (However, local lodge compensation earned after 1974 is disregarded for any calendar month in which it is less than $25.) Under certain circumstances, additional months of service may be deemed.

Covered employers include railroads engaged in interstate commerce and some of their subsidiaries, railroad associations and national railway labor organizations.

Railroad retirement benefits are based on months of service and earnings credits. Earnings are creditable up to certain annual maximums on the amount of compensation subject to railroad retirement taxes.

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Age and Service, Disability and Supplemental Annuities

An AGE AND SERVICE ANNUITY can be paid to:

Employees with 30 or more years of creditable service. They are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 60. Early retirement reductions are applied if the employee first became eligible for a 60/30 annuity July 1, 1984, or later and retired at ages 60 or 61 before 2002.

Employees with 10-29 years of creditable service, or 5-9 years, if at least 5 years were after 1995. They are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 62. Early retirement annuity reductions are applied to annuities awarded before full retirement age, which ranges from age 65 for those born before 1938 to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, the same as under social security. Reduced annuities are still payable at age 62 but the maximum reduction will be 30 percent rather than 20 percent by the year 2022. The tier II portion of an annuity (as defined below) is not reduced beyond 20 percent if the employee had any creditable railroad service before August 12, 1983. See Railroad Retirement Annuity Formula Components for a detailed explanation of age reductions.

An annuity based on age cannot be paid until the employee stops railroad employment, files an application and gives up any rights to return to work for a railroad employer.

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A DISABILITY ANNUITY can be paid for:

Total disability, at any age, if an employee is permanently disabled for all regular work and has at least 10 years (120 months) of creditable railroad service. Employees with 5-9 years (60-119 months) of creditable railroad service, if at least 5 years were performed after 1995, may qualify for tier I only (as defined below) before retirement age on the basis of total disability if they also meet certain social security earnings requirements. An age reduced tier II amount would be payable at age 62.

Occupational disability, at age 60, if an employee has at least 10 years of railroad service or at any age if the employee has at least 20 years (240 months) of service, when the employee is permanently disabled for his or her regular railroad occupation. An annuity based on occupational, rather than total, disability also requires a "current connection" with the railroad industry.

A 5-month waiting period beginning with the month after the month of the onset of disability is required before any disability annuity payments can begin.

An employee can be in compensated service while filing a disability annuity application as long as the compensated service is not active service and terminates within 90 days from the date of filing. However, in order for a supplemental annuity to be paid by the RRB, or for an eligible spouse to begin receiving annuity payments, a disabled annuitant under full retirement age must relinquish employment rights.

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A SUPPLEMENTAL ANNUITY can be paid at:

Age 60, if the employee has at least 30 years of creditable railroad service.

Age 65, if the employee has 25-29 years of railroad service.

In addition to the service requirements, a "current connection" with the railroad industry is required for all supplemental annuities. An employee must also be entitled to receive a railroad retirement age and service or disability annuity before a supplemental annuity can be paid.  Eligibility is further limited to employees who had at least one month of rail service before October 1981.

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Current Connection Requirement

An employee who worked for a railroad in at least 12 months in the 30 months immediately preceding the month his or her railroad retirement annuity begins will meet the current connection requirement for a supplemental annuity, occupational disability annuity or survivor benefits.  (If the employee died before retirement, railroad service in at least 12 months in the 30 months before the month of death will meet the current connection requirement for the purpose of paying survivor benefits.)

If an employee does not qualify on this basis, but has 12 service months in an earlier 30-month period, he or she may still meet the current connection requirement. This alternative generally applies if the employee did not have any regular employment outside the railroad industry after the end of the last 30-month period which included 12 months of railroad service and before the month the annuity begins or the month of death. Full or part-time work for a nonrailroad employer in the interval between the end of the last 30-month period including 12 months of railroad service and the month an employee's annuity begins, or the month of death if earlier, can break a current connection.

Self-employment in an unincorporated business will not break a current connection; however, self-employment can break a current connection if the business is incorporated.

Working for certain U.S. Government agencies--Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board, Surface Transportation Board, National Mediation Board, Transportation Security Administration, RRB--will not break a current connection. State employment with the Alaska Railroad, as long as that railroad remains an entity of the State of Alaska, will not break a current connection. Also, railroad service in Canada for a Canadian railroad will neither break nor preserve a current connection.

A current connection can also be maintained, for purposes of supplemental and survivor annuities, if the employee completed 25 years of railroad service, was involuntarily terminated without fault from his or her last job in the railroad industry, and did not thereafter decline an offer of employment in the same class or craft in the railroad industry, regardless of the distance to the new position.

A termination of railroad service is considered voluntary unless there was no choice available to the individual to remain in service. Generally, where an employee has no option to remain in the service of his or her railroad employer, the termination of the employment is considered involuntary, regardless of whether the employee does or does not receive a separation allowance. However, each case is decided by the RRB on an individual basis. This exception to the normal current connection requirements became effective October 1, 1981, but only for employees still living on that date who left the rail industry on or after October 1, 1975, or who were on leave of absence, on furlough, or absent due to injury on October 1, 1975.

Once a current connection is established at the time the railroad retirement annuity begins, an employee never loses it no matter what kind of work is performed thereafter.

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Spouse Annuities

The age requirements for a spouse annuity depend on the employee's age and date of retirement and the employee's years of railroad service.

If a retired employee with 30 years of service is age 60, the employee's spouse is also eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 60. Certain early retirement reductions are applied if the employee first became eligible for a 60/30 annuity July 1, 1984, or later and retired at ages 60 or 61 before 2002. If the employee was awarded a disability annuity, has attained age 60 and has 30 years of service, the spouse can receive an unreduced annuity the first full month she or he is age 60, regardless of whether the employee annuity began before or after 2002 as long as the spouse's annuity beginning date is after 2001.

If a retired employee with less than 30 years of service is age 62, the employee's spouse is also eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 62. Early retirement reductions are applied to the spouse annuity if the spouse retires prior to her or his full retirement age. Full retirement age for a spouse is gradually rising to age 67, just as for an employee, depending on the year of birth. Reduced benefits are still payable at age 62, but the maximum reduction will be 35 percent rather than 25 percent by the year 2022. The tier II portion of a spouse annuity (as defined below) is not reduced beyond 25 percent if the employee had any creditable railroad service before August 12, 1983.

A spouse of an employee receiving an age and service annuity (or a spouse of a disability annuitant who is otherwise eligible for an age and service annuity) is eligible for a spouse annuity at any age if caring for the employee's unmarried child, and the child is under age 18 or a disabled child of any age who became disabled before age 22.

The employee must have been married to the spouse for at least 1 year, unless the spouse is the natural parent of their child, the spouse was eligible or potentially eligible for a railroad retirement widow(er)'s, parent's or disabled child's annuity in the month before marrying the employee, or the spouse was previously married to the employee and received a spouse annuity. However, entitlement to a surviving divorced spouse, surviving divorced young mother (father), or remarried widow(er) annuity does not waive the 1-year marriage requirement.

An annuity may also be payable to the divorced wife or husband of a retired employee if their marriage lasted for at least 10 consecutive years, both have attained age 62 for a full month and the divorced spouse is not currently married. The amount of a divorced spouse's annuity is, in effect, equal to what social security would pay in the same situation and therefore less than the amount of the spouse annuity otherwise payable (tier I only). A divorced spouse can receive an annuity even if the employee has not retired, provided they have been divorced for a period of not less than 2 years, the employee and former spouse are at least age 62, and the employee is fully insured under the Social Security Act using combined railroad and social security earnings. A court-ordered partition payment may be paid even if the employee is not entitled to an annuity provided that the employee has 10 years of railroad service or 5 years after 1995 and both the employee and former spouse are 62.

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Employee and Spouse Annuity Estimates

Railroad employees with RRB online accounts can get estimates of future annuities for themselves and their spouses by visiting the Benefit Online Services Login  section of the www.rrb.gov home page. Instructions for establishing an online account are available by clicking on the link for requesting a Password Request Code (PRC) in that same section. The estimates are based on the service and earnings records maintained by the RRB and show the earliest date the employee can receive a full annuity and, if applicable, the earliest date he or she can receive a reduced annuity. Employees who want estimates can also contact an RRB field office for approximate figures. Each RRB field office can furnish estimates for employees with at least 10 years of railroad service, or 5 years after 1995. It is not possible to provide a precise amount if the employee is not currently eligible.

See Table 1 and Table 2 in IB-2 Facts for more information.

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Two-tier Annuities and Dual Benefits

Regular railroad retirement annuities are calculated under a two-tier formula. The annuity formula components for employees and spouses are described under Railroad Retirement Annuity Formula Components.

The first tier is based on railroad retirement credits and any social security credits an employee has acquired. The amount of the first tier is calculated using social security formulas, but with railroad retirement age and service requirements.

The second tier is based on railroad retirement credits only, and may be compared to the retirement benefits paid over and above social security benefits to workers in other industries.

An additional amount may also be payable as part of the regular annuity if an employee had at least 120 months of railroad service and acquired sufficient quarters of coverage for an insured status under the Social Security Act before 1975 and also met certain vesting requirements.

Employees with Railroad Retirement and Social Security Benefits

Since 1975, if a retired or disabled railroad retirement annuitant is also awarded social security benefits, the Social Security Administration determines the amount due, but a combined monthly benefit payment is issued by the RRB.

The tier I portion of an employee annuity is based on his or her combined railroad retirement and social security credits, figured under social security formulas, and approximates what social security would pay if railroad work were covered by that system. It is reduced by the amount of any actual social security benefit paid on the basis of the employee's nonrailroad employment in order to prevent a duplication of benefits based on social security covered earnings. The tier I amount is also reduced in the event a social security benefit is payable to the employee on the basis of another person's earnings. This reduction follows principles of social security law which, in effect, limit payment to the higher of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time. An annuitant is required to advise the RRB if any benefits are received directly from the Social Security Administration or if those benefits increase other than for a cost-of-living increase.

If an employee qualified for dual benefits before 1975 and met certain vesting requirements, he or she can receive an additional annuity amount, which offsets, in part, the dual benefit reduction. This additional amount, which reflects the dual benefits payable prior to 1975, is called the vested dual benefit payment. The vested dual benefit cannot be paid prior to the date the employee could begin to receive a social security benefit if he or she were to file for such a benefit.

Employees who do not qualify for a vested dual benefit may be eligible for a refund of any excess social security taxes they paid (see Dual Taxes Paid).

Limitations on vested dual benefits

Vested dual benefit payments are funded by annual appropriations from general U.S. Treasury revenues.  These appropriations account for less than one percent of total financing sources for the railroad retirement system.

Payment of vested dual benefits is dependent on the time and amount of such appropriations. If the appropriation in a fiscal year is for less than the estimated total vested dual benefit payments, individual payments must be reduced.

Employees with Public, Non-profit or Foreign Pensions

For employees first eligible for a railroad retirement annuity and a Federal, State or local government pension after 1985, there may be a reduction in the tier I amount for receipt of a public pension based, in part or in whole, on employment not covered by social security or railroad retirement after 1956. This may also apply to certain other payments not covered by railroad retirement or social security, such as from a non-profit organization or from a foreign government or a foreign employer, but it does not include military service pensions, payments by the Department of Veterans Affairs, or certain benefits payable by a foreign government as a result of a totalization agreement between that government and the United States.

Workers' Compensation

If an employee is receiving a disability annuity, the tier I portion may, under certain circumstances, be reduced for receipt of workers' compensation or public disability benefits.

If an annuitant becomes entitled to any pensions or benefits as described above, the RRB must be notified immediately.

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Spouses with Dual Benefits

Social Security Benefits

The tier I portion of a spouse annuity is reduced for any social security entitlement, regardless of whether the social security benefit is based on the spouse's own earnings, the employee's earnings or the earnings of another person. This reduction follows principles of social security law which, in effect, limit payment to the higher of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time.

Public Pensions

The tier I portion of a spouse annuity may also be reduced for receipt of any Federal, State or local government pension separately payable to the spouse based on the spouse's own earnings. The reduction generally does not apply if the employment on which the pension is based was covered under the Social Security Act throughout the last 60 months of public employment.

Most military service pensions and payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs will not cause a reduction. Pensions paid by a foreign government or interstate instrumentality will also not cause a reduction. For spouses subject to the public pension reduction, the tier I reduction is equal to 2/3 of the amount of the public pension.

Employee Annuity

If both the employee and spouse are qualified railroad employees and either had some railroad service before 1975, both can receive separate railroad retirement employee and spouse annuities, without a full dual benefit reduction.

If both started railroad employment after 1974, the amount of any spouse or divorced spouse annuity is reduced by the amount of the employee annuity to which the spouse is also entitled.

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Minimum Guaranty for Employee and Spouse Annuities

Under a special minimum guaranty provision, railroad families will not receive less in monthly benefits than they would have if railroad earnings were covered by social security rather than railroad retirement laws. This guaranty is intended to cover situations in which one or more members of a family would otherwise be eligible for a type of social security benefit which is not provided under the Railroad Retirement Act.

For example, social security provides children's benefits when an employee is totally disabled, retired, or deceased. The Railroad Retirement Act only provides children's benefits if the employee is deceased. Therefore, if a retired rail employee has children who would otherwise be eligible for a benefit under social security, the employee's annuity would be increased to reflect what social security would pay the family, unless the annuity is already more than that amount.

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Cost-of-living Increases in Employee and Spouse Retirement Benefits

After retirement, the tier I portions of both employee and spouse annuities are generally increased for higher living costs at the same time, and by the same percentage, as social security benefits. These increases, effective December 1 and included in the January payment, are based on the rise in the Consumer Price Index from the third quarter of the last year a cost-of-living adjustment became effective to the corresponding period of the current year. Generally, if the Index increases by 5 percent, for example, the tier I portion increases by 5 percent. Under certain circumstances, the increase can be based on average national wage increases rather than price increases.

If an annuitant is receiving both railroad retirement and social security benefits, the increased tier I portion is reduced by the increased social security benefit.

The tier II portions of retired employee and spouse annuities are normally increased by 32.5 percent of the increase in the Consumer Price Index.

Tier II cost-of-living increases are generally payable at the same time as tier I cost-of-living increases. Vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities are not increased by these cost-of-living adjustments.

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Working After Retirement

Neither a regular annuity, a supplemental annuity, nor a spouse annuity is payable for any month in which a retired employee, regardless of age, works for an employer covered under the Railroad Retirement Act, including labor organizations. However, service for less than $25 a month to a local lodge will not prevent payment of the annuity for that month.

Retired employees and spouses who work for their last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer are subject to an earnings deduction. Such employment will reduce tier II benefits and supplemental annuity payments, which are not otherwise subject to earnings deductions, by $1 for each $2 of earnings received, subject to a maximum reduction of 50 percent. These reductions continue after full retirement age. Work that begins on the same day as the annuity beginning date is not last pre-retirement nonrailroad employment.

Retired employees and spouses who have not yet attained full social security retirement age, which ranges from age 65 for those born before 1938 to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, may also be subject to additional earnings deductions for any earnings, in or outside the rail industry, that exceed certain exempt amounts. The tier I and vested dual benefits of these employee and spouse annuities are subject to deductions if earnings exceed the exempt amounts applicable to social security beneficiaries. Prior to the calendar year in which full social security retirement age is attained, the deduction is $1 in benefits for every $2 of annual earnings exceeding an exempt amount ($15,480 in 2014).

If the employee or spouse has a tier I reduction for social security benefits, the tier I benefit is not reduced for excess earnings.

In the first year in which an employee subject to these earnings deductions is both entitled to an annuity and has a non-work month, a full annuity can be paid for those months in which the employee had low earnings or did not have substantial self-employment, no matter what total earnings for the year were. A non-work month is one in which the employee neither earns over 1/12 of the annual exempt amount nor has substantial self-employment. Non-work months can be claimed in only one calendar year, which need not necessarily be the first year of entitlement.

In the calendar year in which an individual attains full social security retirement age, deductions of $1 are made in tier I and vested dual benefits for every $3 earned in excess of an exempt amount ($41,400 in 2014), but only counting those earnings in the months prior to the month full retirement age is attained. These tier I and vested dual benefit deductions stop effective with the month full retirement age is attained.

Earnings received for services rendered, plus any net earnings from self-employment, are considered when assessing deductions for earnings. Interest, dividends, certain rental income or income from some stocks, bonds, or other investments are not generally considered earnings for this purpose.

Annuitants under full retirement age who work after retirement and expect that their earnings for a year will be more than the annual exempt amount must promptly notify the RRB and furnish an estimate of their expected earnings in order to prevent an overpayment and penalties. They should also notify the RRB if their original estimate changes significantly.

Retired employees and spouses who return to work for a railroad or for their last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer must notify the RRB, regardless of earnings or age.

A spouse benefit is subject to reductions not only for the spouse's earnings, but also for the earnings of the employee, regardless of whether the earnings are from service for the last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer or other post-retirement employment.

A spouse annuity is not payable for any month in which the employee's annuity is not payable, or for any month in which the spouse, regardless of age, works for an employer covered under the Railroad Retirement Act. (A divorced spouse can receive an annuity even if the employee has not retired, provided they have been divorced for at least 2 years, the employee and former spouse are at least age 62, and the employee is fully insured under the Social Security Act using combined railroad and social security earnings. A court-ordered partition payment may be paid even if the employee is not entitled to an annuity provided that the employee has at least 10 years of railroad service, or 5 years after 1995, and both the employee and former spouse are 62.)

Disability Work Restrictions

If an annuity is based on disability, there are certain work restrictions that can affect payment, depending on the amount of earnings. The annuity is not payable for any month in which the disabled employee annuitant works for an employer covered under the Railroad Retirement Act. The annuity is not payable for any month in 2014 in which the disabled employee annuitant earns more than $840 in any employment or net self-employment, exclusive of disability-related work expenses. Withheld payments will be restored if earnings for the year are less than $10,500 after deduction of disability-related work expenses. Failure to report such earnings could involve a significant penalty charge.

These disability work restrictions cease upon a disabled employee annuitant's attainment of full retirement age. This transition is effective no earlier than full retirement age even if the annuitant had 30 years of service. Earnings deductions continue to apply to those working for their last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer.

If a disabled employee annuitant works before full retirement age, this may also raise a question about the possibility of that individual's recovery from disability, regardless of the amount of earnings. Consequently, any earnings must be reported promptly to avoid overpayments, which are recoverable by the RRB and may also include penalties.

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When Annuities Stop

Payment of any annuity stops upon the annuitant's death, and the annuity is not payable for any day in the month of death.

A disability annuity stops after the employee recovers from the disability; it can be reinstated if the disabling condition recurs.

A spouse annuity stops if the employee's annuity terminates, or the spouse annuity was based on caring for a child and the child is no longer under age 18 or disabled or the child is no longer in the spouse's care. However, the spouse annuity may continue if she or he is qualified without the child or it can resume when the spouse attains a qualifying age.

While a divorce ends eligibility for a spouse annuity, a divorced spouse may, under conditions described previously, qualify for a divorced spouse annuity.

A divorced spouse's annuity stops upon remarriage or upon entitlement to a social security benefit based on her or his own earnings if the unreduced social security benefit is equal to or greater than one-half of the employee's unreduced tier I amount. A divorced spouse's annuity may be reduced or stopped if the divorced spouse is also entitled to a railroad retirement annuity.

It is important to notify the RRB promptly if one of the above changes occurs. Failure to report can result in an overpayment, which the RRB will take action to recover, sometimes with interest or penalties. Failure to report changes promptly or making a false statement can also result in a fine or imprisonment.

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U.S. Railroad Retirement Board
844 North Rush Street
Chicago IL, 60611-2092
Toll Free: (877) 772-5772
TTY: (312) 751-4701
Directory: (312) 751-4300
Last Updated
3/12/2014