Prepared by Public Affairs 312-751-4777
In addition to the retirement annuities payable to employees, the
Railroad Retirement Act, like the Social Security Act, also provides
annuities for the spouses of retired employees. Payment of a spouse annuity is
made directly to the wife or husband of the employee. Divorced spouses may also
qualify for benefits.
The following questions and answers describe the benefits payable to spouses and
the eligibility requirements.
1. How are railroad retirement spouse
Regular railroad retirement annuities are computed under a two-tier formula. The
spouse annuity formula is based on certain percentages of the employee's tier I
and tier II amounts.
The tier I portion of an employee's annuity is based on both railroad retirement
credits and any social security credits that the employee also earned. Computed
using social security benefit formulas, an employee's tier I benefit
approximates the social security benefit that would be payable if all of the
employee's work were performed under the Social Security Act.
The tier II portion of the employee's annuity 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.
The first tier of a spouse annuity, before any applicable reductions, is 50
percent of the railroad employee's unreduced tier I amount. The second tier
amount, before any reductions, is 45 percent of the employee's unreduced tier II
2. How does a railroad retirement spouse
annuity compare to a social security spouse benefit?
The average annuity awarded to spouses in fiscal year 2011, excluding divorced
spouses, was $979 a month, while the average monthly social security spouse
benefit was about $425.
Annuities awarded in fiscal year 2011 to the spouses of employees who were of
full retirement age or over and who retired directly from the rail industry with
at least 25 years of service averaged $1,118 a month; and the average award to
the spouses of employees retiring at age 60 or over with at least 30 years of
service was $1,332 a month.
3. What are the age requirements for a
railroad retirement spouse annuity?
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 or more 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 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. However, the tier II portion of a spouse annuity will not be
reduced beyond 25 percent if the employee had any creditable railroad service
before August 12, 1983.
4. What if the spouse is caring for a child
of the retired employee?
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.
5. What are some of the other general
The employee must have been married to the spouse for at least one year, unless
the spouse is the natural parent of their child, or 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 one-year marriage
6. Are spouse annuities subject to offset
for the receipt of other 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.
The tier I portion of a spouse annuity may also be reduced for receipt of any
Federal, State or local 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 public service 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 not cause a reduction. For spouses subject to a public
service pension reduction, the tier I reduction is equal to 2/3 of the amount of
the public service pension.
In addition, if the employee was first eligible for a railroad retirement
annuity and a Federal, State or local government pension after 1985, there may
be a reduction in the employee's 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. If the employee's tier I benefit is offset for a noncovered service pension, the spouse tier I amount is 50 percent of the
employee's tier I amount after the offset.
The spouse tier I portion may also be reduced if the employee is under age 65
and is receiving a disability annuity as well as worker's compensation or public
While these offsets can reduce or even completely wipe out the tier I benefit
otherwise payable to a spouse, they do not affect the tier II benefit
potentially payable to that spouse.
7. Under what conditions can the divorced
spouse of a rail employee receive a spouse annuity?
A spouse 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. 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. Also, 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.
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). The average divorced spouse
annuity awarded in fiscal year 2011 was $567.
8. Would the award of an annuity to a
divorced spouse affect the monthly annuity rate payable to a retired employee
and/or the current spouse?
No. If a divorced spouse becomes entitled to an annuity based on the employee's
railroad service, the award of the divorced spouse's benefit would not affect
the amount of the employee's annuity, nor would it affect the amount of the
railroad retirement annuity that may be payable to the current spouse.
9. What if a husband and wife are both
If both the husband and wife 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
the husband and wife 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.
10. Are railroad retirement annuities
subject to garnishment or property settlements?
Certain percentages of any railroad retirement annuity (employee, spouse or
survivor) may be subject to legal process (i.e., garnishment) to enforce an
obligation for child support and/or alimony payments.
Employee tier II benefits, vested dual benefits and supplemental annuities are
subject to court-ordered property settlements in proceedings related to divorce,
annulment or legal separation. Tier I benefits are not subject to property
11. How can a person get more information
about railroad retirement spouse annuities?
For more information and/or a benefit estimate, a person should contact an
office of the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) by calling toll free at
1-877-772-5772. Most RRB offices are open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30
p.m., Monday through Friday, except on Federal holidays. Persons can also get
this information from the agency's website at www.rrb.gov.