Prepared by Public Affairs 312-751-4777
Railroad employees who are planning to retire should be aware of what steps
to take and what documents are required when applying for an annuity from the
Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). Being prepared can prevent needless delays and
ensure that payments from the RRB begin as soon as possible after retirement.
The following questions and answers describe the application process and other
related items that retiring employees, as well as their spouses or survivors,
should be aware of.
1. How are railroad retirement annuity
Applications are filed through the RRB's
field offices. Applicants may file in
person or by telephone and mail. Those filing in person may do so at any RRB
office or at one of the office's customer outreach program service locations.
Applicants filing by telephone receive the same information and instructions
that are provided to those filing in person; forms requiring signatures and
other documents are then handled by mail.
The addresses of all the RRB's field offices are available on
the agency's website at www.rrb.gov or by calling the RRB's toll-free number at
1-877-772-5772. This number, which provides access to the agency's field office
representatives, also provides automated menus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. RRB field offices are open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday
through Friday, except on Federal holidays.
2. Can an application be filed prior to a
person's actual retirement date?
The RRB accepts annuity applications up to 3 months in advance of an annuity
beginning date, which allows the RRB to complete the processing of most new
claims by a person's retirement date. An employee can be in compensated service
while filing a disability application provided that the compensated service is
not active service and terminates within 90 days from the date of filing. When
an employee files a disability application while still in compensated service,
it will be necessary to provide a specific ending date of the compensation.
Compensated service includes not only compensation with respect to active
service performed by an employee for an employer, but also includes pay for time
lost, wage continuation payments, certain employee protection payments and any
other payment for which the employee will receive additional creditable service.
To expedite the filing process, applicants should contact their local RRB field
office to schedule time for a pre-retirement consultation and also to confirm
their eligibility and be advised as to the required documents. The consultation
can be conducted in person, or by telephone, with an RRB representative who will
provide an annuity estimate, explain a retiree's benefit rights and
responsibilities, and answer related questions.
Railroad employees can also get estimates of their
future annuities over the Internet by visiting the RRB's website. To do so,
employees must first establish an RRB online account at www.rrb.gov. For
security purposes, first-time users must apply for a Password Request Code
(PRC), which they will receive by regular mail in about 10 business days. To do
this, they should click on "Request Password Request Code (PRC) be mailed to
your home address" in the "Benefit Online Services Login" section on the home
page. Once they establish their online accounts, they will be able to get an
estimate of their annuities, as well as conduct other business with the RRB,
over the Internet. Railroad workers are encouraged to establish online accounts
while still employed so the accounts are ready when needed. Employees who have
already established online accounts do not need to do so again.
3. What are some of the documents required
with an application?
- All applicants have to furnish proof of their age.
All applicants should be prepared to furnish the notice of any social security
benefit award or other social security claim determination.
- An employee may be required to submit information regarding any other Federal,
State or local government pension for which he or she also qualifies, as well as
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
- An employee or survivor filing for a disability annuity is required to submit
supporting medical information from his or her treating physician, as well as
any reports or records from recent hospitalizations. He or she may also be asked
to go for one or more specialized medical examinations. If an employee
disability applicant is receiving workers' compensation or public disability
benefits, notice of the amount and beginning date of such payments must be
- An employee will have to furnish proof of any military service claimed.
- A spouse, divorced spouse or widow(er) applying for a railroad retirement
annuity must furnish proof of marriage to the employee. A divorced spouse must
furnish proof of a final divorce from the employee, as well as proof that any
subsequent marriages have terminated.
- A spouse, divorced spouse or survivor also qualified to receive a pension
from a Federal, state or local government must submit information regarding that pension.
- All applicants have to provide banking information necessary for their Direct
A booklet, "Furnishing Evidence to Support Your Claim"
(Form RB-3), gives
detailed information as to the types of proofs that are required when filing for
an annuity, as well as sources from which these documents can be obtained. The
booklet is available free of charge at any RRB office or at
4. Can proofs be filed in advance of
Railroad employees are encouraged to file proofs of their correct birth date and
their military service well in advance of retirement. The information will be
recorded and stored electronically until they actually retire. This will
expedite the annuity application process and avoid any delays resulting from
If employees do not have an official record of their birth or military service,
their local RRB office will explain how to get acceptable evidence. All evidence
brought or mailed to an RRB office will be handled carefully and returned
5. What is the retroactivity of a railroad
The retroactivity of a railroad retirement annuity application is limited to 1
year for disability annuities and 6 months for full age annuities. There is
generally no retroactivity for reduced age annuities.
Retroactivity of a survivor annuity application is 1 year for disabled
widow(er)s and 6 months for full retirement age widow(er)s, mothers (fathers),
children and parents. Retroactivity for widow(er)s ages 60-61 is 6 months if it
does not increase the age reduction (this does not apply to surviving divorced
spouses or remarried widow(er)s). Otherwise, there is generally no retroactivity
for reduced age widow(er)s' annuities.
6. Are retiring railroad employees required
to relinquish their rights to their railroad jobs?
An employee annuity based on age
cannot be paid until the employee stops railroad employment and gives up any
rights to return to work for a railroad employer. While an annuity
based on disability is not paid until
an employee has stopped working for a railroad, employment rights need not be
relinquished until the employee attains full retirement age. 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. And, regardless of age and/or earnings, no
railroad retirement annuity is payable for any month in which a retired or
disabled employee annuitant, a spouse annuitant or a survivor annuitant works
for an employer covered under the Railroad Retirement Act, including labor
organizations. Such work includes service for
more than $24.99 in a calendar month
to a local lodge or division of a railway labor organization. Also, work
by a local lodge or division secretary collecting insurance premiums,
regardless of the amount of salary,
is railroad work which must be stopped.
Railroad retirement annuitants may work in nonrailroad employment, but benefits
may be reduced if a beneficiary under full retirement age works after retirement
and earnings exceed annual exempt amounts. Additional earnings deductions are
assessed if a retired or disabled employee annuitant, or a spouse annuitant,
works for his or her last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer, regardless of age
or the level of earnings.
Special restrictions also apply to any earnings by disabled employees.
7. How soon after filing can an applicant
Under the RRB's Customer Service Plan, if
an applicant filed for a railroad retirement
employee or spouse annuity in advance of the beginning date of the annuity, the RRB
is expected to make a decision within 35 days of the beginning date of
the annuity. If an applicant did not file in advance, the RRB is expected to make a
decision within 60 days of the date the application was filed
If an applicant filed for a
railroad retirement survivor annuity and was not already receiving benefits as a
spouse, the RRB will make a decision to pay, deny, or transfer the application
to the Social Security Administration within 60 days of the beginning date of
the annuity or the annuity or the date the RRB will make a decision to pay,
deny, or transfer the application for a survivor annuity to the Social Security
Administration within 30 days of the first notice of the employee's death.
If an applicant filed for a lump-sum death benefit, the RRB will
make a decision to pay or deny the application within 60 days of the date the application is filed.
After the RRB has made its decision, applicants should receive a notice of award or
denial within 2 weeks. If entitled to benefits, it is generally expected that
the payment will be deposited in an individual's bank account within 1 week of the RRB's
For disability annuities, processing applications is more complex than for other
benefits because of the need to develop medical evidence. Under the Customer Service
Plan, if an applicant filed for a railroad retirement disability annuity, the RRB
is expected to make a decision within 100 days of the date your application was
If it is determined that an applicant is entitled to disability benefits, the
individual's first payment will be received within 25 days of the date of the
RRB's decision, or the earliest payment date, whichever is later
Of course, claims for some benefits may take longer to handle than others if
they are more complex, or if information from other people or organizations is
needed. If this happens, the RRB will provide an explanation and an estimate of
the additional time required to make a decision.
8. How are railroad retirement payments
The Department of the Treasury has eliminated the vast majority of paper checks
for Federal benefit payments. New recipients of Federal benefits now receive
their payments by electronic means. The most common form of electronic payment
for railroad retirement, social security and veterans benefits is through Direct
Deposit, in which the amount is automatically transferred to an individual's
bank account. Those without bank accounts can enroll in Treasury's Direct
Express® program, which electronically transfers Federal payments to an
individual's Direct Express®-issued debit card. The card can then be used like
an ordinary debit card. While agencies can still grant waivers from electronic
payment, they can do so only in very limited cases.
9. How can individuals find more information
about filing for railroad retirement annuities?
More information is available by visiting the RRB's website, www.rrb.gov, or by
calling an RRB office toll-free at 1-877-772-5772. Persons can find the address
of the RRB office servicing their area by calling the agency's toll-free number
or at www.rrb.gov.