- Can I work after I start drawing my railroad retirement annuity?
Yes, but benefits are not payable for any month in which you work for a railroad or railroad labor organization. This rule applies to all beneficiaries regardless of your age or amount of earnings.
You can work for a nonrailroad employer and still receive benefits, but the tier I portion of your annuity will be reduced if you earn over certain amounts and are under full retirement age (FRA). Once you attain FRA, there are no deductions because of earnings. However, if you work for your last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer, your benefits will be reduced regardless of the amount of your earnings or your age.
- What are the earning limits for 2024?
If you are under FRA (age 66 for those born 1943 - 1954 and gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later), you can earn up to $22,320 in 2024 with no reduction in your railroad retirement tier I benefits. If you earn more than that, $1 in benefits is withheld for every $2 you earn over $22,320.
If you attain FRA in 2024, you can earn up to $59,520 in the months before you reach FRA with no reduction in your benefits. If you earn more than that amount, $1 in benefits is withheld for every $3 you earn over $59,520.
If you also receive monthly social security benefits, your social security benefits will be reduced if you earn more than the exempt amount, but your tier I railroad retirement benefits are not reduced because of your earnings.
- What if I return to work for my last, pre-retirement nonrailroad employer?
If you are a retired railroad employee or the spouse of a retired employee, part of your annuity is subject to earnings deductions if you work for your last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer. Your tier II benefits and supplemental annuity, if any, are reduced $1 for every $2 in earnings from your last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer, subject to a maximum reduction of 50 percent.
It is important to note that the reduction applies regardless of the amount of your earnings or your age.
A retired employee's work for a last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer can also cause a reduction in the spouse's tier II benefits.
- What are the earnings restrictions for survivor beneficiaries?
Full retirement age for survivor annuitants ranges from age 66 for those born from 1945 through 1956 and gradually increases to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later. If you are receiving survivor benefits you are subject to the same earnings limits (shown above) as retired employees and spouses. However, if you have excess earnings, any resulting reduction will be applied to your entire annuity. Benefits are not payable for any month in which you work for a railroad or railroad labor organization, but beyond the normal earnings limits, there are no additional or special restrictions if you work for your last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer.
- What are the earnings restrictions for disability beneficiaries?
If you are disabled and considering working, you should first contact your local RRB office. Any work you perform must be consistent with your disability status and must be reported promptly. Failure to report work activity in a timely manner could result in an overpayment, as well as severe financial penalties. Knowingly making a false or fraudulent statement or withholding information to receive RRB benefits is a crime under federal law which may be punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both.
Benefits are not payable for any month your earnings are over $1,210 in 2024. This is after any disability-related work expenses. Any withheld payments will be restored if your earnings for calendar year 2024 are less than $15,125. Disability work and earnings restrictions apply until you reach FRA. However, portions of your annuity are still subject to reduction after you are FRA - if you work for your last pre-retirement nonrailroad employer, regardless of the amount of your earnings.
Earnings restrictions do not apply to disabled widow(er)s under age 60 or to disabled children. However, all work must be reported, regardless of the type of disability annuity an individual receives. If the work indicates medical improvement, a review may be required to determine continued disability status.
- GENERAL INFORMATION
Medicare is health insurance for people 65 or older. Coverage may begin earlier if a person is totally disabled, has permanent kidney failure, or has ALS (also called Lou Gehrig’s disease).
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is the agency in charge of the Medicare program. The RRB enrolls railroad retirement beneficiaries in the program, collects Medicare premiums, and assists in certain other ways.
The Medicare & You handbook is the best source of information covering Medicare benefits, costs, and health service options. It is mailed to Medicare beneficiary households each fall by CMS and made available at Medicare.gov.
ORIGINAL MEDICARE – includes Part A and Part B. You can join a separate Medicare drug plan to get Medicare drug coverage (Part D).
HOSPITAL INSURANCE (PART A) – Helps pay for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facilities (following a hospital stay), home health services, and hospice care.
MEDICAL INSURANCE (PART B) – Helps pay for doctors’ services, outpatient care, medical services and supplies, and some preventative services.
MEDICARE ADVANTAGE (PART C) – Medicare-approved plan from a private company that offers an alternative to Original Medicare for your health and drug coverage. These “bundled” plans include Part A, Part B, and usually Part D. Compare Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage at Medicare.gov
PRESCRIPTION DRUG COVERAGE (PART D) – Helps cover the cost of prescription drugs (including many recommended shots or vaccines). You join a Medicare drug plan in addition to Original Medicare, or you get it by joining a Medicare Advantage Plan with drug coverage. Plans that offer Medicare drug coverage are run by private insurance companies that follow rules set by Medicare. Learn about Part D at Medicare.gov
- How do I enroll in Medicare?
If you are already getting railroad retirement or social security benefits, you’ll receive information about the Medicare program a few months before you become eligible for coverage. At that time, you’ll automatically be enrolled in Parts A and B. However, because you must pay a premium for Part B coverage, you have the option of turning it down.
If you are not already getting benefits, contact your local RRB office about three months before your 65th birthday to sign up for Medicare. You can sign up for Medicare even if you don’t plan to retire at age 65.
Contact your local RRB field office about applying for Medicare if:
- you had Part B but dropped the coverage.
- you turned down Part B coverage when you became entitled to hospital insurance.
- you’re a disabled widow(er) between age 50 and 65 but have not applied for disability benefits because you’re already getting another kind of benefit.
Medicare coverage at any age on the basis of permanent kidney failure requiring hemodialysis or receipt of a kidney transplant is also available to employee annuitants, employees who have not retired but meet certain minimum service requirements, spouses, and dependent children. SSA has jurisdiction of Medicare in these cases. Contact the Social Security Administration for information on coverage for kidney disease.
- Can I add Part B later?
Yes. You have at least one chance each year to enroll in Part B.
Initial Enrollment Period
If you decline Part B coverage in the 3 months before you turn 65, you can enroll in your birthday month or during the next 3 months, with Part B effective the first day of the month following your enrollment.
To sign up for Part B during your initial enrollment period, contact your local RRB field office.
General Enrollment Period (January 1 – March 31)
If you decline Part B during your initial enrollment period, you have the option to sign up annually from January 1 – March 31. Your Part B coverage will begin the first day of the month following your enrollment. Be aware, your monthly premium increases 10% for each 12-month period you were eligible but did not enroll.
To sign up for Part B during the general enrollment period, you can submit a signed statement electing Part B to the RRB or contact your local RRB field office to request an application.
Special Enrollment Period
If you are 65 or older and covered under a group health plan (either from your own or your spouse’s current employment) you can enroll in Part B under special enrollment period rules.
The special enrollment period rules allow you to sign up for Part B:
- anytime while you (or your spouse) are still working and you have health insurance through that employer, OR
- during the 8-month period that begins the month after your group health coverage ends or employment ends, whichever comes first.
To sign up for Part B during a special enrollment period, contact your local RRB field office:
- up to 3 months before you want Part B while you are currently covered under an employer group health plan, OR
- during the 8-month period that begins the month after your group health coverage ends or employment ends, whichever comes first.
When you notify us that you want to enroll during a special enrollment period, we begin handling your request and will verify your group health coverage.
Generally, Part B coverage begins the month after you sign up. If you enroll while still covered by your group health plan, you can pick when your Part B begins from any of the 3 months after you sign up.
Meeting the requirements for a special enrollment period means that you may delay enrolling in Part B without having to wait for a general enrollment period and paying the 10% premium surcharge for late enrollment.
Special enrollment period rules do not apply if employment or employer-provided group health plan coverage ends during your initial enrollment period.
If you do not enroll by the end of the 8-month period, you will have to wait until the next general enrollment period, which begins January 1 of the next year.
- What if I’m still covered by my (or my spouse’s) employer?
If you have group health plan coverage based on your (or your spouse’s) current employment, contact the employer to find out how their coverage works with Medicare.
- If the employer has less than 20 employees: Medicare pays first. Ask the employer if you need to keep Part B.
- If the employer has 20 or more employees: the employer pays first, and you may be able to sign up for Part B later during a special enrollment period without having to pay a late enrollment penalty.
- What is the late enrollment penalty?
If you delay your Part B coverage, you will pay an extra 10% for each 12-month period you could have signed up for Part B but did not. This penalty is added to your monthly Part B premium, and it goes up the longer you go without Part B coverage.
This penalty is not a one-time late fee — you’ll pay the penalty each month for as long as you have Part B coverage. You may also pay a higher premium depending on your income (see below).
If you wait to enroll in Part B because you have group health plan coverage based on your (or your spouse’s) current employment, you may not be subject to the late penalty rate if you meet the rules for a special enrollment period.
- Who do I contact to help resolve an issue with my Part B claims?
Palmetto GBA, a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield, is contracted by the RRB to process Part B claims under the Original Medicare Plan for railroad retirement beneficiaries nationwide.
Contact Palmetto GBA with questions about your Part B coverage/claims (weekdays, 8:30 a.m. ― 7 p.m. ET) at 1-800–833–4455. TTY/TDD: 877–566–3572
Palmetto GBA website: palmettogba.com/palmetto/rrb.nsf
- How do I get a replacement Medicare card?
Request a replacement Medicare card with our online request form or follow the prompts of our automated Help Line at 877-772-5772.
We’ll mail your replacement card to the address we have on record within 30 days. If you need immediate proof of your Medicare coverage, you can sign in to your MyMedicare.gov account to print a paper copy of your Medicare card, or contact us toll-free 877-772-5772 for assistance.
- The RRB sent me a debt letter for my Medicare premiums. Can I pay this online?
Yes. Scroll to Online Bill Payment at the bottom of myRRB and select the button labeled Medicare for more information about online payments, and to continue on to Pay.gov.
- Can my Medicare premiums be higher based on my income?
Yes. Some beneficiaries have greater monthly premiums, depending on their (or a married couple’s) modified adjusted gross income. Those with a modified adjusted gross income exceeding $103,000 (or a married couple’s income exceeding $206,000) are subject to an adjustment, which can increase monthly premium rates for Part B and Part D. These amounts can change each year.
See our News Release on Medicare Part B Premiums in 2024, which includes income-related monthly adjustment amounts for varying levels of income.
- How do I know if I have an income-related monthly adjustment amount?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for all income-related monthly adjustment amount determinations. To make the determinations, SSA uses the most recent tax return information available from the Internal Revenue Service. For 2024, that will usually be the beneficiary’s 2022 tax return information. If that information is not available, SSA will use information from the 2021 tax return.
SSA issues notices to railroad retirement and social security Medicare beneficiaries affected by the annual Part B and D income-related premiums by the end of the year. The notice will include an explanation of the circumstances when a beneficiary may request a new determination. Persons who have questions or would like to request a new determination should contact SSA after receiving their notice.
If your income goes down because of a life-changing event (like retirement) you can apply to SSA for an adjustment.
- GENERAL INFORMATION
A railroad retirement benefit is called an annuity and is made up of one or two tiers. The RRB issues these monthly payments on the first business day of the month for the previous month. For example, a benefit paid on April 1 is for the month of March.
Retirement benefits can be paid to retired railroad employees based on age or disability. In addition, employees may also be eligible for a supplemental annuity if they meet certain requirements.
Benefits can be paid to the retired employee’s spouse based on age or if the spouse is caring for the employee’s minor or disabled child.
Benefits may also be payable to an employee’s divorced spouse based on age, even if the employee has not retired.
An annuitant must be alive the entire month in order for an annuity to be payable for that month.
- When can I get retirement benefits from the RRB?
You can start getting railroad retirement benefits when you turn 60 if you have 30 years of railroad service.
If you have 10-29 years of railroad service, or 5-9 years (if at least 5 years were after 1995), you can get retirement benefits when you turn 62. Reductions are applied to benefits if you retire before your full retirement age.
Note that your benefits can’t start until you are off the payroll of your railroad or rail union.
Please see General Conditions Under Which a Person is Entitled to a Railroad Retirement Employee Annuity (G-177) for more information.
The employee must be retired and receiving an annuity in order for you to receive benefits. You also must have been married to the employee for at least 1 year. In addition, if you are working in the railroad industry, you must give up that employment.
If the employee was at least age 60 and had at least 30 years of service at retirement (and his or her annuity began after 2001), you can receive a full annuity at age 60, or at any age if you have a minor or disabled child in your care.
If the employee retired at age 62 or older with less than 30 years of service, you can receive a reduced annuity as early as age 62, or, you can receive an unreduced annuity at full retirement age. As previously noted, you can also receive an unreduced annuity at any age if you have a minor or disabled child in your care.
To be eligible based on having a child in your care, the child must be the natural or adopted child (or stepchild) of the employee; and dependent on the employee; and unmarried; and under age 18, or totally disabled before age 22.
NOTE: Benefits can be paid to eligible spouses in same-sex marriages.
Please see General Conditions Under Which a Person is Entitled to a Railroad Retirement Spouse Annuity (G-177A) for more information.
In order to receive benefits, the employee must be age 62 or over, you must have been married to the employee for at least 10 years, you must not be presently married, and you also must be age 62 or over. The employee need not be receiving an annuity for you to receive one, as long as the employee is at least age 62 and fully insured under the Social Security Act, and you have been divorced from the employee for at least 2 years. Having a child in care does not qualify divorced spouses for retirement benefits.
Your annuity will consist of tier I only. Also, your annuity will be reduced if it begins before you reach full retirement age.
In most cases, payment of a divorced spouse annuity will not affect the annuity payable to the employee or current spouse, if any. However, a divorced spouse may also be awarded a portion of the employee’s non-tier I benefits as property, which will reduce the employee’s annuity by the amount awarded by the court.
NOTE: The RRB must honor court orders that treat non-tier I benefits as property subject to division in proceedings related to divorce, annulment, or legal separation, and which order the RRB to make payments to the divorced spouse. In separation or divorce cases, there is no limit on the amount subject to division of the employee’s tier II benefit and supplemental annuity.
Payment of a partition amount as part of a court-ordered property distribution can be made, or continue, after the employee’s death unless a court order requires termination of payments upon the employee’s death. Partitions may be paid to a divorced spouse even if the employee is not receiving an annuity, as long as both the employee and divorced spouse are at least age 62 and have been divorced for at least 2 years.
Please see General Conditions Under Which a Person is Entitled to a Railroad Retirement Divorced Spouse Annuity (G-177C), and Partition of Railroad Retirement Annuities for more information.
- What is my full retirement age?
Your full retirement age is the earliest age you can begin receiving railroad retirement benefits without any reduction for early retirement, and depends on the year you were born. Full retirement age is age 66 for those born 1943 - 1954 and is gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, the same as under social security.
When Can I Retire? Railroad Employee Chart
When Can I Retire? Spouse Chart
- Can I receive credit for my military service?
Possibly. Under certain conditions, your military service may be credited as rail service under the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA).
To be creditable as compensation under the RRA, service in the U.S. Armed Forces must be preceded by railroad service in the same or preceding calendar year. With the exceptions noted later, an employee must also have entered military service when the United States was at war or in a state of national emergency, or have served in the Armed Forces involuntarily. Military service is involuntary when an employee is required by law, such as Selective Service draft or troop call-up from a reserve unit, to leave railroad service to perform active duty military service.
Only active duty military service is creditable under the RRA. A person is considered to have been on active duty while commissioned, or enrolled, in the active service of the Armed Forces of the United States (including the U.S. Coast Guard), or while ordered to federal active duty from any reserve component of the uniformed Armed Forces.
If your military service is creditable as railroad service, you will receive additional compensation credits for each month of creditable military service and railroad service credit for each active military service month not already credited by actual railroad service.
Creditable military service may be used in addition to regular railroad service to meet certain service requirements, such as the basic 10-year or 5-year service requirements for a regular annuity, the 20-year requirement for an occupational disability annuity before age 60, the 25-year requirement for a supplemental annuity, or the 30-year requirement for early retirement benefits.
See our Q&A on Credit for Military Service and RRB Form 177-B (When Military Service is Creditable) for more information.
- What is the estimated monthly benefit for a retired railroad worker?
The average age annuity being paid by the RRB at the end of fiscal year 2023 to career rail employees was $4,310 a month, and for all retired rail employees the average was $3,450.
Age annuities awarded to career railroad employees retiring in fiscal year 2023 averaged about $4,775 a month.
Disabled railroad workers retiring directly from the railroad industry in fiscal year 2023 were awarded $3,810 a month on average.
- What is the estimated monthly benefit for a spouse?
The average annuity being paid to spouses at the end of fiscal year 2023 was $1,235 a month.
- How are railroad retirement benefits calculated?
Regular railroad retirement benefits are calculated under a two-tier formula.
The basic tier I of an employee annuity is based on your combined railroad retirement and social security earnings and is computed by using a social security benefit formula. It represents the social security benefit that would be payable if all of your earnings had been covered under the social security system. Since social security earnings are already considered in tier I, this tier must be reduced by the exact amount of the social security benefit you receive based on your nonrailroad employment in order to prevent a duplication in benefits based on the same earnings record. Tier I is also reduced in the event a social security benefit is payable to you on the basis of another person’s earnings. This reduction follows principles of social security law under which the beneficiary receives only the higher of any two benefits payable.
The second tier is based on your average monthly earnings and years of service in the railroad industry, and may be compared to the retirement benefits paid over and above social security to workers in other industries. Tier II is not reduced for any social security entitlement.
The basic tier I of a spouse annuity is equal to 50 percent of the employee’s tier I. As with employees, the tier I portion of your annuity is reduced for any social security entitlement, regardless of whether the social security benefit is based on your own earnings, the employee’s earnings, or the earnings of another person.
The tier II portion of a spouse annuity is 45 percent of the employee’s tier II amount.
Unlike a regular spouse annuity, the divorced spouse annuity is computed under the single tier I formula. The amount of your annuity is, in effect, equal to what social security would pay in the same situation (tier I only) and therefore less than the amount of the spouse annuity otherwise payable (tier I and tier II).
- Should I also file for social security benefits?
Because every case is different, we recommend contacting the RRB before filing for any social security benefits. Our field service representatives can help you decide if and when to file for social security.
It may be beneficial to file a claim with social security if:
• You have a minor or disabled child,
• You’re still working for a railroad and have reached your full retirement age,
• Your spouse reaches full retirement age, or
• The social security benefit amount is more than your tier I amount, and the railroad worker had 10 or more years of railroad service.
It is generally not beneficial to file a claim with social security if both you and your spouse are railroad employees.
- How do I get paid if I am entitled to both railroad retirement and social security benefits?
If you are also awarded a social security benefit, the Social Security Administration determines the amount of the social security benefit due, but a combined monthly dual benefit payment should, in most cases, be issued by the RRB after the railroad retirement annuity has been reduced by the amount of the social security benefit.
- When should I apply for railroad retirement benefits?
Once you decide the date you want your retirement benefits to start, we will accept your application up to 3 months before that day.
- What do I need to provide to the RRB in order to process my retirement application?
You’ll need to submit official documents so we can verify your identity. Note that a photocopy of a record is not accepted as an official document. To avoid delays in processing your application, the records you submit must be an original or certified copy.
• Proof of age
• Proof of military service
• Proof of marriage (if your spouse is eligible or will soon be eligible)
• Proof of your spouse’s age
• Information about any public service pension you’re entitled to
• Banking information for direct deposit
• Supporting medical evidence if applying for disability benefits
- What is creditable railroad service, and how much do I need to be eligible for retirement benefits?
Creditable railroad service is compensation from any covered railroad employer, including unions. You get credit for any month you worked, even if you worked only one day in a month.
The minimum railroad service requirement for benefits is 5 years (or 60 months) performed after 1995. Otherwise, you need 10 years (or 120 months) of creditable railroad service.
- How do I apply for railroad retirement benefits?
You may contact your local RRB office to apply in person or over the phone. While we encourage you to schedule an in-office appointment with your local field office by calling the agency’s toll-free number, you will not be refused service if you walk-in without an appointment. However, you may be asked to schedule an office visit for a later time if there is no immediate availability.
Individuals should bring a photo ID when visiting a field office, and depending on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the county in which the field office is located, may be required to wear an appropriate face mask. In such circumstances, if visitors do not have a mask, one will be provided for them.
- What happens if I do not meet the minimum service requirement when I decide to retire?
Your railroad retirement credits (tier I) will be treated as social security credits by the Social Security Administration. Benefits paid by that agency would accordingly take into account all of your railroad earnings and social security covered earnings.
- GENERAL INFORMATION
A deceased employee must have had an insured status in order for benefits to be payable to his or her survivors. An insured status means the employee had:
- 10 years of service, or at least 5 years after 1995
- A current connection at retirement or death
An employee who worked for a railroad in at least 12 months in the 30 months immediately preceding the beginning date of his or her railroad retirement annuity has a current connection. 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.
Benefits can be paid to surviving widow(er)s, children, and certain other dependents. Lump-sum benefits may be payable after the death of a railroad employee if there are no qualified survivors of the employee immediately eligible for monthly benefits.
If the above conditions are not met, jurisdiction of any survivor benefits payable will be transferred to the Social Security Administration (SSA), provided the railroad employee had at least one quarter of social security coverage.
Survivor benefits are based on combined railroad retirement and social security credits, and can only be paid by the RRB or SSA (not both), even if the employee received benefits under both programs.
- When can I get survivor benefits from the RRB?
If the deceased employee had an insured status, widows and widowers can receive benefits at age 60. Age reductions are applied to annuities awarded before full retirement age, which depends on your year of birth, and is gradually rising to age 67.
Benefits can be paid at ages 50-59 if the widow(er) is totally disabled and unable to work in any regular employment. In most cases, a 5-month waiting period is required after the onset of disability before benefits can be paid.
Benefits can be paid at any age if the widow(er) is caring for an unmarried child (under age 18) of the deceased employee, or a disabled child of any age who became disabled before age 22.
- What is full retirement age for widow(er)s?
Full retirement age for survivor annuitants ranges from age 66 for those born from 1945 through 1956 and gradually increases to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later.
When Can A Widow(er) Retire? Chart
- What are the marriage requirements in order to be paid survivor benefits?
Generally, the widow(er) must have been married to the employee for at least 9 months prior to death, unless she or he was the natural or adoptive parent of their child, the employee’s death was accidental or while on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, the widow(er) was potentially entitled to certain railroad retirement or social security benefits in the month before the month of marriage, or the marriage was postponed due to State restrictions on the employee’s prior marriage and divorce due to mental incompetence or similar incapacity.
- How are widow(er)’s benefits calculated?
The tier I portion of the two-tier widow(er)’s annuity is based on the employee’s combined railroad retirement and social security credits, computed under social security formulas, and reflects the amount that would have been payable under social security if all of the employee’s work had been covered by that program. This social security equivalent part of the annuity must be reduced by the exact amount of any social security benefit the widow(er) may receive. This dual benefit reduction follows principles of social security law, which limit payment to the highest of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at any time.
The tier II portion of a widow(er)’s annuity is an additional amount which is based solely on the deceased employee’s service and earnings in the railroad industry and is not reduced for social security entitlement.
Legislation enacted in 2001 provided increased benefits for some widow(er)s. Under prior law, the widow(er)’s gross tier I benefit was generally equal to the amount of the tier I benefit that the employee would have received at the time of his or her death; a widow(er)’s gross tier II benefit was generally equal to 50 percent of the tier II benefit that would have been payable to the employee at the time of death.
The 2001 legislation established an “initial minimum amount” which yields, in effect, a gross widow(er)’s benefit (before reduction for receipt of any social security benefit) approximately equal to the two-tier retirement benefit the deceased employee would have otherwise received at the time of his or her death. It does this by providing an additional amount, initially set at 50 percent of the employee’s tier II, which is payable along with the 100 percent tier I and 50 percent tier II benefits provided under prior law.
- What is the estimated monthly survivor benefit amount?
Survivor benefits awarded in fiscal year 2023 to aged and disabled widows and widowers averaged approximately $2,725 a month. At the end of the fiscal year, the average annuity being paid to all aged and disabled widows and widowers on our benefit rolls was $2,090 a month.
- Why may some widow(er)s not see an increase in their benefits when a COLA is payable?
The additional amount noted in the previous answer is offset each year by the dollar amount of the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) payable in both the tier I and tier II benefits provided under prior law. Consequently, such a widow(er)’s net benefit payment will not increase until the initial minimum amount is reduced to zero, and the widow(er)’s annuity, as computed under prior law with all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable, exceeds the widow(er)’s annuity computed under the current formula.
As COLAs vary from year to year, it is impossible to estimate how long it may be before a widow(er)’s annuity rate is increased. Unfortunately, the rate may decrease in those years when Medicare premium amounts rise.
For example, Mary Smith is awarded a widow’s annuity effective June 1, 2021. Her tier I amount is $1,700, her tier II amount is $250, and the added initial minimum amount is $250, for a total benefit rate of $2,200. After a deduction of $144.60 for her Medicare Part B premium, she receives a monthly payment of $2,055.40. In December 2020, railroad retirement benefits are increased to reflect a COLA of 1.3 percent in tier I, and 0.4 percent in tier II. Medicare premiums also increase to $148.50. In Mary’s case, her tier I amount increases $22 to $1,722, and her tier II increases $1 to $251. The total amount of those COLA increases ($23) is then deducted from her initial minimum amount, reducing it to $227. As a result, her benefit rate ($1,722, plus $251, plus $227) remains at $2,200. However, after deducting the increased Medicare premium, her actual payment amount decreases to $2051.50.
- Are divorced spouses or remarried widow(er)s eligible for survivor benefits?
Survivor benefits may be payable to a surviving divorced spouse or remarried widow(er). Benefits are limited to the amount social security would pay (tier I only) and therefore are less than the amount of the survivor annuity otherwise payable (tier I and tier II) by the RRB. A tier II benefit is not provided for a surviving divorced spouse or a remarried widow(er).
A surviving divorced spouse may qualify if she or he was married to the employee for at least 10 years immediately before the date the divorce became final, and is age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled). A surviving divorced spouse who is unmarried can qualify at any age if caring for the employee’s child and the child is under age 16 or disabled, in which case the 10-year marriage requirement does not apply.
A widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse who remarries after age 60, or a disabled widow(er) or disabled surviving divorced spouse who remarries after age 50 may also receive the portion of a survivor annuity equivalent to a social security benefit (tier I); however, remarriage prior to age 60 (or age 50 if disabled) would not prevent eligibility if that remarriage ended. Such social security level benefits may also be paid to a younger widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse caring for the employee’s child who is under age 16 or disabled, if the remarriage is to a person entitled to railroad retirement or social security benefits, or the remarriage ends.
- Who else is eligible for survivor benefits?
Survivor benefits are also payable to:
- An unmarried child under age 18.
- An unmarried child age 18 in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school or in approved homeschooling until the student attains age 19, or the end of the school term in progress when the student attains age 19. In most cases where a student attains age 19 during the school term, benefits are limited to the two months following the month age 19 is attained. These benefits will be terminated earlier if the student marries, graduates or ceases full-time attendance.
- An unmarried disabled child over age 18 if the child became totally disabled before age 22.
- An unmarried dependent grandchild meeting any of the requirements described above for a child, if both the grandchild’s parents are deceased or disabled.
- A parent at age 60 who was dependent on the employee for at least half of the parent’s support. If the employee was also survived by a widow(er), surviving divorced spouse, or child who could ever qualify for an annuity, the parent’s annuity is limited to the amount that social security would pay (tier I).
- How do railroad retirement and social security payroll taxes compare?
Railroad retirement payroll taxes, like railroad retirement benefits, are calculated on a two-tier basis. Railroad employees and employers pay tier I taxes at the same rate as social security taxes.
Both railroad employees and employers pay tier II taxes to finance railroad retirement benefit payments over and above social security levels.
- What is the tier I tax rate for 2024?
The railroad retirement tier I payroll tax rate on covered rail employers and employees is 7.65 percent, consisting of 6.20 percent for retirement on earnings up to $168,600, and 1.45 percent for Medicare hospital insurance on all earnings. An additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes (2.35 percent in total) will be withheld from employees on earnings above $200,000.
- What are the tier II tax rates for 2024?
The railroad retirement tier II tax rates are 4.9 percent for employees and 13.1 percent for employers. The maximum amount of earnings subject to railroad retirement tier II taxes is $125,100.
- Am I eligible for a tax credit for excess payroll tax withholding?
If you worked for a railroad employer and for a social security-covered employer in the same year, you may, under certain circumstances, receive a tax credit equivalent to any excess social security taxes withheld.
If you worked for two or more railroads in a year, or had tier I taxes withheld from your RRB sickness benefits in addition to your railroad earnings, you may be eligible for a tax credit of any excess tier I or tier II railroad retirement taxes withheld. Employees who had tier I taxes withheld from their supplemental sickness benefits may also be eligible for a tax credit of any excess tier I tax. Such tax credits may be claimed on an employee’s federal income tax return.
If you worked for two or more railroads, or had both railroad retirement and social security taxes withheld from your earnings, see Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, for information on how to figure any excess railroad retirement or social security tax withheld.
- Can I request federal income tax withholding from my annuity?
Yes. To add or change federal income taxes withheld from the Social Security Equivalent Benefit (SSEB) portion of your monthly payment, you must complete IRS Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request, and send it to your local RRB field office. To add or change the amount of federal taxes withheld from the Non-Social Security Equivalent Benefit (NSSEB) portion of your annuity, you must complete IRS Form W-4P, Withholding Certificate for Periodic Pension or Annuity Payments, and send it to your local RRB field office.
If you do not file an IRS Form W-4P and your taxable annuity components exceed the IRS minimum mandatory withholding amount, taxes will automatically be withheld as if you were married and claiming three allowances. Railroad retirement benefits are not taxable by any state, so state tax withholding from railroad retirement payments is not possible.
If you wish to add or change federal tax withholding from your annuity payments, you may contact your local RRB field office for assistance and more information. While we can provide the necessary forms for withholding, it is your responsibility to determine how much federal income tax withholding is needed. You are encouraged to discuss the amount of withholding needed with a tax advisor or the IRS.
- When does the RRB send tax statements to annuitants?
We are required to release U.S. citizen tax statements by January 31 of the year following the close of the tax year. Nonresident alien tax statements are to be released by March 15 of the year following the close of the tax year.
- How can I get a duplicate income tax statement?
You can request a duplicate income tax statement by using our online request form.
- If I have tax-related questions, should I contact the RRB or the IRS?
Questions about federal income tax information, how to figure taxable payments, or what amounts to show on income tax returns should be referred to your local IRS office or your tax preparer. Additional information is also available by visiting IRS.gov.
Questions about railroad retirement annuity payments, tax withholding on these payments, or the amounts shown on annual tax statements we issued should be addressed to an RRB field office by calling toll free at 1-877-772-5772. You can also reach out to individual offices by mail, fax, or the Secure Message feature located on each office’s web page. Use Field Office Locator to find the web page and contact information for any field office.
- Are unemployment benefits subject to federal income tax?
Yes. Unemployment benefits paid by the RRB are subject to federal income tax. Unemployment benefits are NOT subject to state income tax.
- Are sickness benefits subject to federal income tax?
It depends. Sickness benefits resulting from on-the-job injury are NOT taxable. All other sickness benefits are subject to federal income tax.
Sickness benefits are NOT subject to state income tax.
- Can I elect to withhold taxes from my unemployment and/or sickness benefits?
Yes. You can elect voluntary tax withholding from your benefits by submitting Form W-4V (unemployment) and Form W-4S (sickness) to your local RRB field office. Both forms are available at IRS.gov by entering the appropriate form number in the search tool at the top of the website.
- Does the RRB provide me with information about unemployment and sickness benefits I received for when I file my federal tax return?
Yes. In January of each year, we issue 1099-G and/or W-2 forms to railroad workers who received Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) benefits in the last calendar year.
The 1099-G is a tax statement of the unemployment benefits you received from the RRB. It also shows any taxes you may have elected to withhold from your benefits. Use this form for filing your federal tax return.
The W-2 issued by the RRB is a wage and tax statement of the benefits you received for being sick or injured. It also shows any taxes withheld voluntarily or required by federal tax laws. Use this form for filing your federal tax return.
Note: Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month an employee last worked are subject to tier I railroad retirement payroll taxes unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury. If you received benefits because of an on-the-job-injury, you will not receive a W-2.
- When can I expect to receive my 1099-G and/or W-2?
Online: The tax forms will be available on myRRB earlier than those that are sent via the U.S mail. If you elect to turn off your hard copy sent by mail, you will receive an email to the email address you provided when they are available to view and download.
Mailed: The tax forms are addressed and mailed by January 31 every year.
- What benefits are provided under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA)?
The RUIA provides unemployment benefits for qualified railroaders who become unemployed but are ready, willing, and able to work, and sickness benefits for those who are unable to work because of sickness or injury. Sickness benefits are also payable to those who can’t work because of health conditions related to the employee's pregnancy, miscarriage, or childbirth.
- When does the unemployment and sickness benefit year begin, and what is the current daily benefit rate?
A new benefit year begins each July 1. Effective July 2023, the maximum daily benefit rate is $87. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, or $870 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month you last worked are subject to tier I railroad retirement payroll taxes unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury.
Under provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and a subsequent sequestration order, unemployment and sickness benefits are being reduced by 5.7 percent. As a result, maximum biweekly benefits are reduced to $820.41. The same percentage reduction amount will remain in effect through September 30, 2031.
Unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury, sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month you last worked are subject to tier I railroad retirement taxes. This reduces the maximum biweekly sickness benefits payable to $803.45 ($757.65 under sequestration).
- Am I eligible for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits?
If your railroad earnings were at least $4,387.50 in calendar year 2022 (counting no more than $1,755 for any one month), you qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits in the benefit year that began July 2023. If you first worked in the rail industry in 2022, you must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2022 to be eligible.
The easiest way to tell if you are eligible for unemployment and sickness benefits is to check your Certificate of Service Months and Compensation (Form BA-6). The BA-6 includes a field in the lower-right corner that indicates if you are eligible to claim unemployment or sickness benefits. We mail these forms each June to railroad employees with creditable compensation in the previous calendar year.
- If I’m not eligible for normal unemployment and sickness benefits, are other unemployment and sickness benefits available?
Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2022 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with at least 120 months of service who received normal benefits in the benefit year that ended June 30, 2023, may be eligible for extended benefits. Employees with at least 120 months of service might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have railroad earnings of at least $4,737.50 in 2023, not counting earnings of more than $1,895 in any one month.
- How long are unemployment or sickness benefits payable?
You can receive normal unemployment or sickness benefits for up to 130 days (26 weeks) in a benefit year. The total amount of each kind of benefit which may be paid in the current benefit year cannot exceed your railroad earnings in calendar year 2022, counting earnings up to $2,267 per month. If you exhaust normal benefits, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during 7 consecutive 14-day claim periods) if you have at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months).
- Is there a waiting period before I can receive unemployment and sickness benefits?
Yes, there is a 7-day waiting period requirement prior to any benefits becoming payable under the RUIA. During the first 14-day claim period, benefits are payable for every day claimed in excess of seven days. Subsequent claims are paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in each 14-day registration period. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness.
If you have at least five days of unemployment or five days of sickness in a 14-day period, you should still file for benefits in order to satisfy the waiting period for the current benefit year. Separate waiting periods are required for unemployment and sickness benefits. However, only one seven-day waiting period is generally required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year.
- If I have any earnings in a claim period, does that affect my eligibility for unemployment benefits?
Yes. If your earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave, or other leave in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period if more than four days of unemployment are claimed.
For the current benefit year, earnings of $1,755 or more in a claim period will disqualify your claim for unemployment benefits, even if you claim more than 4 days of unemployment. Earnings include pay from railroad and non-railroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment.
- How do I apply for unemployment benefits?
You can apply for unemployment benefits online or by mail. To file online, you must first create a myRRB account. To file by mail, send your completed Application for Unemployment Benefits (Form UI-1) to your local RRB office as soon as possible. It must be filed within 30 days from the date you became unemployed, or the first day for which you wish to claim benefits. Benefits may be lost if your application is filed late. If you’re filing a late unemployment application, include a signed statement explaining why you couldn’t meet the required time frame.
- Does the RRB help unemployed railroad workers find railroad jobs?
We maintain a list of job openings reported by railroads. The list is available on our website and at all field offices. Not all rail employers post their jobs with the RRB, so you may also wish to check individual railroad websites for additional job opportunities.
- After my application for unemployment benefits has been approved, how do I claim unemployment benefits?
After your application is processed, biweekly claim forms are provided to you for as long as you remain unemployed and eligible for benefits. If you filed an online application, your claim forms are only available online. If you filed a paper application, your first claim form is both available online and mailed to you. If you return the paper claim, your future claims will be mailed to you. If you file the claim online, subsequent claim forms will only be available online. You must not file both an online and a paper claim form for the same period(s).
Sign and send your claim (online or by mail) on or after the last day of the claim. We must receive your completed claim within 15 days of the end of the claim period, or within 15 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to you, whichever is later. If you’re submitting a late claim, include a signed statement explaining why you couldn’t meet the required time frame.
- How do I apply for sickness benefits?
Sickness applications can’t be filed online. You must submit your Application for Sickness Benefits (Form SI-1a) to the RRB by mail or fax (713-405-2078) within 10 days from when you became sick or injured. However, applications received after 10 days but within 30 days of the first day for which you wish to claim benefits are generally considered timely filed if there’s a good reason for the delay. If you’re filing a late sickness application, include a signed statement that explains why you couldn’t meet the required time frame.
An application, including a doctor’s Statement of Sickness (Form SI-1b, which is part of the sickness application), is required at the beginning of each period of continuing sickness for which benefits are claimed. Statements of sickness may be included with the completed sickness application, or submitted separately by mail or fax.
- If I’m too ill to apply for sickness benefits, can someone submit an application for me?
Yes. If you are too sick to complete the application, someone else may complete it for you. The person signing for you should also complete a Statement of Authority to Act for Employee (SI-10), which accompanies the Statement of Sickness (Form SI-1b).
- After my application for sickness benefits has been approved, how do I claim sickness benefits?
We make your first biweekly claim form available online (if you have a myRRB account) and mail you a paper claim form. If you file the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. If you file the paper claim form, future claims will be mailed to you. Paper claims should be mailed to RRB headquarters. Do not file both online and paper claim forms for the same claim period(s). We must receive your completed claim forms within 30 days of the last day of the claim period, or within 30 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to you, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if your claim form is filed late. If you’re filing a late sickness claim form, include a signed statement that explains why you couldn’t meet the required time frame.
- Are the unemployment and sickness benefits payable by the RRB affected if an employee is also receiving a military service pension?
Yes. The unemployment and sickness benefits payable by the RRB are affected if a claimant is also receiving a military service pension. However, payments made by the Department of Veterans Affairs will not affect railroad unemployment or sickness benefits.
When a claimant is receiving a military service pension or benefits under any social insurance law for days in which he or she is entitled to benefits under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, railroad unemployment or sickness benefits are payable only to the extent to which they exceed the other payments for those days. In many cases, the amount of a military service pension precludes the payment of unemployment or sickness benefits by the RRB. Examples of other such social insurance payments are firefighters' and police pensions, or certain workers' compensation payments. Claimants should report all such payments promptly to avoid having to refund benefits later.
- How long do I have to wait before I receive an unemployment or sickness payment?
Under our Customer Service Plan, we will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving your application. If you file a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits, we will certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date we receive the claim form. If you’re entitled to a payment, your benefits will generally be paid within one week of that decision by direct deposit to your bank or other financial institution.
- What if I think you made the wrong decision about my unemployment or sickness benefits?
If you think we made the wrong decision about your benefits, you have the right to ask for review and to appeal. You will be notified of your rights each time an unfavorable decision is made on your claims. Time limits apply to reconsideration/appeal requests, so be sure to read your notices carefully.