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Workers & Retirees

Your PBGC Benefit Options

PBGC offers several benefit form options to any participant who receives his or her first benefit payment on or after May 1, 2002. The following are answers to questions about benefit choices currently available to participants who are not yet retired.

  • Q: What benefit choices are available?

    A: You may elect to receive your benefits in one of the following ways:

    • a straight-life annuity that provides you with fixed monthly benefit payments for your lifetime. No survivor benefit will be paid after your death.
    • a 5-year, 10-year or 15-year certain-and-continuous annuity that provides you with fixed monthly benefit payments for your lifetime. If you elect this type of life annuity and die before the end of the 5-, 10- or 15-year time period you selected, your designated beneficiary will receive the same monthly benefit for the remainder of the period. If you die after the end of the period, benefit payments end upon your death. Note that the 5-, 10- or 15-year period starts when your benefit payments start, not when you die.
    • a joint-and-survivor annuity that provides you with fixed monthly benefit payments for your lifetime and, upon your death, continues payments to your spouse or other beneficiary for the rest of his or her life. The monthly benefit your spouse or other beneficiary receives is 50, 75 or 100 percent - depending on your choice - of the amount you were receiving while you were alive. If your beneficiary dies before you, your monthly benefit will not change.
    • a joint-and-50% survivor "pop-up" annuity that differs from the joint-and-survivor annuity described above in that, if your spouse or other beneficiary dies before you, your monthly benefit "pops-up" to the straight-life annuity amount for the rest of your life.
    • the "automatic" form of benefit offered to you under your plan.

    If you are married when your benefit payments begin, your spouse must provide written consent for you to elect any form of benefit other than the automatic form your plan would pay to a married participant.

  • Q: Can I receive my benefit as a lump sum payment?

    A: No, unless your total benefit is very small. PBGC pays lump sums only when a benefit has a value of $5,000 or less. All other benefits are paid as a monthly annuity, which provides a regular stream of income for life.

    If you are eligible for and select a lump sum, you generally can put all or part of your lump sum into a traditional Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) or other qualified plan. If you have PBGC pay the lump sum directly to your IRA or other plan, PBGC will not withhold tax from the payment. With this type of payment, called a "tax-free rollover," you will not have to pay tax until you receive payments from the IRA or other plan. You can get more information about tax-free rollovers by contacting your local Internal Revenue Service office, calling 1-800-TAX-FORM, or visiting the IRS website.

  • Q: When do I choose the form of annuity I want?

    A: You select the form of annuity you want at the time you file your application to begin receiving your pension benefits. PBGC must receive your application no more than 90 days before the date you requested that your benefits begin. You may change your selection by filing a new application before the date of your first payment. After the date of your first payment, you cannot change your selection.

  • Q: Are these benefit payment options available in all the pension plans PBGC oversees?

    A: Yes. These options are available for all participants who apply to PBGC to start receiving their benefits on or after May 1, 2002.

  • Q: If I am married, may I name someone other than my spouse to be my beneficiary?

    A: If you are married, you may name a person who is not your spouse as your beneficiary; however, to do so, you will need the written consent of your spouse on your PBGC application for benefits.

  • Q: If I am not married, may I still name a beneficiary to receive survivor benefits after my death?

    A: If you are not married, you may name a beneficiary to receive survivor benefits under any optional joint-and-survivor or certain-and-continuous annuity form.

  • Q: Are there any limitations on who may be named as my beneficiary?

    A: In the case of a joint-and-survivor annuity, you may designate only one person. For certain-and-continuous annuities, your beneficiary may be one or more persons, an estate, a trust, or an organization.

  • Q: Can I change my beneficiary after I start receiving my benefits?

    A: If you choose a joint-and-survivor annuity, you cannot change your beneficiary after your benefit starts. If you choose a certain-and-continuous annuity, you may change your designated beneficiary at any time.

  • Q: What happens if my beneficiary dies before me?

    A: The answer depends on the benefit form you elected:

    • If you elected a joint-and-survivor annuity and your beneficiary dies while you are receiving your benefit, your monthly benefit will continue unchanged and no survivor benefits will be payable upon your death.
    • If you elected the joint-and-50% survivor "pop-up" annuity and your beneficiary dies while you are receiving your benefit, your benefit will increase to the straight-life annuity amount.
    • If you elected a certain-and-continuous annuity, you may name a new beneficiary after the death of your original beneficiary. If you have not designated a new beneficiary and you die before the end of the certain period you selected, then your benefit will be paid in this order: your spouse, your children, your parents, your estate, and your next of kin.
  • Q: If my beneficiary dies before me, will my monthly benefit increase?

    A: Your monthly benefit will stay the same unless you elect the joint-and-50% survivor "pop-up" annuity. With the joint-and-50% survivor pop-up annuity, your monthly benefit will "pop-up" to the straight-life annuity amount if your beneficiary dies before you.

  • Q: What happens if I die before I retire?

    A: If your pension plan terminated on or after August 23, 1984, and you are married at the time of your death, PBGC generally will pay your spouse a benefit. We will determine what your benefit would have been at your death (or your earliest retirement age, if later) and pay your spouse a benefit as though you had retired with a joint-and-survivor annuity just before you died. If you are not married when you die, or if your plan terminated before August 23, 1984, generally there will be no benefit payable to a beneficiary.

  • Q: What should I consider when choosing my annuity benefit form?

    A: This question is complex; this could be one of the most important financial decisions you will ever make. Your decision affects the amount of your monthly benefit and how much (if anything) your beneficiary will receive after your death. The best option for you depends on your age, health, and other financial resources, as well as the age, health, and financial needs of anyone for whom you wish to provide a benefit. If you are married, you should discuss this choice with your spouse. You may also want to discuss this choice with other family members or friends or, possibly, a financial advisor.

  • Q: How do I find out what my benefit amount would be under the optional forms of annuity?

    A: Call PBGC's Customer Service Center toll-free at 1-800-400-7242 and request a benefit application package. (For TTY/ASCII users, call the Federal Relay Service toll-free at 1-800-877-8339 and ask to be connected to 1-800-400-7242.) PBGC will send you the application and the exact benefit calculations to show the amount of your benefit under all of your annuity form options. If you are married, the calculations will also show the amount of your spouse's benefit.

  • Q: How do I find my account balance?

    A: There is no “account balance” for defined benefit or traditional pension plans. Unlike defined contribution pension plans, such as 401(k) plans, which have a balance that can be spent down and outlived, your defined benefit plan with PBGC promises a specific payment over time, typically a monthly benefit for life. Calculating the amount of that benefit is a complex process, using the benefit formula and the assets of your pension plan subject to legal limits on PBGC’s guarantee.