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What is the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)?
PBGC is a federal agency that insures and protects pension benefits in
certain pension plans. If your plan is insured by PBGC, we guarantee
your pension benefits, up to certain legal limits. If your employer has
financial difficulty and cannot fund the plan, and the plan does not
have enough money to pay all promised benefits, your plan ends (plan
termination). PBGC then takes the plan over as the trustee and begins to
pay pension benefits. The amount and types of pension benefits we pay
are determined by your plan and the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act (ERISA), which established PBGC. PBGC is not funded by taxes. Our
financing comes mainly from insurance premiums paid by companies whose
plans we protect. If your plan is the type of plan insured by PBGC, your
plan is insured even if your employer fails to pay the required
What types of plans are insured by PBGC?
PBGC insures defined benefit plans, the type that promise to pay
participants a specific monthly benefit at retirement. PBGC does not
insure retirement plans that do not promise specific benefit amounts
("defined contribution pension plans"), such as profit sharing or 401(k)
How can I find out if my pension plan is insured by PBGC?
The easiest way to find out if your plan is insured by PBGC is to ask
your employer or plan administrator, the person who administers the
plan. Although PBGC insures most defined benefit plans, there are some
that are not covered. For example, plans offered by professional service
firms (such as doctors and lawyers) with less than 26 employees, by
church groups or by federal, state or local governments usually are not
insured. This booklet covers only single-employer plans, by far the
larger group of plans insured by PBGC. These are normally sponsored by
an individual company for the benefit of its workers. (PBGC also insures
multiemployer plans, which cover workers of non-related employers in the
same industry, such as trucking or construction.)
Why do pension plans end?
Pension plans usually end for one of three reasons: (1) the employer is
having financial problems and can no longer support the plan; (2) the
plan has enough money to pay all promised benefits and the employer
wants to end the pension plan; or (3) the plan does not have enough
funds to pay participants and PBGC decides that it should be ended in
order to protect the interests of participants, the plan itself, or
How do pension plans end?
Employers can end pension plans through a process called termination.
There are two types of termination. In a standard termination, an
employer ends a plan that is fully funded after showing PBGC that there
is enough money to pay all benefits owed workers and retirees. Depending
on the plan's provisions, the employer either pays each participant all
the benefits he or she is owed in a lump sum or the employer purchases
an annuity for each participant from an insurance company. These
annuities then provide benefits to participants when they retire. Your
employer must tell you what insurance company will provide the annuities
before the money in the plan is distributed. PBGC's guarantee is ended
when the employer purchases the annuities or otherwise pays participants
the value of their pensions.
In a distress termination, an employer ends a plan that does not have
enough money to pay all benefits owed workers and retirees. To do so,
however, the employer must prove to PBGC that the business is
financially unable to support the plan. PBGC takes over the plan as
trustee and uses its own assets and any remaining assets in the plan to
make sure that current retirees and future retirees of the plan receive
their pension benefits, within the legal limits.
Under certain conditions, PBGC may terminate a pension plan, even if a
company has not filed to terminate the plan on its own initiative. PBGC
can take such action if, for example, a plan does not have sufficient
assets to pay benefits currently due.
How will I know if my pension plan is ending?
If your employer is seeking to end the plan, your plan administrator
must notify you in writing that your plan is ending at least 60 days
before the "termination" date. This notice is called the Notice of
Intent to Terminate. If PBGC itself is seeking to end the plan, we
notify the plan administrator and often publish a notice about our
action in local and national newspapers.
What other information should I receive from my plan administrator?
In a standard termination, you should receive a second letter, called
the Notice of Plan Benefits, that explains the amount and form of your
benefit, as well as how the benefit was calculated.
In a distress termination, the plan administrator will send information
regarding your benefits to PBGC. We will then determine the amount of
your benefit that is guaranteed by our insurance program and will notify
you in writing of our determination.
What happens if PBGC takes over my plan?
We try to notify all participants quickly when we take over a plan. We
then begin reviewing the plan's records to determine what benefits each
person will receive from PBGC. If you are already retired and receiving
benefits, we will continue paying benefits without interruption during
our review. These payments will be an estimate of the benefits you are
eligible for under our insurance program. Once we complete our review,
we will tell you in writing what your pension amount will be under the
law and what rights you have to appeal our decision. The pension benefit
that PBGC can pay will depend on (1) your age, (2) the provisions of
your plan, (3) your employer's funding of the plan before it ended, (4)
the form of your benefit, (5) PBGC's maximum benefit payments, and (6)
whether and when benefits were increased before the plan ended.
To ensure PBGC has the proper information on all participants, we will
contact you periodically to request any changes, such as your new
address, if you have moved.
What happens if PBGC's initial estimate is different from my permanent
If our estimate was too low we will pay you the difference plus interest
in a lump sum. If our estimate was too high you will have to pay us the
difference. If you owe us money, we usually reduce your monthly benefit
payment by no more than 10 percent so that we can gradually recover the
amount you owe without putting too much of a financial burden on you.
What benefits does PBGC guarantee?
PBGC guarantees "basic benefits," which include (1) pension benefits at
normal retirement age, (2) most early retirement benefits, (3)
disability benefits for disabilities that occurred before the plan was
terminated, and (4) certain benefits for survivors of plan participants.
PBGC does not guarantee such benefits as health care, vacation pay,
severance pay, or other benefits that are not considered "basic" pension
What are the maximum benefits that PBGC can pay?
The maximum benefit PBGC can pay is set by law each year, under
provisions of ERISA. For pension plans ending in 1995, for example, the
maximum guaranteed amount is $2,573.86 per month ($30,886.32 per year)
for a worker who retires at age 65. This maximum monthly amount will be
reduced if you begin receiving payments before age 65 or if your pension
includes benefits for a survivor or other beneficiary. The table at the
end of this booklet lists examples of PBGC's maximum guaranteed
Does PBGC pay survivor benefits?
PBGC pays survivor benefits if you retired before your plan ended and
your benefit included a survivor benefit, or if you were receiving a
survivor benefit before the plan ended. If you are married and begin
receiving retirement benefits after the plan ends, we will provide
joint-and-survivor annuity coverage unless you and your spouse tell us
in writing that you do not want this annuity. Joint-and-survivor
coverage provides that if you die first, your spouse will continue to
receive a portion of your benefit. With a joint-and-survivor annuity,
your monthly benefit is generally reduced during your lifetime to pay
for the cost of the annuity.
We also provide preretirement survivor annuity coverage if you are
married and not yet retired, unless you and your spouse tell us in
writing that you do not want this protection. This coverage provides a
benefit to your spouse if you die before you retire. Again, your monthly
benefit will be reduced to pay for this protection.
Are there other limits on PBGC's guarantee of basic benefits?
Yes. If the benefits under your plan are increased and the plan is taken
over by PBGC within five years of this change, the increase may not be
fully guaranteed. A phase-in rule is applied to determine how much of
the increase is guaranteed.
When will I begin receiving benefits if PBGC takes over my plan?
If you are already retired and receiving benefits when we take over your
plan, you will continue to receive payments, although the amount will be
estimated until we determine your PBGC-guaranteed benefit. If you have
not yet retired, we will begin paying your benefits when you become
eligible for them and you have applied for those benefits.
Will I receive my benefit from PBGC in a lump sum or as a monthly
The PBGC will normally pay benefits as an annuity. You may receive a
lump sum payment if the value of your benefit is $3,500 or less, and you
were not retired when the plan ended.
Can I put my lump sum into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)?
Yes. If the taxable portion of your lump sum payment is transferred
directly by the plan or PBGC into an IRA, you will not have to pay taxes
on your benefit until you begin receiving IRA payments. This deposit is
called a "tax-free rollover." For more information about tax-free
rollovers and the laws controlling IRAs, call or write the Internal
Revenue Service office nearest you.
Will PBGC adjust my pension yearly for inflation?
No, there is no cost-of-living adjustment. The amount of your benefit is
fixed as of the date PBGC takes over your plan (date of termination),
subject to the maximum limits and restrictions already mentioned in this
Will my deductions stay the same if PBGC takes over my plan?
PBGC only deducts federal income taxes. You will have to make your own
arrangements to pay state taxes and other amounts now being deducted.
If I have other questions about PBGC, how can I find the answers?
If you have questions about a pension plan that PBGC has taken over or
about our insurance programs and retirement guarantees, contact PBGC's
Technical Assistance Division at 1200 K Street, NW, Suite 930,
Washington, DC 20005-4026, or call us at (202) 326-4000. If you have a
hearing impairment and are using a teletypewriter (TTY), call (202) 326-
4179. These phone numbers are not toll-free. PBGC cannot accept collect
phone calls. If you have specific questions about your plan or your
benefits, you should first contact your plan administrator or your
PBGC MAXIMUM MONTHLY GUARANTEES
Examples of the maximum guarantee for a single life annuity with no
survivor benefits are shown for retirement at ages 65, 62, 60 and 55.
The maximum is further reduced if the benefit is paid in a form other
than for a single life annuity, such as a form that provides for
survivor benefits. The actual guarantee limit will depend on a
participant's date of birth and plan provisions.
Year Monthly Monthly Monthly Monthly
Plan Guarantee Guarantee Guarantee Guarantee
Terminated Limit At Limit At Limit At Limit At
Age 65 Age 62 Age 60 Age55
1990 $2,164.7 $1,710.17 $1,407.10 $ 974.15
1991 2,250.00 1,777.50 1,462.50 1,012.50
1992 2,352.27 1,858.29 1,528.98 1,058.52
1993 2,437.50 1,925.50 1,584.38 1,096.88
1994 2,556.82 2,019.89 1,661.93 1,150.57
1995 2,573.86 2,033.35 1,673.01 1,158.24
from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation 1/95
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