|Question 219: In September 2003, I will acquire my 360th month of railroad service and be vested for 60/30 benefits. I will only be 52, but I want to quit the railroad to pursue other employment opportunities until I reach 60. Can I leave the railroad industry and still be eligible for 60/30? How will this affect the amount of my benefits? I'm very confused about the "Current Connection" rule and what I need to avoid in order to protect my benefits.
Answer: I think you will get most of the answers to your questions by reading Q&A 207 of this column.
The "Current Connection" rule can be very confusing. I'll try to explain it in plain language, using your situation as an example.
Let's assume you leave railroad work at the end of 2003 with over 30 years of credits. The first thing you need to do is find the last 12 calendar months in which you worked for a railroad. In your case, it would be January through December 2003.
Starting with the first month of the last 12 months (January 2003), count forward 30 months. The 30th month would be June 2005. So your 30-month period would run from January 2003 through June 2005. During this time, any new work activites or earnings would not adversely affect your "Current Connection".
But all of that changes on July 1, 2005, when your "interval" begins. Your interval will run from July 1, 2005 until the date your Railroad Retirement annuity begins (probably some time in 2011). During the interval, you can lose your "Current Connection" by working and earning at least $1,000 in two consecutive calendar years.
Certain work activity will not count against the $1,000, including:
- If you are self employed and the business is not incorporated;
- If you work for certain agencies of the United Staes Government; or
- If you work for the Alaska Railroad or for a Canadian railroad in Canada.
If your interval starts in one calendar year and your Railroad Retirement begins in the next calendar year, an alternative employment test is used.