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Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Benefits For Remarried Husbands and Wives

(Posted August 24, 2002)

Question 190: I am engaged to be married to a rail worker who is 56. He will be eligible for 60/30 retirement in four years. I'm 50. I am a Federal employee with 11 years under the old Civil Service Retirement System(CSRS) and 19 years under the new Federal Employees Retirement System(FERS). I can retire in 4 years. How will our marriage and different retirement programs affect each other? I can provide a survivor annuity for him under CSRS and FERS. Will I have a survivor annuity from Railroad Retirement? How long do we have to be married before I qualify as a widow under Railroad retirement Railroad Retirement?

Answer: You and your future husband will certainly hit the pension jackpot! Between the two of you, you might be drawing benefits from up to four different retirement programs administered by the Federal government.

In framing my reply to your questions, I have drawn on my professional knowledge of Railroad Retirement and Social Security. In addition, I am a retired Federal employee and I personally have received CSRS for the last eight years. So I have both personal and professional knowledge of CSRS and FERS.

The two Federal worker retirement systems are quite independent of Railroad Retirment and Social Security, but there is some interaction that can cause Railroad Retirement and Social Security to pay lower benefits to some retired Federal workers.

Because you have been under FERS for more than 5 years, you are exempt from the "Public Pension Offset" provision. This provision normally reduces a widow's annuity by 2/3 of the amount of any governmental pension. And you are exempt from the "Windfall Benefits" provision that ordinarily would apply to persons who work in a job covered by Social Security on the day you retire. Under that provision, the Social Security benefit of government workers is computed under a different formula, which generally yields far lower benefits than the regular method.

Now back to your other questions. Once you are married for 9 months, you will be entitled to widow benefits under Railroad Retirement. There are even some exceptions to the 9-month marriage requirement.

Under CSRS and FERS, you have "elect" a "joint and survivor" option in order to provide a survivor annuity for your husband. As a result, your retirement annuity is reduced to "pay" for the survivor annuity. Under Railroad Retirement and Social Security, no election or reduction is required for your husband to draw a survivor annuity.

One word of caution. Your widow's benefit under Railroad Retirement will be reduced by your own Social Security benefits.

I would recommend that you and your future husband get accurate estimates of what each of you could receive under CSRS, FERS, Social Security and Railroad Retirment. Once you have the figures, sit down and see exactly what you can plan on in the event of the death of either of you.

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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