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Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman
Portability of Railroad Service Credits and Estimating Future Benefits
(Posted December 1, 1997; Revised August 7, 1999)
Question 2: My company is no longer considered a railroad employer. All of the employees are now under Social Security. I earned 5 years of Railroad Retirement before the changeover, short of the 10 year vesting requirement. If, in the future, I go to work for another railroad, can I add my new credits to those I already have for vesting purposes? Also, I want to know how much I can get from Railroad Retirement if I become vested, but I can't seem to get a definitive answer.
Answer: The answer to the first part of your question is, yes, credits for Railroad Retirement can be accumulated from any company covered by the System. In this respect, Railroad Retirement credits are completely portable within the railroad industry. If you earn at least 5 more years of credits before retirement, you will be vested. Otherwise, the railroad credits you have will be switched to Social Security and count under that program.
The second part of your question on the amount of your "potential" Railroad Retirement benefits is not easy to answer. Until you're vested, there's no accurate way to project future earnings, inflation rates,and then estimate benefit amounts. But I can share some general information which may be helpful. In 1998, the average monthly benefit paid to retired workers by Railroad Retirement was $1,265 (compared to $770 by Social Security). For those workers who retired in 1998, Railroad Retirement benefits averaged $2,120 a month (compared to $980 a month under Social Security). Of course, the actual amount you would qualify for could be substantially less if you barely had 10 years of railroad work and fairly low earnings. Once you become vested, you should ask the local office of the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) to make an estimate of your monthly benefits. To located the RRB office serving your area, check the White pages of the telephone directory under U.S. Government or go to the following Web site: http://www.rrb.gov.
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