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Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
The U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) was created by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to encourage the continuation and maintenance of voluntary private pension plans, provide timely and uninterrupted payment of pension benefits, and keep pension insurance premiums at a minimum. Defined benefit pension plans promise to pay a specified monthly benefit at retirement, commonly based on salary and years on the job.
Money PBGC takes in and pays out
PBGC is not funded by general tax revenues. PBGC collects insurance premiums from employers that sponsor insured pension plans, earns money from investments and receives funds from pension plans it takes over. PBGC pays monthly retirement benefits, up to a guaranteed maximum, to about 518,000 retirees in 3,479 pension plans that ended. Including those who have not yet retired and participants in multiemployer plans receiving financial assistance, PBGC is responsible for the current and future pensions of about 1,061,000 people.
PBGC's two pension insurance programs
The single employer program protects 34.6 million workers and retirees in 29,651 pension plans. The multiemployer program protects 9.8 million workers and retirees in 1,587 pension plans. Multiemployer plans are set up by collectively bargained agreements involving more than one unrelated employer, generally in one industry.
How pension plans end
An employer can voluntarily ask to close its single employer pension plan in either a standard or distress termination. In a standard termination, the plan must have enough money to pay all benefits, whether vested or not, before the plan can end. After workers receive promised benefits, in the form of a lump sum payment or an insurance company annuity, PBGC' guarantee ends. In a distress termination, where the plan does not have enough money to pay all benefits, the employer must prove severe financial distress - for instance the likelihood that continuing the plan would force the company to shut down. PBGC will pay guaranteed benefits, usually covering a large part of total earned benefits, and make strong efforts to recover funds from the employer.
In addition, PBGC may seek to close a single employer plan without the employer's consent to protect the interests of workers, the plan or PBGC's insurance fund. PBGC must act to terminate a plan that cannot pay current benefits.
For multiemployer pension plans that are unable to pay guaranteed benefits when due, PBGC will provide financial assistance to the plan, usually a loan, so that retirees continue receiving their benefits.
Pension plans pay PBGC yearly insurance premiums: US$2.60 per worker or retiree in multiemployer plans; $19 per worker or retiree plus $9 for each $1,000 of unfunded vested benefits in single employer plans. Premium rates increase only if Congress approves.
Maximum guaranteed benefit
The maximum pension benefit guaranteed by PBGC is set by law and adjusted yearly. For plans ended in 2005, workers who retire at age 65 can receive up to $3,801.14 a month (or $45,613.68 a year). The guarantee is lower for those who retire early or when there is a benefit for a survivor. The guarantee is increased for those who retire after age 65.
PBGC is headed by an Executive Director who reports to a Board of Directors consisting of the Secretaries of Labor, Commerce and Treasury, with the Secretary of Labor as Chairman.
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