PBGC Announces Maximum Benefit Coverage for 2016

The PBGC has just announced the maximum benefit coverage for both a single-employer plan and a multi-employer plan. The difference in coverage among the two plan types is huge!  Here is the PBGC’s release:

PBGC Maximum Insurance Benefit Level for 2016

October 28, 2015

WASHINGTON – The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation announced today that the annual maximum guaranteed benefit for a 65-year-old retiree in a single-employer plan remains at $60,136 for 2016. The guarantee for multiemployer plans also remains unchanged.

Single-Employer Plan Guarantee

The PBGC maximum guarantee for people covered by single-employer plans is linked to a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, in Social Security law. Next year, SSA’s cost-of-living-adjustment will be zero. Accordingly, the maximum guarantee for the agency’s single-employer program will not change from the current 2015 levels.

The single-employer guarantee formula provides lower amounts for people who begin getting benefits from PBGC before age 65, reflecting the fact that they will receive more monthly pension checks over their expected lifetime. Amounts are higher for benefits starting at ages above 65.

Also, benefits are reduced for retirees who select to have payments sent to a beneficiary following their death. A table showing the 2016 single-employer guarantee amounts payable at ages other than 65 is available on PBGC’s website. Because the age 65 amount isn’t changing, the 2016 table is identical to 2015.

In most cases, the single-employer guarantee is larger than the pension earned by people in such plans. According to a 2006 study, almost 85 percent of retirees receiving PBGC benefits at that time received the full amount of their earned benefit. (For more information see the entry “Making Sense of the Maximum Insurance Benefit” in PBGC blog, Retirement Matters.)

The published maximum insurance benefit represents the cap on what PBGC guarantees, not on what PBGC pays. In some cases, PBGC pays benefits above the guaranteed amount. This depends on the retiree’s age and how much money was in the plan when it terminated.

For more information about how the single-employer guarantee works, see PBGC’s fact sheet Pension Guarantees.

Multiemployer Plan Guarantee Limit

The PBGC maximum guarantee for participants in multiemployer plans is also based on a formula prescribed by federal law. Unlike the single-employer formula, the multiemployer guarantee is not indexed (i.e., it remains the same from year to year) and does not vary based on the retiree’s age or payment form.

Instead, it varies based on the retiree’s length of service. In addition, the multiemployer guarantee structure has two tiers, providing 100 percent coverage up to a certain level, and 75 percent coverage above that level. For a retiree with 30 years of service, the current annual limit is 100 percent of the first $3,960 and 75 percent of the next $11,760 for a total guarantee of $12,870. This limit has been in place since 2001.

About PBGC

PBGC protects the pension benefits of more than 40 million of America’s workers and retirees in nearly 26,000 private-sector pension plans. The agency is directly responsible for paying the benefits of more than 1.5 million people in failed pension plans. PBGC receives no taxpayer dollars and never has. Its operations are financed by insurance premiums and with assets and recoveries from failed plans.

Bad Policy – AGAIN!

Further hikes in PBGC premiums will help pay for a federal budget bill agreed to by the White House and congressional leaders late Monday.

But, at what cost to our economy and employees?

According to P&I, the budget deal, which lays out a two-year budget and extends the federal debt limit until March 2017, raises per-person premiums paid to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. from $64 in 2016 to $68 in 2017, $73 in 2018 and $78 in 2019. The 2015 rate is $57. Variable rate premiums would increase to $38 by 2019 from the current $24.

The proposal also calls for extending pension funding stabilization rules for two more years, until 2022, to allow sponsors to use higher interest rates when calculating contribution rates. Regrettably, this is nothing more than fuzzy math, and it continues to mask the true economics for DB plans.

“Once again the employer-sponsored system is being targeted for revenue,” said Annette Guarisco Fildes, president and CEO of the ERISA Industry Committee, who predicted that the premium hike will give defined benefit plan sponsors “more reasons to consider exit strategies.” We, at KCS, absolutely agree. DB plans need to be preserved. Punishing sponsors by raising PBGC premiums is not supportive.

“It’s an incredibly bad idea and it’s going to have, in the long run, devastating consequences for the (defined benefit) system,” said Deborah Forbes, executive director of the Committee on Investment of Employee Benefit Assets, in an interview.

According to P&I, PBGC officials had not called for additional premium increases in the single-employer program on top of ones already scheduled. “PBGC’s finances for the single-employer program have been improving steadily over the past few years, and there is really no reason to increase single-employer premiums at this time,” said Michael Kreps, a principal with Groom Law Group.

We’ve witnessed a precipitous decline in the use of DB plans during the last 30+ years. The elimination of DB plans as THE primary retirement vehicle and the move toward DC offerings to fill that gap is creating an environment in which there will be grave social and economic consequences. Enough already! Wake up Washington before the slope gets too slippery.