As a spouse of a railroad employee, you are eligible to simultaneously draw Social Security and railroad retirement benefits resulting from the work of your spouse employed by the railroad sector. The amount of railroad retirement benefits you are entitled to receive falls under a two-tier benefit formula. If your spouse dies, you are no longer eligible to receive both benefits at the same time. However, you may be eligible to receive survivor benefits instead.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for calculating the amount payable to a person receiving Social Security and railroad retirement benefits at the same time. However, generally the Railroad Retirement Board issues the combined payment. To prevent duplication of benefits based on the same earnings, the SSA limits payment to the higher of these two benefits according to Social Security regulations that limit the amount of Tier I benefits, which applies to both the railroad employee and the spouse.
According to the Social Security Bulletin "An Overview of the Railroad Retirement Program," Tier I benefits replace Social Security benefits. These benefits are based on a combination of railroad retirement credits, which includes length of service and earnings and non-railroad Social Security credits accumulated by your spouse if the latter are applicable. The amount of money that railroad employees, their spouses and their families are entitled to receive in benefits under Tier 1 is calculated based on railroad retirement age and length of service using Social Security formulas.
Only railroad retirement credits are taken into account in calculating Tier II benefits. The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) compares Tier II to the retirement benefits that employees in other industries receive on top of their Social Security benefits. At least 120 months of railroad service and attainment of insured status as defined by Social Security regulations may also warrant the payment of an additional amount as part of Tier II benefits. Service by employees who have not completed 120 months comes under the Social Security system.
Spouses of deceased railroad retirees must report the death of their loved ones immediately to the SSA since failure to do so may result in overpayment. The SSA notifies survivors of the amount of survivor's benefits they are eligible to receive. According to the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board publication "Railroad Retirement Survivor Benefits," factors that affect survivor benefits include the length of railroad service of the deceased or "current connection" with the railroad industry, the survivor's age, health, ability to work and amount of time married to the deceased. To receive survivor's benefits, the minimum limit for time married to the deceased is nine months prior to death.
- U.S. Railroad Retirement Board; Form IB-2; Railroad Retirement and Survivor Benefits; 2011
- Social Security Bulletin”; An Overview of the Railroad Retirement Program; Kevin Whitman; 2008; p.43
- Social Security Administration; Social Security Programs in the United States; Railroad Retirement; p. 79
- U.S. Railroad Retirement Board; Dual Benefit Payments; August 2000