Congressional pensions – don’t believe most of what your read

Social media often pontificates about members of Congress receiving their pay for life, or overly generous pensions. Neither is true.

What is not mentioned are the facts or a very key point. To become vested in any pension a Member must have five years of service. And, the total length of service and age are primary factors in determining the pension.

A member of the House must be elected three times to obtain the right to a pension. Americans keep re-electing members of Congress enabling them to make a career of the job. This automatically increases the value of their pensions.

So what do we have to complain about?

Age and Length-of-Service Requirements

Members become vested in (legally entitled to) a pension benefit under CSRS or FERS after five years of service. The age and service requirements for retirement eligibility are determined by the plan under which a Member is covered at the time of retirement, regardless of whether he or she has previous service covered under a different plan. Depending on a Member’s age and years of service, a pension can be taken immediately upon separating from service or only on a deferred basis. Likewise, the Member’s age and years of service, as well as the starting date of the annuity, will determine whether he or she is eligible for a full pension or a reduced pension.

By federal law, senators and representatives cannot earn their full salary in retirement. The most a congressman can earn after they leave office is 80% of their final salary. However, he or she would have had to have served 67 years to earn that top percentage.


  1. The only “unfair” part of a Congressional pension is their multiplier. For all Federal employees since 1987 their pension is three years of their highest salary x Number of years of service x the multiplier (ie $50,000 x 1.0% x30 years) For most employees, there are only two multipliers…1% or 1.1%, There is a subset of employees that their multiplier is 1.7%, but that is tied to them being in special jobs such as firefighters, law enforcement, and high stress jobs like air traffic controllers.

    Somehow, Congress got themselves added as one of the 1.7% multipliers.


    1. The unfair counter productive part is not the amount of the pension or the benefit formula. It’s the existence of a pension in a position that was never intended and should not be a career.


  2. Capitalists should break free from these rationales that are based on fairness. It is socialism that is based on fairness, but capitalists give up fairness, mostly, in favor of prosperity. It is silly to pretend that the rich have all earned their wealth fairly.


  3. I have no problem with congressional compensation. We want to attract capable people to these jobs, so we should pay them plenty. Besides, the amounts involved are trivial parts of our national budget.

    But I wish we would pay our high school teachers better. For the role they play in our society, we need them to be first class people, so they need to be paid first class money.


  4. Congress has been subject to FICA taxes since 1984. A congressman or senator getting $275,000 in salary per year, pays the max FICA tax, and the taxpayers pay, the employer’s half of the FICA tax. Since many in Congress are top earners as business owners, or lawyers, they will get the max SS benefit at age 70. If they have a wife, who gets a spousal benefit the total received could be $5,685 per month, $68,220 per year. $1,364,400 in 20 years. This is why Melton Friedman called Social Security the biggest wealth transfer to the rich ever devised. Money going to rich people, who do not need it to meet their basic needs. That is why I am for means testing Social Security, but I know that will never happen, and the future taxpayers will be the ones suffering because of all the interest that will need to be paid, on the new debt, as the Social Security trust fund bonds are redeemed.


    1. Your figures are off the pay of a member of Congress is $174,000. You mean you want SS to become more of a welfare program than it is? Why should the benefit be related to a set formula? Lower paid individuals receive a greater relative benefit. It was set up to minimize political involvement.


      1. Social security is a welfare program, it always has been. I did get the base salary wrong, but my other numbers are right. Congress is paid 3 times what the average family makes, plus other perks, like a $1,000 vehicle lease per month. and many become millionaires while members of Congress. They get to leave office with millions in campaign funds, just incase they may want to run for office later. Social Security was created so no retiree would live in poverty, yet it is weighted that the rich worker, who has had higher income most of their working life, gets a larger Social Security benefit. I hope some day very soon, the system is changed. Why should a CEO who makes millions of dollars per year, even be able to get Social Security? No one has paid enough FICA taxes in their working years, to justify what they will receive. Lower paid workers that have worked all the years for the CEOs and owners of businesses, should get even more in Social Security benefits, without the workers no company would have CEOs and VPs making the kind of money that they are today.


  5. Thanks for posting this. I read the articles you provided links to. I was skeptical of social media posts claiming outrageous levels of retirement compensation for retired Members of Congress, and it’s nice to read the actual facts. One of the better social media posts I recently saw read: “I prefer being informed over having formed an opinion”. I enjoy your contributions to Humble Dollar too.


    1. I am going to steal your quote. I am tired of being told what to think and what my opinion is. Give me the facts and I’ll decide for myself. The problem now is that I don’t know which sources I should trust from the mainstream media.


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