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Do Members of Congress Receive Lavish Pensions After Only One Term?

Fiction: No. Members who have participated in the congressional pension system are vested after five years of service.

A full pension is available to Members of Congress who are:
*62 years of age with five years of service;
*50 years or older with 20 years of service; or
*25 years of service at any age.

A reduced pension is available depending upon which of several different age/service options is chosen. If members leave Congress before reaching retirement age, they may leave their contributions behind and receive a deferred pension later.

Members of Congress do not continue to draw their same pay after they are no longer in office. The size of their pension is determined primarily by length of service but it also takes into account when they joined Congress, how old they are at the time of retirement, their salary and which pension option they chose when they enrolled. By law a member's pension amount may not exceed 80 percent of his/her salary upon retirement.

Members who were elected after 1984 are automatically part of the FERS, or Federal Employees' Retirement System. Members elected before 1984 were in the CSRS, or Civil Service Retirement System. In 1984, those members in CSRS had to choose to remain with CSRS, or switch to FERS. The members elected before 1984 could further choose between full CSRS benefits plus Social Security or CSRS benefits offset by Social Security. Members of Congress also pay Social Security taxes - please see the Fact or Fiction page on that topic for more information.

A further variant in the amount of retirement benefits received is whether or not members under either system choose to participate in the voluntary Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) open to all federal employees. Members under CSRS may contribute up to 5 percent of their salary and FERS Members may contribute up to 10 percent of their salary into this tax-deferred retirement investment fund. The differential favoring FERS members is because pension benefits paid out under the old CSRS system are higher than those paid out under the current FERS system.

Congressional pensions are funded the same way as those of other federal employees: through a combination of general tax provisions and contributions from the participants. Members of Congress in the FERS plan must pay 1.3 percent of their salary to FERS and 6.2 percent in Social Security taxes.

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