If you have a defined benefit plan at work and you’re considering early retirement, then this article is for you. Early retirement can come about in two ways – you can choose to retire early by handing in your resignation, or you are terminated by your employer. If you’re retirement eligible (usually age 55, but it depends on your pension plan), you usually have the choice of starting your pension now (an immediate pension) or waiting until later (a deferred pension).

Starting your pension now may seem like a good idea if you’re out of work, but there’s a catch – your pension is usually reduced, often substantially, for early commencement. Here’s what you need to know when retiring early.

Earliest Retirement Date (ERD) vs. Earliest Unreduced Retirement Date (EURD)

Your ERD and EURD are two crucial dates you need to know before retiring early. Your earliest retirement date is the earliest age in which your pension plan allows members to retire. Early retirement can vary by plan – early retirement can be as early as age 45 in some plans and as late as age 60 in others.

How do you find out these two important dates? They should be found on your annual pension statement in your tombstone data (your name, date of birth, date of hire, date of membership, etc.). You can also find both dates on the pension package you receive when your employment ceases.

Your ERD and EURD can be the same, but often they’re different. While your ERD is the earliest age you can start your pension, your EURD is the earliest age you can start an unreduced pension. If your plan is less generous or you’ve only been with your employer for a short time, your EURD may be the same date as your Normal Retirement Date (NRD), when you’ve attained retirement age and you’re entitled to an unreduced pension.

Early retirement incentives offered by defined benefit plans today are typically a lot less common and generous than they used to be. In my article on the history of pensions, I mentioned that during the 1970’s, faced with a labour surplus, employers offered early retirement incentives to free up positions. In our current low interest rate environment, with many pensions severely underfunded, employers can no longer afford these early retirement subsidies for workers.

How Pension Reductions Work

Pensions are typically reduced based on two methods: the Early Retirement Factor (ERF) and the Actuarial Reduction (AR). The ERF is pretty straightforward – it’s a percentage reduced based on the difference between your NRD and your actual age. At Company ABC (a fictional company), your pension is reduced by 3 per cent per year for early commencement. If normal retirement is age 65 and you start your pension at age 57, your pension would by 24 per cent (3% X (65 – 57)). If your pension at NRD is $650 per month, it would be $494 ($650 X (1 – 0.24)) if you decide to start it at age 57.

The actuarial reduction (AR) is a lot more complicated and difficult to understand. The AR is the amount of pension decrease you receive calculated based on actuarial assumptions in case of early retirement. If you’re retiring from active status and you’re retirement eligible (you’ve reached your ERD), most pension plans give the better of the ERF and AR. In most cases the ERF offers the better reduction.

If you’re a deferred member, you left your employer before retirement age and you’re coming back years later to collect your pension when you’re retirement eligible, your reduction is usually based on the AR. If you’re not retirement age and you’re faced with the decision to take a lump sum payout or defer your pension, this is something to be aware of, as deferred members often have their pension reduced more than active employees when they start their pension early.

Unreduced Early Retirement

Defined benefit plans typically reward long-serving employees by offering them unreduced pensions at an earlier age. The points rule is common, where you’re offered an unreduced pension when you’ve attained a specific number of points. Not all plans have this provision; the number of points required also varies from plan to plan. Points are typically based on a combination of age and service.

At Company ABC, there is the “Rule of 85.” Your pension will be reduced for early commencement before age 65, unless you’re at least age 60 and you have 25 years of continuous service. For example, if you’re age 61 and you have 24 years of continuous service, you’ve reached the 85 points (61 + 24) that you need for an unreduced pension.

Hopefully you have a better understanding of early retirement. If you have a defined benefit pension plan at work, do you understand how early retirement works?

About the AuthorSean Cooper is a single, 20-something year old, first time home buyer located in Toronto. He has experience in the financial sector as a Pension Analyst, RESP administrator and Income Tax Preparer. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce in business management from Ryerson University. You can read some of his other articles here.

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