Let’s put the misinformation to bed once and for all (maybe). Members of Congress do not receive their pay for life. And if they do receive a pension, it typically does not exceed 45% of salary, often considerably less.
You may not be happy with Congress, but for the responsibility we place on its members and the risky nature of the job, they are not overpaid.
Members elected since 1984 are covered by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS). Those elected prior to 1984 were covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). In 1984 all members were given the option of remaining with CSRS or switching to FERS.
As it is for all other federal employees, congressional retirement is funded through taxes and the participants’ contributions. Members of Congress under FERS contribute 1.3 percent of their salary into the FERS retirement plan and pay 6.2 percent of their salary in Social Security taxes.
Members of Congress become eligible to receive a pension at the age of 62 if they have completed a total of 5 years of service. Members who have completed a total of 20 years of service are eligible for a pension at age 50, are at any age after completing a total of 25 years of service.
No matter their age when they retire, the amount of the members’ pension is based on their total years of service and the average of their highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
Can They Really Retire After Only One Term?
Those mass emails also claim that members of Congress can get a pension equal to their full salaries after serving only one term. That one is partly true but mostly false.
Under the current law, which requires at least 5 years of service, members of the House of Representatives would not be eligible to collect pensions of any amount after serving only one term, since they come up for reelection every two years.
On the other hand, U.S, Senators — who serve six-year terms — would be eligible to collect pensions after completing only one full term.
In neither case, however, would the pensions be equal to the member’s full salary.
While it is highly unlikely and has never happened, it is possible for a longtime member of Congress whose pension began at or near 80% of his or her final salary could — after many years of accepted annual cost-of-living adjustments — see his or her pension rise to equal his or her final salary.
Average Annual Pensions
According to the Congressional Research Service, there were 611 retired members of Congress receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of October 1, 2016. Of this number, 335 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $74,028. A total of 276 Members had retired with service under FERS and were receiving an average annual pension of $41,076 in 2016.Source: Salaries and Benefits of US Congress Members