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What Is Pension Law?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2016
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Pension law is the body of national laws or regulations that defines how pension benefits can accrue, how they can be distributed, and the conditions on which they can be reduced or ceased. Each country has its own set of pension laws. Some relate only to government-issued pensions, while others control the conditions of any defined pension plan, no matter where it originates.

As far as retirement benefits go, pension plans are some of the most relied upon. Pensions are essentially monthly payments that retirees receive either from their employer or their government once they stop working. Payments are not usually as high as the retiree’s paycheck would have been, but they are usually enough to survive on. Pensions are the only means of retirement income for many people, which is why governments usually have a vested interest in protecting them with pension law.

In the United States, pensions are available primarily for employees of federal or state government entities. Some private employers also offer pension benefits, but not all do. Any pension promised or paid by an American company or government agency must comply with the United States’ Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA is the governing pension law in the US.

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Things work a bit differently in Europe. Many European countries provide pensions to their retired citizens as a matter of right. These pensions are funded not by an employer or individual government agency, but by a nationalized pensions office. Pension law in these countries is less concerned with how pensions are provided and controlled as it is with ensuring that pensions are uniform, legitimate, and funded.

Still, all the world’s pension laws have at least one thing in common in that they are all designed to protect pensions. Pension laws address how pension administrators must store pension money. They set terms for fund indexing, and place restrictions how pre-distribution money can be invested and saved in anticipation of payout. How pensioners receive notice of their plan participation options, how changes and conversions can be made to pensions, and how distributions must be made also factor in.

Pension laws usually also set out the terms upon which pension payments can be reduced or withdrawn. If a company goes bankrupt, for instance, the governing pension law should outline what happens to pensions, both promised and ongoing, and any mandatory pension protections that need to be in place to prevent widespread loss. The same is true with respect to situations of financial crisis, including government cutbacks or budget shortfalls. A pension law is as much a set of rules as it is guidebook for situations that can be enormously complex.

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