How to File a Claim For Your Retirement Benefits

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If you have contemplated retiring and your desired date is drawing closer, hopefully you are aware of the timetable and how to file a claim for your retirement benefits. If you have participated in a pension plan, 401(k) or another employment-based retirement plan, following a few steps will explain your plan's obligations along with procedures and the timeline for filing a claim for your retirement benefits.

Know the law that protects your retirement benefits. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, ERISA, sets the standards for the people administering your retirement plan, including requirements for processing your benefit claim; a timeline for a claim decision; and the claimant’s rights, if a claim is denied.

Review the Summary Plan Description, SPD, before you are ready to file your retirement claim. Thus, you will understand your specific retirement plan's procedures. The SPD provides an overview of your retirement benefit plan, describing your benefits, the procedures for filing a claim and your rights and responsibilities when you do file your retirement claim. Review the SPD before you are ready to file. Request a copy of this document from your plan's administrator.

Know the SPD for your retirement benefit plan and ensure that you meet all eligibility requirements. For example, you must meet a certain age or years of employment before you can file your benefit claim. Understand what your plan requires to file, including where to file, what to file and contact information for any questions you have. There should be no charges to file a claim or filing fees for appeals. Be sure to record when you filed and retain copies of all forms submitted and any other correspondence.

Allow 90 days for the plan administrator’s decision on your claim. This is the standard evaluation time frame. If more time is needed, your plan administrator must notify you within those 90 days and include an explanation for the delay and the anticipated date you should receive the decision.

File an appeal within 60 days, if your claim is denied. Your denial notice should be in plain language, not legalese, list all the reasons for the denial and what plan provisions were used to make the decision. Retirement claims are denied for many reasons. For example, you are not old enough, you have not participated in the plan long enough or the administrator cannot make a decision without more information. If the latter is the case, the letter should specify the information needed and why this is necessary to decide on your claim. The denial notice must also clearly state how to submit an appeal. Gather all additional information and/or paperwork the denial letter specifies and any new evidence to support your claim. Send all information via certified mail to the specified person. Ensure the package is received with the allotted 60 days.

Expect a reply within 60 days. With few exceptions, this is the time frame for the plan administrator to review your appeal. If you are again denied, you will receive a written explanation. Included will be information about any additional appeal options and an explanation of your rights to seek legal review of the final decision. An additional option is to contact the EBSA, the Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration.


  • Before you begin actively planning your retirement, it is best to understand your benefit plan's specific policy for retirement qualifications and the process involved in filing a claim. This will help smooth your transition into retirement, providing you with your well-earned benefits.


  • ERISA does not cover all retirement plans.


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  • Hemera Technologies/ Images