The Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, commonly known as ERISA, provides federal guidelines for retirement and health plans to protect employees in private industries. Millions of Houston’s workers pay into their ERISA benefits every week. When they retire, they can reasonably expect to use those benefits to maintain their everyday lives.

ERISA places restrictions on when individuals can begin reaping the fruits of their labor through retirement funds. If you are itching to settle in and begin accessing your benefits, you may need to meet the requirements below before filing an ERISA benefits claim.

Federal restrictions on ERISA benefits

Federal law dictates three conditions for accessing benefits:

Terminating your employment – Whether you are removed from your position or you leave voluntarily, you meet this condition once you no longer provide a service for your employer.

Performing a decade of service – If you work for your employer for 10 years or more, you should be able to access your benefits as long as the other conditions are met.

Reaching retirement age – The federal government considers 65 as the typical retirement age, but your individual plan may have a different requirement. Check the requirements of your plan to make sure you prepare accordingly.

Benefits become accessible when the last of these three things happen. For example, if you are 66 years old, and you have been working for the same employer for 10 years, you should be able to access your benefits after terminating your employment. Plans typically allow you to access benefits within 60 days of the end of the plan year in which you satisfied the last requirement.

Exceptions to federal guidelines

If you are 50 years old, have been working for ten years and have recently terminated your employment, you may have a little while to wait before you can access your benefits. The good news in this last scenario is that your plan may vary. Some plans may contain provisions for early retirement or have retirement age requirements younger than the federal age.

401(k)s may make special provisions that allow individuals age 59.5 who have not yet left their job to access benefits. These benefit accounts may also provide access to your account balance as soon as you leave.

Additionally, phased retirement options give individuals the opportunity to work part-time at or near their specified age of retirement. This option allows retired individuals to access their benefits without entirely terminating their employment, which can help bolster their income.

Accessing your ERISA benefits can be confusing. Talk to an experienced retirement benefits professional to get a better understanding of when you can begin collecting the funds you have earned.