When should you take your Pension and Legacy Benefits?

As you know, former players are beginning to receive the “election” forms for the Legacy Benefit from the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Retirement Board and they will be making critical decisions about their benefits. The NFL Alumni Association has received a large number of phone calls with questions about this new Pension benefit. 

One of the most important questions that was asked – and the one that will help you the most in planning for your retirement – is “How is my Pension and Legacy Benefit affected if I take it early, or if I defer it until after age 55?” 

First, it is essential to know that you can only take the Legacy Benefit based on the new Legacy Credits if you are currently receiving your regular Pension. If you are not currently receiving your pension, then you were not notified about the Legacy benefit yet and you did not receive a letter from the Retirement Board.  If you want to take your Legacy Benefit based on Legacy Credits now, you need to apply for your other Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan benefits at the same time. 

Whether you are taking your Pension now or later, all vested players need to know certain information in order to make good decisions.  Also, as discussed below, it is important to know that the Legacy Benefit has two parts—a $600 Floor on the existing benefits, plus a new benefit based on Legacy Credits.  The $600 Floor will shortly be paid to those it affects who are now receiving retirement benefits, but the Legacy Credits benefit will not be paid until you apply for it. 

When you decide to take your Legacy Benefit, it will be actuarially adjusted using the same “Retirement Factor” that the regular Pension Plan uses in determining what your annual payout will be. The Retirement factor was not included in the recent letter and election forms that were sent out, but I have included it in this article. Keep in mind that the benefit payments are further adjusted depending on which “election” you decide to take. For example: Life Only Pension, Joint and Survivor Annuity etc. The total amount might also be adjusted if you took the “Early Payment Benefit.” 

If you have elected to take your Legacy Benefit, the Retirement Board letter will have a calculation of what your benefit will be depending on what election you decide to take. If you are not taking the Legacy benefit at this time, but would like to get a “projection” of what your Pension and Legacy benefit payment would be if you took it at a particular time, you should contact the Plan Office at 1- (800) 638-3186.  I suggest you write the Plan Office or e-mail them at lrose@nflpb.org if you intend to contact them in the near future because of the current heavy volume of calls about the Legacy Benefit elections. 

The NFL retirement plan defines normal retirement age as 55 years old, but many players begin drawing their pensions early. Retired players who left the League on, or after March 1, 1977 and have at least one credited season before 1993 may elect to receive benefits as of their 45th birthday. Those players can also apply for and receive an “Early Payment Benefit” – a 25% lump sum distribution of their pension. 

Players who begin drawing their NFL pension and their Legacy benefit before age 55 receive a reduced benefit because benefits are expected to be paid over a longer period and begin up to 10 years earlier. This is referred to as “early retirement”. For example, a player who begins drawing his pension benefits at age 45 would only receive 45.2% of the monthly benefit that he would receive if he waited to draw his NFL pension at age 55, but he would receive the benefit 10 years before he was 55 and for an additional 10 years (45 to 55). 

If a player waits until later than his 55th birthday to begin drawing his NFL pension, his monthly benefit will increase. This is known as “deferred retirement”. 

Here are the basics of how the “regular” NFL monthly pension benefit is calculated: 

(Sum of benefit credits) x (Early or deferred Retirement Factor) = Monthly pension benefit 

1. Find the sum of your benefit credits using the table below: 

Credited Season

Benefit Credit

Before 1982


1982 – 1992


1993 – 1994


1995 – 1996




1998 –


If you played from 1982 to 1985 the sum of your “regular” pension benefit credits would be calculated as follows: 

$250 + $255 + $255 + $255 = $1,015 

Here are the basics of how the Legacy Benefit is calculated: 

The Legacy Benefit consists of two parts: a $600 floor and an increase in Benefit Credits. 

$600 Floor:  A player who is receiving a retirement benefit as of August 1, 2011 will have his benefit increased to $600 if it is less, regardless of when it began or the form that was selected. 

The $600 floor for a player who was not receiving a retirement benefit as of August 1, 2011 will be adjusted if the player receives an Early Payment Benefit after August 1, 2011, and/or elects a Social Security form of benefit. 

Legacy Credits Benefit:  A player vested prior to 1993 will receive new Legacy Credits as follows: 

        $124 per Credited Season before 1975

        $108 per Credited Season from 1975 through 1992

A player may elect to receive the Legacy Credit benefit increase at any time that he is receiving or elects to receive his regular retirement benefit. If elected now, benefits will be paid retroactive to August 1, 2011.  If the Legacy Credit benefit begins at a later date, the benefit will be actuarially increased from the later of August 1, 2011 and age 55 to the date of payment.  The Legacy Credit benefit payment will be reduced if the player is younger than age 55 when the benefit begins. 

The $600 floor and the increase due to the Legacy Credits are determined as if there are no Qualified Domestic Relations Orders or liens affecting the player’s benefits.  The total increase is then allocated according to the terms of the order or lien, if any. 

2. Find your early or deferred “Retirement Factor” using the following table: 













































3.  Multiply the sum of your benefit credits by your early or deferred retirement factor. 

Using the “Retirement Factor”, here are is an example of how much the regular monthly Pension benefit can vary depending on when you decide to take your pension. If you played from 1982 to 1985 and begin taking your pension at: 

Age 45: $1,015 x 0.452 = $458.78 per month

Age 55: $1,015 x 1.000 = $1,015 per month

Age 60: $1,015 x 1.573 = $1,596.60 per month

Age 65: $1,015 x 2.619 = $2,658.29 per month 

Using the “Retirement Factor”, here is an example of how much the Legacy benefit can vary depending on when you decide to take that benefit. If you played from 1982 to 1985 and begin drawing your pension at: 

Age 45: $432 x 0.452 = $195.64 per month

Age 55: $432 x 1.000 = $432.00 per month

Age 60: $432 x 1.573 = $679.36 per month

Age 65: $432 x 2.619 = $1,131.40 per month 

If you are currently older than age 55, the deferred retirement factor for the Legacy Credit increase cannot be calculated from the above table because the increase is calculated based on your age as of August 1, 2011, not from age 55. 

Under this example, a player taking the Pension and Legacy Benefit at age 55 would receive a total monthly pension of $1,447.00, whereas a player taking the Pension and Legacy Benefit at age 65 would receive a total monthly pension of $3,789.69. 

The monthly benefit amounts listed above are for a “Life only pension”, meaning that an NFL player will receive his monthly benefit until he dies. There are other elections that you can take for both the Pension and the Legacy Benefit. Those options will be provided to you when you notify the Retirement Board that you would like to begin taking your pension. 

Many players with families elect to receive a form of NFL pension that has a survivor benefit. If a player elects to receive a pension with a survivor benefit then the amount of the monthly benefit will be reduced. If the player dies before his beneficiary, the beneficiary will continue to receive a benefit from the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan for a certain period of time. 

The information provided in this article is my best understanding and interpretation of what I have been told and what I have researched. It should not be considered official and that is why I urge all vested players to contact the Retirement Board for the exact amount of your benefits with respect to the Pension Plan and Legacy Fund.  

Only you can decide what is best for you and your family when it comes to the question of “When should I take my Pension and Legacy Benefits?” but if you can wait until age 55, or defer your retirement benefits to age 65 you will see a significant increase over the “early retirement” payments. 

The NFL Alumni Association will be providing additional information in a website video about the Pension Plan and Legacy Benefit, but in the meantime, please feel free to post a comment or ask a question here at the Jeff Nixon Report and I will do my best to get an answer for you as soon as possible. 


About Jeff Nixon

Jeff was a first team consensus All-American from the University of Richmond in 1978. He is 7th in NCAA history with 23 career interceptions. Played for the Buffalo Bills 1979-1984. Led the team with 6 interceptions in Rookie Year. Holds Bills record for 4 takeaways in a single game - 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tied Bills record with four consecutive games with an interception. After 5 knee surgeries Jeff retired from pro football in 1985. He worked for 13 years (1988-2000) as the Youth Bureau Director for Buffalo and Erie County. He has worked for the past 11 years as the Youth Employment Director for Buffalo. Plays guitar and was voted best R&B guitar player by Buffalo Nightlife Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Posted on January 14, 2012, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Absolutely GREAT information. Thank you Jeff. EVERY man who is considering taking his pension should be walked through this CAREFULLY. Sadly, it was not done before and it’s too late for 1,000’s trapped in difficult financial circumstances and living below dignified standards. As much as many of us are very (and properly) grateful for the recent improvements for our retirees and their families, so many questions remain.

    Thanks again. Let’s all get this information to as many men as we can!

  2. Michael C. McCoy

    Is someone able to help us understand who qualifies for the $600.00 floor plan? Is it based on what years a player played? This posting also says ” a beneficiary will continue to receive a benefit from the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan for a certain period of time. ” What is the period of time?

    Thank you

  3. The $600 floor is for those men are currently taking their Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle pension and due to having taken it early, have been receiving less than $600. It is not a part of the Legacy Benefit which is calculated separately and can figure out to less than $600 depending on the number of vested years. When calculating what is due to a retiree, be sure to follow the information above….they are two separate plans.

  4. Jeff:

    Once again, I would like to commend you, Bruce and the rest of your associates for making such a Herculean effort to keep all of us up to date on what’s happening where our pension plan and healthcare insurance are involved.

    That said, I’ve never run across anything as complicated as this Legacy Benefit Plan. Not even the IRS could concoct something this convoluted and confusing. Quite frankly, I think I’d pay $1,000 a month for someone to train me how to figure out how much I’m going to get paid in the months to come!

    Perhaps there’s an easier way to figure out what our added benefits will be: One thing I know is how much I receive per month today, which is a factor of my current age and when I began to receive retirement benefits. Isn’t there a way to take that figure and multiply it by some mathematical coefficient to arrive at our new monthly pension?

    Just a thought. In any event, keep up the good work.

    Lance Rentzel

  5. Has anyone recieved the legacy benefit yet? July 2011 was a long time ago!!!!
    Bob Davis

  6. Jeff,
    Has anyone ever run numbers to calculate, since it’s inception, whether the pension amounts have, including the legacy amounts, even kept up with normal cost of living increases. I would guess not. The active players salaries and comp have increased exponentially while the retirement plan has stayed pretty well stagnant. I know this is probably closing the gate on a dead horse but it would be interesting to know.

  7. Paul/Carol Ryczek

    my brother, Dan Ryczek, has received the Legacy forms. He is currently receiving his pension and I am not. I haven’t gotten the forms either, but I have the paperwork for my pension on my desk to send in and hopefully the Legacy forms will follow.
    I am one of those ‘nether’ landers: 59.5 years old, haven’t started my pension, but now, with the Legacy money available, it obviates the choice. Wasn’t what I was planning, but probably a good stimulus to start taking my money.

  8. Tom Beer- Denver-NE 1967-1973

    Jeff- Thanks again for the timely information regarding our impending Legacy Fund monthly payments. Let’s hope the NFLPA does the right thing and pays us our lump sum initial benefit retroactive from August 3, 2011. If my math is correct, we should be receiving February’s check PLUS 6 additional payments included from August thru January, 2012. Also, if you missed the press release, It was announced in late December that major TV networks signed an extension of their lucrative deal with the NFL for an additional 8 years. League income from this windfall is now estimate to be over 22 billion in 2021. What is interesting is that the NFLPA negotiated an increase in the active player cut from 50.5 percent to 55 percent with the new CBA. And what was negotiated for vested, retired players? Yes, you guessed it. ZEEEEEEERRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

  9. Question: If we elect “C” Qualified Optional Survivor Annuity ( 75% Perecentage to beneficiary” is my wife still need to sign the “Wife’s Consent” in section 4?

  10. Jeff,
    Thanks for your efforts to clarify the Legacy Credits.
    I think all we need to know now is the actuarial increases for those of us deferring our pensions; and whether the reductions for Legacy Fund survivorshiop benefits will match the Bert Bell Retirement Pension percentage adjustments.

  11. Thanks Jeff,
    I know the Benefit Office is slammed and this does offer some answers to the questions I had. I know they are working to have the distribution of the initial Legacy Benefits out as fast as the completed election forms are returned.

    Side Bar It’s quite sobering to read the list of NFL Brothers that has recently passed.

    Jim Pietrzak NY Giants, NO Xaints, KC Chiefs(74-84)

  12. Regarding the need for your wife to sign the election form……only if you are requesting less than 50% benefit to her or assigning benefits to another person. “By law” your spouse is entitled to 50% of your benefit and must show her acceptance of any other arrangement. If you have not previously requested benefits for a survivor…..such as your wife….you must submit a copy of that person’s birth certificate. The benefits office will process your form without it and your paymens will begin but if you do not comply within a reasonable period of time your benefits will eventually be interrupted until you do so.

    Also, the ONLY people who qualify as a beneficiary are your wife or immediate family as listed on the election form, no “friends”.

    Even though a number of people have already received their retroactive monies approximately one third of the retirees who qualify for the Legacy Benefit have not yet received their election forms. Everyone who gets through the phone tidal wave agrees the benefits office is truly doing their best to help and are very professional and as helpful as possible.

    As long as you’ve submitted your original paperwork, there is no need to “panic” about being overlooked. Remember, once your election form is processed, you will receive all money “due to you” from August 2011. Calling the NFL offices to check at this time will not expedite your position. I have been trying to assist (not in any official capacity) as many retirees and wives as possible to understand this process for about four weeks and Jon and I filled out the first form and faxed it back the very same day we received it…..and yet we have not received Jon’s election form yet either!

    (wife of Jon Arnett, Rams 57-63, Bears 64-66)

  13. Under the legacy fund, what is the amount of monthly benefits for a player who is past retirement age and is receiving total and permanent disability benefits under Burt Bell/Pete Rozelle Plan?

    • Ken:

      If you are receiving T&P bebenits, you are not eligible to “also” collect pension payments and the Legacy Benefit.

      I believe that if your Pension and Legacy Benefit would be more than what your current disability benefit is, you can choose to receive the higher of the two. I don’t know what your combined Pension and Legacy benefit are at this time (or would be at age 65), so I don’t know if they are (or would be) more than your current disability benefit payment.

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