What is a 'Current Service Benefit'

A current service benefit represents the amount of pension benefit accrued by an employee who actively worked during a given time period. The current service benefit, when added to the prior or earned service benefit, represents the total value of an individual’s pension at any given time.

BREAKING DOWN 'Current Service Benefit'

A current service benefit accounts for the pension benefit earned by an individual under the current pension plan over a given period of time. Pension plans require employers to invest enough funds to make payments to their workers in the future, after they have retired. Under defined-contribution plans, employers simply set aside a specific amount of money per paycheck in a pension fund. The employee’s eventual benefit will depend upon the performance of the fund. With defined-benefit plans, however, employers must make a series of calculations based upon actuarial assumptions and market movements in order to ensure the amount they invest will eventually cover the amount promised to workers.

To calculate the total value of an employee’s expected retirement benefit at any point in time, an employer must perform a calculation based upon actuarial assumptions and a combination of the employee’s age, length of service and earnings over time with the company. The current service benefit encompasses an employee’s service to the company during the time between a set date and present, such as the current calendar or fiscal year.

Calculating Total Pension Benefit

Employers may adjust the formula used for calculating an employee’s current benefit over time. For example, the employer may increase the percentage of an employee’s earnings it uses to calculate future pension benefits to reward longevity. The current service benefit at any given time reflects only the formula currently in use to calculate benefits. Benefits earned prior to the current period may require calculation via a different formula.

Prior service benefits include pension benefits earned by the employee before the start date of the current period. Adding the accumulated prior service benefits to the current service benefit yields the amount of an employee’s expected pension benefit if they were to retire immediately.

Accounting Challenges

Defined-benefit pension plans require complex accounting. Employers must make current investments sufficient to cover future outflows. Actuarial assumptions provide a forecast with regard to employees’ projected life expectancy, all of which helps an employer to develop a reasonable formula to determine an employee’s benefits and to decide how much of an investment the company needs to make in a given year to ensure the fund stays solvent. Companies must cover any shortfall between amounts owed to retirees and funds available. Many plans also allow employees to choose between annuitized distributions and a lump sum, further complicating predictions for future cash flows into and out of the pension fund.

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