The quarter is a bit like the “official currency” of the French retirement system, as it plays a key role in the calculation of most pensions. Thus, if you retire without having all your quarters, your basic pension will, as a general rule, not be calculated “at full rate”: it will suffer a reduction.
The number of quarters required to obtain this full rate depends on your year of birth. This is for example 167 quarters (i.e. 41.75 years), all basic pension plans combined, if you are from the 1959 or 1960 generations. The 2014 pension reform, known as Touraine, set a timetable for progressive extension of the number of quarters required, it resulted in 172 (i.e. 43 years) for people born in 1973 and after.
The latest pension reform, which came into force on 1er September 2023, however, accelerated this timetable by seven years. As a result, the 172 quarters will in fact finally be required from the 1965 generation.
All people born between 1er September 1961 and the end of 1972 were affected by this acceleration. For example, if you were born at the end of 1961 or in 1962, you will finally obtain the full rate with 168 quarters, instead of the 167 which were planned before this latest reform. If you are from 1963, you will need 170 quarters, two more than what was provided for by the Touraine reform. Generations 1965 or 1966? Your quota of quarters has been set at 172 (+3 compared to 2014).
The full rate can, however, be obtained without having the necessary number of quarters, from the “age of the automatic full rate”, also called “age of cancellation of the reduction”. This is 67 years in the general case, 65 years in certain situations, and these limits have not been modified by the latest pension reform.
A quarter is not a quarter
It remains to fully understand what we mean by “quarter”, and it is more complex than it seems.
First, you should know that many quarters count for the calculation of the liquidation rate of the basic pension, therefore for obtaining the famous full rate: the quarters contributed, of course, but also the quarters granted for periods sickness, unemployment, maternity, the quarters of increased insurance duration for children, those that you may have purchased from your plans, etc.
Above all, keep in mind that under the general scheme (the basic pension for private sector employees, traders and craftsmen), you do not acquire a quarter by working a quarter!
“It is the income that allows a quarter to be validated, not the length of time worked”, deciphers Françoise Kleinbauer, who heads the France Retraite consulting firm. Thus, in 2023, a gross income of 1,690.50 euros is enough to qualify for a quarter. Having contributed on the basis of at least 6,762 euros of income therefore allows you to have your four quarters (this is the maximum possible) for the year – and this, whether you have worked three months in the year or twelve months since 1er January.
With one exception: the last year of the career, the year of retirement, the quarters are counted normally. This is why if you retire on the 1ster August 2024, you will not be able to validate more than two quarters that year, even if you have earned the 6,762 euros. Attention, “among civil servants, it’s the opposite, quarters are counted in days”note Mme Kleinbauer.
Finally, we should not believe that a full pension is a full pension, without reduction. The terms are misleading, as is often the case when it comes to retirement. Let’s take the example of Barbara, a private sector employee born in 1960, waiting to turn 67, in 2027, to leave with the “automatic full rate”, despite missing five quarters.
Full rate and Agirc-Arrco pension
If the quarter is mainly the unit of account used to calculate basic pensions (with the exception of a few schemes), it also plays an important role in setting the Agirc-Arrco supplementary pension, for private sector employees. In fact, this suffers a definitive reduction if the person has not obtained their full rate basic pension. What discount? It is calculated depending on the number of quarters that separate you from your 67th birthday, or the number of quarters that you are missing to reach the quota required for your generation, the most favorable option being applied.
His basic pension will be calculated according to the following formula: 50% x SAM x proration coefficient. In this formula, 50% corresponds to the liquidation rate of a full pension.
The “SAM” is the average annual salary (calculated over the best twenty-five years of the career).
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As for the proration coefficient, often unknown, it is calculated on the basis of quarters validated under the basic regime. For Barbara, it will be 162/167 (i.e. 0.97), since she only has 162 quarters in this regime out of the 167 required for her generation. The pension will therefore not be “full”, even if calculated at the full rate of 50%. Watch out for words.