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Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO)


The Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO) is a financial term typically used in pension accounting. It represents the present value of all future pension benefits earned up to date by an employee, using estimated future salary levels. It considers future raises and changes in benefits and thus is the most accurate estimate of a company’s pension liability.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO)” is:Projected – /prəˈjektəd/Benefit – /ˈbenəfət/Obligation – /ˌäbləˈgāSH(ə)n/PBO – /ˌpiː biː ˈoʊ/

Key Takeaways

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  1. PBO is a calculation: The Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO) is an actuarial measurement of what a company anticipates as the present value of its liabilities concerning its pension plan. It essentially calculates the amount a company will have to pay out to its employees in retirement benefits.
  2. Variables affecting PBO: Various variables can affect the calculation of PBO, including retirement age, employee turnover, compensation growth rate, mortality rate, and the discount rate used to present value future pension payments.
  3. Impact on financial statements: A higher PBO will generally result in increased pension expense on the income statement, and a larger pension liability on the balance sheet. Therefore, it’s important for investors to understand a company’s PBO as it can significantly impact its financial performance.

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The Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO) is a critical concept in business and finance as it estimates the present value of pension liabilities, providing an assessment for a company’s pension plan obligations. It takes into account expected future salary increases and is therefore a vital indicator of a company’s financial health. If a company’s PBO is higher than its pension plan assets, the company may face a pension deficit, which can raise concerns about its ability to meet future obligations. Understanding PBO helps companies plan their finances, investors evaluate the risks, and affects the decisions of various stakeholders. Therefore, the accurate calculation and analysis of PBO is paramount for ensuring financial transparency and sustainability.


The Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO) serves an essential purpose in the management of corporate pensions and overall financial planning. It is the actuarial present value of all benefits earned by employees to date, inclusive of assumed salary increases in future years. Essentially, the PBO predicts the total amount a company will need to meet its future pension obligations, and takes into account expected future working lifetime, promotions, and cost-of-living adjustments. By estimating these future payouts, businesses can better allocate financial resources and determine their long-term obligations to their employees.Additionally, the PBO aids both the company and its stakeholders in determining the fiscal health and responsibility of a corporation. For instance, if a company’s PBO exceeds the fair value of plan assets, it may signal a deficit and raise questions about the company’s ability to meet its future obligations. Moreover, the PBO can influence investor decisions, as large unfunded obligations may negatively impact a company’s stock prices. Thus, in a broader context, the PBO aids in fostering financial transparency and accountability in managing a company’s pension liabilities.


1. IBM Corporation Retirement Plan: As of the end of 2020, IBM disclosed their Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO) which was approximately $90 billion. This estimate incorporates the expected future service and salary increases of their employees. It provides the company as well as investors an outline of the future pension obligations of IBM. This has influenced their financial management strategies, including investing in bonds that align well with the timeline of their PBOs.2. General Motors: After the financial crisis of 2008, General Motors went through a tough financial phase and had to reconfigure its pension plans. As part of this, the company disclosed its PBO in its financial statements. It showed an increase in the obligation due to a rise in workforce and adjustments in the plan’s benefits structure. GM had to allocate more resources toward meeting this growing obligation, impacting its business decisions and long-term financial planning.3. Delta Air Lines: Delta Air Lines, like many other firms, offers a defined benefit plan for their employees. The calculation of its Projected Benefit Obligation depends on various factors, such as the average lifespan of its employees, salary increases over time, and expected rates of return. Delta takes into account these factors in making key business decisions, such as whether to divert profits into meeting these obligations or invest in expanding business operations. Over the years, the fluctuation in Delta’s PBO has been significant, affecting the airline’s overall financial health.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO)?

Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO) is an actuarial measurement of what a company anticipates owing its employees in the form of pension benefits. This projection takes into account salary increases and is therefore a higher estimate than the accumulated benefit obligation.

How is PBO calculated?

The PBO is calculated using several factors including the life expectancy of employees, potential salary increases, potential workforce reductions, and the time value of money. It requires assumptions about future events, hence the calculation may vary over time as these assumptions change.

What is the difference between PBO and Accumulated Benefit Obligation (ABO)?

While both PBO and ABO are measures of a company’s pension obligations, they differ in their considerations. ABO only considers the current salary level without anticipating future salary increases. On the other hand, PBO includes estimates of future salary increases, making it a superior estimate of pension obligation if the company anticipates significant salary growth.

How does PBO affect a company’s financial statements?

PBO is a company’s estimated pension liability, hence, it impacts the liabilities section on a company’s balance sheet. If PBO is higher than the fair value of plan assets, the company reports a net defined benefit liability. If it’s lower, a net defined benefit asset is reported.

Why is the PBO projection important?

The PBO is essential as it helps a company forecast its future pension obligations. It provides insights into the amount a company should invest in their pension fund today to meet its future obligations, thereby aiding in stronger financial planning.

Can PBO change over time?

Yes, PBO can change over time based on factors like changes in actuarial assumptions, modifications to the pension plan, and actual experience differing from expectations. For instance, if salaries increase more than estimated, the PBO might be higher than initially projected.

How often should companies calculate PBO?

Although there is no strict rule, it is typically advisable for a company to calculate their PBO annually. Regular calculation helps determine if the company is on track to meet its pension obligations.

Related Finance Terms

  • Actuarial Assumptions
  • Defined Benefit Pension Plan
  • Present Value of Projected Benefit Obligation (PBO)
  • Actuarial Gains and Losses
  • Accumulated Benefit Obligation (ABO)

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