Find out the basics about starting an occupational or personal pension. Discover what you need to look out for and how pension savings are tax efficient.
When planning how to provide for your retirement, there are several ways to put money aside:
1) Personal and stakeholder pensions benefit from Income Tax contributions you make (up to certain limits). That means every time you contribute to your pension pot, the taxman pays some tax in as well! Here's how it works:
Basic Rate Taxpayers
Your pension provider claims basic rate tax relief back from HM Revenue and Customs. You don't need to do anything.
So, for every £100 contribution you make, £125 will be added to your pension pot.
Higher/Additional Rate Taxpayers
Your pension provider claims basic rate tax relief back from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). However, the additional 20% or 25% that you pay is not claimed back automatically.
In both instances this reimbursement comes to you directly, not your pension provider. So, you'd need to either make an additional contribution to your pension as a one-off payment, or if you can afford to, make higher contributions throughout the year.
2) Investment gains made within your pension are also tax efficient because they are exempt from Capital Gains Tax and Income Tax.
3) When you come to take your pension, at the age of 55 or later, you have the option to take up to 25% of your pension pot as a tax-free lump sum. While pension contributions and growth aren't taxed, when you come to take an income from your pension, this will be subject to Income Tax in the same way as earned income
The best pensions allow you to hold a range of different investments. You can choose pension funds based on how much risk you want to take with your money and hold a number of different funds to spread your risk further across different types of investment and geographical areas.
Risk is an important part of deciding which funds to invest in within your pension. There are two main factors that will affect how much risk you wish to take:
Younger pension investors can usually take on more risk as their investments have longer to turn around if a loss is made early on. It's also the case that investments tend to perform better over longer periods of time. However, past performance is no guide for the future.
You should also consider splitting your contributions among several different funds with varying levels of risk, to minimise the chance of one badly-performing fund wiping a sizeable chunk off your pension.
The closer you are to retirement, the more you'll want to consolidate your pension pot into lower risk investments to protect it from making a loss.
As with any investment decision, it's important to take independent financial advice if you are in any way unsure of which pension or fund is best for you.
You can't access the money held in your pension pot until you reach your 55th birthday. You can take it any time after this. That's under current rules – it has already been announced that this will increase to 56 and then to 57 as life expectancies continue to rise.
However, it depends on your situation and character as to whether such a lack of flexibility is a good or bad thing...
If you are 55 or over and own your own home, you could consider using equity release to significantly boost your retirement income. You can normally release up to 40% of the value of your home and continue to live there, usually without having to make any repayments. Learn more or speak to an expert.
If you're worried about lack of flexibility in a pension it might be wise to look at keeping a pot of other savings, possibly in a cash ISA or equity ISA, that you can call upon if you have to.
An occupational pension simply means a pension plan that's offered through your employer. There are two types of occupation pension:
In both instances your employer helps by also making contributions to your pension - meaning you can build up a larger pot than if you were contributing alone. So if you don't join the scheme, you are effectively turning away extra money from your employer. However, the downside is that you are restricted to the pension scheme that your employer has chosen (although you may have a choice of funds if you are part of a money purchase scheme).
Employers now have to automatically enrol you in a pension scheme if you're not already a member, you earn more than £10,000 per year and are between 22 and state pension age.
Occupational pensions don't have to stop if you leave an employer – you can still contribute to a money purchase scheme after you leave. Although your previous employer's contributions will stop, your pension will continue to grow (depending on investment performance and charges), even if you are no longer contributing. You can transfer your pension too but remember that there may be fees for moving your pot to a new provider.
Transferring occupational scheme benefits is a complex decision and you should get advice from a specialist pensions adviser.
There's no such thing as a ‘frozen pension’. Even a pension you are no longer contributing to remains invested and is still subject to charges from the fund and pension provider.
Find out how to track lost pensions in our guide.
You may want or have to consider a personal pension instead or as well as your employer's pension. It doesn't matter if you're self-employed, a stay-at-home mum or dad, or even a child – anyone can start their own personal pension.
Even if you are employed, you might like to have a personal pension outside of work (you can have more than one pension provided your overall pension contributions are less than £40,000 per year), so you can decide which company your pension is with and get the most appropriate range of investments for your needs.
When choosing a personal pension, it’s important to shop around for the best deal. But what should you look out for when making a comparison?
If you are in any way unsure which pension or fund to invest in, you should seek independent financial advice.
Beware of companies that offer to let you release your pension pot tax-free.
Disclaimer: This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice.