Pensions in a nutshell

Do you pay into a pension? It’s one of the most effective ways to build a secure future and that retirement lifestyle you crave.

Pensions in a nutshell

Do you pay into a pension? It’s one of the most effective ways to build a secure future and that retirement lifestyle you crave. With a pension you can save monthly and reap the benefits of tax relief and, if you have a workplace pension, employer contributions act as the cherry on top.

What is a pension?

A pension is a pot of money saved for your retirement. You build it up throughout your working life with monthly contributions. And so, when you eventually stop working, your pension acts as an income from which to live.

So that’s it?

Well, not quite. There are different types of pensions: A workplace pension is something that both you and your employer pay into.
If you’ve been in full-time employment, it’s likely you have one of these.

You’d have been automatically enrolled when you started working for that company, and your contributions are topped up by your employer to help grow your savings quicker.

A personal pension is something you may have set up yourself through a provider. There are different types of personal pensions, such as self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs), stakeholder pensions and individual personal pensions.

These work the same way as a workplace pension, except you don’t benefit from employer contributions. The State Pension is a little bit different.

If you’ve made enough National Insurance contributions over the course of your life you’ll receive an automatic weekly payment from the government once you reach retirement. It’s not enough to live on, though, so you should see it more like a supplement instead of an actual income. 

Read on to discover more about Workplace Pensions and the State Pension.

What’s so special about a workplace pension?

If you’re working at the moment – or have been employed any time in the last few years – you’ve probably got a workplace pension.

Your employer is obligated, by law, (as long as your eligible) to automatically provide a pension scheme to employees.

This is called ‘automatic enrolment’, and it means that everyone gets a future to look forward to. Workplace pensions are brilliant because it’s all done for you – no set up, no sign up, nothing. You’re automatically enrolled, and whenever you pay money in, your employer pays in too. And to top it all off, the tax you would have paid on it goes into your pension instead – this is called tax relief. So effectively a workplace pension is free money.

Most people’s workplace pension will be in the shape of something called ‘defined contribution’. This means that the money you have in the pot is dependent on how much you’ve paid in and how the investments have performed.

Some people will have a ‘defined benefit’ pension – where you’ll have an income for life based on your salary and length of service for a particular employer.

Are there rules I have to play by?

Kind of. In a ‘defined contribution’ pension, the minimum amount that you must pay in monthly is 8% of your total salary. This is made up of a 5% contribution from you, and a 3% contribution from your employer.

So, whilst you benefit from 8% of your salary invested each month, only 5% of it actually comes out of your pocket.

Can I contribute less if I want to?

The minimum you can contribute each month is 8% - but that’s a minimum. It’s possible – even encouraged – to pay more than that.

Saving roughly half of your age is a great guideline. For example, a 30-year-old would divide 30 by 2. That’s 15. Or we’ll call it 15%. That’s how much of your pre-tax income you should aim to pay into your pension each month. 

Because many employers will pay in more than the minimum requirement, it’s worth maximising their contributions. Some may even match your contribution, up to a certain amount.

What’s all this about investments?

Your pension doesn’t just sit there idly twiddling its thumbs while you get on with life. No.

It works in the background, unnoticed. Well, that is until you check in on how it’s doing.

Your pension is invested in companies, property, government bonds and cash.

Over time, these investments help your pension to grow – and with the added power of compound interest (where your investment returns are then re-invested), your money has a greater potential to grow.

Can I withdraw my pension?

Yes. That’s what it’s for! But only once you’ve reached 55 (or 57 from 2028).

There are different methods to taking your money, and your personal circumstances might demand using one method over another.

Some, for instance, allow you to withdraw it as a lump sum. Others pay out in instalments and remain invested so it grows during retirement. Regardless, 25% of the money you take will be tax-free.

With a defined benefit pension, you may be able to take some of its value as a tax-free lump sum, but this will depend on the rules of your scheme. The rest of the money will be paid to you as a guaranteed income for the rest of your life.

And what about the State Pension?

The State Pension is a weekly payment to supplement your retirement income. It is not designed to support you on its own.

To check whether you’re entitled to the State Pension, click here.

You can also learn how much you’ll receive. You’ll need to ensure you’ve made enough qualifying National Insurance contributions over the course of your life. These are called ‘qualifying years’. If not, you can always make up for them if you want to.

It's important to factor the State Pension into your future plans. It could be worth up to an extra £185.15 a week!

So, when do I start?

As soon as you can! The earlier the better. If you’re self-employed, consider setting up a personal pension as soon as possible.

You won’t benefit from employer contributions, so the longer your money is invested, the longer it has to perform.

If you’re employed, you’ll likely already have a pension – unless you’ve opted out. Make sure to work out how much you can afford to save each month and reap the rewards of employer contributions!

When it comes to pensions, it’s never too late. The earlier you begin to think about your retirement – and what you want out of it – the easier it will be to save sensibly.

So, what do you want out of your retirement?

Top pension tips!

Make a plan – work out how much you’re going to need to live comfortably in the future.

The PLSA website has developed some guidelines to help with this.

Find out how much your employer is willing to pay and take full advantage of their help.

Check your State Pension – this is an important part of your future income. Track down any forgotten pension pots – there’s £19 billion sitting in forgotten pots! Some of this could be yours.

Pension Awareness Live is supported by Money Helper.

If you would like a web chat to talk about pensions, you can go to the Money Helper website by clicking the link below:

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