Your sunset years may seem far off, but we promise, the earlier you start saving for them, the more you’ll thank yourself later. So, how do you get started? Here’s the lowdown.
What actually is a pension?
First things first, you might be wondering what a pension actually is. It’s basically a savings pot that you (ideally!) pay into regularly throughout your working life. You can then access those pension savings when you hit a certain age, to help tide you over during retirement.
There are 3 main types of pensions…
- Personal pension. A personal pension, is one that you set up yourself. It’s what you’ll need if you’re self-employed, but it’s also a great idea if you’re employed too.
- Workplace pension. A workplace pension scheme is a pension that your employer sets up for you. You contribute a percentage of your earnings each month (at least 5%), and your employer then tops that up themselves (they have to add at least 3% from their own pocket). Not bad!
- State Pension. The State Pension is a weekly payment you can get from the government when you reach a certain age, currently 66. At the moment, the full State Pension is £185.15 a week. It may not sound like much, but the good thing is that you can get it on top of your workplace pension (and on top of your personal pension if you have one). So it’s a nice extra!
You can have as many workplace pensions and personal pensions as you want. And you can receive money from them all on top of your State Pension too. So, if you’re not thinking about starting a pension yet, why not?!
If you’re ready to get started right away – check out our best pension providers.
Note: a workplace pension and a personal pension are both called private pensions – they’re in your name. Whereas the State Pension is a public pension.
Let’s get technical for just one minute, when we’re talking about pensions, we mean defined contribution schemes, which are pension plans where you have control over your contributions, investment options and how to take the money when you retire.
There’s also defined benefit schemes, which are less common and only offered by a few employers, such as the NHS. And they pay a set amount of money every year when you retire. You can’t open these yourself.
Anyway, let’s dive into the good stuff.
Why is it good to start a private pension?
You don’t need to start a personal pension. There are no laws telling you to. But trust us, it’s a really good idea to have one – even if you already have a workplace pension and you qualify for the State Pension. Here are the main reasons why.
1. Boost your retirement income in old age
First things first, the State Pension is not that much. It’s a nice extra to have on top of other pensions, but if you had to live on just £185.15 per week, you’d probably struggle.
By starting a personal pension, you can set goals for how much you want to be able to live off when you're older, and then make sure that you’re saving enough to be able to maintain your lifestyle in your sunset years.
It just gives you that control and flexibility you need to make sure your pension pot is working for you. We promise, you’ll thank yourself later!
2. Get the best deal
Second, even though workplace pensions are great, you can maximise your retirement income when you’re older by getting a personal pension as well. Why?
Well, your employer will set your workplace pension up for you. While that has its plus side, it does mean you’re probably not going to end up on the best-performing pension scheme or the one with the cheapest fees.
Lots of employers just take the easy route and use the National Employment Savings Trust (Nest) pension scheme, which was set up by the government.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s absolutely fine. But when you put your money in a pension, it gets invested by experts who know how to make your money into more money.
The Nest pension scheme and lots of other workplace pension schemes are typically quite low-performing which means your money probably won’t grow very much or very fast.
On the other hand, if you start a personal pension, you can take your pick from all the pension providers out there (pension providers are the guys that give out pensions).
That means you can choose the best-performing provider with the cheapest fees, meaning your pension savings should increase way more than they would with just a regular savings account. Awesome!
3. Get tax benefits
Now for some really good news. Any money you put into your personal pension will come with a lovely government bonus because of this amazing thing called tax relief.
Let us explain. To reward you for saving up for retirement, the government won’t charge you tax on any money you put into your pension.
That means any tax they take out of your earnings will be refunded straight back into your pension pot, boosting your pension savings. Kerching! They call this ‘tax relief’.
If you’re a basic-rate taxpayer (meaning you earn less than £50,270 per year), you’ll get 20% tax relief.
That means if you pay £80 into your pension pot, the government will add in £20 to turn it into £100.
If you’re a higher-rate taxpayer (or additional-rate), earning over £50,270 per year, the bonus you get from the government will be even higher – you’ll get 40% or 45%, depending on how much tax you are paying.
What this means is that starting a pension is a brilliant way of reducing your tax bill now as well as saving for later in life.
Your pension savings are also completely tax-free as they grow. There’s no Capital Gains Tax, Income Tax or Dividend Tax to pay on investments within your pension pot. That means your money can grow a lot faster.
4. Control & flexibly
With an employer pension, you’ll need to pay a minimum of 5% of your salary into your pension pot every month. But the great thing about a personal pension is that you can pay as much or as little into it as you fancy. There are no rules!
Well, there are a couple of rules:
- You can’t pay in more than your total annual income, or more than £40,000 per year (in total across all your private pension pots). If you do, you’ll have to pay more tax.
- And there’s a lifetime allowance, which is £1,073,100, which you can save tax-free. Any more than that, you’ll pay more tax when you withdraw it. Learn more about the pension lifetime allowance.
Anyway, back to the details. Don’t fancy setting up a monthly payment? No problem! You can just pay in a little bit every now and again when you have some spare cash.
Want to pay into your pension regularly but don’t have much cash to spare? Fine! Why not just pay in £10 per month? Sure, it’s probably not going to give you much to live on when you retire, but it’s better than nothing and you can always up your contributions once you start earning a bit more money.
Of course, if you have a pension pot that you don’t feel like paying into anymore, that’s not an issue either. Even if you don’t pay anything more in, your money should still keep growing as it continues to be invested. Nice!
And, if you do have lots of different pensions with loads of previous employers, you can merge them all into one personal pension, called consolidating your pension, and have a clearer view of how much you have, and more control over where your money is being invested. Plus, you might benefit from cheaper fees having more money in one pension pot.
5. If you’re self-employed
Now, we keep saying how starting a pension is a good idea for everybody, but it’s especially important if you’re self-employed. Why? Well, if you’re self-employed, you won’t have an employer to set up a workplace pension for you!
That means unless you set up a personal pension yourself, you’ll be left relying on just the State Pension in your old age. Remember, that £185.15 per week we told you about? Of course, that’s assuming you qualify for the State Pension, which not everybody does. More on that in a bit!
Anyway, setting up a personal pension is the best way of making sure you’re preparing yourself for retirement. It can be tempting to think you’ll be able to keep working forever, especially if you run your own business and you love what you do. But the truth is, it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen in your old age, and it’s best to be prepared for every eventuality.
Even if you do keep working long past retirement age, you can still take income from your personal pension (currently you can start taking money from your personal pension from the ripe old age of 55, although it’s rising to 57 from 2028). So, if nothing else, look at it as a treat you can look forward to when you’re older!
When should you start a pension?
Now! We mean it… no matter how young you are, you should start a pension as early as possible. Trust us, the earlier you start, the easier it will be to save up a decent amount for when you retire.
This is because of two main things…
1. Small contributions add up
If you start saving with only a few years to go before retirement, you’ll need to contribute quite a lot to your pension each month to give yourself enough to live on when you retire.
But if you start in your 20s, you’ve got loads of time. That means you can contribute smaller amounts over a longer period of time, without overstretching yourself.
2. Compound interest
The longer you leave your money sitting in your pension pot, the longer it has to keep growing and making you more money. This is known as compound interest.
For example, if you invest £1000 in your pension’s first year and you make a 5% return, which is £50, you’ll then have £1,050 going into your second year.
Let’s say you make 5% again the next year, your £1,050 now makes £52.50, so you now have £1,102.50, and this carries on every year, plus you are adding to it too! This is how you can start to grow a small figure into a large amount over time.
If you continue that for say, 45 years, and if you were adding £100 per month to your pension, you’d have a massive £212,000 when you retire!
It’s true that retirement might seem like a long way off right now. But it will creep up on you quicker than you think! By starting a pension now, you’ll be able to put money aside for later on in life without worrying or overstretching yourself.
What age can you start a pension?
A keen young-un are you? Great! You can start a pension from the age of 18. And we highly recommend it. Imagine how big your pension pot will be by the time you retire! Get saving!
You’ll have to start a personal pension unless you’re working, in which case your employer should set you up a pension through something called auto-enrolment, which means they’ll open a pension unless you opt-out.
If you don’t have an income, you can make contributions of up to £2,880 per year, and you’ll get a government bonus of £720 too! So a total of £3,600.
Here’s where to find the right personal pension for you.
How to start a private pension
Luckily, starting a personal pension has never been easier. A whole host of awesome pension services have sprung up to reinvent the world of pensions and make it super easy for people like you and us to save for our sunset years. Hooray!
Here’s all you have to do.
1. Pick a private pension provider
First things first, you’ll need to choose a private pension provider. They’ll manage everything for you, and invest your money safely and securely so it grows over time. Providers can vary over the service they offer and the fees they charge.
Don’t worry if that all sounds complicated. We’ve picked out the best private pension providers for you.