Increasing pension contributions: how & why

Fact checked icon
Fact Checked.
Updated on
July 16, 2022

In a nutshell

It’s a great idea to pay more into your pension so you can enjoy retirement. Your employer might match your contributions if you pay more into your workplace pension (free money!). If not, a personal pension is super easy to set up online, and you'll get a 25% bonus from the government.

Nutty

If you have a pension through work, known as a workplace pension, it’s not just you who has to contribute. Your employer legally has to boost your savings for retirement by paying into your pension themselves too. Kerching!

But what happens if you want to save more for retirement? Is upping your pension contributions a good idea? Well, it’s always a good idea to put aside as much as you can afford for retirement. But depending on your agreement with your employer, you might be better off starting your own personal pension instead of paying more into your workplace one. It’s super easy!

What does increasing pension contributions mean?

If you’re employed by a company, the chances are you have a workplace pension – that’s one that’s set up for you by your employer.

If you have a workplace pension, you have to contribute at least 5% of your earnings to your pension every month. That might sound like a lot, but the more you contribute to your pension, the more financially secure you’ll be in retirement. So, you’ll thank yourself later!

increase-pension-contributions

Increasing pension contributions is when you choose to put more than the required 5% into your pension each month. So, for example, you might choose to contribute 6% or even 7% of your income instead. This is technically known as ‘making additional voluntary contributions.’

Why increase pension contributions?

We know, we know, nobody likes paying more than they have to. But adding more money into your pension is one area where it really pays off. For one, the more you pay into your pension, the more money you’ll have to live off when you retire. And there are tax benefits that come with putting money into a pension too (we’ll tell you all about those in a bit!). 

But one BIG reason for making additional voluntary contributions is to do with your employer’s contributions.

Let us rewind for a moment. Remember how we said that you have to pay at least 5% of your earnings into your pension each month? Well, you’re not the only one contributing to your pension. Your employer also has to contribute at least 3% of your income from their own pocket. Get in!

Workplace pension

The key here is ‘at least.’ While all employers have to contribute 3%, some very nice employers will choose to contribute more. Often, they’ll do this to attract top talent to their companies. 

It normally comes in the form of matching your contributions. In other words, if you pay 5% into your pension each month, your employer will pay 5% too. But if you pay 7% into your pension each month, your employer will also contribute 7%.

If you’re one of the lucky employees who have an employer like this, increasing your pension contributions is pretty much a no-brainer. The more money you pay into your pension, the more free money you get from your employer’s pocket!

When should you not increase pension contributions?

Firstly, not all employers are lovely enough to match your contributions. Most employers will only contribute the minimum 3% to your pension, which means you won’t get all that lovely free money by making additional voluntary contributions. Doh!

Similarly, most workplaces that do match their employees’ contributions will put a cap on it. For example, they might say that the maximum they’re willing to contribute to your pension is 12%. If that’s the case, then upping your contributions beyond this won’t unlock more free money either!

Don’t get us wrong, it’s still a good idea to pay more into a pension if you can. But instead of increasing contributions to your workplace pension scheme, in this case, we’d recommend starting a personal pension instead – that’s a pension that you set up yourself.

We love personal pensions because they give you more control over saving for your retirement. Workplace pensions are great and it’s super convenient letting your employer set one up for you. But your employer is unlikely to spend time hunting for the best-performing pension providers with the cheapest fees for you (pension providers are the companies that give out pensions).

With a personal pension, you can find the best pension provider for you, which normally means you’ll end up with someone who can grow your money much faster. Plus, you’ll have the flexibility to save how you want. Unlike a workplace pension, you won’t have to invest a set amount of money each month – you can contribute as much or as little as you like, even making small one-off payments if that’s what’s best for your bank balance!

So, increasing your workplace pension contributions is a great shout while you’re unlocking more free money from your employer. But if you have additional income you want to add to a pension and you’ve maxed out your employer’s contributions, you’re much better off starting a personal pension alongside your workplace one. That way, you get the best of both worlds!

Benefits of paying more into your pension

It’s always a good idea to put as much money into your pension as you can comfortably manage – no matter whether that’s through increased pension contributions or by setting up a new personal pension. Here are the main benefits of upping the amount you put into those pension pots.

1. Tide yourself over later on in life

You know that rule that says you have to contribute at least 5% of your income to your workplace pension each month? Well, that doesn’t take into account your personal circumstances at all!

Let’s say you start a pension at 40 and you want to retire at 60. That gives you 20 years to save for retirement. On the other hand, if you start a pension at 20 and you want to retire at 60, you’ll have 40 years to save for retirement! So, if you start a pension later, you’ll probably need to put aside a bit more each month in order to save the same amount before you retire.

Similarly, the 5% rule doesn’t take into account your plans for retirement. Some people might not mind cutting back on luxuries in their sunset years, but if you want to live your retirement years to the max (cruises around the Caribbean anyone?!) then you might want to squirrel away a bit more.

Ultimately, the more money you manage to put aside for your retirement, the more comfortably you’ll be able to live when you’re old and grey. As a general rule of thumb, you’re normally advised to save enough so that you have 50% to 66% of your current salary to live off each year when you retire. If you earn £30,000 per year now, that would mean saving enough to pay yourself between £15,000 and £20,000 per year in retirement.

That said, we know that saving up that much can be daunting – especially if you have lots of outgoings, like kids to provide for. Ultimately, the best advice we can give you is to put aside as much as you can manage without overstretching yourself now – you can always up your contributions later down the line. It’s all about working out what’s best for you.

2. Tax benefits

Perhaps our favourite thing about pensions is this amazing thing called tax relief. 

Tax relief refers to the fact that the government doesn’t charge you tax on any income you put into your pension. Happy days! This is all because they want to encourage you to save up for retirement (so they don’t have to support you when you’re older!).

How you get this lovely tax relief is different for workplace pensions and personal pensions.

  • Workplace pensions. The government won’t take any tax off the money you’re planning on putting in your workplace pension. This is because your employer will tell them how much you’re going to put into your pension in advance.
Workplace pension tax relief
  • Personal pensions. Your income will be taxed as usual as the government won’t know how much money you’re planning on putting in your pension in advance. However, once you put money into your pension, any tax you’ve overpaid will be refunded straight into your pension pot.
Private pension tax relief

Either way, you’re basically getting the same thing. With a workplace pension, tax relief is a great way of reducing your tax bill. And if you have a personal pension, that nice government bonus will refund you the tax you’ve paid.

If you have a personal pension and 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 a £20 bonus to turn it into £100. Kerching!

But if you’re a higher-rate taxpayer, you’ll get an even bigger bonus to make up for the fact that you pay more tax. You can get 40% tax relief on any income you’ve paid 40% tax on. Or, if you’re an additional rate taxpayer (someone who pays 45% tax), you can even get some tax relief at 45%. Nice!

3. Compound interest

We bet you’ve heard the phrase ‘every little helps.’ And with pensions, it’s absolutely true. Small contributions to your pension pot really can add up over time. This is all thanks to something called ‘compound interest,’ or ‘compounding interest.’

When you leave your money sitting in a savings account like a pension, it will grow as the investments increase in value or you earn interest (interest is a payment you can get for leaving your money sitting in savings accounts). Compound interest refers to the fact that this extra money you’ve made on your savings will also grow, so your money is making more money.

Mind boggled? Don’t worry, we’ll break it all down here.

Imagine you start a pension right now and you invest £1,000 this year. Let’s say you make a 5% return (that’s £50). That means that in just one year, your £1,000 has turned into £1,050 without you doing anything at all. 

Now imagine you make a 5% return in your second year as well. That’s 5% of £1,050, which means altogether you now have £1,102.50 (your money has increased by £52.50 instead of just £50 like it did the previous year). 

Your money will keep growing like this every year, on top of all the money you add to your pension yourself. It might not look like a big increase to start with, but if your money keeps growing like this for 25 years and you add £300 per month too, you’ll end up with £184,134.20! So, adding small amounts to your pension regularly really can make a difference.

Compound interest

How to increase pension contributions

Increasing your pension contributions can unlock more contributions from your employer (if they agree to match your contributions!) and help you save more for your sunset years. But how do you do it?

Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that it couldn’t be easier. And we mean it! All you have to do is tell your employer what percentage of your earnings you want to contribute to your pension each month.

Your employer will then sort everything out for you, arranging for your additional voluntary contributions to be collected from your monthly earnings and making sure that the taxman reduces your tax bill accordingly. It’s as easy as that!

How to start a personal pension

If your employer won’t match your pension contributions, or you’ve already maxed out your employer’s contributions, you’re best off starting your own personal pension.

Remember, by starting a personal pension rather than increasing your workplace pension contributions, you get your pick of pension providers. That means you’ll be able to choose a provider with low fees and a great track record of making money grow. And you’ll get control over your savings too!

Here’s how to start a personal pension.

How to start a private pension

1. Find a pension provider

The first step is to choose a pension provider (the company who looks after your pension). Pension providers all offer similar things, but some will spend more time trying to grow your money than others. And some will charge you higher fees than others will too! So, you should spend some time deciding which one looks right for you.

If you’re not sure where to start, we love the modern pension providers that are making it easier to save for retirement. They tend to have handy apps for your phone, so you can keep track of your money and watch it grow. And they often have cheaper fees to boot! Here are our favourites.

Trophy icon
Best overall

PensionBee

PensionBee are leading the way with modernising pensions. The investment options are great for many pension savers, it’s an awesome app and website, which are both easy to use, and have tools and charts to show you how your money is growing – and importantly, how to hit your retirement goals.

It's easy to set up and get going, you can start a brand new pension, or simply transfer your existing pensions across.

You’ll pay one simple fee that decreases the more you save.

Fees: low (0.5% to 0.75%) for their core plans

Rating

PensionBee rated 5 stars

Our friends at PensionBee are giving our readers a £50 pension contribution when they sign up with Nuts About Money too, just use the button below to get started.

Capital at risk.

Trophy icon
Simple and easy

Penfold

Originally built for the self-employed – for you! Penfold is a great app to get you going, with simple pension fund options to choose from and awesome features on the app to view your money at any time. Plus simple tables and charts to work out how much you should be investing to hit your retirement goals.

You don’t need an existing pension to use it, but if you do have one, or a few, you can move those overs too.

Fees: low (0.75% or 0.88%)

Rating

Penfold rated 5 stars

Trophy icon
Best overall

Moneyfarm

Moneyfarm is like a financial advisor on your phone (or website), their experts will work with you to determine the best investment strategy. It’s low cost, with an excellent investment track record and great customer service.

You’ll pay one simple fee that decreases the more you save.

Rating

Moneyfarm rated 5 stars

2. Choose a pension plan

Now your pension provider will help you pick a plan. Normally, they’ll just ask you a couple of questions to help you choose how your money will be looked after and how much you’ll pay for the pleasure.

Often, your plan will be dictated by how old you are and when you plan to retire. But our favourite providers have other options too, like only investing your money in ethical or socially responsible companies. 

Obviously, we love these plans as there’s nothing quite like knowing you’re saving the world and saving for retirement at the same time! PensionBee, Penfold and Moneyfarm all have options like these for you to choose from. You can find the best personal pensions here too.

3. Start saving!

Now you’re all signed up, there’s only one thing left to do: start paying into your pension!

Some personal pension providers will ask you to pay a minimum contribution each month. But most are really flexible and will let you pay as much or as little as you choose. 

You can set up a direct debit to pay in regularly. Or you can just add in a little bit every now and then when you have some cash to spare. It’s totally up to you!

Remember, it’s sensible to put aside as much as you can afford to, as this will make life easier for you when you’re old and grey. But at the same time, you won’t be able to access any money you pay into your pension until you’re at least 55. So, it’s important that you don’t overstretch yourself either – you need to be able to live well now as well as later on in life! It’s all about finding the right balance for you.

Is there a limit to how much you can increase pension contributions? 

So, you can add as much as you want to your pension. But if you want to be able to benefit from that lovely tax relief we told you about, there are limits.

The maximum you can add to your pension while still benefiting fully from tax relief is £40,000. This is known as the ‘annual allowance’ and is set by the government. 

However, there’s also this rule: if you can somehow manage to put all your income into a pension, you’ll only be entitled to tax relief up to the amount you earn that year. In other words, if you earn £30,000 this year, the maximum you can put in your pension (while still claiming tax relief on the whole thing) is £30,000. Or, if you earn £25,000 per year, the maximum is £25,000 (unless you didn’t max out on your contributions in the last three tax years, in which case you can use any unused allowance up). It seems unlikely that you’ll have that much to add to a pension, but you never know, right?!

Bear in mind that if you’re going to be paying lots of money into your pension, there’s a limit to how much you can have in your pension over your lifetime without having to pay extra taxes. This is called the lifetime allowance and is currently £1,073,100 for the tax year 2021-2022. We know, it sounds like a lot and most normal folks probably won’t end up with this amount in their pension, but it’s not as unusual as you might think – that’s the compounding interest hard at work!

Over to you

Got some extra income that you can squirrel away into a pension? Go you!

If your employer has agreed to match your contributions, you can increase your pension contributions to unlock more free money from your workplace! Just let your employer know that you want to make additional voluntary contributions and they’ll sort the rest out for you.

If, on the other hand, your employer will only make the minimum 3% contribution to your pension – or you’ve already maxed out your employer’s contributions – hold fire. Instead of increasing your pension contributions, you’ll probably be better off starting a personal pension alongside your workplace one. 

That way, you get total control over your savings. And, you get to choose a top-performing provider with lovely low fees. Check out our reviews for our favourite pension providers, PensionBee, Penfold or Moneyfarm to get started.

Trophy icon

Rating

Trophy icon

Rating

Trophy icon

Rating

Retire in style

Find the best personal pension for you – you could be £1,000s better off.

Best pension providers
Fact checked icon
This article has been fact checked

This article was written by the team at Nuts About Money, and fact-checked by 2 independent reviewers. You’re in safe hands.

Retire in style

Find the best personal pension for you – you could be £1,000s better off.

Best pension providers

Related articles