Nutty

SIPP vs personal pension – which is best?

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Fact checked.
Updated
April 10, 2024

In a nutshell

An expert-managed personal pension is often the best option. The experts will handle everything and grow your pension over time. These can be both personal pensions and modern SIPPs. There’s some great providers out there who are low cost, easy to use and provide great service.

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Keen to start saving for your retirement? Or already have a pension and not sure it’s in the right place? Here’s everything you need to know to make the right decision between a SIPP and a personal pension.

First, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page, and run through what both a personal pension and SIPP are.

For a quick summary, they’re both personal pensions, but a SIPP is a self-invested personal pension – you have the option to make the investment decisions yourself. With a personal pension, the experts handle the investments for you. To confuse this a little, this can also happen with a modern SIPP too.

SIPP vs personal pension

What’s a personal pension?

A personal pension is a pension that you manage and you decide which pension provider (pension company) you want to use to help grow your money over time. They’ll take care of everything, all you need to do is add you money (we recommend regular monthly contributions).

You can add however much you like to it, up to your total income per year (e.g. your salary), or £60,000, whichever is lower, and you decide when you’d like to take the cash (as long as you're older than 55).

Personal pension annual allowance

They’re different to workplace pension schemes, which is a pension your employer sets up for you when you join a company, and they’ll decide which pension provider it is, and often which pension plan your money is invested in.

Both a personal pension and workplace pension are types of private pensions (so private to you). There’s also the State Pension, which is the government pension, and you’ll get this if you've paid enough National Insurance contributions over the years (at least 10 years, but 35 for the full pension amount).

Qualify for the State Pension

A note about workplace pensions

Some workplace pensions are defined benefit pension schemes. These are common in government jobs and places like the NHS – it’s where you get a set income when you retire, and depends on things like your salary and how long you’ve worked there. A common version of these were final salary pensions, but very rare now.

Defined benefit pension

Note: it might not always be a good idea to transfer these types of pensions to a personal pension scheme. And if the transfer value is over £30,000, you’ll need to speak to a financial advisor first (legally). The good news is finding a financial advisor is super easy. You can simply use Unbiased¹ – a website for financial advisors. They’ll find the best financial advisors in your area and connect you directly with them.

The majority of people have a defined contribution pension scheme, which is where your employer contributes at least 3%, and you contribute at least 5%. Although if you have a nice employer, they might add more. 

Defined contribution pension

When you leave a job these can be transferred easily, potentially saving money on high fees, and poor performing investments. A good provider like PensionBee¹ will handle the whole transfer process.

What’s a SIPP?

A SIPP, or self-invested personal pension, is a type of personal pension, with all the same benefits (more on those below), except instead of experts handling things for you, you can decide where you want your money invested – which investments to buy, and when to buy and sell. It’s completely up to you!

What’s a SIPP?

SIPPs are great if you want to manage your own investments, and you know what you’re doing when it comes to investing – you have the flexibility to do what you like and have a wide range of investment options – rather than experts managing things.

There is a slight caveat, with more modern SIPPs, experts can also manage the investments for you too. You get to decide which pension plan you’d like from a few simple options, such as socially responsible investing (no fossil fuel companies etc.), or a standard pension plan. 

If you're looking for one of these check out PensionBee¹ and Moneyfarm¹ – both are highly rated, have low costs and a great track record of growing money.

It's often a good idea to simply let the experts take care of your pension. It is your retirement savings after all!

You can have as many personal pensions and SIPPs as you like too – so you can have both a personal pension and a SIPP. One where the experts manage it, and one for investments that you’d like to make in addition to the experts.

Benefits of personal pensions

Personal pensions (including SIPPs), have some enormous benefits for saving for your future and building your retirement savings. You really can’t beat them!

Government bonus

As saving into a pension is intended to be completely tax-free, the government actually gives you a bonus every time you pay into your personal pension.

Seems crazy right? But it’s true!

If you are an employee of a company, you’ll be paying into a workplace pension scheme through your salary – this money is actually taken from your pay before you pay tax.

Workplace pension tax relief

However, for a personal pension, you can’t pay into it until after you’ve already paid tax on your income. So, they return the tax you’ve paid straight back into your pension pot.

Personal pension tax relief

You’ll get a 25% bonus automatically added every time you contribute, which is refunding the basic rate of tax (earning up to £50,270), and if you’re a higher rate tax payer (40%), earning over £50,270, or additional rate tax payer (45%), earning over £125,140, you can claim tax back at those rates too (on your Self Assessment tax return).

Personal pension

No Inheritance Tax

An undervalued perk with pensions is that there’s no Inheritance Tax to pay. That’s what your family might have to pay on your estate, which is all your money, investments and property added together after you pass away. If this is over £325,000, they might have to pay 40% on everything above this. Not ideal!

What's inheritance tax?

However, with a private pension, it goes straight to your beneficiary (like your spouse or partner), who you name with your pension provider. It does not become part of your estate.

And if you pass away under 75, they won’t have to pay any Income Tax on it either. They might do if you pass away over 75 (it depends how much they earn per year at the time).

Consolidate your pensions

With personal pensions, you can actually transfer them to a new provider any time you like, however that’s not the main benefit, you can actually transfer them all to the same provider if you like.

This has some great advantages, first, you won’t forget where all your pensions are – they’re all in one easy to remember place, making it much easier to manage and track over time too. If you’ve had lots of jobs in the past, you might have pensions all over the place!

Pension consolidation

And very importantly, you can actually benefit from lower fees too. Pension providers often reduce their fees when you have more saved with them (as a % of your pension). This could potentially add up to a big saving over time!

If you’re keen to consolidate your pensions, check out PensionBee¹ – they’re a 5 star rated provider with low fees and makes pensions super simple. They’ll even handle the whole transfer for you.

Which pension is best for me? (SIPP vs personal pension)

Right, down to business! Which pension is best for you, a self-invested personal pension or just a ‘regular’ personal pension?

It all comes down to whether you want to make your own investments or not, which entails devising the right investment strategy for you, finding the right investments and then buying (and selling) the investments over time.

The investments are often investment funds or pension funds – investments designed to grow over time, and either as part of the fund, or independently, you can invest in stocks and shares (where you buy and own a small part of a company, a share of a company), bonds (loans to governments and large businesses), and commercial property (normally to generate rent).

Stocks and Shares

It’s not for everyone. And in fact, it’s not for most people! Even professional investors don’t often manage their own pensions – it’s not worth the time when experts can manage everything for you now at a very low cost, and have a great record of growing money over time.

If you manage your own investments, you might find the experts are also buying the same investments and pension funds, or very similar ones – as the best strategy for pensions is to grow safely and sensibly over time. So, you can save a lot of time and effort, by simply using an expert-managed pension provider.

Pension long-term performance

Nuts About Money tip: if you’re not sure what you’re doing when it comes to investing, we recommend going for an expert-managed personal pension. You can’t really go wrong, the experts handle everything for you.

However, if you do want to manage your own investments, great! A traditional SIPP is perfect for you. 

By the way, you can have as many personal pensions as you like, so you could have a traditional SIPP to manage some investments, and an expert-managed personal pension to handle the majority of your pension.

We’ve reviewed the best personal pensions to make things easier for you – and if you’re ready to find a new provider, below are the best expert-managed personal pensions (both personal pensions and SIPPs), and below that, the best traditional self-invested personal pensions.

The best expert-managed personal pensions

Here’s the best personal pensions managed by experts:

Best personal pensions

Find the best personal pension for you.

Best personal pensionsBest personal pensions
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Get £50 added to your pension

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Best pension
PensionBee rated 5 stars

PensionBee

PensionBee is our recommended provider – they’ve thought of everything.

Their 5 star rated app (and website) makes it easy to set up and use. You can open a brand new pension, or transfer your existing pensions across (they’ll handle all the paperwork).

Simply pick from an easy to understand range of pension plans, and that’s it, the experts manage everything from there.

It’s low cost, with one simple annual fee. The customer service is excellent, and you’ll get a dedicated account manager for any questions you might have.

Learn more

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And, when the time comes to retire, withdrawing from your pension is easy too.

You can also use them if you're self-employed or a company director.

Pros

  • Pensions made easy
  • Easy to understand pension plans
  • Find all your old pensions and move them over (consolidate)
  • Low fees
  • Great customer service
  • Great if you’re self-employed (or a company director)
  • Withdraw from your pension when you retire
  • Get £50 added to your pension

Cons

  • No financial advice, but can explain your options
  • Not much else!

Capital at risk.

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Expert advice
Moneyfarm rated 5 stars

Moneyfarm

Moneyfarm is a great option for saving and investing (both ISAs and pensions). It's easy to use and their experts can help you with any questions or guidance you need.

They have one of the top performing investment records, and great socially responsible investing options too. Plus, you can save cash and get a high interest rate.

The fees are low, and reduce as you save more. Plus, the customer service is outstanding.

Learn more

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Pros

  • Great for beginners and hands-off investors
  • Easy to use
  • ISA
  • Pension
  • Free personal investment advisor
  • Great track record for growing money
  • Socially responsible options
  • Invest cash for a high return

Cons

  • Have to invest at least £500
  • Not much else!

Capital at risk.

Best personal pensions

Find the best personal pension for you.

Best personal pensionsBest personal pensions

The best self-invested personal pensions

If you’re looking to manage your own investments, here’s your best options:

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Best overall
AJ Bell rated 5 stars

AJ Bell

AJ Bell is well established, with a good reputation.

It's one of the cheapest SIPPs out there (charging a low annual fee).

There's a huge range of investment options – pretty much every investment out there (including both funds and shares).

The customer service is excellent too.

Overall, it's one of the best options for a SIPP.

Learn more

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Cheapest
Interactive Investor rated 5 stars

Interactive Investor

Interactive Investor is a well established company, and very popular.

Instead of paying a percentage of the investments in your account (like other investment companies), you’ll instead pay a fixed fee per month – and it’s pretty low, starting at just £5.99 per month for a pension (SIPP).

This makes it one of the cheapest SIPP providers out there, especially if you have a fairly sizeable amount within your pension (e.g. over £30,000).

On top of that, there’s huge range of investment options (e.g. shares and funds) – one of the largest.

It's easy to use, and the website and app are great. The customer service is excellent too.

A great choice overall.

Learn more

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Best personal pensions

Find the best personal pension for you.

Best personal pensionsBest personal pensions

Prefer to speak to someone?

If you're a bit unsure about pensions and would prefer to speak to an expert, check out Unbiased¹ – it's a free service to find pension experts (financial advisors) in your local area.

Transferring your pension

Wondering if you can transfer your existing pensions, or if you should? The answer to both is yes!

You can transfer any personal pensions you have, whenever you like, and if you have lots of pensions from various jobs over the years, you can move them whenever you like too. The only pension you can’t transfer is your current workplace pension – you’ll have to wait until you leave your company to do this.

And should you transfer your pensions? Often yes, why not move them to a top provider with low fees and a great track record of growing your money over time? Plus one that’s super easy to manage and shows you balance whenever you like. Do you know how much is in your pensions right now?

How to transfer your pension

It's worth noting that most workplace pension providers can be pretty expensive, and have poor records for growing money. So, if you’ve got any old ones, it might be a good idea to transfer them to a top provider.

We’ve listed the top providers above, but as a recap, PensionBee¹ comes out top – they’re rated 5 stars, are low cost and super easy to manage your pension.

What happens when you retire?

Thinking ahead to your retirement? Things get pretty simple with personal pensions. It’s all up to you what you’d like to do!

After you reach the age of 55 (57 from 2028), you’ll be able to start taking your pension if you want to (although we recommend keeping it invested for as long as possible so it grows more).

Pension age

You can use it to buy an annuity, which provides a guaranteed income every month for the rest of your life (or for a set number of years), or you can keep it within a pension pot, and perhaps moved to a pension plan that aims to provide a regular income – and simply take an income when you want to.

The first 25% of your pension is completely tax-free too. You can take this all in one go as a tax-free lump sum if you want to (sometimes people do this to pay off their mortgage), or if you take regular payments, 25% of each payment will be tax-free.

Accessing your tax-free money from your pension

The remaining 75% will count towards Income Tax, and works just the same as your income now (e.g. your salary). You’ll still get the Personal Allowance of £12,570 per year too (how much you can earn before you have to pay Income Tax) – so you might not actually pay any tax at all.

Let’s recap

Pensions can be pretty complicated, but we hope we’ve made things a bit clearer!

An expert-managed personal pension is often the best choice for most people – and these can be SIPPs or regular personal pensions. A self-invested personal pension can be a good option for those who know what they’re doing and want to make specific investments, but even then, why not just let the experts handle things for you?

We highly recommend using an expert-managed personal pension – using a top provider means you’re likely to make more money over time, as their experts will use the best investment strategies. They’re low cost, and super easy to use, track and manage your pension over time.

Our recommended expert-managed pension provider is PensionBee¹ – they’re low cost, have a great track record of growing money over time, and will handle everything for you (even the pension transfers). We’ve reviewed all the best providers if you want to compare pension providers.

If you’re keen to manage your own SIPP, you can’t go wrong with AJ Bell¹.

Either way, good job on planning for your future! It makes a huge difference to your retirement. You’ll thank yourself later!

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

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