If you do one thing to improve your financial health this year, take back control of your pension pots.
At the start of the year we feel a burst of motivation to set new goals for our health, career and finances – making it the perfect opportunity to get a better handle on our pension pots.
With the average worker switching jobs every five years, it can be difficult to keep track of fragmented pension pots. Since February 2018, the government’s auto-enrolment initiative means it’s now compulsory for employers to enrol their workers into a pension scheme, with both employees and employers paying into the pot.
Financial journalist Leah Milner gives us her top tips for getting your plans under control – and whether it’s a good idea to consolidate them.
1. Take stock of your current pension pots
Every year your pension provider will send you an annual statement to let you know how much you and your employer have paid into your plan and how your investments have performed.
Keep these yearly summaries together in a file and start a spreadsheet, or even a simple text document, where you note down the value of your pension each year so that you can keep tabs on how it is performing.
2. Check whether you are saving enough
This pension calculator from the Money Advice Service will forecast your retirement income based on your current level of savings. You can see any potential shortfall and work out if you need to contribute more to ensure you can live comfortably in retirement.
The projection also factors in how much you are likely to receive from the State Pension, but this depends on your personal National Insurance record. For a more accurate figure, you will need to use the Government’s Check Your State Pension service, which will also give you an idea of how much you currently have.
3. Track down missing pension pots
List all the companies you have worked for throughout your career and go through one by one to pinpoint what savings you have and where. Should you draw a blank, the Pension Tracing Service can help reunite you with your money, free of charge.
Be sure to update your pension provider with any change of address so you continue to receive your annual summaries and request for any missing summaries to be resent.
4. Weigh up the pros and cons of consolidating
It’s much easier to keep track of your total retirement funds if you have all your pension pots with one provider. You’ll also find it easier to understand the charges you are paying and the spread of risk across your investments.
It makes sense to move your funds into the pension that has the lowest charges as long as it has a wide enough choice of investments and it accepts transfers in. It’s important to check for any exit penalties for switching your funds or whether you may be giving up valuable benefits or guarantees by leaving a scheme. For example, you might have a pension that promises to give you a certain proportion of your salary or offers protection against inflation.
Justin Modray, director of Candid Financial Advice, says you need to take particular care if any of your pensions are ‘defined benefit’, also called ‘final salary’, which means your retirement pension income is linked to your salary rather than to investment performance. “It is possible to transfer these pensions, but seldom a good idea to do so, as you’ll be giving up a safe pension,” he explains.
5. Consider opening an ISA
Your workplace pension should be the bedrock of your retirement planning, says Patrick Connolly, chartered financial planner at independent financial advice company Chase de Vere. But combining this pot with ISA savings can be an additional way to save.
“Pensions provide initial tax relief but they are quite inflexible for younger people, whereas ISAs can still be tax-efficient and you are able to access your money whenever you like,” he says.
With a traditional pension, you can’t touch your savings until you are 55. With an ISA you won’t get any tax relief on contributions but you can dip into your savings should you need to and, unlike a pension, the money you take out is not subject to income tax. You can invest in stocks and shares or keep your money in cash, paying in up to £20,000 a year.
6. Ask for help
Find out whether your employer offers free pensions advice sessions to staff and take advantage of these where available. If not, it may be a good idea to seek help from an independent financial adviser to help you choose the right investments for your future.
Want to make the most of your retirement? Check out Vitality’s Retirement Plan.