Most of us are investing money into our pensions. For many people, this represents nothing more than a regular deduction from the paycheck – an abstract reminder of a financial future many, many years (if not decades) away. It’s no secret that a strong and healthy pension is tantamount, but, for a lot of people, the question of when to start thinking more seriously about pension and retirement planning is easily deferred.
Of course, there is so much more we can do to ensure that, when retirement appears on the horizon, we aren’t hit by the realisation that our pension is not enough to support us. Having to supplement a pension with part-time or freelance work post-retirement is, for so many people, less than ideal.
However, according to recent research from Unbiased, one in five Brits don’t know how much they have in their pensions. Those approaching retirement age are the worst offenders, with almost 25% of over-55s unaware of what’s in the pot.
So, how do you get yourself out of the ‘don’t know’ camp and into a better mindset (and a stronger position) when it comes to your pension?
1. Start now
When is the best age to start investing some serious time, effort, and money into your pension? Whenever you’re in the position to start. Why? Because starting early – if there’s any such thing as ‘early’ – means giving yourself more time to save and invest.
Having time on your side also means that, as an investor, you can enjoy a higher tolerance for risk – and, for so many reasons, a certain amount of investment risk is important to meeting your financial goals.
If you start to focus on augmenting or optimising your pension much later in life, then taking risks is, in and of itself, an even bigger risk, since you won’t have time on your side if the investment doesn’t deliver the returns you’re looking for.
2. Make your contributions regular…
There are plenty of different ways you can boost your pension contribution without feeling as though you’re draining your current account or savings. The sooner you can start to treat it like any other monthly expense, the better.
Remember that, when it comes to saving and investing, something is always better than nothing. You don’t need to cut a great portion out of your monthly income just because you’ve made the decision to get a firmer hold on your pension. The best thing you can do is settle on a number that proves manageable, or, sooner or later, you’ll need to redivert that money elsewhere again.
3. …But don’t underestimate the value of irregular contributions either
Regularly contributing to your pension is like gradually wearing down the surface of a rough stone; it’ll take a long time but, in the end, each isolated incident will have contributed to a major difference.
But, even so, there are points in our lives when we are in a position to deposit much more. Coming into an inheritance, a big bonus at work – even a win on the lottery – can mean that we’re in a position to deposit a lump sum, rather than the usual, monthly amount, into our pension.
These lump sums may not come around often, but they will serve to boost your pension and invest that money wisely, rather than leaving it to gather dust in a low yield savings account.
4. Get professional advice about investments
No two pensions will be exactly the same, because the ways in which your pension is invested will dictate how much it grows by – and how quickly.
One of the greatest benefits to growing your pension (rather than leaving money to idle in a low-yield savings account), is that it represents a great way to reap the benefits of very long-term investments. These sorts of investments can offer a potentially high return to investors, but the obvious downside is that these investors need to be prepared to play the long game. They are, however, a great complement to any broader saving and investment plan.
And, just as every pension is different, so too are investment opportunities. Many pension schemes automatically invest customers’ money into ‘default’ options, but, on closer inspection, you are likely to find more attractive opportunities outside of this default.
Investing is a very personal thing. Striking that balance between risk and reward and working out a timeframe that accommodates your goals for your pension and retirement is a fine art. This is why any good article or guide will, eventually, acknowledge that providing a catch-all solution for readers is impossible. Talking to a professional financial advisor – someone with no ulterior motive, but an extensive understanding of this area – is the only way you can be sure that your pension is in the best possible health, and aimed toward your financial goals for the future.
5. Defer retirement
This one may sound a little obvious, since delaying the moment you cash-in your pension and, instead, continuing to work and make contributions to the pension pot will inevitably mean that, by the time you do retire, the sum will be higher. If the idea of pushing your retirement further into the future – even by a couple of years – makes you shudder, then the only other solution is to increase your contributions and make up the difference with cash, not time.
But there are other, not-so-obvious benefits to deferring your retirement. Currently, those who continue to work beyond State Pension Age are entitled to a 1% increase to their state pension for each additional 9 weeks they work. This means that, for every year you work after passing the State Pension Age, your State Pension will increase by just under 6%.
Another thing to consider is the fact that any money left in your pension when you die is not subject to inheritance tax. This can be well worth keeping in mind as you’re starting to think more seriously about inheritance tax planning, and securing your family’s financial future as you move toward this new phase of life.