Some pensions allow you to switch your money into lower risk investments as you near retirement date, which can help to protect you from last-minute drops in the stock market. However, doing this may reduce the potential for your fund to grow, plus your fund cannot be guaranteed because annual charges may reduce it.
Obtain an up-to-date pension forecast
With only months to go before you start accessing your pension, it’s important to get a very clear view of the level of income you can expect to receive. Contact your pension provider or providers for an up-to-the-minute forecast of your tax-free lump sum and income. You should also request a State Pension forecast, which will come complete with details of your basic State Pension and any additional State Pension you will receive. In addition, find out when you’ll be eligible to take your State Pension in the light of changes to the State Pension Age.
Also think about other sources of income you might be likely to get when you retire. These could include income from investments, property or land, part-time employment or consultancy, or an inheritance. Having as full a picture as possible will enable you to make detailed and practical final decisions about exactly how you want to take your pension income, as well as allowing you to make more accurate plans for your new lifestyle.
Choose how to take your pension
Although you may already have given some thought to how you want to take your pension benefits, it’s worth reviewing your plans at this point. Circumstances can change – for example, you might have received a significant inheritance or you may have been diagnosed with a medical condition, and former plans may no longer be quite appropriate.
You can either take your pension as an annuity, as income drawdown or as a combination of the two. With any of these options, normally you’ll also be able to take up to 25 per cent of your fund as a tax-free lump sum.
Additionally, now that the compulsory maximum annuity age no longer applies, you can decide to defer taking your pension. By keeping your pension pot invested there is an opportunity for further growth. However, you should think about the risks involved and look to de-risk as much as possible at this point. Investments can go down as well as up and your pot will be affected by the ups and downs of the markets. There can also be tax benefits but, as this is a complex decision, you should obtain professional financial advice – and remember, you may get back less than you invest.
Most people pay less tax when they retire, but it’s worth considering your tax position at this stage. Although you can normally take up to 25 per cent of your pension fund tax-free, any income you receive from it will be subject to tax under the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system.
Meanwhile, if you’ve taken the option of income drawdown, you may be able to adjust the income you take to minimise the tax you pay. For example, if you plan to do some consultancy work or continue working in a part-time capacity, you could think about reducing your income withdrawals to stay within the basic rate of tax. Bear in mind that tax regulations can change and tax benefits depend on your personal circumstances.
Additionally, keep your savings and investments as tax-efficient as possible with products such as Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) and offshore bonds.
You’ll also stop paying National Insurance contributions when you reach State Pension age. If you decide to continue working, whether full-time, part-time or on a consultancy basis, it’s a good idea to contact the tax office to make sure contributions aren’t still being deducted.
Prepare for life after work
As well as sorting out your finances, don’t forget to think about how your life will change when you retire. Even if you intend to keep working part-time, you’re going to have much more free time to enjoy.
Planning these first few months will help you set the tone for your future. Perhaps there’s somewhere, or someone, you’ve always wanted to visit. Maybe you want to learn a new sport or leisure activity, but have always had too many commitments. You might even want to start the search for that perfect retirement bolthole. The financial planning you’ve been doing for years all starts to bear fruit now.
Thresholds, percentage rates and tax legislation may change in subsequent Finance Acts. Levels and bases of, and reliefs from, taxation are subject to change and their value depends on the individual circumstances of the investor.