Financial advice

Thinking about taking an income from your personal or workplace pension?

If you’re aged 55 or over and ready to take a retirement income from your personal or workplace pension, there are many options available to you. This article looks at the things to consider before you take your money, including the potential impact of coronavirus on your pension fund.

Since 2015, many personal and workplace pension savers have been given much greater choice in how they can access their pension savings. This flexibility has been hugely popular, with more than one million people using their new choices over the past five years 1

But this flexibility doesn’t change the core purpose of our pension savings - to fund our retirement, hopefully for many years to come. 

The impact of COVID-19 on your pension

The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in falling stock market values, which are likely to remain volatile for some time. This means you may have also seen a fall in the value of your pension.  

The impact of this is that, if you are planning to retire or withdraw money from your pension soon, you may have to take a lower level of income or a smaller cash lump sum than you had originally expected. Alternatively, it may mean that you should consider deferring some plans altogether, thereby enabling more pension contributions and the underlying value of your pensions to benefit from any recovery in stock market values.

If you do decide to access your pension savings now, remember that you might miss out on any increases in value if markets recover in the future. You will also be locking in losses if the value has fallen.  

With this in mind, remember that your pension fund is designed to support you throughout your retirement. It’s important to avoid making hasty decisions about the money that’s taken a lifetime to build up - acts of haste today could be repented at leisure tomorrow. 

Your options

From age 55, you can use some, or all, of your defined contribution pension fund to buy an annuity, take cash, take a flexible income, or use a combination of all three. Your choices will depend on your pension type and what your pension provider offers. You can usually take 25% of your pension tax free. Anything you take above this will be taxed as income and will reduce the amount available to provide an income from the options below.

Buy an annuity

A guaranteed income for life.

  • With most annuities your income is guaranteed, but you can’t change an annuity once it’s set up, even if your circumstances change.
  • You could get a higher level of income if certain health conditions or lifestyle factors apply.
  • You can choose to carry on providing income for a partner or dependant after you die, but this option must be selected upfront.

Take your money as cash

Take cash as and when you like.

  • Gives you the flexibility to take cash lump sums. 
  • You can withdraw all your pension pot if you wish to, but you may need to rely on other income or funds to provide for your retirement.
  • Any money you haven’t taken stays invested and the value could go down as well as up.

Income drawdown

Take income as and when you need it.

  • This allows you to vary what you take according to your needs. Your fund could run out, so it's important to regularly review how much you're taking.
  • Money you haven’t yet taken stays invested in your pension pot, and the value could go down as well as up.
  • If there’s any money left when you die it can go to your family. To find out more about how your defined contribution pension will be taxed after you die visit gov.uk/tax-on-pension-death-benefits

Use a combination of all three

Combine an annuity, cash and income drawdown, either together or at different times.

  • Choosing a combination of an annuity, cash and income drawdown means you can access the benefits and accept the risks of all options.
  • The annuity gives you a guaranteed income at a set amount, so you always know how much you have coming in. Taking cash or income drawdown is more flexible and lets you increase or decrease the amounts you take out as and when you need to – you could take out all your pension pot if you wish.

Things to think about

Using your pension money will leave less money in your pension pot, and will have an impact on:

  • The money you’ll have in retirement Anything you use now will mean less, or even nothing at all, is left in your pension.
  • The value of your investments If you choose to only withdraw some of your money, what’s left will remain invested, and could go down as well as up in value.
  • The access you have to your money Once you buy an income for life you can’t generally change it or cash it in, even if your personal circumstances change.
  • The tax you’ll pay The amount you take above 25% will usually be taxed as income. Taking a taxable lump sum could mean paying higher or additional rate tax.
  • The inheritance you can pass on This depends on what you decide to do with your pension money.

The amount of income that you could get for your retirement could vary considerably from one provider to the next, so it’s a good idea to ‘shop around’ and see what different providers can offer you before making any decisions.

Getting help

It’s also important to get financial advice when making decision about your pension, so speak to your financial adviser. If you don’t have one, we can help put you in touch with one.

To help you navigate your options the government provides a service called Pension Wise which offers free and impartial guidance for people retiring with defined contribution pensions. Information is available online, and you can also book a free telephone discussion with one of their team.