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How to consolidate your pensions: combining multiple pension pots

At any point in your working life, you may wish to find out exactly how much you have in pension savings and start managing them more effectively.

One way to do this can be to consolidate your pensions.

Find out more about what pension consolidation is, how to do it and whether it's the right option for you in our helpful guide.

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What is pension consolidation?

Pension consolidation means combining all (or most) of your pension pots into one.

Over your career, you may work for many different employers and so may build up a collection of different pension pots via various schemes. 

You may also have some personal pensions, especially if you’ve been self-employed.

At some point (not necessarily near retirement), you’ll have to decide whether to consolidate your pensions or leave them separate.

Working out the best thing to do depends on many factors. This includes what type of pensions you have, how much they are worth, how well they are being managed, and whether they currently have any special guarantees attached.

We'll now go into some of the things you need to think about and ideally discuss with a financial adviser.

Should I consolidate my pensions?

There are many reasons why you should consider combining your pensions, including:

  • Saving money

  • Achieving better growth

  • Convenience

  • Keeping track of your pension savings

Learn more: should you consolidate your pensions? The pros and cons

Can I save money by combining pensions?

Every pension pot you have will be managed separately, meaning each one has its own annual management fees.

Some of these fees may be higher than others. For example, some may charge 1% or more, but others may charge only 0.5% or less. 

Combining your pension pots into the one with the smallest management fees can save you money, but it's worth taking advice to make sure it's the right decision.

An adviser may also help you find a fund with lower fees, which is vital as high fees can reduce the size of your pension pot over a long period of time. 

So one little change made early enough could save you tens of thousands of pounds in the long run.

Can I achieve better growth by merging pensions?

Fund performance can be an important factor in deciding whether to combine your pensions.

If you have several pots, it’s likely that one has outperformed the others, although remember that past performance is not a guide to future performance.

It's worth looking for consistency of performance over time. Alternatively, a financial adviser may recommend a new fund.

Is it more convenient to consolidate pensions?

Managing one pension pot is much easier than handling several, but you need to do more than simply check your balance. 

You also want to make sure you are invested in the right fund for your risk profile, and this will change as you get nearer to retirement.

Most of all, it will be far easier to arrange to draw your pension if you only have one pot to worry about.

Combining pensions to keep track of them

When you have multiple pension pots from various providers, you run a much higher risk of losing track of one or more of them altogether.

House moves are notorious when it comes to paperwork getting lost, and if you misplace any, you may not be able to inform any pension providers that you’ve moved house.

In this way, pensions can easily get lost or forgotten about.

Find out how to trace lost pensions.

Can I combine my defined benefit pensions?

If you have a defined benefit or final salary pension, you may be offered the option to transfer it into a defined contribution pension (the most common type).

You should think very carefully before deciding to do this. Such transfers involve trading a guaranteed lifelong income for a finite sum of money in the form of a pension pot.

It is usually a legal requirement to seek independent advice before transferring a final salary pension, as this is a big decision and cannot be reversed.

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Are there any reasons not to combine my pensions?

Consolidating your pensions before retirement is usually a wise move.

However, there are some circumstances in which it isn’t the best option, so it's worth asking an independent financial adviser about what you should do.

Some reasons not to merge your pensions are outlined below. 

Are one or more of my pensions final salary?

As explained above, a final salary or 'defined benefit' pension provides a guaranteed income for life, which is an extremely valuable benefit in an uncertain world.

This income won't be affected by stock market falls, provided that the scheme remains viable, and, in the case of scheme failure, should be covered by the Pension Protection Fund.

However, if the transfer value is quite small, or you are worried about the scheme's long-term prospects, then ask an adviser whether a transfer might be best.

Do any of my pensions have guaranteed annuity rates?

Some pension schemes offer a guaranteed annuity rate (GAR), which may allow you to buy an annuity offering a much higher annual income than you would otherwise be offered.

It may not be clear from your pension documentation whether you have one or not, but an adviser can check this for you.

Having a GAR is usually a good reason not to transfer out, as by doing so, you would lose this benefit.

Are there any penalties for transferring?

Check to see whether your pension’s transfer value is the same as its current value.

If it is lower, then this may be because there are penalties for transferring.

If there are, your adviser will need to check the nature of the penalties and whether they can be removed. 

How do I decide about combining my pensions?

Your adviser will go through your pension paperwork with you and liaise with your providers to help you build a clear picture of your pension arrangements.

The adviser can then give you a clear and unbiased recommendation based on what you want from your retirement.

There is no universal right answer when it comes to transferring pensions, which is why tailored advice is so important.

Remember, you can also top up your pension before retirement by making additional contributions – for example, by transferring savings into your pension pot.

Am I saving enough into my pension?

If you want to know whether your pension pot will be enough for your retirement, there is a simple way to find out.

Check out our article on how much to save into a pension or give our Pension Calculator a go to see how much retirement income you might receive.

Here you can find out more about planning for your retirement

Did you find this article useful? You might also find our articles on alternatives to pensions and pension recycling informative, too!

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We’ll find a professional perfectly matched to your needs. Getting started is easy, fast and free.

About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.