Combining your pensions

Over your career you may work for many different employers, and so may build up quite a collection of different pension pots and/or pension schemes. You might also have personal pensions, especially if you’d spent time self-employed. At some point (not necessarily near retirement) you’ll have to decide what to do with these – combine them into one, or leave them (or some of them) where they are.

Working out the best thing to do with depend on a number of factors, including what type of pensions they are, how much they are worth, and whether they currently have any special guarantees attached. Here are some of the things to think about and discuss with your adviser.

Can I save money by consolidating pensions?

Every pension pot you have will be managed separately, meaning each one has its own annual management fees. These are generally small, but they can add up. For instance, if you have four equal-sized pots and each has a 0.5 per cent fee, you are essentially paying 2 per cent. Combining your pots can reduce this kind of waste.

Your adviser may also help you find a fund with lower fees. A management fee of just 1 per cent can reduce the total size of your pot by more than 20 per cent over the course of a working life. So one little change made early enough could save you tens of thousands of pounds in the long run.

Are some of my funds performing better than others?

Fund performance can be another important factor. If you have several pots, it’s likely that one will have outperformed the others. This is another factor to consider when deciding which fund to select when combining your pensions. Alternatively, your adviser may recommend a whole new fund.

Do I have any defined benefit (final salary) 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.

Do any of my pensions have guaranteed annuity rates?

Some pension schemes offer a guaranteed annuity rate (GAR), which may enable you to buy an annuity with a much higher annual income that you would otherwise be offered. It may not be clear from your pension documentation whether you have one or not, but your adviser should check for you. Having a GAR is usually a good reason not to transfer out, as by doing so you would lose it.

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 all your pension paperwork with you and liaise with your providers, to help you build up a clear picture of your current pension arrangements. The adviser can then give you 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.

Here you can find out more about planning for your retirement.

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