Drawdown Pensions

Traditionally the most popular choice for retirement income has been an annuity, but it has never been the only option. Under pension freedom, you have a wide range of alternatives to consider as you approach retirement. One possibility is drawdown.

What is a pension drawdown?

Drawdown is a way to take an income from the money that was invested in your defined contribution (DC) pension scheme. Unlike with an annuity (where your pension savings purchase a product that pays you a fixed income for life), the money remains invested in a drawdown scheme, and you choose how much to withdraw each year.

Drawdown and pension freedom

Previously, restrictions on drawdown meant that for many pension savers it was not a practical choice. With the lifting of these restrictions from April 2015, everyone with a DC pension could potentially use drawdown, and so be able to withdraw as much of their fund as they wish at any one time. However, there are many factors to consider (such as tax, investment growth and how long the fund needs to last) which mean that this option may not be suitable for everybody.

What are the advantages?

The first big advantage is flexibility. You retain control over your pension pot, effectively using it as a kind of bank account that you can draw upon as necessary. This means you can make bigger withdrawals in years where you need to spend more, and take lower sums at other times. Furthermore, 25 per cent of each withdrawal you make will be tax free. The other big advantage is that you will be able to pass on any unused funds tax-free to your beneficiaries (unlike with an annuity, where the benefits usually end upon your death).

What are the disadvantages?

The biggest risk of drawdown is running out of money. Unlike an annuity, which guarantees you an income for life, a drawdown fund can be depleted. If there is high growth you may be able to live off just the interest for a while (so as to leave the original sum untouched), but it is likely that over time the invested sum will diminish. The smaller the sum, the less money will accumulate in interest, so your savings will reduce at a faster and faster rate unless you also sufficiently reduce your withdrawals. Also, because the fund remains invested, it will still be at risk of fluctuations and could go down instead of growing. Remember too that large withdrawals will be subject to income tax, up to the highest rate – only 25 per cent of each withdrawal is tax-free.

Find out if drawdown could be right for you

Several different forms of drawdown are currently available, offering various levels of security, growth and flexibility to suit particular lifestyles. The best way to decide whether drawdown is right for you is to speak to a financial adviser. Your adviser can take all your circumstances into account, including your other sources of income, the needs of your family, your ability to take risks and your plans for retirement, and consider the various drawdown options (as well as all the available alternatives) as part of your wider financial plan.

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Questions to ask your financial adviser:

  • Is my current pension fund sufficient to provide me with a drawdown retirement income?
  • What are the different types of drawdown scheme, and what are the pros and cons of each?
  • How do I decide what level of risk I am prepared to take when investing my fund?
  • Can I combine a drawdown scheme with another source of income, such as an annuity?