According to HMRC, record numbers of people have been taking money out of their pensions since the beginning of the year. 348,000 people made a withdrawal between January and March, a 23% increase from 284,000 in the same quarter in 2019. The value of the payments was £2.46bn, the highest amount recorded for that period since pension freedoms began in 2015.
Given these uncertain times, you too may be considering accessing your pension to increase your disposable income and ease any financial pressures. The rules allow you to take out as much as you want from your pot, once you reach the age of 55. The first 25% withdrawal is tax-free while the remaining 75% is subject to your marginal rate of income tax.
However, just because the freedoms are there doesn’t mean taking them is the right course of action. Here are some key considerations:
Are there any other savings you can use before you tap into your pension?
Accessing your pension is a major step. Make sure you’ve explored all your other options first. Have you accessed any government grants that you may be eligible for first? Have you got any other cash savings that could tide you over?
Remember that if you have a defined contribution pension, a significant proportion of it will probably have been invested in stocks and shares, which will have taken a hit in recent months. So if you access cash from your pension during the current downfall, that money won’t have the opportunity to regain its value once the stock markets recover.
How much do you really need?
The purpose of a pension is to give you enough money to live off throughout your retirement. Whatever you take out now will influence what you have to live off in later life. That’s why it’s a good idea to try and leave as much as you can in your pension so that it has the opportunity to benefit from future market rises.
Most people take the whole of their 25% tax-free lump sum when they first access their pension. But you can take out money from your pension in stages, in line with what you actually need. This way you have a smaller tax-free lump sum at the outset but further tax-free entitlements throughout your retirement. It’s important to seek advice as to what is best for your personal circumstances.
How much tax will you pay?
It’s worth being aware that by taking a large amount of your pension in a particular tax year you could be tipping yourself into a higher tax bracket, meaning you will pay more tax than you would have done if you’d taken smaller amounts over a longer time.
Another consideration is that HMRC will ask your pension provider to deduct income tax when you take an income from your pension pot for the first time (not counting your tax-free lump sum). They will assume that what you take the first month is what you will take every month, which could again push you into the higher bracket. If you haven’t been taking that every month and are a basic rate taxpayer, you can claim the extra tax back.
Want to continue to pay into your pension in the future?
You may just be focused on accessing some funds for your current circumstances. It’s important to realise, however, that if what you take now is above the tax-free limit, you could be restricting how much you and your employer will be able to contribute to your pension fund in the future. According to the Money Purchase Annual Allowance, your joint contributions cannot exceed £4,000 a year without incurring penalties.
If you’re considering accessing your pension, do get in touch with us to discuss the implications.