Don’t let pension rules dictate your future lifestyle

This morning, I asked my 10-year-old son what a pension is. He said, “It’s a bunch of money you get, when you get old”. Not a bad explanation, I thought, so I asked him what “old” meant, and he said, “about 70 or 60”. Again, a pretty good answer in the context of pensions.

I’ve listened to hundreds of individuals and couples explain their intention to retire and it’s quite surprising how many choose age 60 or 65. In part, this comes from a historical expectation that people stop working when they reach state pension age – which used to be 60 for women and 65 for men.

Another factor is that defined benefit, or ‘final salary’ pensions have a scheme retirement age, which is often age 60.

But should we be using state pension age or scheme rules as a guide for our own retirement plans? Who decides when “old” is?

State pension age is going up……and up

This month sees the end of a transitional increase to the state pension age, so it’s now 66 for both men and women. It will increase again to age 67 by 2028 and then to age 68 by 2046.

When the state pension was introduced in 1948, life expectancy for a 65-year-old was 13.5 years, but by 2017, that same life expectancy had increased to 22.8 years. So due to the cost of funding pensions for longer periods, governments have made moves to increase the state pension age more in line with life expectancy.

If you’re unsure of your own state pension age, you can check it here.

The minimum retirement age for personal pensions is also going up

In recent years, there has been a big shift away from ‘defined benefit’ pension schemes to ‘defined contribution’. With the former, you could look forward to a guaranteed lifelong income, based on a percentage of your earnings from a certain age.

With the latter, your retirement income will depend on how much you and your employers pay in throughout your working life, investment performance and charges. There are no guarantees with defined contributions pensions, but currently, you can begin accessing the money from age 55.

This minimum pension age, however, is due to increase too. The general rule is that you can withdraw from your pensions up to 10 years before state pension age. So, in line with increases to state pension age, the government recently confirmed its intention to increase minimum pension age to 57 by 2028. That affects workers currently aged 47 and under.

So how does that affect your own retirement plans?

Well, it’s important to remember that pensions are just one financial solution to help you plan for the future. For most people, they will be the most effective and tax efficient way to build up financial security, but don’t let the rules stop you from planning the lifestyle you want.

Theoretically, you can retire whenever you like – but you need to plan for it. You need to try and work out how much money you’ll need for the rest of your life and then save towards that. In other words, you need to achieve financial independence.

What is retirement anyway?

A good starting point is to try and envisage what you would like your future life to be like. Some people don’t even like the concept of retirement because they enjoy work and like to keep busy.

You might have a strong desire to launch a lifestyle business where you can generate an income by following your passion.

Maybe you’d prefer just to gradually reduce your hours and have more of a balance between work and leisure time. Or maybe you get the most satisfaction from charitable and voluntary work.

All of these represent financial options in life, which is an important element of financial wellbeing. So, once you have a good idea of how you would like your life to look in the future, you can plan for it. You can still change your mind and tweak your financial plan as time goes on, but it’s all about creating options for your future so that you can choose when, how and if you’d like to retire.

Summary

It’s good to be aware of the rules around pensions, but that should not dictate how you live your life.

Take control of your finances and empower yourself to live the life of your choosing in the future.

A financial coach or a financial planner can help you think about how you would like the future to look and then assist you with building a plan to get there. Don’t leave it up to government legislation to dictate when – or if – you should retire.

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