How to make sure you can pay in to your workplace pension

If your employer is about to start a compulsory workplace pension scheme, and you want to contribute but are worried you can't afford to, here are some tips that might help.

It's been just over five months since workplace pensions were launched in the UK's biggest companies.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
But new research has revealed that one in three people are planning to opt out of their workplace pension scheme. And nearly half of people who have some form of workplace pension scheme on offer say they can't afford to contribute to it.

If your employer is going to be introducing workplace pensions soon, and you're worried you can't afford to pay your contributions, read on.

Live for now or later?
The research I've quoted is part of Aviva's latest Working Lives report, which features the views of 4,000 private sector workers. And it makes it clear that for many people the potential longer-term benefits of workplace pensions are being outweighed by the cost of living right now. Of course, if you have large debts then that definitely will be the case and I wouldn't try to persuade you otherwise. Opting out, at least in the short term, is a no brainer.

However, if you don't have significant debts, the argument goes that you're turning down 'free money' by opting out. That's because an employer pays 1% of what's known as the 'qualifying earnings' amount (rising to 3% by 2018) and the Government pays 0.2% (rising to 1% by 2018) in tax relief (essentially returning the Income Tax from your pay back to you) into a workplace pension.

There's also the small fact that compound interest (the effect of interest on interest) will increase any growing pension pot by a decent amount over the long term.

An example
I've looked at this from the perspective of a 30-year-old man (let's call him Dave) on the UK average salary of £26,500 a year. Dave's employer is basing pension contributions on the amount of salary he earns before tax between £5,564 and £42,745 a year . So in this case, that's £20,936.

Based on this, Dave's minimum contributions will be:

  • £13.96 a month/£167.49 a year from now until September 2017
  • £41.87 a month/£502.46 a year from October 2017 until September 2018
  • £69.79 a month/£837.44 a year from October 2018 onwards

As you can see, that's quite a significant jump from the initial monthly contribution now to the one from October 2017. Of course, you would hope his salary will increase in that time.

Even if it does, that time can give him the opportunity to make some lifestyle changes that will enable him to afford the higher contributions.

Free guides
Tips for saving money now
Here are some ideas on how to free up some extra money.
  • Shop around and see if you could save on your energy, broadband, home and mobile phone, motor fuel and food bills.
  • Shop around and see if you can save on your insurance costs.
  • Try to make one or two fewer visits a month to the shops, pub, restaurants, cinema and anywhere else where you might spend more money than you intend to.
  • Think about ditching a foreign holiday. Instead go and stay with family and/or friends in this country. Or stay at home and visit free and cheap places nearby
  • Don't upgrade to a new smartphone/tablet/laptop so often.
  • Use cashback credit cards (making sure you pay off the balance in full every month) and cashback websites to earn some money on your everyday spending and use voucher websites to pay less.
  • And use Lovemoney's free, secure MoneyTrack tool to keep an eye on your spending and saving.

After all, small changes to your lifestyle now could pay big dividends in the future.

Seven retirement nightmares
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How to make sure you can pay in to your workplace pension
Figures from charity Age UK show that 29% of those over 60 feel uncertain or negative about their current financial situation - with millions facing poverty and hardship. Even though saving for retirement is not much fun, the message is therefore that having to rely on dwindling state benefits in retirement is even less so. To avoid ending up in this situation, adviser Hargreaves Lansdown recommends saving a proportion of your salary equal to half your age at the time of starting a pension. In other words, if you are 30 when you start a pension, you should put in 15% throughout your working life. If you start at 24, saving 12% of your salary a year should produce a similar return.
Many older couples rely on the pension income of one person - often the man. Should that person die first, the other person can therefore be left in a difficult position financially.
One way to prevent financial hardship for the surviving person is to take out a joint life annuity that will continue to pay out up to 67% of the original payments to the surviving partner should one of them die.

The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the rate you receive will be lower. Again, the Pensions Advisory Service on 0845 601 2923 is a useful first port of call if you are unsure what to do.

Around 427,000 households in the over-70 age groups are either three months behind with a debt repayment or subject to some form of debt action such as insolvency, according to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS).

Its figures also show that those aged 60 or older who came to the CCCS for help last year owed an average of £22,330. Whether you are retired or not, the best way to tackle debt problems is head on.

Free counselling services from the likes of CCCS and Citizens Advice can help with budgeting and dealing with creditors.

Importantly, they can also conduct a welfare benefits check to make sure you are receiving the pension credit, housing and council tax benefits, attendance and disability living allowances you are entitled to.


The average UK pensioner household faces a £111,400 tax bill in retirement as increasing longevity means pensioners are living on average up to 19 years past the age of 65, according to figures from MetLife. And every year in retirement adds an extra £5,864 in direct and indirect taxes based on current tax rates to the costs for the average pensioner household. You can be forced to go bankrupt if you fail to pay your taxes, so it is vital to factor these costs into your retirement planning.It is also important to check that you are receiving all the benefits and tax breaks you are entitled to if you want to make the most of your retirement cash.

The cost of a room in a care home in many parts of the country is now over £30,000 a year, according to figures from Prestige Nursing and Care. So even if the prime minister announces a cap on care costs - last year the economist Andrew Dilnot called for a new system of funding which would mean that no one would pay more than £35,000 for lifetime care - families will still face huge accommodation costs. Ways to cut this cost include opting for home care rather than a care home. Jonathan Bruce, managing director of Prestige Nursing and Care, said: "For older people who may need care in the shorter term, home care is an option which allows people to maintain their independence for longer while living in their own home and should be included in the cap." However, the only other answer is to save more while you can.
Older Britons are often targeted by unscrupulous criminals - especially if they have a bit of money put away. For example, many over 50s were victims of the so-called courier scam that tricked into keying their pin numbers into their phones and handing their cards to "couriers" who visited their homes. It parted consumers from £1.5 million in under two years. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Barnard, head of the bank sponsored dedicated cheque and plastic crime unit (DCPCU), said: "Many of us feel confident that we can spot fraudsters, but this type of crime can be sophisticated and could happen to anyone." The same is true of boiler room scams that target wealthier Britons with money to invest, offering "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities to snap up shares at bargain prices. Tactics to watch out for include cold calling, putting you under pressure to pay up or lose the opportunity for good, and claiming to have insider information that they are prepared to share with you.

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