When should I start claiming my pension?

Sharon Bonfield explains why leaving your pension invested longer can help you to a more comfortable retirement.
When should I start claiming my pension

With new pension freedoms have left many people asking, ‘When should I start claiming my pension?’ For people who can afford not to dip into their retirement savings, keeping your pension invested for longer could be a wise move. 

Nothing in life is a given, least of all how long we are going to live for. So while you might know which savings, assets and sources of income you have to rely on, it’s impossible to gauge whether those life savings will need to last twenty years, thirty-five years or even much longer. 

We do know, however, that life expectancy has been trending upwards. A man aged 55 today can expect to reach 84 years old, while having a 25% chance of living to 92 years old and a one-in-ten chance of reaching 97, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)1

The same ONS data reveals that women tend to have longer lifespans than men, with the average female aged 55 today projected to live to 87. A quarter of those her age will live to be 94 years old, one-in-ten will reach the age of 98 and six per cent will see their 100th birthday. That’s nearly double the figure for men2

Semi-retirement becomes more popular  

We also know that people aren’t retiring in the same way that previous generations did. More people are choosing to work on past the age of 55 – the point at which savers with defined contribution pensions become eligible to start withdrawing their savings. Semi-retirement is becoming more common, where people step back into part-time work or maybe take a couple of years off before returning to their profession or retraining. 

Approaching the age of 55 is becoming more like the ‘start’ of retirement and people are increasingly asking ‘should I leave my pension where it is?’ 

Here are some key points to think through: 

  • If you plan to keep working or have other income streams – such as property, for example – leaving your pension invested gives it an opportunity to potentially grow. This means that when you decide to take the tax-free lump sum that savers are entitled to (currently 25% of your total pension savings), it will be a larger amount. Be aware that any investment can also fall in value. 
  • In addition, one strategy in retirement is to live off the dividend income and interest from investments, rather than withdrawing the capital saved. The larger your pension, the more potential income it may generate. 
  • This needs to be tempered with ensuring that the investment strategy for your pension has been adapted appropriately. This is because the best way of investing when accumulating savings is very different to the optimal way of investing for later life, when there needs to be a careful balance between preserving your savings while also using them. 

Risks of claiming my pension too early

You can keep contributing to a pension and receive tax relief until the age of 75, boosting your savings to ensure a comfortable ‘full’ retirement when you get there. (Tax relief is the government top-up to your savings that’s based on your income tax band). 

However, people can get caught out by a little-known clause called the ‘money purchase annual allowance’ (MPAA). The rules around this are quite complex and it’s vital to get expert advice, especially if you haven’t properly ‘retired’ yet and plan to carry on working and paying into your pension. 

The MPAA is a restriction on the amount that an individual can keep saving into their pension and still receive tax relief, which is £4,000 for the 2020-21 tax year. It is often triggered by withdrawing more than the permitted tax-free lump sum and can clearly have major detrimental effects on your retirement plans. 

Online retirement calculators such as the one available on the St James’ Place website can be useful in providing an indication of what you need to save and the targets you might want to reach to be comfortable financially. But they have limitations; financial advisers use more sophisticated cashflow planning software which can factor in what might happen to your retirement if there were slumps in investment markets and what the financial implications of gradual retirement may be. 

So before you decide when it is you want to retire, assess all of your options including whether it may be worth leaving your pension invested a little longer. If you can live off other income streams in the meantime, you may find it helps you get to a more comfortable retirement.  

1,2 Office for National Statistics, Life expectancy calculator, dataset released on 2 December 2019 

If you found ‘When should I start claiming my pension?’ informative, you’ll find more pre-retirement money tips on our pensions channel.

Last modified: July 5, 2021

Written by 1:19 pm Pensions