What to ask your employer about your workplace pension – Don’t miss out on extra £278,000 | Personal Finance | Finance

After data from the Office for National Statistics last week revealed a buoyant post-pandemic jobs market, Becky O’Connor, Head of Pensions and Savings at interactive investor, has given her top tips on what to ask a new employer about the workplace pension scheme as a potential new joiner.

She said: “Think of a pension as an effective, deferred pay rise and you will soon start to pay more attention to the percentages on offer from a potential new employer. The minimum contribution may be eight percent, but some employers are far more generous, with total contributions from some workplaces equal to more than 20 percent of salary.

“Over a lifetime of earnings, this extra can mean the difference between a reasonably basic retirement and a comfortable one when you give up work.

“According to interactive investor’s calculations, someone starting working life on a typical graduate salary, receiving pay rises of one percent a year, 2.5 percent above RPI investment growth and with a pension contribution of eight percent would retire with a pot worth £186,000 at age 68. This rises to £464,000 with a total contribution of 20 percent a year throughout working life – a £278,000 difference.

“If you are lucky enough to be choosing between jobs with similar salaries, then the generosity of a pension may swing it for you. The minimum auto-enrolment contribution including employee and employer contributions, as well as tax relief, is eight percent but employers hoping to attract talent often offer more and some schemes offer maximum employee/ employer/ tax relief in excess of 20 percent.

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“However, you will usually need to contribute more of your salary in order to get the maximum from an employer. Ask the recruiter or HR team at your prospective employer what the maximum contribution allowed is from you and up to what level will the employer match or ‘double match’ your contributions.

“An example of matching is you contribute five percent and your employer contributes five percent. Double matching would mean you put in five percent and your employer contributes 10 percent. It’s worth remembering that with all pensions, can also increase your own contributions up to the annual allowance of £40,000 or your maximum earnings, if lower, even if the employer doesn’t continue to match them.”

Ms O’Connor advised: “Ask if your workplace pension scheme offers a sustainable fund option either by default or one that you can choose yourself. The way pensions are invested by big workplace schemes can have an impact on the planet, as they may be invested in fossil fuels, or more beneficially, renewable energy. If this is important to you, ask whether a green option is available before signing up.

“Ask what type of pension scheme your potential new workplace offers. The chances are it is defined contribution, so you know what you will put in, but what you get out will depend on investment performance.

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“But if a public sector role, it could be defined benefit, in which case when you retire you will receive an income based on your salary when you were working. The latter are less common now but often more generous overall.

“Check what tax relief you will receive on contributions. Basic rate taxpayers will receive 20 percent tax relief. If you will be earning more than the higher rate tax threshold of £50,270, you can receive 40 percent relief on contributions and if you earn more than £150,000, you are entitled to 45 percent tax relief on contributions.

She continued: “Similarly, how tax relief is applied to your work pension can make a difference to your take-home pay and how much ends up in your retirement pot.

“Whether the scheme takes ‘relief at source’ (after tax) or is ‘net pay’ (before tax) can be particularly relevant to lower earners as with net pay schemes, people earning below the £12,570 personal allowance threshold won’t get tax relief, because they don’t pay income tax.

“With ‘relief at source’, they will still receive tax relief. It can also be relevant to higher earners, as with relief at source, higher earners may need to claim tax relief above the basic rate through their tax return – a bit of extra hassle.

“Many employers now offer salary sacrifice, saving both the employee and employer on their National Insurance bill, which may feel like a more pressing concern after the introduction of the new Health and Social Care levy from next April.”

Ms O’Connor explained: “This is where you agree to give up some salary in return for a higher pension contribution. This can have other implications, for example, potentially reducing your salary for mortgage affordability calculations, so it’s important to understand this before agreeing to give up salary in this way.

“Would your employer agree to pay your pension contributions into a Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP), so that you can choose how to invest your own pension? Some employers do offer this and it can be a good option if you want full choice and control over where your pension is invested.

“Will you receive a bonus and could you afford to invest this into a pension? ‘Bonus exchange’, where your bonus is paid directly into your pension, can result in a significantly reduced income tax and NI bill. If doing so would take you over your annual allowance of £40,000 (or maximum earnings if lower) in a tax year, consider using ‘carry forward’, which allows you to use up unused allowance from the previous three tax years.

“Be mindful of the tapered annual allowance for pensions if you are going to be earning more than £200,000, the ‘threshold income’ at which your annual allowance for contributions, usually £40,000 or up to a maximum of earnings if lower, begins to reduce,” she warned.

“For self-employed workers, when choosing how much to contribute, use what you would be paying in if employed as a benchmark, as you are your own employer, so the amount to aim for should equal what your total contribution would be from employee and employer if you were employed.

She concluded: “Interactive investor has suggested that the eight percent minimum may not be enough for an adequate retirement income, but 12 percent of earnings may be a better minimum contribution target, given global stock market returns may be ‘lower for longer’ over the coming decades.”

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