How to top up your pension

17 December 2012

Pension savers will soon see the estimated value of their pensions drop significantly after the Financial Services Authority forces them to "get real" by reducing projection rates for pensions.

From 6 April 2014, providers will have to give savers an indication of possible future returns based on their pension growing by 2, 5 and 8%, rather than 5, 7 and 9%, as is currently the case.

If you don't want to be disappointed by the size of your potential pension fund, what can you do to top it up?

1. If you can afford to, increase your contributions

Adding just a bit to the amount you put away each month can really mount up. For example, assuming a real return of 3.5% per year (after charges and inflation), a 30-year-old paying an extra £50 a month net into their pension until the state pension age of 68 would boost their pension pot by about £57,000 in today's money, according to Standard Life.

2. Review your attitude to risk

While it's understandable to be careful with your money, "many customers underestimate the risk of potential low annual returns from investing in low-risk assets, which over the longer term are expected to underperform higher-risk assets," says Rod McKie, head of at retirement marketing at Aegon UK.

"This is particularly relevant for customers with many years to go to retirement as such a strategy will on average result in them having a pension pot significantly lower than someone who has taken more risk," he adds.

For example, Morningstar data shows that in the 10 years to 9 November 2012, the average fund in the relatively risky Global Emerging Equity sector increased by 375%, compared with a more modest rise of 70% from the average fund in the lower-risk Sterling Corporate Bond fund.

However, pensions campaigner and director-general of Saga Dr Ros Altmann warns: "If risky investments don't work out then you might need to be ready to put in much more later."

Find the best annuity rate for your circumstances

3. Delay drawing your pension

This gives you longer to contribute to your fund as well as allowing your investments more time to grow. Annuity rates also improve as you get older, so if you delay your retirement you stand to get a better pension income - as long as overall annuity rates don't fall.

Also, don't settle for the first annuity rate your pension company offers. Make sure you shop around for a competitive rate as the difference could be as much as 30% more income.

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