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Grey matters: Demystifying pensions

Pensions can seem complicated, but they don’t have to be. People have common questions when starting to plan their pension and at Zurich we like to help with simple yet informative answers

 
Putting a little aside today could help you live an active and enjoyable life when you retire. There is more than one way to enjoy your retirement and there is more than one type of pension. We can help you choose the one that is right for you, but most importantly, you have full control when it comes to deciding how your pension is invested – after all, it's your money. With tax relief, employer contributions and optional lump sum payments, you may be able to save more than you think.
 
When choosing a pension having all the information you need is key. By answering some common questions we hope this helps explain pensions and how they work. 
 

1. How much do I need to save for my retirement?
How much you put into your pension pot depends on the type of lifestyle you would like to have and the length of time you will spend in retirement. Obviously, no one knows exactly how long they will live for and therefore how long their pension will need to last for. One thing we do know is that the sooner you start a pension, the bigger it should grow.
 
Due to better health for an ageing population, life expectancy is increasing. Most of us can now look forward to around 30 years in retirement, which is great news. How you support yourself financially during those years is the big question. It is important when planning your retirement to ensure you have built up a substantial pension fund by the time you retire. Zurich’s pension and retirement calculator can help you with your retirement planning and will show you how much you need to put away for later in life. 
 
2. How is my money invested?
A key factor in helping you grow your retirement fund is the investment return you could earn on your pension contributions. Any contributions you make into a pension will be invested in a fund, with a view to growing your money. Where your money is invested and how much risk you are prepared to accept is completely up to you. However, a general rule of thumb is the further you are from your retirement, the more adventurous you can be with your investment choice. An expert such as a financial broker or advisor will be able to help you work out what investment choice might best suit you. Zurich Life offers you access to a wide range of investment funds and choices – from very low risk options such as cash funds, medium risk options like multi-asset or managed funds, and higher risk options such as equity and property funds. We make it easy for you to keep track of how your pension is performing by providing the most up-to-date fund information you need – including the value of your pension.
 
3. How does the tax relief work?
Saving for your retirement is down to you, but to encourage you to save for you future, you will receive valuable support from the government in the form of tax relief. It’s one of the most compelling reasons to save through a pension. Other forms of savings, like bank accounts or savings plans, do not attract such generous incentives. 
 
Every contribution you make to a pension plan receives tax relief based on the rate of income tax you pay (most of us pay income tax at a rate of either 20% or 40%). Use our tax relief calculator to work out what your pension contribution may cost after tax relief. 
 
4. If I have my own pension will I still be entitled to the State pension?
You can still have your own pension and receive the State pension as long as you meet the criteria. To qualify for the contributory State pension you must have started paying social insurance before reaching 56 years of age. You must have paid at least 520 full rate social insurance contributions and have a yearly average of at least 48 paid and/or credited full rate contributions from the year you started insurable employment until you reach 66 years of age. If you don't have the above then you must have a yearly average of at least 10 paid and/or credited full rate contributions from the year you started insurable employment to the end of the contribution year before you reach the age of 66.
 
5. Is it too late for me to save in my 50s?
Planning for retirement is an important step to take, and it's never too soon or too late to start planning your pension, which will help you to have the lifestyle and financial stability you desire in your retirement.
 
Although it’s never too late to start saving for your retirement, obviously the sooner you start the better. Regardless of your age, whether you're self-employed or an employee, we've created pension plans for all circumstances. See which pension is right for you
 
How much should you be putting away for your retirement? It's a common question we're often asked. Of course, it's up to you. But a simple way to check is to use our pension calculators which can help you decide how much to contribute towards your pension. They'll also show you the levels of tax relief you may be eligible for on your contributions. Just input your details, set your retirement goal and you'll quickly work out what you may need to start putting away for your retirement.
 

6. When can I access my pension savings?
In Ireland, tax relief is given for saving for retirement, therefore withdrawing your funds ahead of time is not encouraged and is often only allowed if there is a case of ill-health, such as that caused by a long-term disability. If this is the case and you are experiencing a serious illness, then you can access your personal pension at any age. Otherwise, if you want to access your pension early, you must wait until you're 50 to draw it down if you are in an occupational pension scheme and you must be 60 if you have a PRSA (50 if you're an employee and leaving service) or a retirement annuity pension.
 
7. What are my options at retirement?
After you have taken your retirement tax free, cash lump sum you can choose between an annuity and/or an Approved Retirement Fund (ARF). An annuity is whereby on retirement you receive a regular income for the rest of your life. Annuities may be more suited to people who wish to avoid potential risks such as stock market volatility, and would prefer a guaranteed income for their retirement.
 
There are several choices you need to make when purchasing an annuity: A single life annuity is payable for the rest of your life only. With a joint life annuity, a percentage of your pension is payable to your spouse after you die. If you choose to include a guaranteed period, your pension will be payable for a minimum of the guaranteed period, even if you die during that time. A level annuity means payment of the annuity remains the same throughout your life and an escalating annuity means payment of the annuity increases at a fixed rate each year. 
 
An ARF is a personal retirement fund where you can keep your money invested after retirement. You can withdraw from it regularly to give yourself an income, which will be subject to income tax, PRSI (up to age 66) and USC. Any money left in the fund after your death can be left to your next of kin.
 
There are certain restrictions to investing in an ARF. Zurich’s annuity or ARF tool will help guide you on the option that might best suit you.
 

8. Defined benefit vs defined contribution
Company pensions can generally be categorised as being either defined benefit or defined contribution. A defined benefit pension plan (DB) sets out the specific benefit that will be paid to a retiree. This calculation takes into account factors such as the number of years an employee has worked and their salary, which then dictates the pension and/or lump sum that will be paid on retirement.
 
A defined contribution pension (DC) is an accumulation of funds that makes up a person's pension pot. A person contributes a portion of their salary to a pension scheme. Ideally, although not always, their employer also contributes and these contributions are invested in a fund in order to provide retirement benefits. There is tax relief on this type of pension and the benefits at retirement will depend on a number of different factors such as the contribution levels, how the investment fund performs, plan charges and fees and the annuity rates available when you retire.
 
The main difference between a defined benefit scheme and a defined contribution scheme is that the former promises a specific income and the latter depends on factors such as the amount you pay into the pension and the fund's investment performance.
 
9. What are the fees associated with my pension?
There are different sets of fees depending on the type of pension you take out and which organisation you hold your pension with. The Pension Authority advises that consumers get to know the typical charges that can apply. These might include entry fees, contribution charges or bid/offer spreads, annual management charges (AMC), policy charges/per member fees, switching charges and Pension Authority fees.
 
10. Do I need to speak to a financial broker or advisor? 
We know talking about pensions won’t get your pulse racing. And of course, you’d rather be living your life than worrying about your retirement. But we also know that the sooner you deal with it, the better off you’ll be come retirement. 

As this is your money and your future, it’s always advisable to speak to a financial advisor. You can find a local financial advisor near you with the Zurich Life Advisor Finder. Alternatively, our Financial Planning Team can provide you with more information about Zurich Life's pension plans and options. For more information visit www.zurichlife.ie.
 

The information contained herein is based on Zurich Life's understanding of current Revenue practice as at August 2017 and may change in the future.

Zurich Life Assurance plc is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland