Everyone knows that the changes in the taxation of pensions announced in the budget and now working their way into law – are going to make a big difference. But just how will they affect you and what can you do to make sure you are a beneficiary of change and not a victim?
From April 2015, anyone over the age of 55 will be able to choose to take their pension savings as a lump sum and not as income. So you could take all the money you’ve saved and pay off your mortgage, have a huge bank balance or even invest in a Lamborghini. According to numbers released by the Treasury, this is exactly what the Government expect many people to do. Which is why the Government expects to make money out of these changes. Because taking your money all at once will come with a big tax bill. You’ll still get your cash, but some or all of it may be docked anything between 20% and 45%- depending on your “marginal” rate of tax.
One way of making sense of the budget’s pension changes is to think of it as an elephant trap into which a lot of us will fall, because we are so eager to get our hands on our savings, that we miss the tax consequences and like the Elephant in the hole, find ourselves unable to get out of the mess we get ourselves into! The Treasury never gives money away, without the expectation of getting it back.
But you don’t have to be a victim. Infact, if you are a little bit expert, you can make tax savings from the budget pension changes. Instead of taking your money all at once, you can time how you take your money to pay less tax. By using your pension savings when your other income is low, you may be able to avoid paying your normal rate of tax on some or all of the money you draw against. So another way of making sense of the changes is that the Chancellor is looking to reward you for being prudent and managing your retirement savings prudently.
But there is a third way of looking at the budget changes which may make more sense than either of the first two. It involves thinking about investment – and thinking about it from the Government’s point of view. At present, most private pension savings is used to buy annuities. Annuities insure you against living too long and they do so by investing your money into Government Bonds (lending money to Government). The other way of investing is to through buying shares in companies. The long-term investment of pension funds into shares is what has kept the stock market flourishing since the Second World War, but this source of funding for companies is drying up as company pension schemes stop investing.
In our view, and it’s the view of most pension professionals, the budget’s pension changes are going to stop people buying annuities and keep them invested in shares. Those who take their money at once will benefit the Inland Revenue, those who stay invested in shares will benefit the private sector. Annuities weren’t just unpopular with the population, they were unpopular with the economists!
There is a final piece of the jigsaw which needs to be put in place. If you take away the default investment (annuities) and don’t help people with the choices they have to make, you risk being seen as a Government who at best was irresponsible and, at worst was actually mis-selling pensions. Which makes sense of why the Government are putting in place the Guidance Guarantee which offers everyone free face to face guidance on their future choices. The intention of these sessions, which will be paid for by the financial services sector, is to ensure that people who use the Guidance aren’t victims but beneficiaries of the budget’s pension changes. Let’s hope that this strategy works and that people take Guidance, take good decisions and make the budget as sensible as it should be!