Self-employed? Easy ways to start a pension (ad)

Picture of a boat pulled up on a beach, as the holiday of a lifetime

Easy ways to start saving for retirement

Setting up a pension can seem daunting if you’re self-employed, but there are easy ways to start.
When you’re building a business, sorting out a pension is hardly top of your to-do list. But if you don’t fancy living on £175.20 a week from the full new State Pension, you need to start saving for retirement.
It’s oh-so-easy if you are an employee. Under auto enrolment, if you earn enough, your boss arranges a pension unless you opt out, and even chucks in extra money on top.
But if you’re self-employed, it’s all up to you.

Pension problems faced by the self-employed

Choosing a pension can seem boring and bewildering.
If your income can be mega bucks one month and zip all another, it’s hard to commit to regular payments. If your earnings dried up during coronavirus, it’s even harder to set aside anything for the future. If you’ve never had a pension before, horror stories about needing to stash away huge sums can put you off.
Plus, any money paid into pension is locked up until you reach 55 at the earliest, rising to 57 from 2028. What if you need that money for something else? For your business, a tax bill, mortgage payments or little luxuries like, y’know, food?
I’ve lost count of the number of self-employed people and freelancers who’ve told me they know they should have a pension, but don’t know what to use. Even so, the figures about the lack of pensions for the self-employed are still staggering.
Retirement saving by the self-employed has dropped off a cliff in the last couple of decades. Back in 1998, almost half the self-employed were paying into pensions. Fast forward to last year, and it had slumped to just 16%, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (and doesn’t that sound like lively bedtime reading).
A whopping 3.5 million self-employed workers aren’t paying into a pension, but we can’t all be relying on a lottery win to fund retirement.

Blithely assuming ‘my business is my pension’ or ‘my house is my pension’ won’t cut the mustard either, if your business dwindles and you still need somewhere to live.

So if ‘sort out a pension’ has been on your to-do list for longer than you’d like to mention, here’s why you should and tips on easy ways to get started.
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Pinterest size image of a rowing boat on a beach for my post on easy ways to start pension if you are self-employed

Why should I pay into a pension?

If you don’t fancy scraping by on the State Pension, you need to set money aside now to fund your future.

It’s particularly important if you’re self-employed, because you don’t have a boss to add employer contributions. 

As a frugal blogger, the big attraction to me of pensions is that the Government adds free money. Yup, the government bribes us to pay into pensions, by topping up our contributions with tax relief.
The other good news is that you can get your hands on your pension money a good 10 years before the State Pension starts, if you don’t fancy working until 67 or older. Plus, you can whip out 25% tax free, even if the rest gets hit by income tax.
If you’re near retirement, you can really appreciate the benefits of ploughing more into a pension and getting free money on top. If retirement is decades away, you’re in a brilliant position to benefit from compounding, when even small pension contributions can add up over many years to a turbo-charged pension pot.
Previous post about compounding: The one thing you really need to know about money 
Coronavirus has hit many self-employed people really hard, especially if you didn’t qualify for any of the government help from the self-employment income support scheme or bounce back loans
But if you’re still earning, consider ploughing some of your lockdown savings into a pension. I finally found the time in lockdown to set up a small monthly direct debit into my pension, rather than just topping it up when I know what’s left after my tax bill.  Even if I can’t head to off to restaurants/pubs/clubs/holidays right now, at least I can fund some fun in future.
Picture of a jar with coins in it, for my post on easy ways to start a pension if you are self-employed

Add some free money to your pension pot

Free money for paying into a pension

Remember the Government bribe to pay into pensions?

As a sole trader

If you pay basic rate tax, then for every £100 you pop in a pension, you should automatically get another £25 added in tax relief. If you’re a higher rate or additional rate taxpayer, you can also claim extra tax relief back when you file your tax return. Pensions are a real winner for high earners.
You can pay up to 100% of earnings into a pension each tax year, max £40,000, and get a whole slug of tax relief.
Plus, if you ever suddenly earn megabucks, and haven’t maxed out contributions in previous years, you can ‘carry forward’ your annual allowance for up to 3 previous years and make a massive contribution. Not more than 100% of earnings in the current year, mind, and you’ll need to have been signed up with a pension during the previous years, but still the potential to boost your pension if your business suddenly booms.
Even if you don’t earn enough to pay any tax, for example if your business is starting out, you’re on maternity leave or working part time, you can still pay up to £2,880 into a pension each year and see it topped up with £720 in tax relief to £3,600.

As a limited company

The situation is slightly different if you’ve set up self-employment via a limited company, rather than as a sole trader.
In most cases, you’re likely to be better off making pension contributions via your company instead. 
Pension contributions count as an ‘allowable business expense’, which means they don’t get hit with corporation tax. The company won’t have to pay national insurance on pension contributions either. That’s a saving of 32.8% in total, if you chuck money in your pension rather than paying it as salary.
Your pension contributions will be tax-free as long you don’t exceed the £40,000 a year annual allowance, and you can still take advantage of the carry forward rules. It’s just not a good idea to pay in more than your company’s annual profit, or the tax man could get touchy.

Choosing the right pension for you

Maybe you know you need a pension, but the choice is overwhelming with so many on offer. 
If you don’t fancy paying an independent financial adviser to help you, you basically have three main options depending on how much effort and enthusiasm you want to put into your pension:
–  You can opt for a pension from one of the big companies or from Nest, the provider set up by the government to cope with auto enrolment, and pick a few funds from the limited range on offer.
–  Keen on a wider choice, and the chance to manage your investments now and for ever more? Try a self-invested personal pension (SIPP) from one of the investment platforms.
– Prefer someone else to ‘do it for you’, as opposed to a DIY-style SIPP?  Look at the ready-made portfolios popping up from fin tech companies.
Picture of a mint plant growing on a windowsill

The sooner you start a pension, the sooner your money can grow

Easy ways to start a pension

For an easy life, the ready made, fully managed portfolios have it beat, although you may pay slightly more in charges than if you manage the money yourself. 
You could research till the cows come home, agonise over investment options and disappear into spreadsheets. If you like that stuff, fine.
Otherwise, the easy way to start a pension is to pick a reasonably low cost option, set up direct debit for an affordable amount each month, and get on with your life and building your business. 
The rule of thumb about how to pay in is to take the age when you’re starting contributions, halve it, and pay that percentage of your income into a pension. But if that seems too much, any contributions are better than nothing at all.
Select a plan that doesn’t charge exit fees, and you can always move your money later, if you change your mind. Keen to be green? Look out for sustainable and environmentally friendly options.
In the meantime, the tax relief will keep rolling in and hopefully your money will keep rolling up, although as with any investment, your balance will go up and down.

The new self-employed pension from PensionBee

This week, I’m particularly delighted that PensionBee has launched a pension which the self-employed can start from scratch (affiliate link).
Previously, you could only join PensionBee if you already had existing pensions to transfer from somewhere else.
Now PensionBee has opened up their plans to everyone self-employed, whether sole traders or limited companies.
This means you can join PensionBee even if you’ve never had a pension before, or might not want to transfer a previous pension for example because it’s a generous final salary scheme or has other valuable benefits.
The PensionBee pension is suitably flexible – you can sign up for free, with no minimum contributions. You can set up regular contributions or just chuck in lump sums when you can afford it, from a personal or business bank account. 
You can choose between nine different pension plans, all managed for you, including the new Fossil Free Fuel Plan (affiliate link). Fees range from 0.5% to 0.95% a year all in, with 50% off for any savings over £100,000. That’s a total fee, with no sneaky extra charges for contributions or exit fees.
Signing up literally only takes a few minutes (I’ve tried it) including tapping in your National Insurance number and bank details for any payments. Self-employed customers get exactly the same benefits and choice of pension plans as other PensionBee customers, they just have the option to skip the ‘add a pension’ step when signing up. Everything else stays the same.
From a practical perspective, the PensionBee website and app are a joy to use, and believe me, I’ve wrestled with the websites for a lot of different financial products.
Now – over to you. If you’re self-employed, are you paying into a pension? If not, what’s stopping you? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear!

This is a collaborative post with PensionBee

PensionBee is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. With pensions, your capital is at risk. The value of your pension with PensionBee can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you started with.

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  1. 6th February 2021 / 4:01 pm

    I’m not gonna lie, until the last 12 months or so when I hit the big 3-0, my pension was literally one of the last things on my mind. In fact, it was up there with hair dye and wrinkle cream (luckily, I still don’t need either yet!), but it was an issue for later. For an older me, for years away me. Until I turned 30, and self employed almost overnight. As someone who obsesses with my financial situation and likes to think of myself as fairly money savvy, it has definitely been playing on my mind more, so this is definitely a great read for me.

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  3. 22nd September 2021 / 10:47 am

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The contents of this blog are for information and ideas, and should not be viewed as financial advice. Use of the material is conditional on there being no liability for how you choose to use it. If you are unsure about any investments or financial issues, please contact a financial adviser.