Saving into a pension for the first time

Nearly one in five people aged 55 or over have no private pension savings, but it’s never too late to start setting some money aside for retirement.

According to research by, the website which matches people to financial advisors, 17% of those aged 55 or older admit they have no pension other than the State Pension, which currently pays out a maximum of £9,339 a year. Despite this lack of pension provision, nearly half of those questioned said that they were hoping for a retirement income of at least £20,000 a year, with 61% hoping for at least £10,000.

Don’t assume that if you’re in your fifties or sixties that it’s too late to start paying into a pension for the first time. Even setting aside a small sum each month could make a big difference to your retirement income when you stop work.

Here, we explain why pensions are so important, how to go about choosing one, and how to work out how much you should pay in.

Why pensions matter

One of the biggest benefits of a pension is that the taxman boosts the amount you pay into it. For example, if you’re a basic rate taxpayer a £100 contribution into your pension will only cost you £80 thanks to government tax relief. If you’re a higher or additional rate taxpayer the same contribution will only set you back £60 or £55.

Is it too late to start a pension?

Even if you’re in your fifties or sixties and are hoping to retire in the next few years, don’t assume that it’s not worth starting a pension now. Arguably, it’s even more worthwhile paying into one if you’re planning to stop work relatively soon, as you’ll still qualify for tax relief on your contributions up to the age of 75 and you’ll also be able to access your pension savings (including the top up from the taxman) much sooner than someone who’s in their twenties or thirties.

Even if you’re not earning enough to pay income tax, you can still get basic rate tax relief on pension contributions of up to £2,880 each year. So if for example, you’re currently out of work, your partner might decide to make pension contributions on your behalf until you find a new job. You can find out more about in our guide to How pension tax relief works.

Pension saving if you’re employed

If you’re employed, your employer should have automatically enrolled you into a company pension scheme, into which both they and you must contribute. Under current rules, anyone aged 22 or over earning a minimum of £10,000 from a single job is eligible for auto-enrolment. You can choose to opt out if you want to, but it’s not usually recommended unless there are exceptional circumstances, for example, you need to pay back expensive debts first.

If you’ve been auto-enrolled into your employer’s workplace pension scheme, under current minimum contribution limits, you’ll be paying in 5% of your salary before tax (of which 1% is tax relief), whilst your employer will pay in 3%, bringing the total contribution to 8%. Your payslip should show any pension contributions that are deducted each month and if you’re not sure whether you’ve been auto-enrolled, check with your employer.

Some employers will pay in more than the minimum contribution, and you can pay in extra if you want to. You are also able to make additional one off voluntary contributions into a workplace pension at any time and still receive any tax relief eligible to you – simply call your pension provider and speak to them about the options available to you.

If you earn less than £10,000 a year, perhaps because you work part-time, you can still ask your employer if you can join the company scheme and they can’t refuse. However, bear in mind that if you earn less than £520 a month, or £120 a week, your employer doesn’t have to contribute to your pension. Find out more in our article Can I join my workplace pension scheme if I’m on a low salary?

Even if your employer contributes into a workplace pension on your behalf, you are still able to take out a private pension on your own to supplement your pension – providing you stay within your annual contribution allowances.

Starting a pension if you work for yourself

If you’re self-employed, it’s up to you to make your own pension provision and there are several different types of personal pension to choose from. Whichever type you choose, your money will get invested, and the amount you end up with when you retire depends on how much you’ve paid in and how your investments have performed, once any charges have been deducted.

Types of personal pension include Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs) which usually suit confident investors who are comfortable choosing and managing their pension investments. You can find out more about how SIPPs work in our article Everything you need to know about SIPPs. There are also Stakeholder Pensions, which allow you to make small contributions starting from £20 a month, and to stop and start these if you need to. Your money is usually invested in a default fund, unless you request otherwise.

If you’re not sure which type of pension to choose, or which investments to put your money into you might want to seek professional financial advice. You can find a local financial advisor on VouchedFor or or check out our guide on How to find the right financial advisor for you. If you think you might be interested in speaking with a financial advisor about your pension, VouchedFor is currently offering Rest Less members a free pension check with a local well-rated financial advisor. There’s no obligation, but once you’ve had your check, the advisor will discuss the potential for an ongoing relationship if you think it might be useful to you.

Whilst there is a lot of research showing that financial advice can pay for itself through better investment performance, bear in mind that there are costs involved with seeking financial advice which you may not want to, or be able to afford paying. . Online investment platforms, sometimes known as ‘robo-advisers’, such as, and, can provide a lower cost alternative although you won’t receive advice that is specifically tailored to your individual circumstances. Instead, you sign up for a personal pension and then choose from a range of ready-made pension portfolios designed to suit different approaches to risk. Make sure you read the small print carefully before signing up to these services and remember that there will still be fees involved so always check exactly how much you’ll pay. Learn more about how robo-advice works in our article What is robo-advice? and find out more about self-employed pensions and the options available to you in our guide Self-employed? Your pension options explained.

How much should you save into your pension?

The simple answer to how much you should save into your pension is as much as you can afford, without leaving yourself financially overstretched. This amount will be different for everyone, but the more you can put away, the greater the chance you’ll be able to enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Some experts suggest that halving your age and then paying this percentage of your monthly wage into your pension each month for the remainder of your working life is a good goal to aim for. That means if, for example, you’re currently aged 55, you should try to put away 27.5% of your income before it’s taxed each month until you retire. If you’re earning £2,500 a month, that means you should ideally aim to pay £687.50 of this a month into your pension (27.5% of £2,500.)

You can learn more about how much you should be putting away in our article How much should I save for retirement?. Bear in mind that the amount you can pay into a pension and earn tax relief on is capped each year, known as your Annual Allowance (this is currently £40,000). There’s also a Lifetime Allowance, which is the total amount you can save into your pension without being hit by a tax charge. In the current 2020/21 tax year, which finishes on April 5, 2021, the Lifetime Allowance is £1,073,100 and it is due to rise to £1,078,900 at the start of the 2021/22 tax year. Find out more about pension allowances in our article Understanding your pension allowances.


Are you thinking about paying into a pension for the first time, or have you recently set one up? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the conversation on the Rest Less Community forum or leave a comment below.

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

If you’re considering getting professional financial advice, VouchedFor is offering Rest Less members a free pension check with a local advisor. There’s no obligation but once you’ve had your review, the advisor will discuss the potential for an ongoing paid relationship if you think it might be useful to you.


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