Preparing for retirement: Your six-step pension checklist

When you’re busy juggling work and your home life, retirement is likely to be the last thing on your mind.

After all, it’s often a big enough challenge working out how you’ll get to your next pay day without going into the red, without having to think about your pension too.

But here’s the good news: planning for retirement doesn’t have to be horribly time-consuming or complicated. Our six-step checklist can help you make sure you’re on track to achieve the retirement you want.

1. Know the value of your pensions

Start by making sure you have a clear idea of the current value of your retirement savings.
This will usually change over time, as the value of the investments your retirement savings are invested in can go up and down. But knowing roughly how much you’ve got now can help you to decide whether you need to be saving more or if you’re on track for retirement.

You should be sent a statement every year by your pension provider, which tells you how much you’ve got in your pension. If you can’t find yours, get in touch with your provider and ask them for a current value.

Make sure you track down any pensions you might have lost or forgotten about, too. According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the average person has 11 jobs in their lifetime – that’s a lot of pensions if you’ve signed up to your company pension scheme each time. There is a dedicated section of the government’s website which can help you find contact details for your workplace or personal pension scheme if you no longer have them.

2. Check where your pension is invested

Once you’ve located all your pensions, have a look and see where your savings are invested. Again, you should be able to find this information on your pension statement.

Your pension provider will usually offer several different funds to choose from – some will be riskier than others. If you don’t know which one to go for, your provider will usually invest your pension in what’s known as their ‘default fund’.

The default fund tends to invest in riskier investments like stocks and shares when you’re younger and then will gradually move your savings into less risky assets such as bonds and cash as you near retirement.

It’s worth trying to get to grips with where your pension is invested, as there might be other funds that suit you better or that come with lower fees. Unless you are highly confident making your own investment decisions, it can be helpful to speak to an independent financial advisor who can help you find the best pension funds for you.

If you need advice but don’t know where to start, you can read our guide on How to find the right financial advisor for you or use one of the websites or, which can both help you to find advisors in your local area.

3. Work out how much income you’ll need

couple getting pension advice

Grab a cup of tea and sit down with your latest bank statement so you can tot up how much goes out of your account each month on all the essentials like food, utility bills, Council Tax etc.

You’ll then need to add some extra for perks such as holidays and eating out. You should then have a rough idea of what sort of income you’ll need when you retire.

Don’t forget that the amount you’ll need often falls once you stop work, as you’ll no longer have to fork out for things like travel costs or work clothes and, if you’re a homeowner, hopefully you might have finished paying off your mortgage by then.

4. Remember to factor in the State Pension

It’s not just your workplace and any personal pensions that you need to factor in when planning for retirement. You’ll usually be entitled to a State Pension too.

You’ll need to have at least 10 ‘qualifying years’ of National Insurance Contributions (NICs) to be eligible for a State Pension. To get the full State Pension, which is £168.60 a week in the current 2019/20 tax year, you’ll need to have at least 35 qualifying years of NICs. Find out how much you might get and whether you qualify for a State Pension on the Government website here.

You can also request a statement from the Government detailing your National Insurance contributions to date and the number of qualifying years you have built up by calling them on 0300 200 3500 or by filling in their online form – it’s helpful to have your National Insurance number to hand.

5. Think about when you want to retire

Having a target retirement age in mind can help you do your sums and work out roughly how many years’ worth of income you might need once you’ve finished working.

You might, for example, decide you want to continue working beyond the usual retirement age of 65, or to go part-time for a few years before you stop work fully.

Of course, no-one knows exactly how long they’re going to live, but according to the Office for National Statistics, current life expectancy for males is 79.2 years and 82.9 for females. The challenge with using average life expectancy however is that there can be quite a large variation between individuals and ironically the older you are, the higher your expected life expectancy is. For example – the average life expectancy for those that have already reached 65 is 18.6 years for men and 20.9 years for women.

That means if you are planning to stop work when you’re 65, you will need a retirement income for roughly 20 years, although it can make sense to over-estimate your life expectancy as you won’t want to end up outliving your pension savings.

6. Start considering your options at retirement

happy retired couple

If you’ve got a defined contribution or money purchase pension, there are lots of different options available when it comes to taking an income from your pension.

Most pensions nowadays are defined contribution schemes, where your money is invested and the amount you get when you retire will depend on how much you paid in and how your investments have performed.

The Government’s Pension Wise service, run by the Pensions Advisory Service and Citizens Advice, provides people aged 50 and above with free guidance on their pension choices. You can give them a call on 0800 138 3944 to book a free appointment, or you can book one via their website.

It’s always worth taking advantage of a free appointment with Pension Wise, however if you want advice that’s tailored to you specifically, you’ll also need to speak to a financial advisor, as Pension Wise can only provide general guidance and not individual recommendations. In this case, our guide on How to find the right financial advisor for you might be helpful.

If you’re lucky enough to have a defined benefit or final salary scheme, you’ll get a guaranteed income at retirement which can make it much easier to plan your budgets for retirement. Check with your scheme’s administrator if you’re not sure when this income will start being paid.

We hope you found this guide useful. If you think we should include any other information, please do get in touch at [email protected].

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