BY THE time you reach your fifties, you probably have about 10 years to sort out your pension and retirement income.
Most of us think we should have done more at 20, 30, or 40 but it's not too late. Just don't reach 60 wishing you'd done more at 50.
The simple steps below can really make a difference to your future income if you act now.
Check your state pension
It can be worth more than £200 a week if you get all the extras. Most of us will get about £100 a week on average, with men usually receiving more than women.
To qualify for the basic state pension of £84.25 a week you must have paid National Insurance (NI) contributions for about 40 years. Any less and you will get a smaller pension.
Many women paid reduced NI contributions in the past and some still do. These contributions are a waste of money and do not count towards the state pension.
You can pay missing contributions back to April 1996. It will cost between £310 and £360 a year to fill in gaps. Each year you buy will boost your pension by about £100 annually.
If you have no pension entitlement, paying extra contributions could give you a pension of £21 a week.
If you divorce or are widowed, you can count on your ex or late spouse's contributions for the years you were married. You lose this right if you remarry before pension age, so it is better not to. Men aged 60 to 64 who do not work, get NI contributions automatically credited to them if they need to qualify for full pensions.
Most people will also get some additional earnings-related pension in the form of State Earnings-Related Pension (Serps) or State Second Pension (S2P). The maximum is more than £140 a week but the average is more like £13.
Women born before April 6, 1950 can draw their state pension at 60.
Women born after April 5, 1955 will have to wait until they are 65. Those born in between those dates will reach pension age between 60 and 65.
It is likely that the way we qualify for the state pension will change in future and the pension age will rise. If you are in your fifties already this won't have a significant effect on you.
Once you reach 60 you can claim the £200 winter fuel payment. It is paid to everyone of that age.
Call 0845 3000 168 or log on to www.thepensionservice.co.uk and ask for form BR19.
Track down old pensions
People change jobs, employers change names and we all forget things. So it is easy to lose track of pensions you have paid into. If you do not look for them, they certainly won't come looking for you. The Pension Tracing Service holds details of more than 200,000 schemes and will put you in touch with an old pension scheme free of charge. The more information you give, the more chance there is of reuniting you with your money. There may be nothing there but it is always worth a search.
Call 0845 6002 537 www.thepensionservice.co.uk
Check your current pension
Most jobs come with some kind of pension scheme. If you are in one, find out what your pension will be worth. If your employer has one that they pay into and you have not joined, join now, otherwise you are giving up not only a pay rise but a hefty subsidy from the Chancellor.
Salary-related schemes promise you a pension that is a percentage of your pay and is related to the number of years you paid in. Money purchase schemes are not so generous. They save up all the contributions you and your employer pay in and invest them in a pension fund. When you retire you can take a quarter of the fund as a tax-free lump sum. The rest has to be used to buy you a pension for the rest of your life — this is known as an annuity.
Other sorts of pensions — such as personal, stakeholder or additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) — are all money purchase schemes.
Normally, only you will have paid into them, so the fund will be smaller than in an employer's scheme.
The value of a pension in this type of scheme depends on investment returns, life expectancy, and interest rates when you retire.
Reckon on a flat-rate pension of about £6,000 a year at 60 for each £100,000 saved up.
You will receive a statement each year saying what your pension might be — but that is only an illustration and will almost certainly be wrong.
Some forecasts will also include information about your state pension.
Boost your pension
Whatever scheme you are in, one thing is always guaranteed — you will want more. You can boost your pension by taking out another. If you are in a salary-related scheme, see if you can buy added years. They are the best deal, although they may be expensive. If not, or if you are in a money purchase scheme, you can take out an additional stakeholder pension or put extra money into AVCs which your firm may offer.
You can put just about as much as you like into a pension. The upper limit is the amount you earn a year, or £215,000, whichever is more. In the year you draw your pension, it is unlimited. You can put a redundancy payment or inheritance towards a pension if you want. You get tax relief on the whole sum, which is worth a lot, especially for higher-rate tax payers.
You can take a quarter of your pension as tax-free cash. If your total pension funds are worth less than £15,000, you can take it all in cash but income tax will be due on three-quarters of it.