Why Your Pension Is Failing You – SSAS/SIPP/Workplace Pensions

Unless you’ve taken a day to sit down and really review your pension situation, your pension is almost certainly failing you.

In the UK most of us just trust our financial futures to our employer, and just assume that our workplace pensions are being well managed – and that’s if we’re trying to be sensible.

The less sensible among us will be trusting their futures to the state pension – which is like putting your trust in a tiger not to eat you.

But this video is aimed at those who want their private pensions to shine, to outperform the mundane, and to set you apart in your retirement from the majority who are just barely able to get by.

We’ll show you how to get your pension working for you: how to withdraw money from it before you’re retired, how to break free of mediocre returns, how to add investment property into your pension, and how to dodge tax to the max while staying within the law. Let’s check it out!

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What Normal People Do

Most people in the UK of working age contribute to a Defined Contribution workplace pension. As well as this, they will hold several other workplace pensions from past jobs, probably one from each.

A UK worker will change employer every five years on average, which means your average 40-year-old will have 4 pensions on the go; 3 of which are no longer contributed to.

We were a bit more trigger-happy with the job-quittings when we were in the workforce, and between the two of us we’d racked up 11 workplace pensions by age 32 – none of which were doing a great job for us!

The problem with many workplace pensions in the UK is that they are UK biased. More than that, they are overly keen on low performing bonds.

One of MU co-founder Ben's old workplace pensions

Above is the breakdown of one of my old workplace pensions. Around 30% of it is bonds. For a 30-year-old, that is far too unambitious.

Bonds can be useful for people approaching pension drawdown age. But for someone with 3 decades to go until that happens, it’s frankly laughable.

Also, 38% is in UK equities – notorious for its low returns in recent decades. Why is this pension not investing larger amounts in the USA, the world’s economic powerhouse?

The answer? Workplace pension funds are stuck in the past, still conforming to home bias from the days before global investing became cheap and accessible.

Impact Of Home Bias And Too Many Bonds

The presence of too much UK equity and bonds is clear from the returns. This Aegon pension returned 5.5% annually over 5 years, which is 30% total growth:

Underwhelming performance of the old workplace pension

Over the same timeframe, a typical globally diversified equity fund – VWRL – returned 7.3% annually, which is 42% total growth. Lightyears ahead.

The problem with turning a blind eye to your pensions until you’re ready to retire is obvious – you’ve left it too late to make any necessary improvements.

The optimum time to get a grip on your pensions is the day you start your career – failing that, the next best time is today.

Finding out that your pension was invested in underperforming assets for the last 40 years at age 60 is not ideal. And yet this is what the majority will do.

Why Workplace Pensions Can Get Away With Poor Performance

They need to impress your employer – not you. And the wage-slave making the pensions decision for their company is unlikely to know much about investing.

A workplace pension provider could be chosen on the basis of sweet-talking the HR department better than the competition, rather than a proper long-term appraisal of their investment strategy.

What The Rich Do

Rich people don’t hold their futures in employee pension schemes. These schemes are too restrictive, with annoying rules that forbid you from accessing your own money until you’re at least 55.

Such rules don’t apply to the rich, nor to those aspiring to be rich who follow in their example.

They know better, and make use of a little-known type of pension called a Small Self-Administered Scheme pension, known as a SSAS.

SSAS Pensions – True Financial Freedom

A SSAS is a flexible pension usually for company directors of limited companies, managed by you (or by trustees that you appoint). Don’t let the ‘company directors’ part put you off – both Andy and I are company directors, as are many people who invest in property, as can be anyone who puts their mind to it.

We’ll come back to this point in a bit, but first let us tell you why you need to be aspiring towards having your future invested in this type of pension.

Once established, a SSAS pension can invest in all the normal assets such as stocks and shares, commodities, corporate bonds, and gilts – but it can also hold any investment property that you buy, and even shares in your own business.

It also gives you vast additional powers and opportunities, including getting your hands on your pension money whenever you need it, instead of in your late 50s like with other pensions.

Why You Should Have A SSAS Pension

#1 – Get Your Money When You Need It

You are allowed to make a loan of up to 50% of the value of your pension to your company for any use.

For example, you could use the funds in your pension to buy out part of your own company (i.e. giving you, the owner, a load of money). Alternatively, it could be structured as a loan to yourself.

Can you imagine dipping into your workplace pension at age 30? Well, you could, if your pension was a SSAS.

#2 – Invest In Property

As we touched on already, pensions don’t have to just invest in stocks and bonds – with a SSAS, you can use your pension cash to buy investment properties too.

One of our biggest annoyances with ISAs is that they can’t be used to buy properties (outright – we don’t mean REIT funds).

Well, a SSAS is an alternative tax-shielded product that you can do just that with, and still have some flexibility to access to your money at any age.

#3 – Very Tax Efficient

Contributions can be made by both you and your company – and because your company is probably you, this means tax loopholes!

SSAS pensions get the same basic tax benefits of other pension types, including:

  • Pension contributions are deductible against tax;
  • No income tax charge on investments;
  • No capital gains tax on investments;
  • A tax-free lump sum on retirement.

But SSAS pensions get extra tax benefits too:

  • Commercial property can be bought by the SSAS and leased back to your company, which may have tax advantages (also possible in some SIPPs);
  • Loans can be made to your business – the interest, which is effectively payable to yourself, could be tax deductible;
  • You have greater control over accessing lump sums, which might have tax advantages over normal pensions.

#4 – Fees Are Fixed

Fees are typically charged on a fixed basis rather than the traditional percentage charges for most normal pensions, and is shared amongst the members.

The ones we’ve seen cost between £300-£1,000 a year, no matter the size of your pot. This is great for wealthy people – probably not great for smaller pots.

How To Qualify

You usually need to become a company director, which can be of your own limited trading company.

Becoming a company director is not difficult – setting up a company online takes a few minutes and costs just £12 to do on the UK government website.

SIPPs – For Getting Your Finances In Order Now

Being a director with a SSAS pension is something cool to aim for maybe in the future when you have large funds to take full advantage.

But to help you get there, a SIPP is the perfect pension product for taking back control of your future, today, that anyone can open.

A SIPP acts like a workplace pension, but has the following advantages:

  • You can consolidate all previous workplace pensions into one SIPP which is under your control – what you invest in is completely your choice, not some pencil-pusher in HR;
  • The returns are therefore likely to be much better if you choose a more sensible mix of assets;
  • The fees are usually lower than what a workplace pension charges you.

The simplest SIPP we’ve come across is run by Nutmeg. It’s also one of the highest performing against their peers. You can see here how it smashes the competition:

Nutmeg SIPP performance

Over that same 5-year period as we discussed earlier, Nutmeg produced a 7.5% annualised return after fees, similar to the 7.3% we’d have expected from a global fund.

Nutmeg is a robo investing platform, offering ISAs and SIPPs. When you open one of these, you’ll be asked a series of questions, so that your portfolio is tailored to you.

Gone is the one-size-fits-all approach of the workplace pension, which tries to work for everyone, but ends up working for no-one.

You’ll also get 6 months without any fees if you find your way to Nutmeg via the link on the Money Unshackled Offers page. Check out the Nutmeg offer there if you want to open your own SIPP and get to grips with your pensions.

When A Workplace Pension SHOULD Be Used

There’s no doubt in our mind that a SIPP is preferable to an old workplace pension. But what about your current, active, workplace pension?

Your employer is probably matching your contributions to your current pension, in which case, that is a 100% return in year 1 and is free money which in most cases shouldn’t be turned down – regardless of how crappy the underlying investments may be.

For instance, I opened a SIPP for transferring my old workplace pensions into, which I’d accumulated from many previous jobs.

But I would always contribute into one current workplace pension, for the tax-free top-ups my employer would pay in alongside my own contributions.

ISAs

Finally, you should ask yourself, do I even need a pension?

If you are able to set aside less than £20,000 a year, have no employer contributions, and are a basic rate taxpayer, then a Stocks and Shares ISA might be preferable to a pension.

You get similar tax benefits – the tax break comes when you draw from it, rather than during accumulation as with a pension, but it works out roughly the same in the end.

And you can retire whenever you feel ready – instead of a predetermined minimum age of 58.

As for us, we currently use SIPPs for our pensions, but as company directors we will be looking into transferring those into a SSAS as our wealth gets bigger.

But at least with our SIPPs, our investment returns are strong, our fees low, and our futures are in our hands.

What will you be doing with your pensions? Join the conversation in the comments below!

 

Featured image credit: Sauko Andrei/Shutterstock.com

Check out the MoneyUnshackled YouTube channel, with new videos released every Monday, Thursday and Saturday:

Triple Your Pension Income – Optimal Safe Withdrawal Rate

How big does your pension pot need to be? The answer comes down to how big your income needs to be.

A basic retirement income doesn’t actually need to be that big – remember you’ve likely nearly paid off your house and sent the kids off packing by the time you can legally draw your pension.

Which.co.uk says the average pensioner spends just £12,500 a year.

Using an inflation linked lifetime annuity with Aviva, shockingly you’d need a pension pot of £700,000 to achieve this.

However, the average private pension pot for 55-65 year olds only stands at £105,000, which translates into a meagre £1,900 a year income using an inflation linked annuity.

The pathetic returns on annuities means that if you’re still young, you need to either start ramping up your monthly pension contributions big-time, or know how to squeeze every last penny out of your pension pot by using the stock market.

In this article we’ll show you how you can triple your pension income by trusting in the stock market, and for all you under-55s out there, hopefully get you thinking about whether you’re putting enough aside for retirement in the first place.

The New Approach To Pensions

It used to be that on retirement day you would legally have to buy an annuity with your pension pot. No longer. You still can, but the returns are a joke.

The Annuity approach pays you an income by swapping your pension pot for an insurance product – it’s the low-risk, terrible-return approach that guarantees you a basic income.

How basic? Well, to confirm what we suspected about annuities, we ran a quote through Aviva for the average UK pension pot size of £105,000 and were quoted a £1,900 annual income, inflation linked.

That’s equivalent to a 1.8% rate of return, but with all your capital surrendered to the insurance company – don’t let them have it!

The new approach to pensions is the Drawdown method – continuing to hold investments with your pension money, and drawing an income from them – rather than seeking certainty from insurance products.

The drawdown method weighs likely market returns against your likely lifespan, and trusts in capitalism to see you through. The rest of this article assumes we follow the Drawdown approach.

Risks Of The Drawdown Approach

If you get the Accumulation stage a bit wrong for a while, you can always course correct.

But in the Withdrawal stage, being old and possibly infirm, you probably can’t just go back and get a job if your pension income is insufficient to live on. You’re stuck with the cards you’ve dealt yourself!

You’ll also need a plan for managing longevity risk – the risk that your cash will run out before you pop your clogs. And finally, there’s sequence risk.

Sequence Risk – The Risk Of A Bad First Decade

Getting a good rate of return is more important in the early years of retirement.

We know the stock markets average around 5% returns after inflation – that’s 8% nominal returns minus 3% inflation. But that’s just an average.

Here’s 2 scenarios. In both, we retire at the earliest possible pension age for our generation, age 58, and have a good innings until age 88.

Fig.1 Sequence Risk (2 Scenarios)

Scenario 1: In the first 10 years your investments perform terribly, returning around 2% after inflation. We get to enjoy some good times in the decade before we croak, at 8% over inflation.

Scenario 2: Here it’s the opposite, with the good times happening early on and our final years spent grumbling at the news and chuntering that the young-uns are messing everything up: “those damn kids!”

So what’s the difference? In Scenario 1, we run out of money at age 76. In Scenario 2 we outlive our money.

Safe Withdrawal Rates

To make sure we don’t run out of money, some clever boffin (who we’ll get to soon) came up with the concept of a safe withdrawal rate – the amount you can cream off the top without damaging your pot.

You might have heard about the 4% rule. This is the amount you can withdraw safely from an American portfolio. It’s the amount you take out in year 1, and then you adjust it for inflation thereafter.

UK researchers might quote you closer to 3%.

This is because the UK stock market has underperformed the US on average by around 1% over the last 100 years, and bonds by around half a percent.

But these academics are living in the past – there’s no barrier now stopping UK citizens owning a majority of US market funds instead of UK ones!

Fig.2 UK Safe Withdrawal Rate is 3.1% (source: Abraham Okusanya, Beyond The 4% Rule)

Here’s the UK funds version – there are 86 blocks of 30-years between 1900 and 2015. 1900-1929, 1901-1930, 1902-1931, and so on.

We can see that the worst-case real-world scenario was 3.1%.

Pensioners using this rate would have survived financially through 2 world wars, the Great Depression, several recessions and the risk of nuclear war, without denting their portfolios at all!

A similar history applies for US funds, at a safe withdrawal rate of 4%.

Layering The Cake

The clever fellow who came up with the Safe Withdrawal Rate, Bill Bengen, suggested that it can be increased by adding layers like you would to a cake.

You can take that 4% and ramp it up quite significantly by making your retirement plan smarter.

Layer 1 – Adjust For Spending Patterns

Older people spend less. It’s a fact. New retirees in their 50s and 60s will spend about 50% more than they spend by age 80. We should recognise this in our retirement plan.

Here’s a tried and tested way to do this gradually: if you skip your inflationary income rise on every market down-year – that’s on average once every 4 years – history shows you could have added 0.6% to your initial withdrawal rate.

Layer 2 – Asset Allocation

The 4% rule is based on a 50/50 portfolio split of equities to bonds, but according to the research, you could sack off bonds, and have 100% allocation to equities instead. “Blasphemy”, we hear you say. “Pensioners need bonds to stabilise their pension!”

Except, interestingly, the history of the last 115 years tells us that a 100% stocks portfolio would have survived with a higher safe withdrawal rate than one split 50/50 stocks to bonds according to Bengen’s models – 0.5% higher.

But we do hear you. We ourselves probably wouldn’t want 100% in equities in old age, even if it does have the best history. We’d sleep better at night with some diversification.

Layer 3 – Small Caps

Further studies show that having 25% of your portfolio in small-cap stock funds over the last hundred years allowed for a higher withdrawal rate even in the worst years.

Doing this would have in fact added 0.4% to the safe withdrawal rate.

Layer 4 – Probability

This is the final layer, and up until now the cake could be baked so as to remain whole for your lifetime. But this final layer accepts that you won’t live forever – the longevity risk.

By running 10,000 simulations of different periods of stock market history, it’s been calculated that adding an extra 1% to your initial withdrawal rate gives an 83% chance that you won’t run out of money.

And that’s increased to an 87% chance of success when we factor in the high chance of dying before age 88 – i.e. 30 years after retiring at 58.

That means 13% of the time, this strategy will fail – in almost all cases, it will be due to sequence risk – the risk of having a bad first decade.

So, failure doesn’t mean you just keep ploughing ahead – you’ll get an early warning from the markets and course-correct in the early years, maybe by downsizing your home or living less lavishly to make up the difference.

Whether a much better lifestyle in retirement is worth the 13% risk of having to course-correct is of course your call to make.

So… How Big Does Your Pension Pot Need To Be?

Let’s add all that up. Starting with 4% invested largely in US funds, we add 0.6% to recognise we spend less when we’re over 80, we add 0.5% because we’ve sacked off bonds, we add 0.4% for having a quarter allocation to small-cap funds, and we add 1% in exchange for a 13% chance of course-correction.

That’s 6.5% total; or £6,800 from the average £105,000 pension pot. Still not enough! But triple what you’d get with an annuity (£1,900); or double the 3.1% UK unadjusted withdrawal rate (£3,300).

Here’s how big your pension pot needs to be under each approach to give you just £12,500 per year:

  • Annuity @1.8% = £694,000 Pot
  • UK Standard SWR @3.1% = £403,000 Pot
  • US Adjusted SWR @6.5% = £192,000 Pot

The average 55-65 year old therefore has about half as much saved up as they actually need for a basic retirement using the highest risk approach – and nowhere near the amount needed to use a low risk annuity.

Should You Use Such A High Withdrawal Rate?

History tells us that this works, and the rates are designed to protect you from the worst-case scenario.

But you also have to be able to sleep easy at night. So maybe somewhere between 4% and 6.5% then, depending on your attitude to risk.

Ideally though, and what we plan to do, is build up such a large pot that you don’t need to withdraw anywhere near 4% and still live very comfortably. This only happens by hustling now.

Building The Pot

Hopefully this study highlights the dangers of neglecting to build a sufficiently big pension portfolio.

And it’s important to have visibility over it so you can make sure your future is being managed properly.

We’ve both consolidated our old work pensions into SIPPs for just this reason. Left unchecked, they could otherwise be poorly managed by workplace pension providers as we proved in this video:

YouTube Video > > >

By using a single SIPP to consolidate your old pensions, you can tailor your growing retirement fund to your risk profile, reduce your ongoing fees, and have oversight of the total balance – so you can easily check if you’re on track.

We looked at the Nutmeg SIPP in that video, and we think it’s one of the best for a set-and-forget strategy. You set the direction, and they do the rest.

We’ve arranged for you the first 6 months without fees when you open your SIPP through the link on the Offers page. Check it out and see if it’s the right SIPP for you!

How big is your pension pot? Is it going to be enough? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out the MoneyUnshackled YouTube channel, with new videos released every Monday, Thursday and Saturday: