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Ladies: mind the pensions gap

Written by: Maike Currie
When it comes to retirement, there’s a glaring pension gap between men and women making it more prudent for ladies to examine each source of retirement income and address any shortfalls.

Typically, we have three sources of income in retirement: the State Pension, a workplace pension and any other private savings. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a substantial amount in each of these three pots. If you’re a woman, however, chances are that one of these pots or, in the worst case, all three, look rather empty.

There are reasons for this, the most likely being lower paid work or a career break to take care of the family. Both inevitably dent your pension savings and a smaller pot means a smaller income in retirement. The Cridland report highlights that women are likely to have 25% lower income on average than men in their first year of retirement. Yet, it is a well-established fact that women, on average, live longer than men.

If a longer life with less money than your male counterparts doesn’t sound like the kind of retirement you dreamed of, it’s prudent to examine each source of pension income in turn.

Your State Pension

The State Pension can be a hugely complex beast which has undergone some major changes in recent years. There are five key things most women should note. The first is that no matter how frugal you are, the State Pension isn’t enough to enjoy a comfortable life on. But it is an important part of anyone’s overall retirement planning. Many retirees rely on this money as a guaranteed income every month to cover their basic living expenses.

Second, the old two tier system, which saw two State Pension systems: the Basic and the Additional, was replaced last year with a new single-tier pension of £155.65 per week. The years of national insurance contributions or credits needed to qualify for the full basic State Pension also rose from 30 to 35 years under the new system, with anyone showing less than 10 years on their NI record not getting any pension at all.

The third important point to note is that the women’s State Pension age is rising from nearly 63 now to 65 by 2018 means only 80,000 women will receive the new flat-rate State Pension from 2016 to 2018, compared with 390,000 men, according to figures by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Four: the ability to potentially inherit some of your spouse’s pension used to be a key benefit for women who have not built up a decent pot themselves, however this will largely disappear under the new State Pension system. It may still be possible to inherit some of their husband or civil partner’s Additional State Pension but this depends on when they reached State Pension age.

Finally, having children could impact your State Pension. It all boils down to a change in the child benefit landscape. Families where one parent earns more than £60k can no longer claim child benefit without facing a tax charge.

Unsurprisingly many people have stopped claiming. But failing to apply means you don’t automatically get the national insurance credits towards your State Pension and you won’t bank State Pension entitlement. While women may not end up with money in their pocket by submitting a form, they will be putting away savings towards their retirement. It is possible to apply for them to be added retrospectively if these valuable credits have been missed.

Workplace pension

Saving into a workplace pension is a good thing, but in reality, even if a woman does regularly contribute to a private or workplace pension, it’s likely that at some stage you may take a career break to start a family, impacting how much you save into your pension.

Perhaps you leave the workforce altogether. British parents shoulder some of the highest childcare costs in the world, and many women calculate they simply cannot afford to go back to work after having kids.

If you’re taking time out of work to have children, there’s a real chance you could be missing out on salary increases and opportunities for promotion. If you earn less, you can save less, which means a smaller pension pot.

Auto-enrolment requires you earn over £10,000 a year but this rule doesn’t take into account overall earnings from different employers so many women fall through the cracks choosing to work part time or opting for less paid work for several employers.

If you earn less than £10,000 overall or you don’t earn more than £10,000 with any one employer, then you need to take things into your own hands. A SIPP (self-invested personal pension) can step in when employer offerings fail, or if you’ve chosen to work for yourself. If you are employed and earning more than £5,825 you can ask your employer to enrol you into their workplace pension and you should be entitled to receive employer contributions from them too.

Private savings

Every woman should have her own savings pot – separate from her partner’s or family’s savings. Make sure you have a rainy-day fund set up. The ISA allowance can be passed between married couples and civil partners on death and this means you can inherit your husband’s ISA when they pass away and continue to benefit from the tax-free income and capital growth of the ISA pot.

If your husband is working, and you’re looking after the children, make sure you talk about your ISAs, and stipulate clearly in each of your wills whether you intend on leaving your ISA to your other half. This will be a sensible approach from a tax planning point of view too.

As patronising as it may sound, ‘a man is not a financial plan’. It is important for women to invest and save in their own right. If you are raising children and managing the family home it is unlikely your existing pension benefits will be vast. This, coupled with rising life expectancy, means it’s crucial to save enough towards your retirement. Have a look at all three pots – state, workplace and private – and make sure you have minded any glaring gaps.

Maike Currie is investment director of personal investing for Fidelity International

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