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Tax-efficient options

06/04/2017

As life expectancy in the UK continues to rise, financial planning is becoming increasingly important. If you are thinking of saving for retirement, then you might consider a pension to be the best way to ensure you have enough to live on when you are older. However, this is not the only way to achieve your retirement goals, and Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) can form a useful component in your long-term financial plans.

Pensions and ISAs receive different tax treatment. Payments into your pension will qualify for tax rebates up-front at your highest rate of income tax (subject to certain limits) and 25% of any withdrawals can be taken tax-free; however, the income you receive will be taxable. In comparison, ISA contributions come from taxed income, but any withdrawals are tax-free. Also, it is important to remember your pension income counts towards your personal tax-free allowance, whereas your ISA withdrawals do not.

As such, the choice between pensions or ISAs could seem to boil down to the relatively straightforward question of rates. If someone receives higher-rate tax relief on their pension contributions, but only pays lower-rate tax on their income at retirement, pensions appear to make the most sense. Meanwhile, for those whose income may be greater in retirement, the opposite appears true.

The reality, however, can be less clear-cut. Tax rebates on pension contributions are important as they add value up-front, and investors welcome the effect of compounding on their portfolios, which helps to influence the size of pension ‘pot’ that can be accumulated. Equally, if you eventually decide to buy a pension annuity – and pension rules have changed to allow greater flexibility for savers – those payments can be guaranteed for life, whereas withdrawing the equivalent sum from an ISA is rather less predictable.

Pensions offer additional attractions: employers can contribute to a company or stakeholder pension scheme, and annual contribution limits for pensions are much higher than for ISAs. Nevertheless, an ISA offers flexibility: you usually have to wait until you are 55 to make withdrawals from a pension, whereas an ISA can typically be accessed at any time. Ultimately, it is not necessarily a question of whether an ISA or pension is better; rather, it is a question of planning your finances to make the most of both. Your financial adviser can offer further help here.
 

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