SImply put, a pension is a tax efficient way to plan for your retirement. There are all sorts of variations and weird and wonderful formats but they all have the same aim - to provide an income for when you aren't working anymore.
There are many variations but they all have the same aim, including Stakeholder Pensions, Personal Pensions, Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPP), SSASs, Group Pensions and Occupational pensions (amongst others). Some have lower charges and a small range of investment options whilst others have higher charges but a greater range of investment options.
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A pension is meant to provide an income stream in retirement to maintain your standard of living once you have retired. Your retirement income is likely to be less than you receive during your working life, but your expenses are also likely to be less.
Personal contributions to a pension attract tax relief at the highest rate you pay (20% or 40%). The 20% even applies to non-taxpayers.
Investment returns are free of income and capital gains tax (apart from the 10% tax credit on shares which is not reclaimable).
Having some of your estate in a pension fund can provide a means of efficient Inheritance Tax (IHT) planning if you have a large estate.
At retirement, 25% of your pension fund is available as a tax-free lump sum, sometimes known as Tax-Free Cash (TFC).
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