Many people are looking for reliable ways of funding their later years.
Perhaps you want to make sure the bills are covered for the foreseeable future. Maybe you’d like to fund those trips you’ve always dreamed of taking, or that hobby you’ve always loved so much. Or you might just want to top up your income if you switch to working part time.
Whatever your goals, if a guaranteed income will help you achieve them, a pension annuity can help.
How do annuities work?
A pension annuity (to give it its full name, though it’s usually just called an annuity) is a product that you can buy once you’re 55 or older (increasing to 57 from 2028). It gives you a guaranteed income unlike, for example, drawdown, which can run out. So it’s a very low-risk way of funding your retirement. And it can be a big help with your planning and budgeting.
“One of the hardest elements in financial planning can be dealing with the unknown,” says Emma Byron, Managing Director, Legal & General, Retirement Solutions. “Throughout life there are uncertainties, no matter what our age. But it’s particularly important to plan carefully in later life, because there may be fewer opportunities to make changes or correct for things that didn’t work out as expected.”
With an annuity, you’ll have a clear, specific picture of your retirement income. Buying an annuity can also help you make sure you’re saving enough for your ideal retirement lifestyle. You can learn more about funding your retirement on the Retirement Living Standards website.
What is annuity income?
A standard annuity pays you a guaranteed monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or annual income for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live. You can also get fixed-term or temporary annuities that pay a guaranteed amount for a set period. You can set up both types of annuity to keep paying out to your spouse or partner, if you die before them.
The amount of income you get can depend on:
- How much of your pension pot you spend
- Which features you choose when you set up your annuity
- Your health and lifestyle.
We can put together a personalised annuity quote for you, which will tell you if you could get a better rate elsewhere.
What are fixed-term or temporary annuities?
Fixed-term or temporary annuities are annuities that last for a set period of time, rather than for the rest of your life. They’re usually set up to run for between 3 and 25 years.
People choose them for their combination of security and flexibility. Like an annuity that lasts for the rest of your life, they give you a guaranteed income. But because you only receive that income for a set period, you’re free to look at other options when they end. That can make them a very useful bridge, tiding you over until another source of income (like your State Pension) kicks in.
Fixed-term annuities can also be a tax-efficient way of withdrawing money from your pension pot. They can help you take it over several years, paying less income tax than if you took it all in one go. And they can keep paying out if you die, so if the worst happens your loved ones will be looked after.
What’s the difference between an annuity and a pension?
Your pension pot is the savings you build up over your working life. When you reach retirement age, you decide how you’d like to use it to support your chosen lifestyle.
An annuity is a product you can buy with your pension pot. It’s a way of turning that pot into a secure income that will last for the rest of your life, much like your State Pension.
So it’s not a case of annuity vs pension. Annuities don’t compete with pensions, they're something you can buy with your pension pot. But when people talk about their pensions, they’re often describing the income they can buy with their pot, as much as the pot itself.
How do annuity rates work?
Your provider will probably set your annuity rate as an annual percentage of the amount you spend on your annuity. So for example if, after taking your tax-free cash, you have £100,000 to buy your annuity, and they offer you an annuity rate of 5%, you’ll get £5,000 a year back from them.
They’ll take several factors into account when they work out your annuity rate, including:
- Your age
- Your postcode
- Your health and lifestyle.
Certain health issues can lead to a better rate – you can find out more about that in our article on enhanced annuities. Different providers will be more or less optimistic about the future, which will affect how much they offer you.
Any benefits you choose can also make a difference to how much you get. When you’re setting up your annuity, you’ll need to make sure you get the right balance of income and benefits.
Can your annuity income change?
Depending on the provider and product you choose, you can set up your income to:
- Stay the same for the life of the annuity
- Rise in line with inflation
- Rise at a rate you agree with your provider.
Having a guaranteed income can help you with your retirement planning and budgeting. A rising income can help you cover any costs that inflation pushes up in years to come.
But once you’ve set your annuity up, you can’t make any changes to it. It has no cash-in value. You can’t sell it, transfer it to someone else or take lump sums out of it. Depending on how long you live and the options you choose, you might get back less than you pay into it.
So you’ll need to make sure that you choose:
- The right kind of annuity
- The right combination of income and benefits.
Is annuity income taxable?
Yes – your annuity income is treated like any other taxable income, including your State Pension. If your total income, including the money you receive from your annuity, goes above your personal allowance, it’s taxable. The amount of tax you pay will depend on your personal circumstances and may change based on your income tax rate.
How do annuities work at death?
You’ll probably be able to make sure a loved one is taken care of after you pass on. You might be able to:
- Having some or all of your income paid to them. That can continue either for a set period of time or until they reach the end of their own life.
- Protecting a percentage of the money you use to buy your annuity – for example, 25%, 50% or 100% of it. Your provider will pay out a lump sum based on that amount, less however much they’ve already paid you.
If you die before you’re 75 and any money starts going to a loved one, they won’t have to pay tax on it. If you die when you’re 75 or older, they’ll have to pay tax at their personal rate. In either case it could affect any means-tested benefits they’re receiving.
If you don’t set any of that up, your annuity will just come to an end when you die.
We hope that’s helped you understand how annuities work.
Now we recommend shopping around to find the right product for you, whether that’s one of ours or someone else’s. Your pension provider might have an annuity of their own, though you don’t have to buy it. Other providers will offer different and possibly better products and rates.
For more information about annuities, the Pension Wise from MoneyHelper website can give you free guidance. The Unbiased website will help you find a financial adviser. And we’d be very happy to answer your questions ourselves – just call us on 0800 048 2446 or visit our pension annuity page for more information.
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