Money Advice Service

When you’re coming up to retirement you have lots of decisions to make, not least how to convert your pension pot into retirement income. In this guide we explain why you should get help and where you can find it.

Why get help?

Unless you’re in a pension scheme that pays you an income based on your salary once you retire, you’re most likely to be saving in a scheme that provides you with a sum of money (known as your pension pot).

If that’s the case, you’ll have to decide how you’re going to use your pension pot to provide an income when you retire.

There are lots of options available, some more complex than others, but deciding which is right for you is not straightforward.

But even before you get to that stage, there are tricky questions you might need help with such as can you afford to retire?

Should you bring all your pension pots together? How much will your State Pension be?

New rules for accessing your pension

In the past, once you’d taken your tax-free cash from your pension pot, you had to use the rest of the money to buy an annuity that would provide you with a guaranteed income for the rest of your life.

But new rules introduced in April 2015 mean that once you’re aged 55 or over, you can use your pension pot in any way you wish.

With more freedom comes more choice and many people might want professional financial advice to help them decide what to do with their pot..

Even if you’ve never taken financial advice before, this is probably the time to do it.

Unless you’re very sure about what you want to do, taking advice could be the soundest financial decision you’ll ever make.

Read our guide Options for using your pension pot to find out about your choices.

Get some free help first

However, before you see a financial adviser make sure you take up your free pension guidance session with Pension Wise.

This is a free government service that helps you understand what you can do with your pension pot and the tax implications of the various options open to you.

You can then use this information to understand more about your own financial situation and what questions you should ask an adviser if you use one.

You can find out more about what Pension Wise is and how to use it in our guide.

What type of advice can you get?

If you decide to go on and take financial advice it’s important to understand what type of service you’re getting.

As confusingly, not all types of financial advice give you the same level of protection.

There is plenty of information and help available about retirement products but this might not be personalised financial advice.

With personalised financial advice your adviser will take you through a fact-finding process to collect information about you.

They then use this to assess your circumstances and give you a personal recommendation about what they think you should do.

Any action they recommend must be suitable for you.

If this turns out not to be the case, you have legal protection and can complain about mis-selling to the firm the adviser works for.

If your complaint is turned down you can take it to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

More choice, less risk

But taking financial advice is not just about being able to make a complaint if things go wrong.

Financial advisers providing personalised financial advice have access to a wider range of choices than you would be able to access realistically on your own.

They also have expertise and qualifications in the area you need advice on.

You get what you pay for

Personalised financial advice has to be paid for. Advisers must tell you how much the advice will cost and what this covers before you go ahead.

By using a qualified professional, you’re paying someone to help you avoid making expensive and sometimes life changing mistakes.

If you decide to buy direct without advice, still check what it’s costing you.

You might not save money by buying without advice as often intermediary or broker fees are hidden in product charges and these might not be obvious.

Even if you buy direct from a provider there might be hidden product charges which mean you’re not paying much less than if you had taken advice.

At the very least compare the costs of buying direct with the costs of taking advice before you make a final decision.

How do you pay for financial advice?

Following changes to the rules in the way that financial advisers can charge for retirement advice, you now pay a fee for advice rather than commission.

Your adviser must give you information on their fees before you commit to taking their advice.

It’s important you agree in advance the type of advice you want so that they can give you an accurate estimate of the overall cost for the advice.

If you’re vague or unclear about your needs, it’s harder for them to estimate how much work is involved.

You can ask the adviser to break down the fees so you understand what they will actually be doing for you.

Also, remember to keep the cost of advice in perspective. If good advice helps sort out a complex problem that will affect your finances for many years to come, it’s money well spent.

For more information, see our Guide to financial adviser fees.

Choosing a financial adviser

Financial advisers who provide personalised financial advice on retirement options are classified as either independent or restricted.

Independent financial advisers (IFAs) are not restricted in the types of products they can recommend or the providers whose products they offer.

Whereas restricted advisers might either be restricted in the range of products they offer or the number of providers they can choose from.

The key question to ask your adviser is whether they offer a whole of market service.

This means whatever product or service is being recommended, your adviser can choose from a wide range of product providers in that particular market and not just one or two.

That way you know you will be getting the widest choice.

How to find a financial adviser who specialises in retirement advice

You can find FCA-registered financial advisers who specialise in retirement planning in our Retirement adviser directory.

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.