A wealth tax worth paying

I have written in a few places recently about the pensions ‘lifetime allowance’ or LTA –  about how easy it is to hit the limit, and about how the system is remarkably biased towards those with defined benefits pensions.

However, several people have asked about how the tax would be applied in practice.

The answer – as ever in pensions – isn’t simple, but it works like this: if, on your retirement, the assets inside your pension pot are worth more than £1.25m (the limit is falling from £1.5m this April) you will face extra taxes.

The first part of that tax burden will come when you take the lump sum you are (for now) entitled to on retirement. At that point, any part of the excess value that you take as cash will be taxed at 55%.

After that, you can either take the excess as a lump sum and pay 55% on the lot, or you can leave it inside your pension wrapper and simply take the income on it. If you do the latter you will pay 25% on the income from the excess as it comes.

However, as you also pay income tax on anything you take as income, the net tax rate ends up being much higher. If you are a 20% taxpayer, it is 40%; if you are a 40% tax payer, it is 55%; and if you are a 45% taxpayer it is even higher (58.75%).

*At the moment everyone gets relief at their marginal rate of income tax, be that 20%, 40% or 45%.

What you should do will depend on your circumstances – you are unlikely to be a 20% taxpayer if you have gone over your LTA (unless something pretty major changes in our tax regime), but if you are moving abroad to a lower tax environment, it could perhaps make sense to take your excess as income.

But here’s an interesting question: we always assume that you should take care not to run up against the LTA. But is there a case for continuing to save into your pension even if you are already over the LTA?

One reader thinks so.  He has a substantial amount in his Isas already, and fills them up every year (so no more to do there). He also has a substantial amount in his Sipp – enough to pretty much guarantee that he will hit the LTA. Yet he is still contributing up to the annual allowance every year, and plans to keep doing so.

He is paid PAYE via a “fantastically flexible employer” who allows him to pay as much to his pension as he likes every year via salary sacrifice. This means that he gets his 40% income tax rebate. Then his 2% National Insurance contributions and the 13.8% NI that his employers usually pay all go in to his pension too.

Look at this as £1,000 of gross salary. If he takes it as income immediately, he will get £580 (after paying 40% in income tax and 2% in NI). But if he puts it in his pension it turns into a contribution of £1,138 (including the employer’s NI).

If you invest £580 over 27 years (our reader is 38) at 6% you end up with £2,918.99.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s ignore any income and hence income tax you might have paid over the years, and just consider all the returns to be capital gains taxed at 28% (our man is still a 40% taxpayer). That makes the final return £1,751.40.

Invest £1,138 over 27 years and you get £5,727.25. Assume that (which has rolled up entirely income- and capital-gains tax free) is all taxed at 55%, and we get a final return of £2,577.

So there you go. The fact that you will go over the LTA doesn’t automatically mean that you should stop saving – in some cases (assuming no changes to the various tax rates and assuming you have no better use for the money) the LTA excess rate will be a wealth tax (for that is what it is) well worth paying.

• Stay up to date with MoneyWeek: Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Google+


5 Responses

  1. 12/03/2014, loads2 wrote

    I read this earlier about someone who by the age of 38 already is at risk of hitting the maximum allowed amount of £1.5m (or £1.25m- still a very large amount). It would appear this chap is sacrificing so much of his salary that he must be living off baked beans – he certainly wont be married. Together with his overly generous employer, he seems more a subject of fiction than a real person in the real world. If he is real then maybe he’s a banker (sometimes my spelling lets me down by the way). Presumably without a mortgage, without any debt, perhaps still living with his parents at the ripe old age of 38. Whoever this person is, he is not a normal living person. He cant and he wont take it with him when he dies.

    Ive found Mervyn’s series of articles about pension lifetime allowances theoretically interesting; today’s article seems to complete the series. A well known Trade Unionist died yesterday from a surprise heart attack in his early 50s. He never made it to retirement. Whilst I don’t support his leftish views, he did something more worthwhile for the people he represented than the 38 year old described by Mervyn in this article.

    Pension planning is important. But equally important is living life.

    • 13/03/2014, Sean Davies wrote

      loads2, you can’t make those assumptions about the reader in question. You might be correct about some of them, you’re sure to be incorrect about a few others. But it’s all guesswork and conjecture. Even if he is saving a high proportion of his income (and we don’t even know if that is the case because we don’t know his salary) then deferred consumption does automatically equate to a life less lived.

      And the key to it all is re: the LTA is compounding. As Merryn has said, if you build a robust fund by age 40 then compounding will start to do the heavy lifting in the run up to retirement.

  2. 13/03/2014, CKP wrote

    It’s easy to be blindly envious of those better off. This 38 yr old has certainly done well for himself but his example shows how even lower earners can still make use of the generous pension tax breaks on offer, despite the recent LTA changes.

  3. 16/03/2014, Merryn wrote

    @loads2 The reader is real!

Comment on this article

MoneyWeek magazine

Latest issue:

Magazine cover
Hard cash

What's next for gold and silver?

The UK's best-selling financial magazine. Take a FREE trial today.
Claim 4 FREE Issues
Shale gas 'fracking' promises to transform Britain's energy market. Find out what it is, what it means, and how to invest.

More from MoneyWeek

FREE REPORT:
What you should really do with your money (2014 Edition)


How to buy and sell penny shares

A beginner's guide to investing in gold

How to invest in British fracking