Don't put off today what you will need tomorrow

Most people put off setting up a pension time and time again, even though the earlier you start saving, the more you stand to get back in retirement.

Nowadays it is possible to set up a pension scheme with just a short phone call: so there really is no excuse for delay. A few simple statistics may encourage you to get cracking. The difference between having money in a pension scheme for 40 years rather than 25 is enormous. Instead of putting 5 per cent or 6 per cent of your income into a pension scheme, you may have to put 12 per cent, 13 per cent or even 14 per cent of your income aside to achieve the lifestyle you want when you retire. A man who could have started investing at 30 but delays until age 35 will see a 46 per cent reduction in pension fund value on retirement at 60, according to the National Association of Financial Strategists.

Women get an even worse deal because they tend to work fewer years than men and even those with full time careers tend to take time out for children.

Even a short career break can have a major impact on a woman's pension. Five years of time-out can reduce the size of a woman's pension fund on retirement by between a fifth and a third, according to figures produced by Flemings, a firm selling pensions direct over the phone.

That loss is particularly important for women because asthey tend to live longer than men they have to pay more for the annuity that provides their income in retirement.

But whatever the arguments in favour of getting a pension sorted out sooner rather than later, this is not something that should be rushed in to. Your pension is too important to get wrong. If you do not know where to start, it might be worthwhile visiting an independent financial adviser. They will be able to help you to decide what sort of pension you need and how much of your salary you ought to save. To get the phone numbers for three advisers in your local area, contact IFA Promotions on 0117-971-117.

Your pension provider will normally charge a plan fee that is deducted once a month from your fund. On top of that, there will normally be an annual management charge to pay of between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent. That is automatically taken out of your fund. Some pension providers will also charge what is known as a "bid-offer spread". This is the fee for buying and selling the investments that make up your fund. It is charged as a percentage of your monthly contributions and deducted from those contributions. Some pension providers do not levy a bid/offer charge but that does not necessarily mean you are getting a cheaper deal. What they will do instead is reduce your "contribution allocation". Every time you give Marks & Spencer pounds 50, for example, they put 95 per cent of it into your fund. Legal & General levy a high 5 per cent bid/offer charge, but they compensate for that with a 102.2 per cent allocation rate.

When you discuss a direct pension over the phone, you can ask as many questions as you like about the product on offer. So make sure you have thought through issues such as when you want to retire. It is important to remember that you are not committing yourself to anything with the phone call. All the necessary documents will be sent to you in the post; if you don't want to take out the pension, dump it in the bin.

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