Revealed: the secret of a happy retirement

Nic Cicutti introduces the indispensable `Independent'/Equitable Life Guide to pensions planning

New Year's resolutions have a nasty habit of barely surviving to the end of January. But if there is one resolution which all readers of The Independent should have made and be aiming to keep, it is to start planning for retirement immediately.

The traditional image of retired people is of grey-haired old men and women shuffling forward in a Post Office queue, clutching their pension books.

Whether it was ever that much of an accurate stereotype, such a description no longer fits the reality of retirement for millions of people. Increasingly, for most of us retirement means 30 or even 40 years in which to realise many of the dreams we set ourselves while still working.

What's more, decrepitude is no longer a precondition of retirement. Changing employment patterns mean it is increasingly possible to envision a life without work, whether voluntarily chosen or otherwise, at the age of 50 or 55. In some cases it may involve part-time work, or occasional contracts of employment.

At the same time as all these changes are taking place, bringing with them previously undreamed-of leisure opportunities, the financial means with which to enjoy your free time are under attack as never before.

The value of a basic state pension, linked to inflation and not earnings, is shrinking fast, as is the nearest equivalent to a salary-linked retirement income, Serps.

The combination of both will soon pay only about 20 per cent of average earnings at retirement. According to some calculations, this will drop to barely 10 per cent in around 30 years' time.

Moreover, the state pension only begins paying out at age 65 for men and 60 for women at present, an age at which many of us hope to have stopped work at least a decade earlier.

That is why The Independent is publishing a free step-by-step guide to pension planning. The booklet, sponsored by Equitable Life, one of the UK's leading life insurance companies, takes you through the various steps you can take to begin planning for your retirement.

It explains how much is paid by the state and how to obtain a projection of exactly how much you will receive when you retire.

The 52-page guide recommends that everyone who can should join their company's occupational pension scheme. The differences between various types of scheme and how they work are explained, along with how to top up the pension with additional contributions.

The guide explains what you can do in the event of not being eligible to join a company scheme or if the nature of your work is such that you are not likely to remain with one particular employer for long enough to enjoy the benefits.

If a personal pension is the best alternative, the guide details what to look for when choosing the right one.

Among the questions to ask a potential provider, it singles out issues such as performance, overall charges, flexibility and service. It also advises roughly how much to pay into a personal pension in order to meet a target retirement income.

Finally, the guide explains the choices which are available to you and what you can do with your pension pot when you reach retirement age.

There is enough there to keep you reading for an hour or two. Sorting out your pension may take a while longer. But once you have, there is little else to worry about except to check how your plans are shaping up every few years.

We hope you enjoy the guide. More importantly, please act on it and make retirement the best holiday you ever have.

For a free copy of `The Independent/Equitable Life Guide to pensions planning', fill out the form (left) or call 0800-137372

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