Posted October 10th, 2010
I am often asked what the differences are between defined benefit (or final salary) schemes and defined contribution (or money purchase) schemes and why those differences are important in the context of pension sharing and divorce.
Defined benefit / Final salary
As the name suggests the final pension received in retirement is defined in advance, based on an accrual basis (for example, 1/60th or 1/80th), the length of pensionable service and the level of pensionable salary at retirement.
So for someone with 40 years service on a final pensionable salary of £40,000 in an 80ths scheme the pension payable in retirement will be £20,000 per annum.
This pension will increase each year in line with the escalation provided by the scheme (this can vary) and the employer / pension scheme carries the investment and inflation risks.
The benefits provided on pension sharing vary between schemes and these should be reviewed carefully before proceeding as often the risks of providing the benefits change hands!
On an internal pension transfer, sometimes the benefits available to the pension credit member are defined benefits, which is the case with the Public Sector Pension Schemes. These defined benefits are often very valuable to the pension credit member and it would be unusual not to advise that these should be taken.
Alternatively, the pension transfer may be placed in a money purchase arrangement often known as the default option. Here, the risks pass to the pension credit member (see below).
On an external transfer, there will be no defined benefits available (unless an annuity is being purchased) and the pension share will be placed in an individual pension arrangement. Again the risks are passed on.
Defined Contribution / Money purchase
In a defined contribution / money purchase arrangement the amount being paid into the pension scheme is defined at say 3% or 5% of salary but the final benefits are not fixed.
Instead, the final pension available is a function of the amount invested in, the investment return and prevailing annuity rates. Therefore, the pension scheme member carries all the risks.
When looking at pension sharing and money purchase schemes it is important to check what internal options are available and to check these against what is available in the pensions market.
There will be no guarantees on the income payable until an annuity is purchased and the associated risks need to be considered in the context of retirement planning goals.