New research from Royal London has found that graduates earning an average salary who opt out of their workplace pension, in order to pay off their student debt more quickly, are at risk of ending up with a pension pot £75,000 lower in today’s prices than those who do not opt out.
Royal London has found an average graduate can expect to build up a pension pot of around £148,000 in today’s money if they contribute at the minimum rate required under automatic enrolment; they will not pay off their student debt and the balance will be written off 30 years after they graduate.
The same graduate who opts out of a workplace pension and puts the saving into their student debt will clear their student debt after 21 years; even if they then resume pension saving, they will only be able to build up a pot of around £73,000 – losing just under half of their pension income, estimated to be £147,777, compared with the graduate who does not opt out; assuming an annuity rate of 5%, this equates to a reduced income of around £3,750 every year of retirement.
Even higher earning graduates will suffer in retirement if they opt out of their workplace pension in order to clear their debt more quickly; a graduate on double average earnings will clear their debt four years earlier if they opt out of their pension; but the cost in retirement will be a pension pot around £50,000 lower because of the loss of the employer contribution into their pension.
According to previous research from Royal London, today’s graduates are already likely to have smaller pension pots than previous generations who graduated before the introduction of tuition fees. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that most graduates will still be paying off student loans in their 50s and that three-quarters of graduates will never pay off their student loan.
Helen Morrissey, personal finance spokesperson at Royal London, said: “A new graduate may look at their student debt and want to get it down as quickly as possible, perhaps even opting out of their workplace pension in order to free up extra cash.
“But our analysis suggests that this could be a big mistake for the vast majority. Most graduates will never pay off their student debt in full and the balance will eventually be written off.
“Meanwhile, opting out of workplace pensions means losing the contribution from your employer, possibly over a period of decades. Those who stay in pensions will see their money and their employer’s contribution grow over time and they will also benefit from tax relief on their contributions.
“With graduate pension pots already facing a squeeze due to student loan repayments, any further reduction could pose a devastating blow to a graduate’s retirement fund. Therefore it is essential that employers and the government communicate the benefits of pension saving clearly to Britain’s new graduates.”