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Budget 2015 – Good or Bad News for Pensions?

So Budget 2015 has come and gone and everyone is now getting a little clearer about the impact that it will have on his or her income. Of course the budget is about a lot more than income tax and USC rates though, so we’ve taken a look at how Budget 2015 will impact an area that is close to our hearts – your pension fund and future pension planning.

So let’s take a look at all of the impacts;

 

Some areas of “no change”

First of all, there were a large number of areas that remained untouched in the budget in relation to pensions. The main ones of note are;

 

  • Marginal Rate Tax Relief: This is the one we always breathe the biggest sigh of relief about! The government have wisely continued the allowance of tax relief at your marginal (highest) rate on your pension contributions. This is really important to encourage people to save for their future.
  • Tax Relief Contribution Amounts: There are no changes to the percentage amount of your income that you can attract tax relief on, in respect of pension contributions. This percentage amount is driven by your age.
  • Net Relevant Earnings Limit: The percentage amount identified above is then applied to your income, in determining your individual maximum pension contribution that is allowable for tax relief. However there is a limit of €115,000 of your income or “Net Relevant Earnings” that can be used in calculating the maximum contribution allowable.
  • Standard Fund Threshold: This is effectively a cap on the size of pension fund that you are allowed to build up. There was no change to this in Budget 2015, the limit remains at €2m.

 

The Dreaded Pension Levy

The pension levy attracted a huge amount of commentary prior to the budget. This was an extremely penal levy applied to pension funds that was introduced in 2011. At that stage, the exchequer took 0.6% of the value of everyone’s private pension funds to fund jobs initiatives. This was then increased to 0.75% for 2014.

The good news is that the government have stuck to their promise of reducing the levy to 0.15% in 2015, and then totally abolishing it at the end of 2015.

This levy was really bad news for pension holders and was seen as a very unjust way for the government to raise revenue. First of all, there was a belief that it unfairly impacted private sector workers as the levy applied to all of their pension funds, unlike public sector workers. And secondly, on the one hand the government wants everyone to take responsibility and provide financially for themselves in retirement, and then they turn around and raid your savings!

While the percentage amounts might appear small, they really add up. If you ignore any investment gains or losses, a pension fund of €100,000 at 30th June 2011 will have been reduced by €2,700 as a result of the levy, by the time it ends in 2015. Good riddance to the pension levy!

 

Changes in income tax rates and USC rates

The top rate of income tax is reducing from 41% to 40% (good news), while USC rates are changing – reducing at the lower levels and increasing for earnings in excess of €70,000 and again for earnings in excess of €100,000 for self employed people.

Income tax relief is allowable on pension contributions. However there is no relief from USC. As a result of the reduction in income tax rates and the increase in USC rates, the effective tax relief on pension contributions for higher rate tax payers is reduced by about 2%.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you are a higher rate taxpayer and are in a position to make a personal / AVC lump sum payment to your pension, you are better off doing this in 2014 and indeed you can backdate this against 2013 taxes if paid before the Pay & File deadline.

 

So our overall verdict is that this was a good budget for pensions because of the reduction in the pension levy from 1st January next. Thankfully approved pension products remain as the most tax advantageous method of looking after your financial challenges in your later years.