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Last updated: 9 June, 2021

This article is designed to offer you impartial guidance as to your options and what they might mean, but the decision on which product to take out is yours.

What is a private pension?

A private pension is a popular way of saving for retirement. It's a pot of money that you, and often your employer pay into, and you get tax relief on your pension contributions.

You can start making pension contributions as soon as you start working and earning. But because you can't access the money until you're 55, a private pension is a great way to make sure you've got funds ready for your retirement.

When you reach 55, you'll have a choice of what to do with your private pension. You can either start drawing money from it whenever you like. Or you can choose to have it as a regular income.

As any money you put into your pension comes from your current salary in the form of pension contributions, you'll need to budget carefully. You'll want to balance making sure you still have enough disposable income now (so you don't get into debt), with securing your finances for the future.

It's a good idea to be pension wise so you can make the best choices in relation to your private pension.

If you're worried about finding the best private pension, UK wide, compare pensions using our table. Or speak to an independent pension advisor who can help.

How is a private pension different from the State Pension?

The State Pension is a government benefit that you get after you reach a certain age. It is paid for through the National Insurance contributions that are deducted from your pay check when you work.

Anyone living in the UK is eligible to receive the State Pension if they have a minimum number of qualifying years of National Insurance contributions. Find out more about how the State Pension works

How to choose the best pension provider

When you're looking for the best private pension for you, there are a few things to look out for.

Look for a pension company that offers a low annual management charge to help save you money each year. You should also try to find a pension that has the most funds for you to choose from.

And, finally, check that you're happy with the minimum amount you can invest in the pension scheme you're considering.

Be aware that pension funds are investments and fluctuate. So, if you're not sure which to choose, it's important that you get some pension advice before you make a decision. You could use a pension calculator to help you initially, and to get a rough pensions forecast.

But, even after you've used a private pension calculator, it's still a good idea to speak to an independent pension advisor before you invest.

What private pensions can I choose from?

There are two types of private pension offered by the pension companies in our comparison.

A personal pension plan is when you appoint a pension company and they choose the funds you invest in. If you have a workplace pension, this is often how it'll work.

The other option is a self-invested personal pension (SIPP). With these, you choose where you invest, so it's a kind of 'DIY' method. There's a larger list of funds to choose from than there are with a personal pension.

If you don't want to choose your own pension funds then speak to an independent financial adviser to talk about the best pension plans for you.

Is a workplace pension and a personal pension the same?

Workplace pensions are arranged by your employer. If you're aged between 22 and state pension age, and you earn £10,000 or more, you'll be offered one.

These pension plans usually involve you making contributions from your salary. Your employer contributes to the pension too, usually paying 3-10%.

If you join one of these workplace pension schemes, you'll get a payout when you retire. The amount you get with these pension plans is based on how much you paid in and how long you paid in for. It's also affected by how much profit the provider's investments have made.

You could use a workplace pensions calculator for a very rough guide on how much you might get. This is called a pensions forecast.

A personal pension is when you appoint a pension company and they choose the funds you invest in. A workplace pension will often take the form of a personal pension.

However, even if you're not employed, you can still apply for a personal pension. This is good for self-employed people.

To get a self employed pension, you can go directly to a UK pension provider. You'll pay monthly pension contributions and they'll choose which funds you invest in.

Is there a limit on my pension contributions?

Technically there's no limit on how much money you can put into your private pension, UK wide. You can save as much as you like. But it's important to remember that there are limits on the tax relief you can get.

Pension tax relief

The UK government encourages workers to save for retirement by offering pension tax relief. It essentially acts as a bonus, as money you would otherwise have paid in tax on your earnings goes into your pension pot instead.

The tax relief you earn is equivalent to your highest rate of income tax. That means a basic rate taxpayer paying £1,000 of their salary into their pension pot would actually pay £800. The extra £200 is the money the treasury would otherwise have taken in income tax. Similarly, higher rate taxpayers would pay £600 and additional rate taxpayers £550 for £1,000 in their pension pot.

There is a limit to the amount of tax relief you can receive, though. The government caps the amount of pension contributions which can earn tax relief through the pensions annual allowance. For the 2021/22 tax year it is set at £40,000.

This means that once your pension contributions reach £40,000 in the tax year, any additional payments will be taxed at your highest rate. If you do not reach £40,000 in contributions, your unused allowance can be carried over to the next tax year. You can do this for three years, as long as you are part of a pension scheme for that period.

The limits are:

  • Earnings limit. You can get tax relief on your pension contributions up to your annual earnings

  • Annual limit. Everyone has an annual allowance on which they can get tax relief. This is currently set at £40,000 so it only really affects higher earners who can invest £40,000+ into their pension each year

  • Lifetime limit. There's a lifetime limit for how much you can get tax relief on, which is £1,073,100 as of 2021/22.

Any money you pay in, and any money your employer pays in, both count towards your allowances.

When should I start paying into a pension?

The earlier you start paying into a pension scheme, the better.

Everyone's situation is different, but the earlier you start, the more you'll save for your retirement.

If you don't start saving until you're older, you might find yourself wanting to put more away to catch up. It's better to spread the investment.

Using a pension calculator, UK residents can get a rough idea of how big their pension might be. A pension contribution calculator can show you what you might get, based on when you start saving and how much you put in.

Is your money protected in a private pension?

It depends on whether you choose a Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)-regulated private pension. If you do, then the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) will protect the first £85,000. Every pension company found in our private pension comparison is FCA-regulated. But not every pension scheme, UK wide is FCA-regulated. So if you find one elsewhere, be sure to check it carefully.

Can I do a pension transfer?

Yes. You might like to do a pension transfer if you've changed jobs, and your new employer uses a different pension company for their pension scheme. In this case, you can combine pensions.

Or you might need to do a pension transfer if your current pension scheme is closing, or if you've found a better deal on another private pension.

You might be charged a fee to do a pension transfer if your current pension has exit fees attached to it.

What will I get from the government pension scheme?

You can claim a state pension from the UK government if you've been making National Insurance (NI) contributions while you're of working age.

The basic state pension scheme is for men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953. It pays £125.95 per week to people who made NI contributions for 30 years or more. You make contributions if you work and pay your NI. Or you can get NI credits by being a parent/carer, or if you can't work due to unemployment or sickness. You can even pay voluntary NI contributions to make sure you qualify.

If you were born after this, you might qualify for the new state pension. You qualify in the same way, but you usually only need to make contributions for 10 years. You can get up to £164.35 per week, but it depends on how many contributions you've made.

Some people also qualify for the additional state pension. You can get this if you claim the basic state pension but you reached state pension age before 6 April 2016.

The government pension scheme payments are unlikely to be enough for you to comfortably live off. That's why it's so important to have a private pension plan as well, and start building for your future.

This month in pensions ...

  • 27% of people admit they have never heard of tax relief, according to research from pension company Royal London

  • Of 2,000 UK adults surveyed by Opinium, only 15% said they fully understood how tax relief on pension contributions works, a further 31% said they had some understanding, and the remaining 27% said they had heard of pensions tax relief but did not know how it works

  • Once people had a better understanding of how pensions tax relief works, 32% said they now viewed pensions more positively and 25% said they would be more likely to increase pensions contributions

Top LGBTQ+ friendly retirement destinations ranked

Our pensions experts rank the most LGBTQ+ friendly retirement destinations in Europe and the US, according to how progressive the laws and legislation are. 

There has been a growing interest in retirement communities built specifically for those who identify as LGBTQ+, with the first one in the UK set to open in Vauxhall, London in 2021.

These communities are being set up to help LGBTQ+ pensioners feel more comfortable and live among like-minded people as they enjoy their later years. 

Our pension experts have taken a seed list of the Europe’s top retirement destinations from the 2020 Natixis Global Retirement Index and scored them based on how long 10 different LGBTQ+ rights and laws have been in place*. 

Click image to expand and see the full money.co.uk LGBTQ+ Retirement Index

With an LGBTQ+ friendly index score of 361, the Netherlands tops the list of countries for LGBTQ+ pensioners to retire to. As one of the first European countries to legalise same-sex marriage, the Dutch are well-known for being one of the most progressive nations for LGBTQ+ rights. 

More recently, in July 2020, it was announced that the Netherlands would be the first country in the world to abolish gender markers on official identity documents from 2025. Although, the Dutch have been able to access gender-neutral passports since 2019.

Mapped: Europe’s best places to live for LGBTQ+ pensioners

Throughout Europe, LGBTQ+ rights and legislation vary greatly and our heatmap reveals the countries that have been progressively improving rights for LGBTQ+ people in their community for the longest time, and also those who have some way to go to catch up. 

Scoring just 143 points on the index ranking, the UK takes 12th place in Europe for LGBTQ+ rights for retirees. While same-sex unions have been recognised in the UK since 2005, it has taken until 2014 for same-sex marriage to be permitted, meaning that the UK could only score seven points in this area.

However, this year and for the first time ever, LGBTQ+ people in the UK will record their sexual orientation and gender identity in the census, which is a big step forward for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK.  

Top 5 most LGBTQ+ friendly European countries for pensioners

1. Netherlands

It could be argued that Amsterdam should be considered the historic home of LGBTQ+ rights in Europe.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in the Netherlands in 1811, and the first legal gay bar followed in 1927. One of the world's first gay rights organisations, the COC, was founded in Amsterdam in 1946.

The capital city unveiled the first-ever Homomonument in 1987 as a tribute to the many gays and lesbians who lost their lives during World War II. Amsterdam became the first city outside North America to host the Gay Games in 1998. 

As the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001, the Mayor of Amsterdam officiated the first legal gay and lesbian nuptials in the capital city.

2. Italy

Same-sex civil unions and unregistered cohabitation have been legally recognised since June 2016.

In Italy, both male and female same-sex sexual activity have been legal since 1890, when a new Penal Code was promulgated. A civil union law was passed in May 2016, providing same-sex couples with many of the rights of marriage.

Transgender people have been allowed to legally change their gender since 1982.

3. France

LGBTQ+ rights in France have been among some of the most progressive in the world.

France became the 13th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2013. Laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity were enacted in 1985 and 2012. In 2010, France became the first country in the world to declassify transgenderism as a mental illness. 

Since 2017, transgender people have been allowed to change their legal gender without undergoing surgery or receiving any medical diagnosis.

4. Belgium

Belgium is considered a liberal country regarding LGBTQ+ issues and attitudes toward granting same-sex marriage high above the EU average. 

Same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1795, with an equal age of consent, except from 1965 until 1985. After granting same-sex couples domestic partnership benefits in 2000, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2003 and the right to adopt children in 2006. 

5. Denmark

In Denmark, same-sex sexual activity was legalised in 1933, and since 1977, the age of consent has been equally set to 15, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Denmark was the first country to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions in the form of registered partnerships in 1989. LGBTQ+ people are also allowed to serve openly in the Danish military.

The top US states to move to for LGBTQ+ pensioners 

LGBTQ+ rights vary greatly by state and jurisdiction, meaning that it’s clear to see which states have been prioritising LGBTQ+ rights for the longest, and the states that are starting to catch up. 

With an LGBTQ+ friendly index score of 200, Vermont is the top state in the US for LGBTQ+ retirees. Same sex marriage in Vermont has been legal since 2009 and the state has had a LGBTQ+ friendly ID policy since 2019 - meaning that drivers licences in the state can easily be amended to show a different or neutral gender. 

California comes next, scoring 198 points on the LGBTQ+ retirement index for the US. The state is on the road to equality, scoring high as one of the first states to have anti-discrimination laws in every area, including employment, since 1992.  

Interestingly, New York and Washington are lower on the LGBTQ+ index than we might expect. New York celebrated its 50th anniversary of the NYC Pride March in 2020, but scored fairly low for areas such as LGBTQ+ friendly ID policy and anti-discrimination laws which were not enforced in full until 2001. 

Top 5 LGBTQ+ friendly US states for pensioners

1. Vermont

Vermont is often regarded as one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly states in the country. 

The establishment of LGBTQ+ rights in Vermont is a recent occurrence, with most progress having taken place in the late 20th and the early 21st centuries. Vermont was the first state to legally recognise same-sex unions when it established civil unions for same-sex couples in 2000. Same-sex marriage was legalised in 2009. It also enacted hate crime legislation in 1990, one of the first states to do so, that included sexual orientation.

2. California

Seen as one of the most liberal states in the US regarding LGBTQ+ rights, California has received nationwide recognition since the 1970s. 

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in California since 1976. Discrimination protections regarding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression were adopted statewide in 2003. Transgender people are also permitted to change their legal gender on official documents without any medical interventions, and mental health providers are prohibited from engaging in conversion therapy on minors.

Public schools are also required to teach about the history of the LGBTQ+ community and transgender students are allowed to choose the appropriate restroom or sports team that match their gender identity. 

3. Connecticut

Connecticut was the second US state to enact two significant pieces of pro-LGBTQ+ legislation; the repeal of the sodomy law in 1971 and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2008. 

State law bans unfair discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. Both conversion therapy and the gay panic defence are outlawed in the state.

Connecticut allows adoption by single individuals, opposite-sex and same-sex couples, unmarried or married.

4. Illinois

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1962 after Illinois became the first U.S. state to repeal its sodomy laws. 

Same-sex marriage was banned by statute in 1996, but has since been legalised after a law allowing such marriages was signed in 2013 and went into effect on June 1, 2014.

The LGBTQ+ community in Chicago is vibrant. The first pride parade took place in 1970, a year after the Stonewall riots. Since 2013, the Chicago Pride Parade has attracted around one million attendees each year.

5. Iowa

Iowa has seen LGBTQ+ rights evolve significantly in the 21st century. The state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on April 27, 2009, following a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, making Iowa the fourth US state to legalise same-sex marriage.

Same-sex couples may also adopt and state laws ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Making the most of your pension plan if you move abroad

Many people dream of moving abroad when they retire but it’s a big step with lots of different factors to consider, including making sure your finances are in the best pension plan possible. 

If you don’t already pay into a private pension, the sooner you start making contributions the better it will be for your financial future, especially if you plan to move abroad. But it’s worth remembering that once the money is in your pension plan you won’t be able to touch it until you are 55, meaning you’ll need to think carefully about your budget to cover all your essential living expenses. 

If you do want access to cash after you turn 55 you could consider a drawdown pension which is an option offered by pension companies. It lets you turn your pension fund into an income when you reach 55. This gives you money to live on during your retirement.

Bear in mind that a drawdown pension is complex and isn't suitable for everyone. Your income will be affected by the value and performance of underlying assets. So make sure you understand the risks and costs before you go ahead.

Navigating personal finances, tax, estate planning and pensions can be more complicated if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Click to view our personal finance LGBTQ+ guide to view our some handy tips to make the journey easier.

Sources and Methodology

Methodology world map

Taking a seed list of countries from the 2020 Natixis Global Retirement Index, we analysed the following 10 data points:

  1. Year that same-sex sexual activity was legalised 

  2. Year that an equal age of consent was put in place 

  3. Year anti-discrimination laws were put in place*

  4. Year that same-sex marriages were possible

  5. Year that same-sex unions were recognised

  6. Year that joint adoption by same-sex couples (married or unmarried) was legalised

  7. Year that the right to change legal gender was put in place

  8. Year that a third gender option was put in place     

  9. Year that blood donation was permitted for men who have sex with men

  10. Year that Gender X Passports were permitted

Based on how long those laws have been in place, we assigned a score to each country*. 

For example, same sex marriage in the Netherlands was first permitted in 2001, giving the country a score of 20 eg: 2001-2021=20, indicating a more progressive attitude for members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Where the right or protection wasn’t in place a score of 0 was assigned.

As such, the countries scoring the most points based on this scoring methodology were deemed better suited to LGBTQ+ retirees.

Methodology USA

Taking a seed list of US states, we examined the following data points from Wikipedia:

  • Year that same-sex sexual activity was legalised

  • Year that an equal age of consent was put in place 

  • Year anti-discrimination laws were put in place*

  • Year that same-sex marriage was recognised

  • Year that same-sex unions were recognised

  • Year that joint adoption by same-sex couples (married or unmarried) was legalised

  • Year that blood donation was permitted for men who have sex with men

  • Year that conversion therapy was banned

  • Year that an LGBTQ+ friendly ID policy was put in place  

Based on how long those laws have been in place in each state, we assigned a score. For example, same-sex marriage in Vermont was first permitted in 1977, giving the state a score of 44 eg: 1977-2021=44, indicating a more progressive attitude for members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Where the right or protection is not in place, a score of 0 was assigned.

As such, the countries scoring the most points based on this scoring methodology were deemed better suited to LGBTQ+ retirees. 

*The score for anti-discrimination laws is an average of the years when the following was put in place:  

  • Anti-discrimination laws in employment   

  • Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services

  • Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas

  • Anti-discrimination laws concerning gender identity

As such, the states scoring the most points based on this scoring methodology were deemed better suited to LGBTQ+ retirees. 

Additional sources: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-provides-updated-guidance-address-urgent-need-blood-during-pandemic 


Pensions FAQs

As much as you like, but only the first £40,000 you pay will be tax free. Anything above this is taxed at your level of income tax.

The general advice for pensions is to contribute as much as you can as early as possible. A good rule of thumb is to take your age, halve it and contribute that percentage of your income into your pension to have a comfortable retirement.

So if you're 30, then you should contribute 15% of your income to your pension.

It is a Self Invested Personal Pension that requires you to manage and invest your pension fund without help from a financial adviser. Find out more here.

No, however you should only set up a pension if you fully understand the risks involved with managing your own investments.

About our pensions comparison

Our comparison tables include providers we have commercial arrangements with. The number of listings in our tables can vary depending on the terms of those arrangements, as well as other market developments. They are all from providers regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

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