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A QROPS is a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme which can receive transfers-in from UK pension plans held by British nationals and other British pension holders who live outside the UK. Although they must meet certain requirements of HMRC, unlike UK-based pension schemes, QROPS fall outside of UK regulations and tax laws and deliver a whole host of benefits to qualifying expats.
Here’s a summary of what they are:
1. The ability to base your pension in a country other than your country of residence
Transferring your UK pension into a QROPS can give you the choice of whether you base it in the jurisdiction where you live, or choose a different jurisdiction which has more advantageous tax legislation. Some providers offer multi-jurisdictional schemes for those who move between countries. These enable investors to transfer investments between jurisdictions and maximise efficiency without incurring extra fees.
2. Pension income paid without the deduction of UK income tax
Income tax is lower than the UK in many countries, including tax on pension income. This means that depending on the tax laws of the country where you are domiciled, you may be able to substantially reduce your income tax liability.
3. No tax to pay on assets
Within a QROPS your pension fund and contributions have the freedom to grow without being subject to capital gains tax or income tax.
4. A tax-free lump sum of up to 30%
QROPS transfer regulations mean that only 70% of your pension fund needs to be retained as retirement income. This means that depending on the QROPS you choose, you can access up to 30% of the value of your fund as a tax-free lump sum, as opposed to 25% with a UK Personal Pension Plan.
5. Benefits taken at age 55, or sooner
QROPS offer a huge amount of flexibility on when you can take benefits. Income can be taken from 55 years of age but funds can be accessed earlier or later in special cases, for example ill health. Some QROPS jurisdictions even allow access from age 50.
6. Avoid inheritance taxes of up to 55%
The UK tax office assesses inheritance tax (IHT) on the total global assets of UK-domiciled individuals. Even expats resident overseas can be subject to IHT if HMRC can establish that they regarded Britain as their home at the time of death. With a Lump Sum Death Benefit Tax on pension funds deducted at 55% this can be a hefty bill for your beneficiaries. A QROPS is not subject to UK IHT or a Lump Sum Death Benefit Tax and therefore allows the full transfer of funds to your loved ones tax-free.
7. Easily pass on your wealth
In addition, when you transfer your pension fund into a QROPS you nominate who your beneficiaries will be, which means that the transfer of wealth to your loved ones is easy, fast and stress-free. Not always the case with UK pensions, where there may be restrictions, such as the age difference between spouses reducing the spouse pension.
8. Avoid currency exchange rate fluctuations
If you have a UK pension you will receive payments in sterling. If you live abroad, these are subject to exchange rate fluctuations which can seriously affect the amount you receive in your local currency from one month to the next. In addition the cost of currency conversion and the need to time your transfers to make the most of the best rates can be cumbersome. A QROPS can help to alleviate these problems.
9. Avoid further changes to UK tax and pension legislation
HMRC’s regulations are constantly changing and are difficult to keep track of. Transferring your pension fund into a QROPS will avoid having to deal with these changes.
10. No Lifetime Allowance (LTA) charge
UK tax legislation sets a limit on the amount of tax relief on pensions you can benefit from before additional taxes apply. Currently this limit is £1.25 million but it could be reduced still further in the future. This means that if your total pension savings exceed this Lifetime Allowance (LTA) they could be taxed at up to 55% on the excess. Transferring to a QROPS enables you to safeguard your pension fund against this tax, and allows it to keep on growing. There is no cap on either the value of transfers or subsequent contributions to a QROPS.
11. Consolidation of multiple pensions into one scheme
If you have two or more different pension funds in the UK, these can be consolidated into a QROPS to make your investments easier to manage, reduce charges and maximise growth.
12. Charges are transparent
Some outdated UK pension schemes have been criticised for confusing charges which are often unexpected and have a significant detrimental effect for the fund. When you transfer to a QROPS your financial planner will clearly explain any charges that apply so you are clear where your money is going. In addition, while most UK pensions have percentage-based fees, most QROPS operate on a fixed fee basis.
13. Remove the requirement to buy an annuity
Traditionally three quarters of UK retirees have invested their pension funds in an annuity, guaranteeing them an income for the rest of their lives. However there are some major disadvantages to investing your pension pot this way. Rates of return are at their lowest for approximately 40 years, income is subject to income tax, they offer no protection against inflation and depending on the type of annuity purchased, it cannot be passed on when you pass away.
These issues can be avoided by transferring your pension to a QROPS with the additional benefit that your loved-ones can receive any remaining funds after your death. In the 2014 budget the requirement to buy an annuity was removed from UK based pensions.
14. Increased drawdown income and greater flexibility
For those who have been non-resident in the UK for five complete tax years or more, a QROPS transfer can offer significantly greater flexibility with regard to income drawdown. This coupled with the avoidance of UK income tax can offer a significantly higher income and better quality of life in retirement.
15. Greatly increased investment freedom and opportunities
Both UK stakeholder pensions and traditional personal pensions can offer limited options in terms of investment choice. A QROPS on the other hand gives you a huge amount of freedom with regard to your investments so you can diversify by investing in different asset classes throughout the world. It is advisable to consult a professional financial planner to help you invest wisely in a diversified portfolio which will secure your financial future.
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