Important information: The value of investments and the income from them, can go down as well as up, so you may get back less than you invest.

THE money you’ll have to live on in retirement is likely to come from several sources - and you need to make the most of each of them.

A lot of focus, rightly enough, goes on maximising the saving we do inside workplace or private pensions, but it’s also important not to overlook the State Pension.

You may think that your right to a full State Pension is guaranteed, but many people will arrive at retirement and find that they won’t get the full amount. Here’s how you can check the State Pension you’re in line for, and how to catch-up if you need to.

Check your National Insurance record

Your entitlement to the State Pension is based on your National Insurance (NI) contributions. To get the full State Pension - currently worth £179.60 a week - you need to have made NI contributions for 35 complete years by the time you retire.

Those working as employees are likely to have NI taken automatically from their pay, while self-employed people with earnings above a certain level will pay their contributions via self-assessment.

The government has an online service that lets you check on your NI record for any gaps and to see whether you’ll get the full amount. You’ll need a Government Gateway account, which you can sign-up for using details from your passport, payslips or P60.

Do you have missing years?
You should be able to see all the years for which you have paid National Insurance via your Government Gateway account, including whether you have made some but not all contributions in a year.

There can be various reasons why you might have an incomplete NI record, including: being employed but earning below a certain level; being self-employed but with profits below a certain level; working overseas for periods; or being unemployed and not claiming benefits - including parents who take time out of work to raise children or those not working due to caring responsibilities.

Should you make voluntary NI contributions to complete your record?

It’s possible to make extra NI payments to make up for missing years. For employed people that means paying voluntary ‘Class 3’ NI contributions. Self-employed people usually pay ‘Class 2’ contributions.

But there are several things to consider before you take that action. You can usually only pay to make up for contributions missed in the past six years. If years are missing prior to that it may not be possible to make them up. Bear in mind, however, that if you still have some years to go until you retire you may be able to get to your 35 years of contributions even if you have gaps in your record. The closer you are to retirement the more easily you’ll be able to work this out.

If you missed contributions because you were raising children or caring for family members, it may be possible to apply for NI credits which also help build your State Pension entitlement. You can check your eligibility for those here.

What does it cost, and is it worth it?

The cost of replacing missing years of NI depends on the years in question. In the current 2021/22 tax year, the standard cost of buying 'Class 3' NI contributions is £15.40 per week. It would cost you £880.80 for an entire year.

For the current State Pension, making an extra year of voluntary NI contributions means an extra £5.13 a week of state pension - or £266.83 a year. Based on that, someone buying an extra year of NI would make back their voluntary contribution in about three years and four months via a higher State Pension.

In other words, it’s very likely to make financial sense to buy extra years if you can. But to make sure, use the government’s Future Pension Centre to find out if you’ll benefit from voluntary contributions. They can also tell which contributions to make, and how.