Category: Saving

Categories

How to choose the best cash ISA

We all know that interest rates are at historic lows – and with them showing no sign of increasing in the near future, you could be forgiven for thinking that Cash ISAs would be quickly losing their popularity. 

Despite the fact that even significant levels of saving don’t get much more than a few pounds in interest, more than eight million people in the UK pay into a cash ISA each year. Perhaps with good reason: if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that what you once thought impossible is this week’s ‘new normal.’. And in such uncertain times the value of a cash buffer cannot be underestimated. 

It’s easy to think that when rates are so low it’s not worth the time and effort to shop around; to make sure that you’re getting the best cash ISA for you. We’d argue that’s a dangerous approach to take with any aspect of your financial planning. We’re happy to advise clients on the best available products, and clients doing the work themselves should be equally diligent. 

Traditionally, the longer you lock your money away for the higher the interest rate. At the time of writing 1.25% is available on a cash ISA – but you need to deposit at least £1,000 and tie the money up for seven years. There are other rates above 1% – but they are typically five year fixed rates, and the simple fact is that most cash ISAs are paying a rate of interest below the current level of inflation. 

So would you not be better off forgetting cash ISAs and simply putting your money in a savings account, retaining flexibility and easy access to your money? 

We would almost always recommend making the most of your ISA allowances, purely because there is no way of knowing when the Government might withdraw or cut the personal savings allowance. As we saw in the recent Budget, the bill for the measures taken to support jobs and businesses during the pandemic will have to be paid at some point. 

Once your money is in a cash ISA it is sheltered from the taxman indefinitely. If,  for example, you wanted to move your savings into a stocks and shares ISA, putting it into a cash ISA now will protect the tax-free status of the money. 

In summary, despite the historically low interest rates cash ISAs still have an important role to play as part of many savers’ and investors’ overall financial planning portfolio – and it is still worth doing the necessary research to find the best rate available. As the old saying goes, ‘Take care of the pennies…’

Sources
https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/saving/article-9360597/How-ensure-select-best-cash-Isa.html

Are premium bonds still worth it?

With the NS&I adjusting the premium bond prize-fund rate to just 1% in December of 2020, down from the previous 1.4%, around 21 million people saw their chances of winning fall. An impressive £99 billion worth of savings are currently held in NS&I premium bonds, and the interest change has brought into the spotlight the question of whether premium bonds are even worth buying.

What are premium bonds?

Premium bonds are effectively an instant access savings account. Rather than each individual earning interest on their savings, the interest across all premium bonds is given out in a monthly prize draw, similar to a lottery. Most people, on most months, will get zero interest, but there is a chance of winning up to a million pound prize, if luck is on your side. Each bond costs £1 and has an equal chance of winning, so the more bonds you own the higher your chances. The minimum purchase is £25 and one person can hold up to £50,000 worth.

What are the benefits over a regular savings account?

Premium bonds are operated by the NS&I rather than a bank, and so are backed by the Treasury. As such they are as safe as can be. Any capital in premium bonds is at zero risk, and can be withdrawn at any time. Any interest gained in the form of a prize is also paid to the winner tax free, but these benefits are not as attractive as they once were. 

The level of safety supplied by premium bonds is no longer unique. Thanks to the savings safety rules and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, all UK-regulated savings accounts are protected up to a value of £85,000 per person, per institution. With the maximum amount that you can put into premium bonds being £50,000 there are few occasions where that safety cannot be found elsewhere. 

Thanks to the personal savings allowance (PSA) launched in 2016, all savings interest is now automatically paid tax-free unless you are a basic 20% rate taxpayer earning more than £1,000 interest a year, a higher 40% rate taxpayer earning more than £500 interest a year, or a top 45% rate tax payer. 

Where premium bonds do become useful is for those with larger amounts of savings who will already be paying tax on their interest, as premium bond prizes don’t count towards the PSA. It’s also something to consider for those who are feeling lucky, because although the odds of the larger prizes are enormously stacked against you… somebody does win them. 

Whether or not premium bonds are right for you will depend on the wider context of your financial situation. Before acting either way, it’s recommended to take professional advice. 

Sources
https://www.hl.co.uk/news/articles/ns-and-i-interest-rates-slashed-how-to-get-more-from-your-savings

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2020/12/martin-lewis-reveals-who-should-have-premium-bonds/

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/savings/premium-bonds/

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/savings/personal-savings-allowance/

NS&I interest rate reductions

As you may be aware, NS&I recently announced interest rate reductions, effective from 24 November 2020, that will apply to NS&I’s variable rate products and some fixed term products. The Premium Bonds prize fund rate will also be reduced and apply from the December 2020 draw.

Please see below for the statement they issued:

  • NS&I must strike a balance between the interests of savers, taxpayers and the broader financial services sector.
  • Changes will ensure NS&I’s interest rates are aligned appropriately against those of competitors.
  • Interest rate reductions will apply to variable rate and some fixed term savings products, effective from 24 November 2020 – with changes to the Premium Bonds prize-fund rate effective for the December 2020 prize draw.

In July this year, NS&I’s Net Financing target for 2020-21 was revised from £6 billion (+/- £3 billion) to £35 billion (+/- £5 billion) to reflect the Government’s funding requirements due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In Q1 2020-21 (April-June), NS&I saw inflows of £19.9 billion and delivered £14.5 billion of Net Financing. Demand for NS&I products has remained at similarly high levels during Q2 (July-September).

The interest rate reductions announced will see NS&I align its savings products against the rates offered by the banks and building societies.

Ian Ackerley, NS&I Chief Executive, said:

“Reducing interest rates is always a difficult decision. In April we cancelled interest rate reductions announced in February and scheduled for 1 May. Given successive reductions in the Bank of England base rate in March, and subsequent reductions in interest rates by other providers, several of our products have become ‘best buy’ and we have experienced extremely high demand as a consequence. It is important that we strike a balance between the interests of savers, taxpayers and the broader financial services sector; and it is time for NS&I to return to a more normal competitive position for our products.”

Variable rate savings products

ProductCurrent interest rateInterest rate from 24 November 2020 (change in brackets)
Direct Saver1.00% gross/AER0.15% gross/AER (-85 basis points)
Investment Account0.80% gross/AER0.01% gross/AER (-79 basis points)
Income Bonds1.15% gross/1.16% AER0.01% gross/0.01% AER (-114/115 basis points)
Direct ISA0.90% gross/AER0.10% gross/AER (-80 basis points)
Junior ISA3.25% gross/AER1.50% gross/AER (-175 basis points)

Premium Bonds (effective from December 2020)

The Premium Bonds prize fund rate will be reducing by 40 basis points, from 1.40% to 1.00%. The odds of any £1 Bond number winning any prize will decrease from 24,500/1 to 34,500/1. The changes will be effective from the December 2020 prize draw.

Current prize fund rateCurrent oddsNew prize fund rate (from December 2020)New odds (from December 2020)
1.40% tax-free24,500 to 11.00% tax free34,500 to 1

Value of Premium Bonds prizes

Value of prizesNumber of prizes in September 2020Number of prizes in December 2020 (estimate)
£1,000,00022
£100,00074
£50,000149
£25,0002816
£10,0007143
£5,00014083
£1,0002,2041,639
£5006,6124,917
£10030,24426,637
£5030,24426,637
£253,786,4742,790,269
Total:3,856,0402,850,256

Fixed term savings products

On 24 November, NS&I is also reducing the rates on offer for its fixed term investments, by between 90 and 115 basis points. Fixed term investments are not on general sale and are only available to customers who wish to renew an existing investment when it matures. NS&I will write to all holders of Guaranteed Growth Bonds, Guaranteed Income Bonds and Fixed Interest Savings Certificates at least 30 days before their end of their term, outlining their options.

Customers holding Guaranteed Growth Bonds, Guaranteed Income Bonds and Fixed Interest Savings Certificates and whose investments mature on or before 24 November 2020 and who automatically renew into a new Issue of the same term, will receive the previous, higher interest rate. After this date customers who automatically renew into the same term will receive the lower interest rate from 24 December 2020.

However, any customers who choose to renew into a new Issue but a term of a different length, will receive the reduced interest rate effective from 24 November 2020.

Current holdings will be unchanged until they mature and customers do not need to take action now. NS&I will write to all holders of Guaranteed Growth Bonds, Guaranteed Income Bonds and Fixed Interest Savings Certificates at least 30 days before the end of their term.

ProductCurrent interest rateInterest rate from 24 November 2020 (change in brackets)
Guaranteed Growth Bonds(1-year)1.10% gross/AER0.10% gross/AER (-100 basis points)
Guaranteed Growth Bonds(2-year)1.20% gross/AER0.15% gross/AER (-105 basis points)
Guaranteed Growth Bonds(3-year)1.30% gross/AER0.40% gross/AER (-90 basis points)
Guaranteed Growth Bonds(5-year)1.65% gross/AER0.55% gross/AER (-110 basis points)
Guaranteed Income Bonds(1-year)1.05% gross / 1.06% AER0.06% gross / 0.06% AER (-100 basis points)
Guaranteed Income Bonds(2-year)1.15% gross / 1.16% AER0.11% gross / 0.11% AER (-115 basis points)
Guaranteed Income Bonds(3-year)1.25% gross / 1.26% AER0.36% gross / 0.36% AER (-90 basis points)
Guaranteed Income Bonds(5-year)1.60% gross / 1.61% AER0.51% gross / 0.51% AER (-110 basis points)
Fixed Interest Savings Certificates(2-year)1.15% tax-free/AER0.10% tax-free/AER (-105 basis points)
Fixed Interest Savings Certificates(5-year)1.60% tax-free/AER0.50% tax-free/AER (-110 basis points)

Sources:

https://www.nsandi-adviser.com/nsi-reduce-interest-rates-24-november-2020

Make your lockdown saving habits last a lifetime

saving during lockdown

While the economic consequences of lockdown have seen many households struggle, others have been able to save far more than usual. Data suggests that UK households could have been saving an average of around £171 per week during lockdown, with pubs, restaurants and high street shops closed. Country wide, savers have stashed away a record £157bn as many day-to-day expenses disappeared. 

Now, with restaurants, pubs and non-essential shops open again – most will see their outgoings creep back up. As you start to spend again, here are our top tips on making your lockdown saving habits last for the long run:

Draw up a monthly budget (and stick to it!)

Have a look at your pre-lockdown bank statement and find which expenditures were making the biggest dent. Some – like the cost of your commute – will be unavoidable, but others – such as your weekly lunch out on a Friday – could be reduced.

Smartphone apps like Monzo or Mint can help you get a better overview of your spending. These are a great way to keep you on track with your savings goals.

Sort out your debts

At the moment, interest rates are so low that there is little point putting money into savings accounts if you have credit cards or loans to pay off. 

Since the interest rate on your debts will be higher than that on your savings accounts, it makes sense to pay off as much of your debts as you can. Essentially the ‘cost’ of your debt will be rising much faster than the value of your savings, so it’s best to get rid of this first.

Build up a range of savings pots

As a rule, you should try to keep between three and six months’ worth of income set aside for emergencies. These should be in easily accessible accounts that don’t penalise you for withdrawing. We recommend that you keep these separate from your long-term savings.

You could work towards this figure by setting up a direct debit to transfer money into a savings account as near to pay day as possible.

Pause before you buy

All of us are prone to buying something we don’t really need from time to time. While there’s nothing wrong with these kinds of purchases sometimes, if they become too frequent, they can start to harm your bank balance.

An effective technique to cut down on unnecessary purchases is to wait 24 hours between finding something you want to buy and handing over cash.

Another way to save is to make it harder for yourself to spend your money. You could remove your automatically saved card details from your computer or unsubscribe from promotional emails, meaning you’ll be less tempted to make impulsive purchases.

Sources

https://www.aviva.co.uk/aviva-edit/your-money-articles/lockdown-winners-and-losers/

https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/saving/article-8521995/Make-Lockdown-savings-habit-lifetime-ten-tips.html

Marshmallows and financial planning

The Stanford marshmallow experiment is one of the most famous pieces of social science research out there. It has arguably influenced the way that many people live their lives, in addition to providing plenty of fun and interest for those with young children who are in the ‘I’ll try this at home’ camp.

So what is the marshmallow test? 

A marshmallow is placed in front of a child, they are told that they can have a second one if they can go 15 minutes without eating the first one – then they are left alone with the marshmallow.

As you can imagine, many children ate the marshmallow as soon as the door closed, others fidgeted and wiggled as they tried to restrain themselves, eventually giving in. A handful of children managed to wait the entire time. 

Following the experiment, the children were monitored as they grew up and it was found that those who waited for the second marshmallow performed better in exams, had a lower likelihood of obesity, lower levels of substance abuse and their parents reported that they had more impressive social skills. 

In other words, it could be said that the ability to delay gratification is a trait that leads to valuable rewards in the future. 

So how does this relate to financial planning?

The results from the experiment can easily be applied to the way you save and invest money. Simply put, if you save rather than spend now, you’ll gain greater rewards in the future. 

How do you delay gratification?

Cutting out frivolous and impulsive purchases are a good start. Think to yourself: ‘do I really need this?’ Do you have to buy a coffee from the coffee shop near work? Do you have to eat out twice a week? Small acts of restraint can lead to a big pay off in the future. 

When it comes to building a financial plan, it’s important to identify the levels of savings required for achieving goals in the future. Are you aiming for an early retirement or buying a holiday home? Setting out these goals early and developing a plan will help you to streamline your saving strategies so that you remain on track. Just remember, one marshmallow now or many marshmallows later.   

Whatever you want to purchase: a boat, a house or a car, delayed gratification is an extremely valuable skill to learn when it comes to achieving your financial milestones. The more you see your savings grow, the more motivated you will be to keep going. It’s good to see your hard work pay off and over the span of a few years, you could see dramatic increases in your wealth and financial security. 

Sources
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/40-years-of-stanford-rese_b_7707444 guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAJdHRHqhlsVcLeV6Yi_w61XPEFBayOqdTK89gxGCEdCpDt8CZVAn9Nrzg_branVU7Z0eWhyD4CjX0ii8uQzgVRE2OrG17sknh-B4t_HwD35qNwzcMVc6QLH9ijLjmwCnjIQmyUvHDPtR5bme9Zu4p977cA_h2r1GWY6VIKl6hnAx&guccounter=2
https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/06/marshmallow-test/561779/
https://www.businessinsider.com/delayed-gratification-helped-me-save-money-2019-3?r=US&IR=T

The generation gap in savings might be wider than you think…….

A new report by Scottish Widows (SW) has found that savings habits among younger people are rather lacking when compared with older generations. 

14% of people aged 20-29 are not saving any money, whereas 20% are saving between 0-6% of their wages and 26% are saving between 6-12%. That leaves only 40% of people between the ages of 20 and 29 making what SW deems to be ‘adequate’ savings (12% and upwards). 

The figures differ for those over 30 where 59% of savers are saving adequately. 

Scottish Widows outlines that the central problem with savings in the UK is that people simply aren’t saving enough. This could be attributed to the decline in defined benefit pension schemes and wider economic challenges. Though progress has been made, with record highs in the adequate savings category, according to SW, this is still not enough. 

The lower level of savings among younger people is likely to be a reflection of differences in priorities. SW’s study found that 45% of younger savers (under 30s), the highest of any age group, are saving towards medium-term goals such as buying a house. 27% were found to be saving for the long term and 28% were saving for rainy days. 

SW notes that the savings gap for young people “is perhaps unsurprising but nonetheless worrying.” Those under 30 are at a time where long-term saving can be hardest, yet investment growth can be advantageous. SW outlines how younger people are missing out on “the power of compound growth.“ 

They later go on to present four interlocking issues that have led to this general lack of savings made by younger generations:

  • Most people remain disengaged with long-term savings – 38% of people are not aware how much they are saving 
  • Financial pressures – 28% of individuals earning between £10,000 – £20,000 say they’re not saving at all
  • Self-employed individuals are being left behind – 41% of the self-employed aren’t saving at all
  • Home ownership is a struggle for young people – 56% of 20-29 year olds say they have not saved for a deposit

Scottish Widows then set out a number of reforms that would benefit savers: 

  1. Raise pension contribution rates – a new level of 15% to give people a chance to maintain their quality of life during retirement
  2. More flexibility between pensions and property – including the ability to use some retirement savings to help with the purchase of their first property
  3. Create better education and guidance – which includes information on the role of property and pensions in retirement
  4. Provide a hardship facility – allowing some savings to be used to avoid problem debt
  5. Ensure the self-employed have access to similar benefits as those in employment

Though there are marked improvements from last year’s report, it seems there is still a long way to go in terms of saving habits in younger individuals. As suggested above, there may even be a requirement for governmental reform in order to achieve the goals that Scottish Widows have set out.

Sources
https://adviser.scottishwidows.co.uk/assets/literature/docs/56868.pdf?utm_source=1034930&utm_medium=paid+social&utm_campaign=22953005&utm_content=250845013&utm_creative=118592721

Cash versus bonds, which is safer?

Protecting and growing wealth is often one of the main objectives clients have. There are many investment opportunities out there that are described as ‘safe,’ but many individuals feel that cash is the safest option for them. Keeping your money in your account is an appealing option, as you know exactly where it is and can access it at any time. However, it may be worth looking into the other investment options available to you. 

Here’s some more detail of the cash versus bonds debate.

The benefits of cash

The main benefit, of course, is that you maintain complete control over your money. You simply deposit it into your bank account and there it remains. You can then review your balance and transaction history easily, knowing that no one else has access to those funds. 

Cash is available for those rainy days or times when emergency funds are required – it gives you flexibility. 

The risks of cash

Inflation is one of the biggest risks to cash. According to the ONS, the 12 month inflation figure as at June 2019 was 1.9%. This is the rate your savings require just to maintain their buying power, anything less than this and you are, in effect, losing money. 

The second risk surrounds what are referred to as ‘opportunity costs’. These are the potential profits that could have been acquired if your money had been used differently. Since holding cash generates relatively little profit, the opportunity cost could be quite high. 

It is generally prudent financial planning to always hold some cash for quick access and ‘emergencies’. Understanding just how much will be dependent on personal circumstances. Like all investments, there can be a risk of holding either too much or too little cash.

The benefits of bonds 

Unlike cash, investing in bonds offers the benefit of consistent investment income. Investing in a bond is similar to making a loan in the amount of the bond to the issuing entity – a company or government. In exchange for the loan, the issuing entity pays the bondholder periodically. The income generated by bonds is generally stable and quite predictable, allowing for robust financial planning. Once a bond matures, the issuing entity pays the bondholder the par value of its original purchase price. 

The risks of bonds 

The main risk of bond investing comes when the investment loses value. If the issuing entity defaults, you may lose some or all of the investment. It’s important to note, however, that bonds are rated to measure the credit quality of any individual bond. The higher the rating, the lower the risk. Government bonds tend to receive the highest ratings.

A bond might also lose value if interest rates rise. However, this is only a concern if a bondholder is looking to trade it in before the bond reaches maturity. 

Sources
https://www.investorschronicle.co.uk/portfolio-clinic/2018/08/30/think-carefully-about-swapping-cash-for-bonds/
https://www.fool.com/how-to-invest/a-quick-guide-to-asset-allocation-stocks-vs-bonds.aspx
https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/103015/cash-vs-bonds-what-pick-times-uncertainty.asp

20 years after the ISA was launched, what does the future hold?

A study by the Yorkshire Building Society found that savers deposited £4.3bn into ISAs in the final week of the 2017/18 tax year, and the tax year just gone (2018/19) was set to see a similar final week deposit of up to £4bn. This was despite the number of ISA holders falling from 11.1m in 2016/17 to 10.8m in 2017/18.

ISAs, therefore, are continuing to be attractive.

They were launched two decades ago as a tax-free alternative to traditional savings accounts which failed to offer an interest rate that competed with the rate of inflation. At its advent, the total tax-free allowance was £7,000, but at least £4,000 had to be invested in funds, meaning the maximum you could save in a cash ISA was £3,000. Since then, the ISA portfolio has grown to include Help to Buy ISAs, Innovative ISAs and Lifetime ISAs. In addition to this, the tax-free saving allowance has increased, and today, savers are allowed to deposit up to £20,000 into their ISAs each tax year, tax-free.

That means no interest tax, no income tax and no capital gains tax. Cash ISAs also offer access to funds as easily as regular savings accounts and are an excellent choice when it comes to choosing a default savings account.

Take-up appears to be declining amongst younger generations, though, as the total number of adults saving into an ISA fell from 11.1m in 2016/17 to 10.8m last year. With so many opportunities available to young people these days, perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that saving into an ISA is losing its appeal?

How can ISAs evolve to maintain appeal?

Clues may lie within the rise of Open Banking, as digital money apps have empowered many people to manage their money more actively.

These apps play a huge role, although it could be suggested that financial education should begin at a very young age. Encouraging young people to invest for the long term requires knowledge of the difference between investment and saving.

Einstein famously said that: “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple,” and it would be unwise to underestimate the importance of simplifying language. The financial sector is awash with acronyms and savings jargon, creating potentially confusing barriers to entry for savers.

Some financial advisers have called for a more holistic approach and to examine how other industries are driving long-term behaviour change. Think of how the music industry changed the way we purchase and listen to music with digital distribution and online streaming platforms such as Spotify.

Ross Duncton, head of Direct at BMO Global Asset Management, says that a ‘revolution is due for the savings and investment industry – with ISAs centre stage.’ After all, if savings options were to remain the same for the next twenty years, the steady decline of ISA uptake will only continue.

Sources
What Investment – Issue 434 May 2019
https://moneyfacts.co.uk/news/savings/billions-of-isa-savings-expected/

Why investing your money is more profitable than leaving it in a bank account

You’ve worked hard to accrue your wealth, so naturally you’ll want to see your finances flourish and develop. That raises the question: how best should you grow your finances?

Many people are drawn to banks to save their money, opting for the chance to get some interest and their money back. But in a time of rising inflation, you may be watching your money devalue over time. The wealth of many people in the UK is under threat, as inflation has risen past interest rates to slowly reduce your money’s buying power.

With inflation vastly outstripping savings account returns by 2%, it may be time to seek out other more valuable options to invest. Michael Martin of Seven Investment Management told the Financial Times that at the current rate, a £100,000 lump sum will fall to £81,790 in just ten years.

However, every year we’re reminded that equities are far more likely to produce higher returns than cash deposits. The most recent Equity Gilt Study released by Barclays found that since 1899, British stocks have returned 4.9% a year in real terms, compared to 1.3% for gilts and 0.7% for cash. Over the last decade, the respective figures are 5.8% for stocks, 2.7% for gilts and a miserable -2.5% for cash.

An investment kept for five years at any stage has a 76% chance of outperforming cash, which is no small margin. However, if you extend the holding period to ten years, the figure climbs up to a dizzying 91%.

The Barclays study also found that reinvesting income dividends is crucial to long-term returns. If you had invested £100 in UK stocks at the end of 1945 without reinvesting the dividends, the amount would now be worth £244 after inflation.

Ian Cowie, Personal Account columnist for the Sunday Times, says that shareholders “benefit from improvements in efficiency and inventions that occur over time.” Meaning that, as companies innovate and grow, the situation becomes mutually beneficial.

With cash suffering from a steady decline as time goes on, it may be better to look towards other avenues of financial development as a way to diversify your savings and help them grow.

The value of investments or income from them may go down as well as up. As stocks and shares are valued from second to second, their bid and offer value fluctuates sometimes widely.

Sources
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/should-i-save-or-invest
https://moneyweek.com/505257/stocks-beat-cash-and-bonds-over-the-long-term/