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How to spot fake news

Social media and online platforms are full of misinformation and fake news at the best of times so in the midst of a pandemic, the problem only escalates. Conspiracy theories, fake cures and scams abound – myths that 5G causes coronavirus, that COVID-19 is a biochemical weapon released by China, or that drinking bleach can cure infected patients start to circulate like crazy.        

The power of social media lies in its ability to spread rapidly so the minute we like, share, or retweet something fake, we’re just amplifying it. We’re also more likely to forward something without thinking when we’re scared or angry because we’re anxious to ‘inform’ or protect someone else. 

So now more than ever we need to watch out for fake news. But how to spot what is genuine? And how to stop something going viral? 

Check the source

It’s always good to start from a position of scepticism. Ask yourself, is this real? Look to see who is sharing the information and who has published it. Does the language sound heavily biased or sensationalist? Memes on social media should be viewed with caution. They can often look authentic, especially if they feature a public figure and a quote. But double check the facts – did they actually say that, was it even the right era?   

Look more closely 

Zoom in on a picture to check all the details and confirm whether the location is authentic. Look for shop fronts, billboards, placards, car registration numbers or street signs. Does the language  on the signs in the image tally with the location in the headline? Platforms like Google, Bing, TinEye or Yandex enable you to check when an image first appeared on the Internet so you can tell whether it has been taken recently or it is an old picture doing the rounds.        

Anything odd?

Only the tech companies can really identify a bot account but there are a few things that may ring alarm bells. None of these on their own will mean it’s an inauthentic account but a few  combined begin to look suspicious. So you may see a long string of weird letters and numbers as the handle or username, for example @thedolandld2klht for a fake Donald Trump account. This suggests it has been created by an algorithm. There may be no bio or it may be at odds with the rest of their activity. You can also click on their profile picture and search Google to see if it is genuine or is just a generic stock image. Check through their timeline. Do they post content of their own and engage with other people or do they just keep retweeting content from somewhere else? As a general rule, if you see someone posting 60x times a day on a regular basis, be suspicious.   

If in doubt, don’t share! 

Sources
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-51974040/fake-news-and-how-to-spot-it

Financial lessons for parents of students

If you’ve got a son or daughter at college or university, you could have some stark financial lessons ahead. Getting the grades may have dominated the household up to now but budgeting for their life as a student can require just as much focus.      

Tuition fees and student loans are usually top of the agenda. Most universities charge £9,250 for tuition fees but the financial help available to students for their living costs will differ. Maintenance loans are calculated according to where the student is going to study, where they plan to live and how much their parents earn.

As an example, the maximum maintenance loan is £11,672 if the student is an undergraduate,  studying in London and not living at home, but this would only apply if the gross household income was below £25,000 (after pension contributions). If the household income is greater than £67,000, the maximum a student can borrow for their living costs is £5,812. You would be expected to provide a parental contribution of £6,000 to make up the shortfall.              

A recent survey revealed that parents of students could be found to be contributing an average of £360 a month. Half of them said they had not anticipated that they would have to give as much financial help. Luxury items such as new cars and exotic holidays were sacrificed while six per cent of respondents said they had taken a second job.

Despite this, students faced an average monthly shortfall of £267, according to the 2019  National Student Money Survey. Although some had taken part time jobs, 49 per cent relied on  overdrafts and 14 per cent on credit cards.

Not surprisingly, the main expense is accommodation.This has soared in recent years due to the increasing amount of university accommodation being provided by commercial operators, which costs significantly more than traditional halls of residence. Students can find themselves paying up to £9,000 a year on rent in London and £6,366 elsewhere.

Students also get tied into lengthy commercial tenancies of up to 46 weeks. Some landlords may even charge for 51 weeks. To make things even more difficult, the rent may be due before the maintenance loan arrives.         

Despite the high costs, demand is high so students may be expected to start a tenancy in June for the forthcoming academic year. That can mean deposits of three months’ rent need to be paid in advance before the Easter term.

Parents are often called in to meet these costs and act as a rental guarantor. One advantage is that large providers like the Unite Group will allow you to pay by credit card so you can stack up lots of loyalty points. 

It’s an exciting new chapter of life and with a bit of careful ongoing planning and budgeting, you can make sure you minimise any surprises. 

You have a financial plan, but do you have a financial plan b?

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley”. So said Robert Burns in his poem ‘To a Mouse’, lyrically summing up the idea that no matter how well we prepare, there are always factors beyond our control that can cause our ‘best laid’ plans to unravel.

Whilst the same can be said for financial planning, there are a great deal of factors that are under our control, one of which is preparing for the eventuality that our plan ‘A’ might not come to pass. Making a plan ‘B’ is not admitting defeat, but pragmatically working on the assumption that nothing about preparing for the future is guaranteed.

When it comes to retirement planning, too many people give themselves a single plan without having an alternative they can turn to. This is most common amongst those who have made plans themselves without consulting an independent adviser. One of the most frequent mistakes made is planning for too short a retirement. It’s always better to be optimistic about how long your pension will need to last. That way, if you overestimate, your money won’t run out and can become part of your legacy.

An increasing number of retirees are planning to continue working in some capacity after they retire, either taking on a part time job or extending their previous career through taking on a consultancy role. Financial advisers, however, are increasingly recommending that any income from working in retirement should be factored in as additional income rather than something you rely on to ensure you have enough money each month. That way you have the freedom to reduce your hours or stop working altogether whenever you want.

Plan ‘B’ is not always about the worst case scenario, however. It could be that your main plan assumes a certain amount of savings in your pension, whilst your backup plan is more optimistic but less likely. If you find that you do reach retirement age with more money available than you expected, plan ‘B’ could be your way of ensuring you make the most of life after work. If you planned to move abroad, look at more expensive destinations that might offer you even greater benefits than your initial choice.

If you’re nearing retirement and would like help putting together your plans, please get in touch.

Sources
http://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/2016-08-03/whats-your-plan-b-for-retirement

Would more people actually like to retire a little later?

This may seem a surprising suggestion. Surely most people are eagerly looking forward to early retirement, not thinking about postponing it? More time to travel the world, spend on the golf course or help out with the grandchildren sounds an enticing prospect rather than more years at work.

But times have changed significantly since the state old age pension was first introduced in 1909. In those days, it was paid to those aged 70 or more and people weren’t expected to live many years beyond that.           

The UK Government is in the process of raising the state pension age to 66 (from the current 65), with an expected completion deadline of October 2020. These rises in the state pension age roughly correlate with the rise in life expectancy. People live on average at least another fifteen years beyond their ‘three score years and ten’.

Back in 1948, a 65-year-old would expect to take their pension for about 13.5 years, equating to 23% of their adult life. This has risen steadily. Figures in 2017 showed that a 65-year-old would expect to live for another 22.8 years, or 33.6% of their adult life.

A significant number of people even live to 100 these days. So much so that the Queen has had to expand her centenarian letter writing team to cope with the number of people requiring a 100th birthday message from the Palace.       

According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of centenarians in the UK has increased by 85% over the last 15 years.This trend is set to continue so that by 2080 it is anticipated there will be over 21,000.

In recognition of the fact that people are living longer and spending a larger proportion of their adult life in retirement, a government review will consider increasing the state pension age to 68 between 2037 and 2039.  

Currently, if someone retires at 65 and lives to 100 it makes for a long retirement. Not only is it  expensive for the state to maintain, the individual is worried about outliving their finances rather than being able to get on and enjoy their retirement. The state pension was not designed to support a long period of limbo. 

Against such a backdrop, it makes sense for some individuals, if they are fit, healthy and capable, to consider working beyond their pension age. There is no longer any default retirement age at 65, so it is perfectly possible to do this.  

The older generation also have a great deal to contribute to an employer in terms of experience and commitment. In addition, it’s well known that going to work each day gives some people a reason to get up in the morning and also to keep young. There are many unfortunate cases where someone has worked all their life, looking forward to their retirement, only to fall seriously ill or die the moment they stop work.    

The number of 70 year olds in full or part-time employment has been steadily increasing year on year for the past decade, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. This hit a peak of 497,946 in the first quarter of 2019, an increase of 135% since 2009. 

So rather than just worry about whether you will have enough for your retirement, maybe it makes sense to keep working a little bit longer.  

Sources
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/08/19/not-raise-pension-age-people-would-rather-retire-little-later/

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/proposed-new-timetable-for-state-pension-age-increases

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/may/27/number-of-over-70s-still-in-work-more-than-doubles-in-a-decade

https://www.ons.gov.uk

What does it take to retire early?

The idea of retiring in your 50s or even your 40s sounds like a pipe-dream to most, what with the increased cost of living, inflation and other economic factors slowly eating away at your predicted earnings. This hasn’t stopped the rise of the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement, though, a new method of frugal living that aims for early retirement, escaping long working lives and living off the stock market or other supplementary income for good.

One of the most infamous experiments carried out by Stanford University is the marshmallow experiment, where a pair of psychologists gave children a choice: one reward now, or two rewards if they waited around 15 minutes. Some of the children took the early reward of a marshmallow. Others struggled, but managed to wait longer, occupying themselves until it was time to receive a double reward.

Saving for retirement can be very similar to the lesson in delayed gratification, only more difficult. The children knew what reward awaited them should they be patient – most adults don’t have a clue if their savings will be enough for the future. When the reward is intangible or complicated, it’s even more difficult to set limits now in the hope of future benefits.

So, how do you do it?

Keep your spending in-house

From small seeds of saving do sturdy trees of retirement grow. Simply put, it’s good to aim small when beginning your savings journey. That £2.65 coffee from your local coffee shop is now going to be an instant in the office. No more eating out for lunch, it’s time for homemade meals to be brought into work with you. Cutting out the small daily expenses can really help boost your long term savings and help usher in that desired early retirement. Let’s take our £2.65 coffee for example, the average UK citizen works around 260 days a year – that’s £689 a year!

Utilise technology

There are a number of apps available, such as Moneybox, that make some basic assumptions about stock market returns and inflation rates which then inform you as to how much you’ll need to save. Having a handy app on your phone can help you make decisions on the fly and allow you to check what a potentially impulsive purchase may cost you in the future.

Shop around

Saving money where you can on bills, transport and other outgoings can help to grow your retirement pot quickly and without too much skin off your nose. Ask yourself whether you really need that magazine subscription or streaming service. Can you find a better deal on your phone or energy contract? The answer is often yes.

Take advantage of saving opportunities

The government has recently introduced a new Lifetime ISA open to those aged between 18 and 40. LISA account holders can save up to £4,000 a year, with the government adding an annual 25% bonus up to a maximum of £1,000. There is a limit, however. You won’t be able to contribute to a LISA or receive the bonus when you turn 50, but the account will stay open and your savings will continue accruing interest or investment returns. For more information on the terms of withdrawal and eligibility, check out this government’s guide.

Decide what your goals are

Ready for some serious saving? Pretirement is an app developed for the financially-inclined who want to put away small savings over the long term in order to save for a holiday or a new car. Their headline claim, using their clever algorithm, is that by saving £800 a month towards your retirement, you shave years off your working life, depending on what your retirement goals are.

And there’s the big question. What are your retirement goals? Do you want to live a life of luxury, enjoying all the potential freedoms that your new found free time will have to offer? Or would you rather have a comfortable yet frugal retirement. There’s a whole range of options available to you, and your retirement goals will help to inform you of how much you need to save and invest. A financial adviser can be a great help in determining this factor as they can give you direction on what the ideal savings plan is for you.

At the end of it all, the message is to save when and where you can. It’s about growing your savings and securing your finances.

Auto-Enrolement changes put pressure on small businesses

April 2019 saw the increase of minimum contributions to auto-enrolment pensions from 5 per cent of wages to 8 per cent. With employers now required to contribute 3 per cent, rather than their previous 1 per cent, the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) has warned that this could put “substantial” pressure on small businesses.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has reported an increase of workplace pension participation amongst small business employees of around 45% as a result of auto-enrolment. That means that businesses who employ between 2 and 29 workers will be seeing a significant extra cost towards pension schemes. These costs aren’t necessarily as daunting for larger businesses, but in the words of Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the FSB, “The costs involved for smaller employers are substantial, in terms of both expenditure and indeed their time, as they have grappled with finding a good provider and setting up whole new systems. Now that the 3 per cent rate has hit, the burden will be greater still.”

But with 70 per cent of UK workers employed by small businesses now on workplace pensions as a direct result of auto-enrolment (first introduced in 2012), employees seem to consider it as an attractive prospect. They too have seen an increase in their minimum contributions, from 3 per cent to 5, and so sacrificing a higher portion of their monthly wages has been accepted as a move that does come with its own benefits. Predictions from investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown state that in real terms, the average employer will see £30 of their monthly wages go towards their pension pot which, on average, results in total pension savings increasing by around £55,000.

Employers, on average, are predicted to now contribute £55 a month to the average employee’s pension pot, an increase from the pre-April figure of £37. These increases aren’t all bad news for employers however; Guy Opperman, Minister of Pensions, sees them as the opposite. “Automatic enrolment has been an extraordinary success, transforming pension saving and improving the retirement prospects of more than 10 million workers already. The increased cost on employers has been phased in over time so firms have had the opportunity to adapt. Pension contributions are a valuable employee benefit which firms use to attract and retain good people. This is true of small and large firms alike.”

Sources
https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/increased-auto-enrolment-controbutions-could-have-substantial-impact-smaller-employers
https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14012

Why easy access savings accounts are a bad idea

We’ve all been there, the boiler breaks, the car decides that today is not its day or a bill appears out of nowhere. For these sudden expenses, you need to have access to your money.  The UK has favoured instant access savings accounts for a good while now, with a staggering 77% of cash savings now being held in these easy access savings accounts.

Convenience is a wonderful thing, however there are a number of drawbacks to keeping your cash at your fingertips. The very best of these easy access accounts currently pay up to 1.5% interest AER (Annual Equivalent Rate). If you’re one of the millions of people who are trying to save with bigger high street banks, you’ll be receiving a whole lot less. In some cases, saving rates with big banks can be as low as 0.15% (29/05/19), which we can all agree is monumentally low.  

What should you do?

Easy access savings accounts might seem like the most uncomplicated way to keep your cash. The truth is, though, few of us really need to keep our cash instantly accessible.

A healthy blend of instant access and fixed-term savings could significantly boost your returns, whilst keeping that rainy day fund safe, in case of emergencies. That’s why it’s worth splitting your savings in two:

Emergency cash – money to be put to one side in case of loss of employment, home repairs or other unforeseen expenses. For most of you, this will be within the region of three to six months worth of income held in an instant access or current account.

Long term savings – you may have your eyes on a big expense in the future. You might be getting married, buying a new house or planning a trip around the world. Whatever it may be, putting your cash into a fixed term savings account is one of the best ways to grow your savings. You can keep your cash in a fixed term account from between 3 months and five years.

The general rule is that the longer you keep your cash in a fixed term account, the higher your rate. You may even be able to reach the dizzying heights of 2.5%!

With the national inflation rate currently set at 1.9%, saving has become more important than ever if you want to secure your future finances. For more information on what style of saving would suit you, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Defined Contribution vs Defined Benefit – what’s the difference and what’s the trend?

As defined contribution pension plans overtake defined benefit (in terms of money paid into schemes) for the first time ever, more and more people are taking an interest in how the two differ and the relationship between them. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has reported that in 2018, employee contributions for defined contribution pension pots reached £4.1bn, compared to the £3.2bn that employees contributed to DB schemes.

With April 2019’s increase to minimum contributions for DC schemes seeing employer contribution hitting 3% and employees contributing 5% towards their pension, the trend of DC contribution increases in relation to DB isn’t set to slow any time soon.

So before DB Pensions become a distant memory, let’s take a look at exactly what they are. A defined benefit pension, which is sometimes referred to as a final salary pension scheme, promises to pay a guaranteed income to the scheme holder, for life, once they reach the age of retirement set by the scheme. Generally, the payout is based on an accrual rate; a fraction of the member’s terminal earnings (or final salary), which is then multiplied by the number of years the employee has been a scheme member.

A DB scheme is different from a DC scheme in that your payout is calculated by the contributions made to it by both yourself and your employer, and is dependent on how those contributions perform as an investment and the decisions you make upon retirement. The fund, made of contributions that the scheme member and their employer make, is usually invested in stocks and shares while the scheme member works. There is a level of risk, as with any investments, but the goal is to see the fund grow.

Upon retirement, the scheme member has a decision to make with how they access their pension. They can take their whole pension as a lump sum, with 25% being free from tax. They can take lump sums from their pension as and when they wish. They can take 25% of their pension tax free, receiving the remainder as regular taxable income for as long as it lasts, or they can take the 25% and convert the rest into an annuity.

One of the reasons for DB schemes becoming more scarce is that higher life expectancies mean employers face higher unpredictability and thus riskier, more expensive pensions. This is a trend that looks likely to continue. If you’re unsure of how to make the most of your pension plan, it’s recommended to consult with a professional.

Sources
https://businessnewswales.com/defined-contribution-pensions-overtake-defined-benefit-for-the-first-time-ever/ https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/defined-contribution-pension-schemes https://www.pensionsauthority.ie/en/LifeCycle/Private_pensions/Final_salary_defined_benefit_schemes/
https://www.moneywise.co.uk/pensions/managing-your-pension/your-guide-to-final-salary-pensions

The UK is struggling to save; what are the implications?

study found in 2018 that one in four adults have no savings. Many residents in the UK wish that they had cash to save, however high monthly outgoings and debt clearance seem to take priority. Saving for the little curveballs that life throws your way is a good way to maintain a sound mind, but poor money management and large monthly payments can get in the way. So is this issue localised to the UK, or is the struggle to save an international issue?

Across the pond

Households in the US are currently able to save 6.5% of their disposable income, down from the previous figure of 7.3% after estimates were made by Trading Economics. However, earlier in 2018 a report was made, finding that 40% of US adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 (est £307) emergency.

The current UK savings figure sits at 4.8%, one of the lowest since records began in 1963. The Office for National Statistics has come up with an even lower figure of 3.9%, which actually is the lowest recorded. Further to this, a report was also made by the Financial Conduct Authority in 2017 that millions of UK residents would find it difficult to pay an unexpected bill of £50 at the end of the month, and little has changed since then.

Closer to home

In France and Germany, the savings ratio sits at 15.25% and 10.9% respectively, that’s triple the UK’s value for France and over double for Germany! The Managing Director of Sparkasse bank points to cultural ideals as the main influencers for the high German saving rate, saying that: “Saving is seen as the morally right thing to do. It is more than simple financial strategy.” This stance seems typical for the country that’s home to the first ever savings bank, opening in Hamburg in 1778.

Why do we not save as much as we used to?

The idea of saving for a rainy day in the UK may not be totally lost but for many, the rainy days are happening as we speak. Another reason relates to the tendency of UK households to borrow more money in order to maintain lifestyle choices. For all quarters in 2018, households were net borrowers, drawing on loans and savings to fund spending and investment decisions.

Comments have been made referring to current Brexit uncertainty as a reason for the change, alongside rising rental prices and increased costs of living. Whether this new change in spending and saving is wholly due to current cultural or economic factors is yet to be confirmed. Another case has been made for poor interest rates making it a less lucrative option for savers to save.

Be it cultural or economic, it is undeniable that the country has lost faith in the ethos of saving their pennies. In the end, as more and more studies come to light, it seems that only time will tell.

Sources
https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/expenditure/bulletins/familyspendingintheuk/financialyearending2018
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-adults-savings-none-quarter-debt-cost-living-emergencies-survey-results-a8265111.html
https://eu.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/budget-and-spending/2018/09/26/how-much-average-household-has-savings/37917401/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46986579
https://www.ft.com/content/c8772236-2b93-11e8-a34a-7e7563b0b0f4

6 bad habits to avoid during retirement

Planning for retirement can be complicated, as anyone approaching the end of their working life will tell you. However, navigating the myriad of choices, both financially and socially, doesn’t have to be such an enigma. Here are a few tips to help you avoid common bad habits that retirees often fall into:

1. Spending your pension fund money

Yes, that’s right. If you delay spending your pension and spend other available cash and investments first, you could keep your money safe from the taxman. Not spending your pension fund money until you have to may also help the beneficiaries of your estate avoid a large inheritance tax bill.

2. Taking the full brunt of inheritance tax

Inheritance tax can cost your loved ones vast sums if you were to pass away. There are plenty of ways to protect them from losing a large portion of your estate. Strategies such as making gifts or leaving assets to your spouse are an effective way to avoid the tax, among other valuable strategies.

3. Failing to have a plan

Many retirees have multiple avenues of income to provide for them during retirement. Making the most out of those streams of revenue is key to a stress free retirement, as unwise investment or poor planning can lead to unnecessary worries. We recommend contacting a financial adviser in order to set out a plan that’ll let you focus less on worrying about income and more on enjoying your well-earned retirement.

4. Not taking advantage of the discounts

There is an absolute boatload of price slashes available to retirees over a certain age. This ranges from discounts on train fares to reduced prices of cinema tickets. We recommend that all pensioners takes full advantage of these discounts as every penny saved provides more financial security for yourself and your loved ones.

5. Thinking property is the only asset worth having

Property can be a valuable source of retirement revenue, but it’s not the only way to create more income. Property can often incur maintenance expenses for landlords and take up time to resolve that could be spent making the most out of your retirement (though there are many pros and cons to the pension vs property discussion).

6. Buying into scams

When you retire, it seems that all kinds of people come crawling out of the woodwork to give you a “great” investment opportunity or insurance policy. Tactics can include contact out of the blue with promises of high / guaranteed returns and pressure to act quickly. The pensions regulator has a comprehensive pensions scam guide that’s definitely worth a read.

Building your financial future

Sources
https://moneytothemasses.com/saving-for-your-future/pensions/buying-property-with-your-pension-everything-you-need-to-know
https://finance.yahoo.com/news/15-things-not-retirement-090000553.html
https://miafinancialadvice.co.uk/14-retirement-planning-mistakes-that-you-dont-know-that-you-are-making/
https://miafinancialadvice.co.uk/spend-your-pension-last/
https://www.investorschronicle.co.uk/managing-your-money/2018/10/04/want-an-easy-retirement-avoid-this-common-mistake/