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Gifting rules and inheritance tax, what you might not know

Following an in depth study conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), it has been discovered that only one in four people making financial gifts are aware of the risks of inheritance tax. Further to this, they found that only 45% of gifters reported being aware of inheritance tax rules and exemptions when they gave their largest gift.

A staggeringly low 8% of respondents considered tax rules before making a financial gift and most did not associate gifting with inheritance tax. When compared with the fact that over half of respondents said that they planned to leave inheritance, it’s obvious that there seems to be a gap in gifter’s knowledge.

For those who were aware of the rules surrounding inheritance tax, 54% said this influenced the value of their largest gift. This was most prevalent amongst affluent taxpayers who had assets of £500,000 or more. Respondents below this threshold had more limited knowledge of the long-term effects of inheritance tax, the seven-year rule or the annual limit on gifts.

So, where does the money go?

80% of gifters gave to individuals, with charities coming in second at around 10%. The most common beneficiaries were adult children, followed by 15% giving to parents or other family members and 14% making gifts to friends. The most popular reasons were presents for birthdays and weddings.

The data also suggested that even when individuals considered inheritance tax rulings, it did not deter them from giving the gift.

The rules

You can give away £3,000 worth of gifts each tax year (6 April to 5 April) without them being added to the value of your estate. This is known as your ‘annual exemption’. You can carry any unused annual exemption forward to the next year – but only for one year.

For smaller gifts, you can give as many gifts of up to £250 per person as you want during the tax year as long as you have not used another exemption on the same person.

The current starting threshold for inheritance tax for a single person is set at £325,000. This amount is then doubled for married couples and civil partners, who also have the additional benefit of the residential nil-rate band, which allows for a further £150,000 of tax-free, property-based inheritance per person. This particular allowance is set to rise to £175,000 as of the 6th of April 2020.

An unsuccessful PET is taxed depending on how long the gifter has lived following the giving of the gift and is referred to as ‘taper relief.’ If a gift is given less than three years before death, the full rate of 40% is applied to the gift, tapering off to 8% if the gift was given between six to seven years before death.

However, this is not the case when it comes to transactions with a reservation of benefit. For example, if you give away your home to your children and continue to occupy it rent-free, the property is still considered as forming part of your estate immediately if the worst were to happen. An individual cannot retain possession of a chattel or property whilst making a PET.

Though it may be difficult to plan for the worst, knowing how to best mitigate the tax surrounding gifts and inheritance can help you make key financial decisions at the most opportune moments, and prevent any avoidable losses when it comes to sharing your assets with the people and organisations that matter most to you.

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/

The popularity of Equity release is growing, but is it a good move?

Equity release is no longer the niche lending area it once was. More and more homeowners over 55 are choosing to release cash tied up in their homes and there are few signs of this trend subsiding.

Lending in 2018 increased by 27% compared to the previous year and is now nearly double what it was in 2016. It’s likely that the UK’s growing elderly population, where many don’t have the pension security of generations past, is partly behind this expansion. The growing variety of equity release products on the market could also be a factor. Newer products mean that homeowners are able to gradually release money from their property, rather than taking it as a lump sum.

Is it a risky option?

Equity release doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean reputation. There have been past accusations of mis-selling and there are occasions where relatives find themselves receiving less inheritance than they might have expected.

Because of the way interest accumulates over the years, people can end up owing a large amount of money that is paid back from the value of the property when a person dies or goes into care.

Whether equity release is a suitable solution really depends on a person’s individual financial and personal circumstances.

As well as getting sound financial advice beforehand, it’s always best to be open with loved ones about releasing equity from your property. Two in three complaints to the Financial Ombudsman about equity release come from relatives of people who have died or gone into care. It can save a lot of upset later on to be open about releasing cash from a property when you do it, rather than further down the line.

The bottom line is that equity release can play a crucial role in supporting a full retirement, alongside pensions, savings and other assets, for the right homeowner. Since homes are most people’s largest asset, it makes sense to at least consider how this asset can be used to fund retirement. Downsizing in later life is another way of releasing money from your home.

Sources
https://www.mortgagestrategy.co.uk/feature-the-rise-and-rise-of-equity-release

Expert Advice: Diversify your ‘life Portfolio’ for a happy retirement

It goes without saying that being in a strong financial position in later life is important for a happy retirement. After all, it’s hard to be truly happy if you’re constantly worrying about money and having to devise new ways to make ends meet.

However, money isn’t everything. Even if you have your finances under control and adequate resources, a happy retirement isn’t a given. This means when retirement planning it might be worth coming up with a strong ‘Life Portfolio’, as well as a financial one. Looking at your ‘Life Portfolio’ can help guide you through the important decisions you must take in the run up to retirement, as you’ll have made a record of the key things you want from later life.

What makes a ‘Life Portfolio’?

For the purpose of the Life Portfolio, it makes sense to break down your lifestyle planning into four areas:

Health

This refers to activities that help you remain in good health. Health here shouldn’t be limited to just physical health. It’s also important to think about activities that keep you happy and mentally active.

People

Existing family and friends aren’t the only things that make up the ‘People’ category. You should also think about community organisations you could get involved in to make new friends.

Places

Where do you see yourself living in retirement? Do you have any travel plans or dream holidays? Will you be close enough to see your loved ones?

Pursuits

What will you do in your retirement? What hobbies or interests do you have which you’d like to pursue in retirement? Does volunteering appeal to you? This also relates to whether you’d like to retire fully or stay professionally active in some capacity.

In the run up to retirement, it’s important you think about the meaningful activities that will keep the zest in your post-retirement life. Retirement is a big change, and despite the prospect of much more free time, it’s not always a seamless transition. Many experience a feeling of lacking the direction they once had through their careers.

If you develop a ‘Life Portfolio’ with a partner, you need to think about what goals you share and what goals are individual. Coming up with a set of shared goals for retirement while meeting your individual needs is important to ensure a happy retirement together. Whether you choose to write a formal ‘Life Portfolio’ or not, devising and working towards goals outside of work is key to being happy after you leave full time work.

Sources
https://www.kitces.com/blog/anna-rappaport-phased-retirement-life-portfolio-health-people-pursuits-places/

Going Dutch: Could this new type of pension be the answer to the pension problem

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has given the go-ahead for Dutch-style pension schemes to be offered to UK employees. These schemes, known as CDC, are a ‘halfway house’ between defined contribution and ‘gold-plated’ defined benefit schemes.

CDC stands for collective defined contribution schemes. They are similar to defined contribution pensions in that employer and employee make a regular contribution to a savings pot. Unlike defined contribution schemes, however, savers pool their money into a collective fund, rather than having their individual accounts. The idea behind this being that risks are shared evenly by all.

What’s more, CDC pensions give their members a ‘target’ income for life. Instead of a guaranteed income, CDC pensions say they’ll pay out a ‘target’ amount, based on a long-term mixed-risk investment strategy. This amount can change – it can fall in the event of circumstances like adverse economic conditions – or rise if the assets are particularly well invested.

Risk is shared by employers making changes to the amount they put in. When markets are down, pension payments can be reduced and contributions may be increased. Also, CDC funds can take a more balanced approach to investment risk rather than moving an individual pot into low-risk bonds as the retirement date approaches, as can happen with ordinary defined contribution pensions.

Critics argue that CDC pensions will be too hard to marry with the high level of control we have after the introduction of pensions freedoms in the UK. You wouldn’t be able to transfer out and buy an enhanced annuity if you had a low life-expectancy, as you would in a defined contribution scheme.

This scheme will be offered to Royal Mail workers first. They have strong support from the Communications Workers Union to go ahead with the scheme for its 140,000 members, though getting the scheme up and running might take a long time.

Sources
https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/cdc-pensions-collective-defined-contribution-pensions-cdc-dutch-style-defined-ambition-pensions/
https://moneyweek.com/498182/cdc-pensions-a-third-way/