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Financial planning in your forties

Archive for the ‘Pensions’ Category

Financial planning in your forties

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

It’s well known life begins at forty. Doesn’t it?

It should be an exciting decade, full of plans and aspirations. It’s also likely to be a time of optimum earning potential.

What’s more, it’s a crucial decade to take a step back and make sure your finances are on track to meet your goals.

There’ll be some decisions you’ll already have taken in your twenties or thirties, which will have had an impact. You may have bought your own home, for example, or put some savings away in cash, investments or pensions.

If things don’t look quite as rosy as you’d hoped, though, your forties are a good time to take stock, as there’s still time to make adjustments and give your investments time to grow.

Don’t forget, whatever savings you can make now will enable you to pursue your dreams later on.

Here are four key tips for shrewd financial planning at this important time of life.

Budget ruthlessly

Just because life may feel comfortable with regular pay rises and bonuses don’t fall into the temptation of spending more than you need. Do you really need that Costa coffee or M&S lunch every day?

Apps like Money Dashboard or Moneyhub can be helpful in showing you where your money’s going. Simple steps like cancelling subscriptions or switching bill providers can make a significant difference.

Historic studies show that investments usually outperform cash savings so any disposable income you can invest will be beneficial. If you can put money aside in a pension you’ll also be taking advantage of the tax relief available. Make sure you use your ISA allowance too for more accessible funds.

Carry out a protection audit

Think about what if the unexpected happened. Your forties are a time of life where you may find yourself part of what’s known as ‘the sandwich generation’ i.e. caring for elderly parents at the same time as looking after young children. This can put extra pressure on you. Make sure you’re protected should the worst happen by ensuring you have a good emergency fund in place. Also think about critical illness cover and life insurance.

Property plans

Your home will be a fundamental part of your financial planning at this time of life. If you feel you need a larger property, these are likely to be your peak earning years so now is the time to secure the best mortgage you can and find your dream home. On the other hand, if you’re quite happy where you are, it may be a good time to remortgage to get a better deal.

Family spending

Everyone’s situation is different. You may have children at university or you may still be having to pay for nursery fees. Whatever your position, make sure you budget accordingly and allow for inflation, especially if you’re paying private school fees. Work out the priorities for your family – the best education now or a house deposit in the future. It’s important not to derail your own life savings for the sake of your children as no one will benefit in the long run.

By doing some sound financial planning now, you’ll have more hope of continuing in the style you want to live, well beyond your forties.

Are you keeping track of your pension pot?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Keeping track of your pension pots can feel like a full time job at times, particularly as we head towards a world where the average person will have eleven different jobs over the course of their career. It’s becoming increasingly uncommon for people to stay in the same job throughout their employment. In fact, we’re now seeing that 64% of people have multiple pension pots; that’s up 2% since October 2016. While that in itself is not a worry, what is more troublesome is that of that 64%, 22% have reportedly lost track of at least one of those pots.

Which means there are more than 7 million people who may not have access to the retirement funds they’ve worked hard to amass. To make sure you’re not one of them, it’s really important to keep on top of the bigger picture of what you’re owed.

Despite an increase in pension awareness, thanks to auto-enrolment, recent research has shown that 30% of people still do not know the value of their pension. Of course, if you’re not sure of the full value of your savings, it makes it hard to plan properly for retirement.

For some, the best way to get a clearer view of the situation is through pension consolidation. If you have a number of small, automatic enrolment pots, it could be worth bringing them together to make them more manageable. Consolidation isn’t necessarily the right choice in all circumstances, though. Certain pensions, particularly those of an older style, will come with great benefits that may be relinquished upon consolidation. Whether or not this is the right path for you will depend on your personal situation, so it’s always a good idea to consult an adviser to talk you through the process before making any decisions.

If you think you may have lost sight of a pension pot yourself, there is a pension tracker available through the Department for Work and Pensions that will help you locate it. Do feel free to get in touch with us directly, if you have any questions around this topic.

Is buying a state pension top-up worthwhile?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

As part of your overall financial planning, one item that is worth considering is your state pension and whether you are on track to get the full amount. If not, it is possible to buy top-ups, which could boost your payout by £244 a year for life.

The 2017/18 voluntary payment, under the Class 3 National Insurance top-up scheme, costs £741 and will get you nearer to, or over, the threshold for the maximum state pension payout – currently £164.35 a week. Such an opportunity can be particularly relevant for those who have contracted out of part of the state pension at some point previously during their working life.

A word of caution though before proceeding – some people have paid the top-up only to discover that it made no difference to their state pension and subsequently struggled to get a refund from HM Revenue and Customs.

Some of the confusion arose because of the major shake-up in April 2016 when the single-tier pension system was introduced. Under the old system you had to have 30 years of NI contributions to get the full basic £122.30 a week pension, whereas under the new one you have to have 35 years. The top-up system was letting some people pay for extra contributions when to do so was futile.

Despite the problems encountered by some, Steve Webb, former Pensions Minister, says it is still worth investigating whether the additional payment would boost your future state pension. ‘Ironically, I think it would be really unfortunate if lots of people who could now top up for 17/18 at incredible value were put off doing so or didn’t do so because they were still unaware of the option, and where the decision to top-up or not is much more straightforward and less likely to go wrong,’ he said.

To know where you stand, the first thing to do is to get an official state pension forecast from the Government website. This will highlight whether you have any gaps in your National Insurance record of contributions. The top-up scheme can be particularly relevant for women who took time out to look after children.,

If you reached state pension age before 6 April 2016, the old system will apply to you (that’s men who were born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953). However, if you reached state pension age before 6 April 2016 (men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953), the new system will apply.

You also need to work out if 2017/18 was a qualifying year for you – when you were under state pension age for the whole year and in which you either paid or were credited with enough NICs to earn one year towards your state pension entitlement.

If you have any questions around this topic, please feel free to get in touch with us directly.

Record numbers making use pensions freedom

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

The people have spoken and they love freedom! Recent figures show withdrawals in the 2017-18 year were worth £6.7bn, the highest figure since the pensions freedom reforms were introduced in 2015.

Before the change in legislation, the majority of pensioners would purchase an annuity with their pension pot, which would guarantee them an income for life.The pension freedoms now mean that those over the age of 55 have access to their savings and more choice and flexibility over how they fund their retirement.

Clearly pensioners are beginning to embrace this opportunity, with a total of 220,000 making half a million withdrawals between them in the first quarter of 2018. That’s an increase of 20,000 from the previous quarter. Initially, there had been concern over isolated examples of pensioners blowing their entire savings on luxury goods and services, but responsible and widespread use of the reforms is now underway.

It’s true that although savers have more freedom and flexibility as a result of the reforms, it does mean they also have greater responsibility. This means that it’s more crucial than ever to follow sound financial advice. Samantha Seaton of Moneyhub, the budgeting app, shares this view stating, “While this flexibility is being embraced, it has also brought into sharp focus the importance of financial advice. But as customers find their finances increasingly fragmented across multiple providers, it can often be a real challenge for advisers to get a true picture of their clients’ financial situation.”

Research has shown that some savers lack the knowledge to enable them to make the right decisions regarding their pension pot. Policymakers and the wider financial sector are now working to address this.

If you have any questions around this topic, please feel free to get in touch with us directly.

5 pitfalls that put your retirement plans at risk

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Imagine the scene; you’ve spent your life living frugally, saving efficiently and investing wisely. You enter your well-earned retirement financially secure and excited for the years ahead. The future could pan out in one of two ways; the first could lead to continued security and the financial freedom to enjoy your retirement as planned; the second might lead to the unfortunate disappearance of that security and the resulting stress that would involve.

The sad truth is that the things that lead people down the second path are usually easily avoidable; it’s rarely investment market declines which are the cause of a failed retirement strategy. Here are the five most common pitfalls that you can avoid through careful planning.

1. Helping too much

We all have a natural desire to help our loved ones, but helping too much can lead to harming our own plans. It’s all too common for people to dip into their retirement funds to give money to their children, grandchildren and other relatives. There’s nothing wrong with lending a hand or giving gifts, but you have to know what you can afford and stick to your limits. Don’t be afraid to admit you can’t help.

2. Buying a second home

Having your own little getaway or spending your winters in the sun may seem like a fantastic prospect, but it’s important to be realistic. A huge portion of your retirement capital can be tied up in owning a second home, and there are often unexpected costs involved. In the past you could count on property values to appreciate, but that isn’t true of many areas now. If you want a second home in retirement, make sure you have a substantial financial cushion.

3. Unmanageable debt

Debt can sometimes be considered a financial management strategy rather than something to steer clear of in retirement. Some financial advisers may recommend investing cash to earn a higher return than the interest rate of the debt, instead of paying off the debt altogether. It does, however, come with fixed expenses and if those expenses combine with unexpected expenditures and begin to exceed your fixed income, problems can arise. Avoiding debt during retirement where possible will help avoid financial uncertainty.

4. New business ventures

A lot of retirees choose to continue working and producing income in some way. Many may decide to start new businesses. If this is something you’re considering, be careful and separate most of your retirement assets from the business. Only risk capital that you don’t need to sustain your standard of living as a failing business can erode your nest egg quickly.

5. Absence of a spending plan

One of the easiest mistakes to make is not planning your spending. A lot of retirees don’t know how much money is safe for them to spend in the early years and still ensure they have enough capital to last into their later years. Surveys suggest that people believe they can spend 7% or more of their savings each year safely, however, financial planners and economists say the spending limit is closer to 4%.

Everyone’s optimal spending plan will vary and, ideally, you should revisit your estimates each year to make adjustments. If you have any questions around this topic, please feel free to get in touch with us directly.

Pensions: what is the tapered annual allowance?

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

One of the key advantages of saving for your retirement through a pension scheme is the tax relief you receive on the money you contribute, usually available at your usual rate of tax. The ‘Annual Allowance’ limits the amount of contributions both you and your employer can make to your pension in a year which benefit from tax relief, and is currently set at £40,000.

However, in April 2016, the government also introduced the ‘Tapered Annual Allowance’, which reduced the annual limit for those whose total income exceeds £150,000. This amount includes your salary, bonuses, dividends, savings interest and employer pension contributions. For every £2 of income above £150,000, your Annual Allowance will be reduced by £1, up to a maximum reduction of £30,000. So that those who receive a one-off increase in pension contributions from their employer are not unfairly caught out, the government also ensured that the Tapered Annual Allowance only applies to those whose taxable income before employer pension contributions is above £110,000.

Looking at some examples shows how the Tapered Annual Allowance works. Andy receives a salary of £160,000 in the 2017/18 tax year, with a further £16,000 of pension contributions from his employer. This gives a total income of £176,000, which is £26,000 over the £150,000 limit. Andy’s Annual Allowance is therefore reduced by £13,000 (half of that amount), meaning the amount of his pension contributions which can benefit from tax relief during 2017/18 is lowered from £40,000 to £27,000.

Bethany, meanwhile, earns a salary of £195,000 in the same year, with her employer making £15,000 of pension contributions. Her income from rental properties, savings and a share portfolio amounts to £20,000, giving Bethany a total income of £230,000, exceeding the £150,000 limit by £80,000. As half of this amount is £40,000, Bethany will receive the maximum reduction of £30,000. She will therefore only receive tax relief on up to £10,000 of her pension contributions in 2017/18.

If the Tapered Annual Allowance affects you and you’re wondering whether there are any legal workarounds which can be implemented to avoid being hit by it, the short answer is that there aren’t. Of course, if your total income decreases then your Annual Allowance will increase again. But apart from either earning less or reducing the amount you and your employer contribute to your pension (neither of which is a good idea), as long as your total income is over £150,000 you will be subject to the current rules.

Will the cold calling ban stop pension fraud?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

You may remember the 2014 budget, where the Government announced that pensions freedoms would be introduced, to start in the 2015/16 tax year. Lauded as a great step forward, it allowed savers aged 55 and over the legal right to move their money; taking the whole amount as a lump sum and paying no tax on the first 25%, with the rest taxed as if it were a salary at their income tax rate.

Whilst this may have been a great step for freedom of personal finances, like with any great step, unfortunately, there have been people who have sought to exploit it.

Pension fraud has reached near crisis levels. It’s thought that around 250 million cold calls are made in Britain every year – that’s enough for 8 every second. Too many of these fraudulent cold calls are successful as official figures have revealed that in the last three years, pensioners have been conned out of £43m, with the average victim losing £15,000.

Thankfully, the Government has now confirmed that it will introduce a ban on cold calls by June, in an attempt to halt the flow of pension money into the hands of these fraudsters. However, whether this ban is enough to actually stop the scammers is something that is being discussed and doubted by experts.

Tom Selby, of the personal pension firm, AJ Bell, has said that “the ban sends a clear message to people that if they receive a cold call about their pension, they should simply hang up the phone.”

“However, the reality is scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and in the time it has taken policymakers to introduce this ban, tactics have evolved. We have always said a cold calling ban should be viewed as the beginning of the onslaught on pension scammers and we urge the Government and regulators to consider further interventions to protect savers.”

One such suggested intervention is to create a “permitted list” of safe pension schemes, so cash can only be released to pre-approved funds.

Ultimately, the scammers will continue to scam and savers have a legal right to move their money into any scheme they wish which, sadly, may include fraudulent and high risk ones. The ban will raise awareness of the risks, but the best way to stay protected is to always be on your guard.

If you have any questions around this topic, please feel free to get in touch with us directly.

Four things to look out for in the new tax year

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

With a new tax year come changes to tax and benefits. But just as it’s important to know what changes are being made, it’s equally, if not more important, to actually understand how the change affect you or your business, or if it even has an impact on you at all. Here are four of the key changes to look out for at the start of the 2018/19 tax year and how to work out whether or not you need to do anything.

  1. Employer pension contributions – It’s likely that you’ll have heard about the increase for employer pension contributions through auto-enrolment, but you might not be so clear on exactly what your business will have to do to meet the new minimum contribution. If, in April 2018, an employer already contributes the minimum 2% or more, and the total contribution of both the employer and the employee is 5% or more, the employer doesn’t need to change anything. If the employer or total contribution is under the respective figure, an increase will be needed. It’s also worth remembering that from April 2019, the minimum employer contribution goes up to 3% and the total contribution to 8%.
  2. Salary sacrifice and P11D – Whilst the law still states that a P11D needs to be provided for certain benefits provided under an optional remuneration arrangement, usually known as a salary sacrifice, HMRC has conceded that this won’t be the case for particular instances. This is due to PAYE regulations not being updated to accommodate the ‘relevant amount’ which is the new taxable value. In such cases, as long as the correct relevant amount has been payrolled by the employer, a P11D won’t be needed for 2017/18.
  3. National minimum wage increase – The increase applies to the first pay period beginning on or after 1st April 2018. If the change falls in the middle of an employee’s pay period, it’s not necessary to adjust the old and new national minimum wage rates; the increased wage should simply be implemented for the first pay period after 1st April.
  4. Childcare vouchers – it was proposed that new entrants would not be admitted to employer-provided childcare voucher schemes from 6th April 2018. Following a Commons debate, the deadline has been extended to October 2018.although this still means it is one to watch out for in the 2018/2019 tax year.

Top tips to make your retirement savings last

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

When it comes to saving for when you retire, at the very least you want to ensure that you’re going to have enough to pay for your living costs for the rest of your life. However, what you probably want to be aiming for is a nest egg which allows you to truly enjoy your life after work and do all the things you’ve planned for as you’ve saved. Some pensioners find themselves in a position where they have to compromise on what they can do during their retirement simply because of a lack of funds. So here are our top tips for retirees to help avoid finding yourself in that position.

  1. Commit more time to saving money – Once you retire, you’ll have a great deal more time available to you, meaning you should find it easier to spend time doing things that will help your money go further. One way of doing this is through a part-time job; but if you’re not keen on going back to work once you’ve retired, take time to collect coupons and hunt down special offers which you might not have had the time to do when you were working. This will help your monthly income go further.
  2. Consider your risk/balance – Most pensioners opt for low-risk investments as they depend on their pension and are not in a position to recover should the risk fail to pay off. However, taking calculated risks could help yield greater returns without opening yourself up to financial jeopardy. Deciding how much of your portfolio you’d be happy to put in higher-risk investments will be an individual decision, but is an option to consider as it can be a successful way to add to your pension at the same time as drawing down from it.
  3. Make sure you’re not paying too much in tax – Whilst you’ll never be in a position to pay no tax at all, your tax commitments are likely to change once you retire, so ensure you’re only paying the taxman exactly what you need to. Returning to the first point above, you’ll have plenty of time to investigate exactly what you should be paying in tax, so do some research and see what you can save.
  4. Come up with a budget and stick to it – If you’ve budgeted during your working life, this shouldn’t change when you retire, and if you’ve not managed to budget before then it’s never too late to start. Knowing exactly what you have coming in and going out each month means you’ll also know precisely how much money you can spend on enjoying yourself without worry or guilt about doing so.

Millennials leading the way in saving for retirement

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Recent data suggests that younger generations are on track to save more than their parents and grandparents, despite their earnings on average being considerably lower. Part of the reason for this is time: simply put, young people have more years ahead of them than older generations until retirement, meaning that any money they put away now has more time to grow.

But it’s also become apparent that many younger workers are also managing to put away a significant amount each month – in some cases up to 15% of their income – by making some considerable sacrifices. Some of these are undoubtedly luxuries, such as eating out and going on holiday, but the savings are substantial: restaurants on average charge a markup of 300%, making eating at home a great way to cut costs. The rise of the ‘staycation’ – saving money by holidaying at home and exploring free or cheap activities to enjoy – also helps younger people to find more money to put towards their savings instead.

However, some of the costs that millennials are willing to cut in order to save are at the opposite end of the scale. More young people are choosing not to continue in education to help them save. The financial benefits of this are twofold: not only does this remove the expense of continuing on to college or university, but it also allows a young person to begin working full time earlier in their life, which in turn allows them to start saving sooner. It’s a sacrifice some would not be willing to make but is nonetheless an attractive option for others, especially as more opportunities to earn qualifications through full time work become available.

Housing and car ownership are also areas where considerable savings can be made. Perhaps the most personal sacrifice some millennials are making is to limit the number of children they have in order to find more money to save.

It will always be a matter of individual choice as to what people decide to spend or not spend their money on but the data highlights that the decisions made now have a significant impact for the future.