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What does a pensions dashboard mean for you?

Archive for the ‘Pensions’ Category

What does a pensions dashboard mean for you?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

The development of an online pensions dashboard has been given endorsement from the government and looks as though it will get official approval in 2019. So what is a pensions dashboard? Keeping track of your pensions can be a real challenge, in fact there is currently over £5 billion worth of unclaimed pensions, sitting untouched. The idea of the pensions dashboard is to provide people with a one-stop-shop to access information about multiple schemes and see how much they have available to them. Ultimately, the more informed we are about our pension situations, the better the decisions we can make regarding our retirement.

This isn’t the first time somebody’s had this idea. In fact, the plan to introduce some form of pensions dashboard has been around for a while, but there have just been logistical issues in making it happen.The Financial Conduct Authority first approached the government in 2016 and issued the challenge to make a pensions dashboard available to consumers by 2019. With so much data to collect and so many different organisations involved, it’s not been an easy thing to implement but the end is in sight.

Pensions expert Ros Altmann welcomed the news that the Prime Minister has given official endorsement of the the development of pensions dashboard, stating that it will “help people keep track of all their pensions in one place,” and calling it an “invaluable tool in planning for later life.”

She also acknowledged, however, that there were still some hurdles to overcome. As older legacy pensions are not currently recorded electronically, the task of uploading all of that data will take a considerable amount of time and money. The auto-enrolment pension records, which only began in 2012, could be transferred to a central database relatively easily. This would provide a dashboard for younger workers, with legacy records being gradually updated at a later date.

An incomplete dashboard, however, may come with its own challenges entirely. Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell, voices his concerns. “The biggest danger is that people make poor decisions based on incomplete information – this situation must be avoided or the long-term damage to individuals and trust in pensions generally could be huge.”

Selby suggested that an incomplete dashboard could be a danger to the dashboard itself. “In the age of instant online banking, people rightly have high expectations of financial companies. A half-baked dashboard risks being discredited from the start.”

There will be a non-commercial dashboard hosted by the Single Finance Guidance Body, although financial services companies will also be permitted to host their own dashboards.

In the meantime, if you think you might have pension pots that have fallen by the wayside, there’s an easy tool to track them down at no cost. All you need to do is get in touch with the government’s Pension Tracing Service – you can find their details at https://www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details. If you have any other questions on this topic, do get in touch with us directly.

What is a partial transfer?

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

You may have a defined benefit pension and be aware of pension transfers but not have heard of partial transfers.

A partial transfer is a pension option that allows you to cash in a portion of your retirement fund, while still retaining the rest as a guaranteed income. They are a way of accessing your defined benefit cash without taking on the risk of a full transfer and, for those with very large pensions, they can prevent you from exceeding your lifetime allowance.

Yet the vast majority of pension trustees do not offer these transfers. According to a report by The FTAdviser in March 2018, only 15% of schemes offered partial transfers.

Some trustees may be put off due to the complex administration involved. Helen Ross, actuary and investment consultant at XPS Pensions Group, however, sees no reason why offering partial transfers shouldn’t be the norm. “People are given binary options between either security or flexibility and there is nothing in between. Providing partial transfers is beneficial for businesses too, as it makes things simpler for consumers and it’s cheaper to do in the long run.”

With the reforms to the pensions market that we’ve seen in recent years, the doors have been opened to great freedom and choice for consumers accessing their pension pots. That comes with lots of opportunities but also bears the risk of people running out of money earlier than planned – particularly when performing a full defined benefit transfer. Mary Stewart, head of corporate solutions at LV, says, “we strongly believe there is a role for partial transfers to allow DB scheme members flexibility over their retirement options, while maintaining the certainty and security of a regular income.”

Members of pension schemes need to have access to the options and information to make good decisions about their retirement and personal finances. For some, a partial transfer may be what’s needed. If you think that may be the case for you, ask your scheme administrator if it’s a viable option and discuss it with your financial adviser.

As a parent, could you be missing out on your state pension?

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

There’s no reason why being a parent, and particularly being a non-earning parent with commitments to their children, should put you at risk of decreasing your state pension entitlement. Currently, however, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of people in this exact position – although thankfully, there are steps to take so that it can be avoided.

In order to be entitled to the full new state pension, you will generally require 35 years of national insurance contributions to qualify. Those years of contributions can be difficult to accumulate if you’re out of work for whatever reason. If you don’t already pay national insurance contributions, perhaps because you’re staying at home to look after children, you are able to build up your state pension entitlement by registering for child benefits, as long as you’re a parent of children under 12.

Figures supplied to the Treasury by HMRC suggest that there could be around 200,000 households missing out on these pension boosting entitlements. If the child benefits are being claimed by the household’s highest earner, and not the the lower earner or non-earner, these potential national insurance contributions can fall by the wayside. Treasury select committee chairman and MP Nicky Morgan says; “The Treasury committee has long-warned the government of the risk that for families with one earner and one non-earner, if the sole-earner claims child benefit, the non-earner, with childcare commitments forgoes National Insurance credits and potentially, therefore, their entitlement to a full future state pension.”

With 7.9 million UK households currently receiving child benefits, there is potential for a large number of people to be affected. Thanks to data from the Department for Work and Pensions, it’s suspected that around 3% of those (around 200,000) may be in this situation. It’s worth noting that the family resources survey covered 19,000 UK households and as the estimate is sample-based, there is some uncertainty on the exact numbers of those at risk. Nicky Morgan continues, “Now that we have an idea of the scale of this problem, the Government needs to pull its finger out and make sure that people are aware of the issue and know how to put it right.”

The fight against pension scammers

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

For those who want to stay safe from the efforts of pension scammers, help is out there. It’s just as well because such help is in high demand. Between August and October alone last year, the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) ScamSmart website had over 173,000 unique visitors. That’s around 3,145 people per day on average, or one person every 27 seconds.

The FCA and The Pensions Regulator founded their pension fraud awareness campaign in the summer and since its launch, the number of visitors has rocketed. The website highlights common red flags to watch out for, as well as offering a form for reporting suspected fraudsters.

The scams are becoming more and more sophisticated and there’s big money involved. In 2018, pensioners reported being conned out of £23m, up from £9.2m in 2017 – that’s an average of £91,000 each. Once the fraudsters have the money, it’s very unlikely that it will be recovered, so the key to protecting yourself lies in prevention. The Head of Enforcement at the FCA, Mark Steward, has said: “Pension scams are very difficult to spot. [Scammers] try to make the victim feel afraid or uncertain, worried their money is better off somewhere else. [They] will target people from all walks of life and with any size pension.”

There are practical steps you can take to cover yourself and the Get Safe Online website offers six great tips for avoiding fraudsters:

  1. Never reveal your personal or financial data, including usernames, passwords, PINs or ID numbers.
  2. If you must supply payment information to people or organisations, make sure they are genuine and never reveal your passwords.
  3. Remember that a bank, or any other reputable organisation, will never ask you for your password via email or phone call.
  4. Do not open email attachments from unknown or untrusted sources.
  5. Do not readily click on links in emails from unknown or untrusted sources. By rolling your mouse pointer over the link, you can reveal its true destination which will be displayed in the bottom left corner of your screen.
  6. If this destination is different from what is displayed in the text of the link in the email, beware – only click through if you are certain it is safe.

The best thing you can do is stay vigilant and get in touch with a watchdog or trusted resource if you’re unsure. FCA research shows that more than 10 million British adults are likely to receive an unsolicited pension offer a year. Thankfully, this number should reduce as new regulations from the Treasury banning pension cold calling will have recently come into effect.

3 pension changes you may have missed in the Budget

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

There was scarcely a mention of the ‘P’ word in October’s Budget speech (believe us, we were listening closely for it!). Instead, Hammond used the Budget speech as an opportunity to unveil his ‘rabbit in the hat’ changes to income tax thresholds, an increase in NHS mental health funding and a ban on future PFI contracts.

However, we had a good read of the accompanying ‘Red Book’ for any mention of pensions. At 106 pages, this was no mean feat. Fortunately, though, it was time well spent as we found some changes to pensions you may otherwise have missed:

The pension dashboard

HM Treasury confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would look at designing a pension dashboard which would include your state pension. The pensions dashboard will be an online platform that will let you see all of your pension schemes in a single view. The average worker is nowadays expected to work eleven jobs during their career and keeping track of so many pension pots could prove confusing to say the least.

There was an extra £5 million of funding for the DWP to help make the pension dashboard a reality. Commentators see the dashboard as a welcome sign that the government is committed to helping savers keep track of their funds.

Patient capital funding

The government announced a pensions investment package which should make it easier for direct contribution pension schemes to invest in patient capital. Patient capital refers to investments that forgo immediate returns in anticipation of more substantial returns further down the line.

The government may review the 0.75% charge cap and there is widespread speculation that it will be increased to allow more investment in high growth companies.

Cold calling ban

The government has promised to ban pensions cold calling as part of a drive against pension scammers. Almost two years since the government’s initial proposals to combat pension scams were announced, pensions cold calling will finally be made illegal.

Research by Prudential indicates that one in 10 over 55s fear they have been targeted by pensions scammers since the introduction of pension freedoms in 2015. Cold calls, with offers to unlock or transfer funds, are a frequently used tactic to defraud people of their retirement savings.

As much as these measures go a long way to making people’s pensions more secure, the government will be powerless to enforce cold calls made from abroad and not on behalf of a UK company. It is unclear how and if the government will work with international regulators to mitigate the dangers of such calls.

The longevity challenge and how to tackle it

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

The longevity challenge: In the UK, we are faced with the challenge of an ageing population. Many of us will live longer than we might have expected. Already, 2.4% of the population is aged over 85. Because of improvements in healthcare and nutrition, this figure only looks set to rise.

The Office of National Statistics currently estimates that 10.1% of men and 14.8% of women born in 1981 will live to 100. A demographic shift to an older population brings unprecedented change to the way the country would operate, from the healthcare system to the world of work.

In addition, a long life and subsequently a long retirement, bring challenges of their own from a personal financial planning perspective.

Firstly, it means you have to sustain yourself from your retirement ‘nest egg’ of cash savings, investments and pensions. You need to ensure that you draw from this at a sustainable rate so you don’t run the risk of outliving your money.

Secondly, there’s the question of funding long term care. If we live longer, the chance that we will one day need to fund some sort of care increases. Alzheimer’s Research UK report that the risk of developing dementia rises from one in 14 over the age of 65 to one in six over the age of 80.

Of course, there are many different types of care, ranging from full time care to occasional care at home, with a variety of cost levels. All require some level of personal funding.

The amount you pay depends on the level of need and the amount of assets you have, with your local council funding the rest. This means that it’s definitely something that you need to take into account in your financial planning.

Having the income in later life to sustain long term care really does require detailed planning. Because of the widespread shift from annuities to drawdown, working out a sustainable rate at which to withdraw from your ‘nest egg’ is essential.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ sustainable rate at which to draw from your pensions and savings. Every person has their own requirements, savings, liabilities and views on what risks are acceptable.

There are some things which you will be able to more accurately plan when working out the sustainable rate to draw from your pension. These include your portfolio asset allocation, the impact of fees and charges and the risk level of your investments. Speaking with your financial adviser will help you on your way to working out the right withdrawal rate for you.

There are, however, some unknowns. These include the chance of developing a health condition later in life and exactly how long you’ll live. It is best to withdraw leaving plenty of room for these to change unexpectedly, improving your chances of having a financial cushion to cope with what life throws at you.

Kids off to Uni? Congratulations – but have you been saving enough?

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

The Institute of Fiscal Studies suggests that the average total debt incurred by today’s university students over the duration of their studies will amount to £51,000. This figure comes as those in higher education saw the interest rate on student loans rise to 6.3% in September. Total student debt in the UK has now risen to £105 billion as of March 2018, a figure £30 billion higher than the nation’s total credit card debt.

The rising cost of higher education perhaps makes it unsurprising that 40% of parents are now beginning to save towards future university costs before their children have even been born, with one in five hoping to have saved £2,000 by the time the baby arrives. Frustratingly, however, around two thirds of those who are saving are doing so by simply placing the funds in an ordinary savings account, meaning their money is earning them very little in interest.

An alternative option to consider is a Junior ISA (JISA) in the child’s name, which they can then access when they turn 18. The account currently allows £4,128 to be saved every year, and the best rate market rate for a cash JISA offers 3.25%. Saving the maximum amount at that rate for ten years would result in a nest egg of £49,427 tax free to cover university fees with plenty left over for other expenses.

Whilst a cash JISA offers dependability, a stocks and shares JISA is also worth considering as the potential reward on your investment can be higher. Both types of JISA can be opened at the same time with the allowance shared between them, so spreading your savings between the two can pay off in the long run.

Using your pension to save towards your child’s university education is also an option, thanks to the pension freedoms of recent years. With the ability to take a lump sum to put towards fees and other costs when you turn 55, pensions offer a tax-efficient way of putting away for both your child’s future and your own. This is an option which needs careful planning, however, as you’ll need to make sure you have enough for your retirement before paying for your child’s education.

For those able to do so, it may also be worth speaking to your own parents about helping towards their grandchildren’s university costs. Rather than leaving money to a grandchild in their will, a grandparent might consider gifting towards fees and other expenses or placing the money in a trust, reducing their inheritance tax liability and allowing their grandchild to benefit from their legacy when they really need it.

Make sure you don’t lose out by shunning guaranteed annuities

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Since increased pensions freedoms were established in April 2015, the FCA says that £3 billion worth of annuities have been rejected by over 55s. Now, nearly three in five over 55s are refusing the guaranteed annuity rate (GAR) offered to them by their pension provider. Of these, nine out of ten are taking the cash instead.

A GAR means that if you use your pension to buy an annuity, you are guaranteed the rate that you get paid until you die.

Nowadays, a worrying proportion of pensions with large GARs are being cashed in, indicating that people might not be thinking through their decision because some GARs can provide a very generous income for retirements. Hargreaves Lansdown report that GARs are being rejected on 35% of applicable pensions worth more than £30,000.

If you have a GAR, you might be losing out over the course of your retirement if you decide to cash it in.

GARs were a common feature of pensions that date from the 80s and 90s. The rates on these are typically much higher than the best rates on the open market today, because they were set at a time when annuity rates were greater. In the 1980s and 1990s you could buy an annuity with a considerably higher rate than you could find today.

When making a decision to cash in your pension, doing the following will make you less likely to lose out:

  1. Check your paperwork. Although you probably feel like you have an unfeasible amount of pensions paperwork, take the time to sift through it to find out if you have a GAR. If you aren’t sure, call your provider to check. Remember that if you’re still unsure, you can get in touch with the Pensions Advisory Service for free help.
  2. Have a look at the terms. Even though a GAR could boost your retirement income, their terms can be a little rigid. Some GARs apply to your dependant’s pension, others don’t. Often, GARs are very inflexible about when you are able to take your income.
  3. Take an integrated approach. It’s unwise to consider all of your pensions in isolation. Instead, it’s best to consider them as individual building blocks that contribute to your overall retirement income. A holistic approach will help you consider in which order to draw on your different pension pots. Usually, it’s best to use a pension that doesn’t have any guarantees if you plan on retiring early.
  4. Get a requote. If you don’t think that the terms of the offer suit your circumstances, talk to your provider to try to find an alternative option. Chances are your provider won’t volunteer this option so it’s always best to ask.
  5. Think about a partial transfer. If you have a larger pension with a GAR, transferring out a portion of the money could be an option while buying a fixed rate annuity with the rest. This would mean that you maintain the benefit of higher annuity rates whilst getting a cash lump sum.

How to stop children derailing your retirement plans

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

The Bank of Mum and Dad is a well-known concept and we all hate to see our children struggle financially, which is why many parents continue to support their children well into adulthood. Instead of being ‘empty nesters’, many parents discover that their offspring return to the family home straight after university (that is if they ever left in the first place!) due to the problems of getting a foot on the property ladder.

The type of financial assistance given can take various forms, such as money towards a house deposit or a loan for a car or ongoing support towards rent or bills. While it’s natural to want to help, though, the hard truth is that it’s important not to put your child’s finances before your own retirement savings. Otherwise, in the long run, no one wins. We look at four key ways to help retain a sensible outlook.

Make sure you understand your own financial situation and your retirement goals

Before you leap in and promise to help your son or daughter, make sure you’re clear about your monthly budget. What are your regular commitments and your personal retirement goals? Will you still be able to lead the lifestyle you’re envisaging if you’re supporting your children financially too? As a general rule, you need to be able to replace at least 70% of your pre-retirement income once you stop work. You may also have plans to travel more or have a particular home renovation project in mind. It’s important that you remember to factor in any potential health costs as well.

Sit down with your child and have a frank discussion

If you’re open and honest about your own commitments and the level of your support, this actually sets a good example to your children at a time when they’ll just be learning to manage their own finances. It also gives you an opportunity to set boundaries, clarify expectations and fix timescales. Be specific: is the money to help with a student loan, rent, a mobile phone contract or food bills? The concept of an ‘independence fund’ can sometimes work well – a one-off payment to help an adult child as they enter the ‘grown-up world’.

An external perspective

Sometimes, it helps to involve a third party, such as a professional financial adviser who can offer some valuable objectivity in what can be an emotionally-charged situation. If you all sit down and review your financial plan together, it makes it easier for everyone concerned to see the impact giving a loan to your children would have on your own finances. Bear in mind that if you did overstretch yourself, you could end up having to turn to your offspring for financial support and the last thing anyone wants is to become a burden in later life.

Put it in writing

If you do decide to give your children some money, it does no harm to make the arrangement formal. This means they will take the loan seriously and it gives both you and them something to refer back to in the future. It also sets expectations in terms of any repayments and timeframes. Make sure you review the document regularly and that it is still appropriate. For example, circumstances will change – your child may get a promotion or you may have incurred some medical expenses.

The bottom line is you need to look after your own finances now to be able to look after theirs in the long run.

Are children’s pensions as good as they seem?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

Pensions for children? Surely that’s taking planning ahead to a whole new level?

Nonetheless, if you can afford it, putting money aside in to a pension for your children or grandchildren can be a sensible option.

Under the current rules, you can put £2,880 a year into a junior self-invested personal pension (SIPP) or stakeholder pension, on their behalf. Even though the child won’t be a taxpayer, 20% is added to the amount in tax relief, up to £3,600 per annum. If you think about it, that can result in quite a significant amount over the years, taking compound growth into consideration.

The idea of contributing to a pension may tie in well with your sense of responsibility towards the next generation. You may feel sorry for the youngsters of today with their university fees to pay back and a seemingly impossible property ladder to climb.

However, on the downside a children’s pension can be quite frustrating for the recipient. The money is tied up until their mid fifties. This means that although the amount is steadily growing with no temptation to dip into it, it may not be much consolation for a twenty-five year old desperately trying to find the deposit for a house. Instead of making their financial future easier, you may have, in fact, impeded it.

There are other alternatives which will also give you the benefit of compound growth and help you to maximise tax relief, such as using our own ISA allowances and then gifting the money later. These may have more direct impact if the money is to help pay for a wedding, repay a student loan or enable them to buy a house or start a business.

Pension contributions are often referred to as ‘free money’ because of the the tax relief. In addition, 25% of the lump sum when the recipient comes to take their pension is tax free but it is equally important to remember that 75% of any withdrawals will be taxable. Another consideration is that children’s pensions have the lowest rate of tax relief but once in employment, your children may be higher rate taxpayers so would have benefited from higher rate relief.

One thing is for sure and that is that the rules around pensions and withdrawal rates are frequently changing. Given the extended timeframe involved, it’s likely that the regulations around accessing a pension pot will have altered considerably by the time a child of today reaches pension age. Their fund will have had time to grow handsomely, though. As with most things, it all comes down to a question of personal preference for you and your family.