Looking at the big retirement picture

Considering making pension contributions ahead of the tax year end?

Investing for the future is vital if you want to enjoy a financially secure retirement, and it requires you to look at the big picture. Although pensions can be complicated, we will help you get to grips with the rules if you are considering making contributions ahead of the tax year end. Here are our top pension tax tips.

Annual and lifetime limits

Getting tax relief on pensions means some of your money that would have gone to the Government as tax goes into your pension instead. You can put as much as you want into your pension, but there are annual and lifetime limits on how much tax relief you receive on your pension contributions. Please note that if you are a Scottish taxpayer, the tax relief you will be entitled to will be at the Scottish Rate of Income Tax, which may differ from the rest of the UK.

Provided that you stay within your pension allowances, all pensions give you tax relief at the rate that you have paid on your contributions. For personal pensions, you receive tax relief at the basic rate of 20% inside the pension. That means for every £800 you pay in, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will top it up to £1,000. If you’re a higher or additional rate taxpayer, you can claim back up to an additional 20% or 25% on top of the 20% basic rate tax relief through your self-assessment tax return.

Benefit from tax relief

For workplace pensions, your employer normally takes your pension contribution direct from your salary before Income Tax so that the contribution is not taxed at source like the rest of your employment income, and therefore the full benefit is received inside your pension immediately. If your employer does not handle your contributions before tax, then these would benefit from tax relief in the same way as for a personal pension contribution.

You’re still entitled to receive basic rate tax relief on pension contributions even if you don’t pay tax. The maximum you can pay into your pension as a non-taxpayer is £2,880 a year, which is equivalent to a £3,600 contribution once you factor in tax relief.

Total amount of contributions

The annual allowance is a limit to the total amount of contributions that can be paid in to defined contribution pension schemes and the total amount of benefits that you can build up in a defined

10 Things That are Good for Us

I read various blogs and articles over the weekend and one grabbed my attention, so I thought I would share some of the content with you … and add a little of my own.

Most days (and particularly at this time of year) the media can confuse us with information about activities, foods, drinks, supplements and other things that are supposedly good or bad for us.  The article I read focused on the following things that are good for us – 

  1. Breakfast. Many people skip breakfast (I am not one of them as Nicky, my partner, will testify). A good breakfast gives you energy and keeps you away from the mid-morning biscuit(s). Eating breakfast is associated with maintain a healthy weight, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and better concentration and memory. 
  1. Saunas and hot tubs. I have often toyed with the idea of having a sauna installed at home as they can make you feel good and apparently there are health benefits as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, they can improve cardiovascular function and lower blood pressure and relieve symptoms of arthritis, headache and flu.
  1. Organic foods. I know that many of us are sceptical about the benefits of organic food, (especially me as a short-armed Yorkshireman) and particularly because they are more expensive. Science says that organic food, despite the price, are better for you as have more nutrients, less toxins and fewer pesticides.
  1. A sceptical attitude. Now I thought I would score high here, but I maybe verging on being more cynical than sceptical. However, as part of the ‘me’ going forwards I will look at the facts and evidence before believing in something. Sceptics are less likely to fall for the next best thing be it a fad diet, trendy quick fix or cure all. They are also less likely to believe that everything will work out fine and so they take measures to improve their outlook for the future by exercising, eating properly, driving safely and avoiding health risks.
  1. Physical contact. Being physically close, holding hands and giving backrubs all tend to reduce physical pain and this is not something the ladies have simply dreamt up. It was in fact the conclusion from research undertaken by the University of Colorado Boulder whereby 22 couples took part. The women were subjected to mild pain (I guess this would have been equivalent to extreme pain for a man), first when they were holding hands and then when they were sitting together but not touching. The women reported significantly less pain when they were holding hands but not when they were sitting together.  Maybe we could give that a try at the Manchester United matches ….
  1. Herbs and spices. This is definitely something I firmly agree with – any excuse to eat a good curry. Herbs and spices are full of healthy compounds that reduce inflammation and additional flavours that lead us to use less sugar salt and fat in our foods. There is a long list of benefits but here are a few of my favourites (note the curry theme again). Chilli’s boost metabolism and keep blood vessels healthy. Cumin can help weight loss, Cinnamon can help reduce inflammation. Garlic reduces cholesterol and blood pressure. Turmeric may improve memory and help ease pain.
  1. Move. I heard a doctor use the phrase “motion is the best lotion”. It is important to exercise and I’m sure we all know the benefits, so no need for to expand on this one.
  1. Passion and purpose. It is hugely beneficial to have an interest and a passion for things such as a pastime, voluntary work or even continuing to work. We have found that those who fill their time with their passions tend to lead a more fulfilling and healthy life.
  1. Coffee… and tea. Coffee perks you up and tea helps you relax according to WebMD. Coffee may help stave off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, diabetes and liver disease and the recurrence of colon cancer and tea boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.
  1. Sleep. According to a study from Northwestern University, people who are night owls are at risk of developing health problems, including diabetes and neurological disorders. But it seems the crux of the issue is sleep deprivation, which affects not just your physical well-being, but cognitive performance as well. But don’t be complacent if you sleep a lot; sleeping too much is associated with the same health risks as sleeping too little. So how much is the right amount? Apparently somewhere between 7 – 9 hours is about right.

So, if you agree with the experts on things that are good for us, here we have an ‘ideal’ healthy day: –

Wake up with a sceptical attitude, have a healthy organic breakfast with a coffee then off to work or to follow your passion.  Return home, enjoy a cuddle or go for a walk holding hands, followed by a sauna or sit in a hot tub with a cup of tea. Then feast on an organic curry, spend time doing something you enjoy before retiring to bed at a reasonable time.

 

 

Merry Christmas

We would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and also thank you for your support over the last 12 months.

The office will close at 5pm on  Friday 21st December 2018 and will re-open at 9am on Wednesday 3rd January 2019.

As in previous years, in lieu of sending Christmas cards, this year we have donated to Shelter UK and Alzheimer’s Society

 

The Return of the Rise in Probate Fees

Back in 2017 we covered the proposed rise in probate fees which was subsequently abandoned when the general election was called.  The current probate fee is a flat fee of £215 or £155 if the probate application is made via a solicitor.

In November 2018, the Government brought before Parliament proposed legislation which if approved, will introduce a new banded structure of fees, tiered according to the size of the deceased’s estate as set out below: –

·         Up to £50,000:                        no charge

·         £50,000- £300,000:                  £250

·         £300,000- £500,000:               £750

·         £500,000 to £1m:                    £2,500

·         £1m to £1.6m:                         £4,000

·         £1.6m- £2m:                             £5,000

·         Above £2m:                              £6,000.

Whilst there are significant increases for the larger estates, (although not up to as much as the £20,000 previously proposed), it is estimated that 80% of estates will not pay more than £750 and fewer estates will be liable because the probate fee threshold will rise from £5,000 to £50,000 which should exempt about 25,000 estates every year. The additional income raised, estimated to be £145m, is to be invested in the Courts and Tribunal Service and will be used to fund improvements to the Probate Service. This includes the ability to apply for a grant of probate online. Interestingly, a separate statutory instrument has been issued to introduce this online application process and will lead to an administrative cost per application of only £9.30.

However, as the probate process is broadly similar regardless of the size of the estate, it could be argued that the new fees represent a stealth tax on property as property is normally the main constituent of the estate. Indeed, a House of Lords committee has reiterated this and is concerned that the proposals will lead to a move away from ‘the principle that fees for a public service should recover the cost of providing it and no more’. Executors may find themselves having to find the required fees themselves where estates are relatively illiquid, while professional executors may raise their fees to cover this.

Charities will also be adversely affected as they are not exempt from probate fees. It is estimated that they could lose about £10m a year of legacy income and so there will be lobbying for a relevant exemption to be introduced.

The Government are hoping to have the legislation through Parliament by April next year and if it is agreed, it will clearly be important to ensure that funds are available to your executors to pay the fees.  This can be easier said than done and particularly as these have to be paid before any of the assets can be distributed.  This is something that we can discuss during our meetings and incorporate into your financial plan.

 

 

 

 

Financial Decision Making in Later Life

Financial Decision Making in Later Life

The World Health Organization reports that by 2050, 2 billion people (22% of the World’s population) will be age 60 and older, up from 605 million (11% of the population) in 2000. Older adults must make important, and often irreversible, decisions that impact the rest of their lives.

Examples include when to take pension benefits, whether to buy long-term care insurance, how to most efficiently draw down savings and whether to annuitize assets.

Unfortunately, while advances in wealth and medical science have led to rising life expectancies, longer lives create the risks of running out of financial assets sufficient to support a minimally acceptable life style. The longer we keep going then the risk of cognitive impairment increases, which, amongst other things makes us more susceptible to becoming the victim of financial abuse.

Thoughts of retirement can be dreams of being free of job responsibilities and enjoying travel, leisure activity and having fun. We look forward to having time to do the things we didn’t have time to do. Our thoughts usually do not include fear that someone is going to rip us off. Unfortunately, financial abuse does happen, even to the smartest people.

Most of us do not want to face the fact that, over time, we may lose our mental acuity. However, declining mental sharpness is inevitable for many. That makes us more vulnerable. Even if you do not suffer any decline in mental sharpness, there is no guarantee you will be untouched by those seeking to exploit you.

Determined, professional thieves know that many older people have nest eggs that can be stolen. Educated and powerful people can be taken advantage of and manipulated right along with those who lack these advantages. No one is immune.

Carolyn Rosenblatt, who is a well-known American expert and author with extensive experience working with both healthcare and legal issues offers the following checklist of warning signs of cognitive impairment (which can increase the risk of financial abuse):

  • It appears to others you trust that you are no longer able to process simple concepts.
  • You appear to be forgetful, with short-term memory loss.
  • You appear unable to recognise or appreciate the consequences of financial decisions.
  • You make decisions that are inconsistent with your long-held goals, investment philosophy or commitments.
  • You demonstrate erratic behaviour.
  • You refuse to follow appropriate investment advice, which you have generally accepted in the past.
  • You seem to others to be paranoid about someone taking your money or missing funds that are not missing.
  • You lose the ability to understand recently completed financial transactions.
  • You appear in any way to be disoriented, get lost in familiar places, such as finding your way home, or you forget where you are.
  • You forget to groom, bathe or take basic care of your physical needs.

If you (or a loved one) are experiencing these signs, it’s time to seek help. You do not want to wait until after the damage is done.

Rosenblatt also offers the following 10-point smart retirees’ checklist that generally covers many of the bases of how to help your family and you be best prepared for things you need to manage in this phase of life and avoid abuse. The bottom line here is transparency and open communication.

1. Decide with whom you want to communicate about your future. Set a date and get together.
2. Have a signed and registered lasting power of attorney in place to cover finances.
3. Have a signed and registered lasting power of attorney to cover health and care decisions.
4. Make a list of all bank accounts, investment records and financial planning you have done, and provide contact information.
5. Provide written permission to your loved ones to talk with your solicitor, accountant and financial planner.
6. Make a list of all insurance policies, including life, disability, health, property and anything else you own that will protect your heirs.
7. Make a copy of your mortgage statement, any other loans, financial statements and bank statements. Keep them in one place. Update when changes are made.
8. List your doctors, care providers and medications. Give written permission for your loved ones to speak with your doctors.
9. Put in writing your wishes for burial or disposition of your remains.
10. Update your will and/or trust with a local solicitor. Laws change and documents need to be up-to-date.

Have a family meeting to share and explain items 2 to 10 to your loved ones.  Carpenter Rees can provide a list as to what should be included here to enable you to prepare a folder of relevant documents and contact details.

If you or your family don’t have such a plan already in place, maybe treat this as a timely reminder to act.

 

Brexit and your Portfolio

This week I thought I’d hand over the floor to a guest writer. So, if like me you are becoming a bit of a BOB (Bored of Brexit), here are some words of wisdom from our Investment Analyst – Tim Hale of Albion Consulting.

Whichever way one voted, it is hard not to be dismayed by the shambles that is Brexit, concocted by all sides. In the event that the current deal agreed gets voted down in Parliament, or there is no deal, there is a material chance that the government could fall. One or both of these events would come with great uncertainty.

We set out three key investment risks relating to Brexit and how sensible portfolio structures can mitigate them.

Risk 1: Greater volatility in the UK and possibly other equity markets
In the event of a poorly received deal or no deal, it is certainly possible that the UK equity market could suffer a market fall as it tries to come to terms with what this means for the UK economy and the impact on the wider global economy. A collapse of the Conservative government and a Labour victory would add further uncertainty.

Risk 2: A fall in Sterling against other currencies
In 2016, after the referendum, Sterling fell against the major currencies including the US dollar and the Euro. There is certainly a risk that Sterling could fall further in the event of a poor/no deal.

Risk 3: A rise in UK bond yields (and thus a fall in bond prices)
The economic impact of a poor/no deal and/or a high-spending socialist government could put pressure on the cost of borrowing, with investors in bonds issued by the UK Government (and UK corporations) demanding higher yields on these bonds in compensation for the greater perceived risks. Bond yield rises mean bond price falls, which will take time to recoup through the higher yields.

Mitigant 1: Global diversification of equity exposure
Although it is the World’s sixth largest economy (depending on how you measure it), the UK produces only 3% to 4% of global GDP, and its equity market is around 6% of global market capitalisation. Well-structured portfolios hold diversified exposure to many markets and companies. Changing your mix between bonds and equities would be ill-advised. Timing when to get in and out of markets is notoriously difficult. Provided you do not need the money today, you should hold your nerve and stick with your strategy.

Mitigant 2: Owning non-Sterling currencies in the growth assets
In the event that Sterling is hit hard, it is worth remembering that the overseas equities that you own come with the currency exposure linked to those assets. Remember too that a fall in Sterling has a positive effect on non-UK assets that are unhedged. The bond element of your portfolio should generally be hedged to avoid mixing the higher volatility of currency movements with the lower volatility of shorter-dated bonds.

Mitigant 3: Owning short-dated, high quality and globally diversified bonds
Any bonds you own should be predominantly high quality to act as a strong defensive position against falls in equity markets. Avoiding over-exposure to lower quality (e.g. high yield, sub-investment grade) bonds makes sense as they tend to act more like equities at times of economic and equity market crisis.

Some thoughts to leave you with ..

Even if you cannot avoid watching, hearing or reading the news, it is important to keep things in perspective. The UK is a strong economy with a strong democracy. It will survive Brexit, whatever the short-term consequences that we will have to bear, and so will your portfolio. Keeping faith with both global capitalism and the structure of your portfolio and holding your nerve, accompanied by periodic rebalancing is key. Lean on your adviser if you need support.

‘This too shall pass’ as the investment legend Jack Bogle likes to say.

If you would like to chat to us further about Tim’s words of wisdom or indeed our model portfolio’s, please do contact us.

Warnings – This article is distributed for educational purposes only and should not be considered to be investment advice.  The article contains the opinions of the author but not necessarily the firm and does not represent a recommendation of any security, strategy or investment product.  Past performance is not indicative of future results.  The value of investment can fall or rise.  

If You’re Retired; Do You Have to Travel?

A lot of people I meet say that they want to travel when they retire, so I was quite interested to read a blog I came across recently covering this point. The article touched on the fact that it almost seems as if travel is a prerequisite for a fulfilling retirement, like it’s part of the package of the successful middle-class retirement lifestyle. Individuals say, I’ve been to China and India, or walked the El Camino de Santiago, and chartered a river boat down the Rhine.

But for some people, travel is not a priority and they don’t really want to travel all that much. And when they do travel, they stay close to home. Does that make them a failure at retirement? Do people feel sorry for them, because they don’t have the imagination or the curiosity to want to visit strange, foreign lands or can’t afford to travel?

Some people do not like to fly; there’s getting to the airport, then the crowds and the process of being herded through security and corralled into a narrow aluminium tube flown by a stranger.

Many may have travelled around Europe in their younger days or maybe even the Far East, but that was when they didn’t mind sharing a bathroom with random strangers. It didn’t faze them to arrive in a city and not know where they would be sleeping that night and didn’t mind struggling to communicate with people in a different language.

To retirees who like to travel, their sense of adventure must be admired. But those that don’t shouldn’t feel that they are missing something by not liking to travel, or that they are somehow cheating themselves in their retirement years. Travel is one thing to do in retirement; but it’s not the only thing, and it’s not something we should feel required to “check off” in order to fulfil our retirement dreams.

Besides, there’s plenty to see, even if you never travel more than a couple of hundred miles from home and to some people, sharing great experiences with family and friends or pastimes within their community are just as rewarding.

So, No, you don’t have to travel in retirement. For some, retirement can indeed be fun without it.

Did You Inherit Your Beliefs About Money From Your Parents?

Parents know that children hear, see, and pick up on everything that is going on with the adults in their lives. And when you were a child, you were no different.

Many of the attitudes we have about money were formed at a very early age as we absorbed how our own parents dealt with their finances. Some of these beliefs, such as a commitment to disciplined saving, are positive. Others, like skepticism about the stock market, can be more harmful than helpful as we try to build wealth in our own lives.

Answering these four key questions can help you look at your financial upbringing with a fresh perspective. When you’re done, think about which money beliefs you want to pass on to your own kids, and which might be preventing you from living the best life possible with the money you have.

1. What was money like growing up?

Your childhood experiences of money are a composite of details both big and small.

You probably compared the comforts of your home to what you saw next door and drew some conclusions about how comfortable your family was.

Did your parents get a new car every couple of years or drive around in the same car until it died? Did you take frequent holidays? What were holidays and birthdays like?

Watching mum and dad carefully balance their bank account or set next week’s grocery budget also might have made a strong impression. And at the more serious end of the spectrum, an unexpected job loss, debilitating medical condition, or death could have had a profound impact on your family’s finances.

2. What was money like for your parents growing up?

Many baby boomers were raised by parents who had to tighten their belts during the Great Depression and World War II. They probably impressed upon your parents the value of the hard work, the importance of saving, and perhaps some real apprehension when it comes to money. Your parents may have passed on these same values to you or swung in the opposite direction and tried to make money as stress-free as possible.

How much do you know about your parents’ childhoods? If they’re still living, ask some questions that will fill in your family’s history a little more clearly. You might learn something surprising. And you might gain some insight into how their experiences of money are still affecting you.

3. What specific lessons were you taught that you have continued?

Some people grew up in households where money was tight and may have viewed people with large amounts of wealth with suspicion or resentment. In other cases, hard-working adults have admiration for such people but underestimate how much hard work, risk and discipline it takes to build greater levels of wealth. Their children can learn to do the same.

On a more positive note, your parents may also made decisions that taught you what was more important to them than money. Perhaps they sacrificed their own leisure and comforts so that you could attend a good private school.

4. What was the best thing you were taught about money?

As a child you probably rolled your eyes whenever your parents passed on their beliefs about money or started reminiscing about what money was like when they were growing up.

Now that you’re the one doing the earning, some of those lessons probably ring true. “Live on less than what you make” is hard to hear when it’s used to explain why you can’t have a new bike or take a big holiday. No child wants to sacrifice their weekends or summers working part time because their parents insist on it. But the lessons that were hard to swallow when we were young often create attitudes and habits that benefit us as adults.

The sum of all these memories, the positive and the negative, is a blueprint to your financial thinking. It’s also the schematic that we use to build your life-centred financial plan. Come in and share your blueprint with us so that together, we can lay a strong foundation for your family’s future.

Corrections and the Nature of the Markets

Currently, markets around the globe are ‘selling off’ due to worries ranging from trade policies and tariffs to rising U.S. interest rates to geopolitical concerns. Rather than be alarmed, however, we should consider whether this is merely a return to more “normal” conditions and not necessarily a sign of worse to come.

Why do we say a return to more “normal” conditions?

First, let’s think about the nature of investing and the relationship between risk and return. Also, remember that risk and uncertainty are related: the latter brings about the former, and with more uncertainty, the potential for future payoff may also be greater.

We have all been vulnerable to forgetting the nature of risk and uncertainty in the markets; the Central Banks interventions into the markets has pushed the stock market seemingly straight up since March 2009, with just a couple of corrections in between.  With higher expected returns, we should expect volatility, as that is the mechanism through which investments ultimately find their true value. When discussing corrections, we should consider three basic issues:

Why they exist,
Why they are natural, and
Why they are necessary.

Corrections (when they occur) exist because facts become more widely known and understood, or alternatively, they change altogether. News flows are constant and are almost always unpredictable. Random events confound even the most carefully-made forecasts, which then must be discarded. Conventional wisdom is re-examined, and new data provides investors with deeper ways of thinking about an investment, or even the markets as a whole. Armed with fresh knowledge, investors may change their minds. And that may mean responding with “sell” instead of “buy.”

Market movements are natural because the data does change and people, in turn, change their minds in response. In a static world, there would be no corrections – nor would there be many opportunities, either. In that world, all investments would always be priced at their “fair value” and would never deviate in a way to provide an entry point to buy a new opportunity. Investors constantly research, analyse, and evaluate investment opportunities. Information on those opportunities is constantly being released and thus is constantly changing.
Being early to capitalize on that changing information means some investors are quick to act – and when they all act at once, then the market may either surge higher or plunge lower. It is a natural course of action for market participants, upon realising the same new information, to act quickly to buy or sell.

Corrections are necessary because it is through this mechanism that risk is fairly priced. What do we mean by this? Quite simply, stocks, bonds and other investments are determined by what investors are willing to pay for them; this depends in turn on what people expect will happen in the world. The more uncertainty there is, the lower the price one is willing to pay for an investment, because there are more ways that the investment can be pushed off course. In this situation, most investors want a greater degree of protection when buying a stock – and that means a lower price. A correction, thus, is a way in which a sign that says “Special! Sale Now On!” is hung over the market, perhaps signalling buying opportunities. Indeed, it’s often the time when many investors go shopping for things they might not otherwise have bought when they were more expensive. It’s simply how the market works, much as in a department store.

In fact, it’s completely abnormal not to have corrections. We’re quite overdue, in fact. We’ve become complacent, forgotten how they feel or even what they look like. Having one, or even more of them would be a return to normal. In this case, “normal” means an environment with more volatility; that is, the very thing which investors undertake in order to receive the returns they expect. It’s a natural, expected, and customary trade-off.

Autumn Budget 2018

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered his third Budget to Parliament on 29 October 2018 and what should be the last one before Brexit in March next year. What should you take away from this year’s Chancellor’s Autumn Budget 2018?

Mr Hammond opened the Budget by declaring it was aimed at hard-working families, ‘the strivers, the grafters and the carers’, and would pave the way for a ‘brighter future’. He set out the Government’s plan to build a stronger, more prosperous economy, building on the Spring Statement and last year’s Budget.

A number of measures and consultations were announced which perhaps demonstrate a loosening of the fiscal purse strings. However, the Chancellor concluded that although austerity is coming to an end, discipline will remain.  As well as the tax cuts and increased departmental spending, the Chancellor announced one-off bonuses for defence, schools and local authorities.

There were no widespread announcements around pensions tax relief. There had been rumours that the Chancellor may look to introduce a flat-rate of tax relief, but in the end there were only more minor changes to the pensions landscape.

From a tax perspective, there is a short-term tax giveaway for the next couple of years to encourage consumer and business spending whilst the process of a Brexit deal is worked through.

Individual taxpayers will benefit from the increase in the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher-rate threshold to £50,000 from April 2019. However, the self-employed will continue to pay Class 2 NICs.

Businesses will also benefit from a two-year increase in the annual investment allowance to £1m, which allows an upfront tax deduction for capital expenditure on plant and machinery.

The Chancellor left us with a warning that if the financial forecast was adversely impacted by the Brexit negotiations, then next year’s Spring Statement could be upgraded to a full Budget.

Click here to read our full Autumn Budget 2018 Guide.

As pensions, savings and estate planning were largely untouched, now is an opportune time to make the most of valuable tax allowances, reliefs and exemptions that already exist – especially as this could be a short-term window of opportunity, with only months to go to Brexit.

To review what action you may need to take to keep your personal and business plans on track, or if you have any further questions, please contact us.