Monthly Archives: April 2013

‘I wish I’d started saving for retirement earlier’

New research shows why many older UK adults have many money regrets

Research from Standard Life has found that UK adults have many money regrets. But when asked what one thing, if anything, they most wish they had started doing earlier to be financially efficient with their money, saving for retirement came top of the list. Nearly one in seven (15 per cent) UK adults said they wish they’d started saving for their retirement when they were younger.

Today’s baby boomers
And if you ask those aged 55 plus, today’s baby boomers, then an even higher number – one in five – say this is their biggest regret. This figure rises further among adults who are saving into a personal pension rather than being part of a workplace scheme, with a quarter (25 per cent) wishing they’d started saving earlier, compared to just 13 per cent of those saving into a workplace pension.

Impact on future finances
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but we can all learn from those who are older and wiser. The earlier we start saving, the bigger the impact on our future finances. Someone who starts saving £100 a month at age 25 could receive an income of £3,570 per annum by the time they are 65. Using the same assumptions, someone saving the same amount from age 40 would have a pension income of only £2,000 per annum at the same age [1].

Important not to panic
For those of you who feel you’ve already left it too late, the important thing is not to panic and save what you can now. And those of you who are not already saving through a workplace scheme or about to be automatically enrolled into one should find out more about personal pensions if you don’t want to end up with the same regrets as many other personal pension savers. These days most personal pensions are really flexible, so you can increase, decrease or stop and start contributions to suit changes in the future.

The challenge of saving efficiently
It’s important to take advantage of whatever opportunities you have to increase your pension contributions. Remember, with pension plans, the government contributes whenever you do. So if you are a basic rate tax payer, in most cases for every £4 you save in a pension, the Government adds another £1. And if you’re in a workplace scheme, your employer is likely to be topping up your contributions too. So consider increasing your regular pension savings as and when you can; or pay in a lump sum after a windfall such as a bonus [2].

Don’t think it’s ever too late to start saving for your retirement. And if you’re younger, don’t think that because you can’t save very much, there’s no point bothering. Even if you can start to save a small amount from a young age it can make a difference.

If you don’t feel you can put your money away in a pension just now, then you might want to consider investing in a tax-efficient Stocks & Shares Individual Savings Account (ISA) instead. This means you can still access your investment, while you also have the potential to help your money grow. There is no personal liability to tax on anything you receive from your Stocks & Shares ISA, so you might want to think about using as much of your £11,520 ISA allowance as possible before the end of this tax year. You can invest up to half of this in a tax-efficient Cash ISA, which you can earmark for more immediate concerns. Then you may want to consider
investing the rest in a Stocks & Shares ISA so you have the potential of greater tax-efficient growth over the longer term [2]. ν

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,059 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 25 – 28 January 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

[1] All pension figures are sourced from Standard Life and are based on an individual retiring at 65, making monthly pension contributions, assuming a growth rate of 5 per cent per annum, inflation of 2.5 per cent per annum, an annual increase in contributions of 3 per cent and an annual management charge of 1 per cent. The income produced is based on an annuity that does not increase, paid monthly from age 65, and this will continue to be paid for the first five years even if the individual dies.

[2] Laws and tax rules may change in the future. The information here is based on our understanding in April 2013. Personal circumstances also have an impact on tax treatment. All figures relate to the 2013/14 tax year, unless otherwise stated.

You’ve worked hard for this; now’s the time to enjoy it

Start your retirement by celebrating your newfound freedom

Some pensions allow you to switch your money into lower risk investments as you near retirement date, which can help to protect you from last-minute drops in the stock market. However, doing this may reduce the potential for your fund to grow, plus your fund cannot be guaranteed because annual charges may reduce it.

Obtain an up-to-date pension forecast
With only months to go before you start accessing your pension, it’s important to get a very clear view of the level of income you can expect to receive. Contact your pension provider or providers for an up-to-the-minute forecast of your tax-free lump sum and income. You should also request a State Pension forecast, which will come complete with details of your basic State Pension and any additional State Pension you will receive. In addition, find out when you’ll be eligible to take your State Pension in the light of changes to the State Pension Age.

Also think about other sources of income you might be likely to get when you retire. These could include income from investments, property or land, part-time employment or consultancy, or an inheritance. Having as full a picture as possible will enable you to make detailed and practical final decisions about exactly how you want to take your pension income, as well as allowing you to make more accurate plans for your new lifestyle.

Choose how to take your pension
Although you may already have given some thought to how you want to take your pension benefits, it’s worth reviewing your plans at this point. Circumstances can change – for example, you might have received a significant inheritance or you may have been diagnosed with a medical condition, and former plans may no longer be quite appropriate.

You can either take your pension as an annuity, as income drawdown or as a combination of the two. With any of these options, normally you’ll also be able to take up to 25 per cent of your fund as a tax-free lump sum.

Additionally, now that the compulsory maximum annuity age no longer applies, you can decide to defer taking your pension. By keeping your pension pot invested there is an opportunity for further growth. However, you should think about the risks involved and look to de-risk as much as possible at this point. Investments can go down as well as up and your pot will be affected by the ups and downs of the markets. There can also be tax benefits but, as this is a complex decision, you should obtain professional financial advice – and remember, you may get back less than you invest.

Tax matters
Most people pay less tax when they retire, but it’s worth considering your tax position at this stage. Although you can normally take up to 25 per cent of your pension fund tax-free, any income you receive from it will be subject to tax under the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system.

Meanwhile, if you’ve taken the option of income drawdown, you may be able to adjust the income you take to minimise the tax you pay. For example, if you plan to do some consultancy work or continue working in a part-time capacity, you could think about reducing your income withdrawals to stay within the basic rate of tax. Bear in mind that tax regulations can change and tax benefits depend on your personal circumstances.

Additionally, keep your savings and investments as tax-efficient as possible with products such as Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) and offshore bonds.

You’ll also stop paying National Insurance contributions when you reach State Pension age. If you decide to continue working, whether full-time, part-time or on a consultancy basis, it’s a good idea to contact the tax office to make sure contributions aren’t still being deducted.

Prepare for life after work
As well as sorting out your finances, don’t forget to think about how your life will change when you retire. Even if you intend to keep working part-time, you’re going to have much more free time to enjoy.

Planning these first few months will help you set the tone for your future. Perhaps there’s somewhere, or someone, you’ve always wanted to visit. Maybe you want to learn a new sport or leisure activity, but have always had too many commitments. You might even want to start the search for that perfect retirement bolthole. The financial planning you’ve been doing for years all starts to bear fruit now.

Thresholds, percentage rates and tax legislation may change in subsequent Finance Acts. Levels and bases of, and reliefs from, taxation are subject to change and their value depends on the individual circumstances of the investor.

New higher flat-rate state pension

One of the biggest overhauls of Britain’s pension system in decades

The Government recently announced that up to 400,000 more Britons will qualify for a new higher flat-rate State Pension and they’ll introduce the reform a year earlier than expected. The simplified scheme will provide a weekly flat-rate payment of £144.

The date has been moved forward to April 2016, and is one of the biggest overhauls of Britain’s pension system in decades. The current system includes a basic pension, a State Second Pension and/or some means tested pension credit. From 2016 this will all be merged into the universal flat-rate payment.


Demystifying some of the key fund management concepts

We understand that the fund management industry has an array of jargon that can confuse both the novice and well-seasoned investors. Here we aim to demystify some of the key concepts.

Fund types
Funds exist to enable many investors to pool their money and invest together. This allows them to achieve economies of scale when buying stocks and diversify their exposure to a variety of stocks, rather than buying each one individually.

Funds are often known as ‘collective investment schemes’. These come in a number of guises, but largely fall into two key categories: ‘open-ended’ or ‘closed-ended’. In the UK, the most common types of open-ended funds are unit trusts and investment companies with variable capital (ICVCs), also known as open-ended investment companies (OEICs). Unit trusts and OEICs have different legal structures: one operates under trust law and issues ‘units’; the other operates under company law and issues ‘shares’.

However, they share a common characteristic: the number of units (or shares) is not fixed, but expands and contracts depending on the level of investor demand – hence the name ‘open-ended’.

Another name for this kind of investment scheme is ‘mutual fund’, a term which is commonly used in the US. Because these funds are open-ended, the price at which they can be bought and sold relates directly to the underlying value per share of the entire portfolio.

Investment trusts are an example of a ‘closed-ended’ investment scheme. The defining characteristic of these is that the number of shares on offer does not change according to investor supply or demand, but is limited to the amount in issue. These investments are bought and sold on the stock market and can trade at a premium or discount to the underlying value per share of the portfolio depending on the level of supply and demand for the shares.

Investment concepts
‘Long only’ is one of the most common investment styles in fund management. It refers to buying a basket of stocks and/or bonds with the aim of generating returns through an increase in the price of the underlying holdings and from any income generated by these holdings.

‘Absolute return’ is a style of investment which aims to produce a positive return in all market conditions. It involves quite sophisticated strategies, including the use of derivatives to create short positions where the manager seeks to profit from a fall in the price of an underlying security.

Asset classes
Investments can usually be made in a number of different asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, currencies and cash.

Multi-asset funds may adopt ‘long only’ or ‘absolute return’ strategies. Typically they invest across a number of different asset classes, especially those that do not move in correlation, and thereby attempt to reduce the volatility of returns.

Active management involves trying to select a range of investments with the aim of outperforming a particular benchmark index. The ultimate aim of active managers is to generate positive ‘alpha’, i.e. invest in stocks that outperform the market and return more than is expected given the perceived level of risk the shares carry.

Passive management involves trying to replicate the performance of a particular index, such as the FTSE All-Share. Tracker funds are a form of passively managed fund.

Not putting all your eggs in one basket
Diversification is the technical term for ‘not putting all your eggs in one basket’. In theory, stock-level risk can be reduced by holding about 20 to 30 different stocks, so that a downturn in the fortunes of one holding may be mitigated by the performance of other holdings in the fund.

Additional diversification across countries, sectors and asset classes is needed to reduce macroeconomic and political risk.

Channelling investments
Asset allocation involves channelling investments across asset classes, geographic regions and/or market sectors. A weighting toward bonds might be increased to boost a portfolio’s income, for example, or greater investment might be made in emerging markets for those seeking growth who are prepared to accept a higher level of risk.

Company share prices
A ‘bottom up’ approach focuses on the prospects and valuations of individual shares while a ‘top down’ approach focuses on broad economic issues or market themes that have the potential to influence company share prices. Many managers may incorporate both into their investment processes, but usually have an emphasis on one or the other.

Investment biases
Growth and value describe certain investment biases adopted by funds and fund managers. A growth manager will look for stocks with good earnings momentum, but be careful not to buy when expectations are too optimistic (i.e. stocks are highly priced). Small and mid-sized companies from flourishing industries tend to be good growth candidates. A value manager ideally looks for attractively priced businesses that have fallen out of favour with the market and have been neglected, but whose fortunes are expected to change. ν

Past performance is not necessarily a guide to the future. The value of investments and the income from them can fall as well as rise as a result of market and currency fluctuations and you may not get back the amount originally invested. Tax assumptions are subject to statutory change and the value of tax relief (if any) will depend upon your individual circumstances.

Striving to look at market opportunities in a rational way

Even in challenging markets there are opportunities to be found

Post the credit crunch of 2008, the banking crisis, concerns over the Eurozone and continuing low interest rates have tested even the most unwavering investor. There is no doubt that these are some of the toughest economic conditions we have seen for many years.

Even in challenging markets there are opportunities to be found and investing in shares or bonds (fixed interest assets) over the long-term presents a greater opportunity than not investing at all, for several good reasons.

Long-term view
Markets have survived events such as the Great Depression of the 1930s and the recession of the early 1990s. Short-term movements in the price of stocks and shares are smoothed out over the long term, putting dramatic losses and sudden gains into perspective. Staying invested can increase the likelihood that your investment will benefit from rebounds in the market and minimise the overall impact of volatility on your potential returns.

Cash or shares?
In a volatile environment it is tempting to transfer investments to a more secure asset class such as cash, waiting to reinvest when the market settles. However, you could miss the opportunity of a market rebound. In addition, although cash retains its capital security, over the long-term it will suffer the erosional effects of inflation, especially if interest rates remain at current lows.

Keeping invested
Negative commentary often results in investors taking flight in difficult markets, with investments being sold when the price is falling and bought when the market is rising, which can be a costly strategy. The current investment environment still presents many opportunities with many good-quality companies. We can advise you how to identify these opportunities.

Focus on your goals
A key challenge for investors is to decide which is the greater risk: potentially losing money over the short term or not achieving investment goals at all. With life expectancies increasing and retirements sometimes lasting as long as 20 or more years, planning ahead and investing for the future is becoming more and more important.

Making the right choice
With such a wide choice of funds on the market to choose from, making the right choice can be daunting, particularly as even very similar funds can deliver significantly different returns. If you want to invest but are unsure where, we always recommend you seek professional financial advice. Past performance is no guide to the future. The value of an investment can fall as well as rise, may be affected by exchange rate variations and you may get back less than you originally invested.