When the Chancellor announced the abolition of the requirement for most people to buy an annuity with their pension fund, it was somewhat unexpected. Arguably it was one of the most radical shake ups to pensions in decades. However as time progresses, the wisdom of allowing people to do whatever they want with their own money is experiencing some problems. If you are taking your pension, you need to beware of tax.
The main advantage of pensions is tax relief. At the moment (who knows if things will change in the Chancellors budget next month). Currently most investors will receive tax releif of 20% higher rate taxpayers get 40% – though the difference has to be claimed via self-assessment tax returns, not granted automatically.
Money in a pension has tax advantages
Whilst invested as a pension, the funds are free from income tax and capital gains tax – which means that they grow faster (free from tax). If you take money from a pension, (possible from age 55) 25% of the fund is tax free and the balance when taken as income (regular, ad hoc or all at once) is taxed at your highest rate of income tax. On death the new rules mean the pension fund can pass to the estate without inheritance tax.
Taking money doesn’t have to be taxing
It would appear that due presumably to a belief that pensions are “bad” some people have been rushing to withdraw their pension in entirety, which of course results in a signficant income tax bill and the realisation that once its gone… well, it’s gone. The media initially joked about people buying a Lamborghini and the prospect of access to wealth attracting the wrong sort of attention. For those that don’t spend the money all at once it means that they seek other ways to use the money to generate income to support a lifestyle…. which means investing it. See my earlier post about this.
Most alternatives are subject to tax
Investments are subject to income tax, inheritance tax and capital gains tax…. with a few exceptions such as ISAs – but with limits on the amount that can be invested each tax year. Other tax favourable investments tend to be much more “entrepreneurial” in flavour – EIS, SEIS, VCT for example, most of which carry significantly higher risk due to a small focus on shares in a single company or a very small number of companies.
So be careful – get advice, there is much to consider. Pensions aren’t “bad” in fact they can be really rather good if set up properly. The issue is really to ensure that your pension (which is just a term for income in retirement) suits your planned lifestyle….
Have you heard about pensions freedom? Are you approaching retirement and thinking that this is excellent news, you can have your entire pension? Well you are right, but as ever there is a catch. You are free to self-destruct, it is your right to do so (and I’m not being patronising).
On the one hand freedom is good right? but with it comes responsibility (why do I sound like a Spiderman scriptwriter). By responsibility I mean, once you spend it, whether thats taking it as a lump sum or buyng an annuity or leaving it as a Flexible Access Drawdown pension, once it has gone – that’s it. Nothing left… except any other pension income you may have such as the State pension.
So this is all about knowing what you have and what you need. Something that no British Government has ever managed to get right for themselves, yet here we are, with new freedoms. So you have to figure out how long you will live to work out how much you can afford to take out each year. Actually rather more than that, you have to predict future inflation rates, mortality rates, investment returns and tax rates…. to name a few “elements”. Of course you could get a financial planner like me to help by doing some cashflow modelling and explaining the options and reviewing progress regularly or you could do it yourself.
Today I learned about a term called the IKEA effect. This is when we place a disproportianately high value on something that has been partially made us. Go on look it up. This is precisely what happens to DIY investors… that portfolio I built, its not bad. Actually the truth is rather different. I mean no disprect to IKEA or DIY investors. This is about a price-point in the market – what you can afford. Arguably you will have to live with both (furniture and your DIY portfolio) but your portfolio has to last your lifetime. I’m all for consumer empowerment and the removal of elist jargon and ivory towers, but information is not the same as experience or indeed knowledge. I wonder if you remember the John West tinned fish TV adverts? its the fish that John West rejects that make them the best. In other words, selection, some might call it curation – is vital.
Building the right portfolio to last for life is a fairly daunting challenge, for a few this isn’t going to be much of a problem, but for the vast majority of people it will be. Most people do not pay attention to the holdings in their ISAs or pensions. Most are in the funds or more likely single fund, that the adviser put them in when they started their pension. Little attention has been paid to assessing the level of contributions needed, frankly its more like lucky dip… and who can blame them! the jargon is a huge barrier, statements are fairly unclear and the rules keep changing, little wonder people don’t spend much time looking after one of their largest assets. Yet suddenly at the point of retirement, they are expecting to become investment experts. Whilst the Government may say that people should be trusted with their own money, thats fine if it relates to the straight-forward stuff of running a budget and basic banking, but when it comes to understanding asset allocation, volatility, sequencing risk, safe withdrawal rates, reductions in yield… well frankly its taxing even for the experts. Your pension is not a shelving unit from IKEA, its more like fitting a pace-maker, one that has to keep you going.
My advice is to get advice – don’t get sucked into short-term thinking and getting some degree of satisfaction from raiding your pension to show your displeasure with the pension company. Certainly there are better pensions, but you really need to get sensible advice to explore your options properly. You wouldn’t build a house without architectural plans (I hope)… the same is true when it comes to designing a portfolio for life.
Ok its April 1st, but this isn’t an April Fools Day joke…. this is data from the Policy Exchange, founded in 2002 to help contribute the national thinking about society. I don’t know if it is the case, but it would appear that the Coalition Government had a look at this before deciding to introduce the pension rules that come into effect next week. However if you are someone still saving for a pension or an employer, the findings are not great reading, with both needng to contribute rather more to pensions. Clicking on the graphic should make it larger.
Pension Freedoms and a Lamborghini
I’m sure you will have come across newspaper reports that some people are concerned that the new pension freedoms, (which come into effect from 6th April 2015) are likely to mean that some people make some daft decisions about their pension pot. You have probably heard that some may go a little mad and buy a Lamborghini.
This is an issue that I have talked about with clients recently, not because they were thinking of buying a Lamborghini, but I simply wanted to explain what the nw pension rules really mean. Admittedly as I don’t own a Lamborghini I’m not that familar with their prices. I’m not an avid Top Gear fan, though I do like Grand Prix. So just by way of a guide, perhaps you may like to know the reality of using a pension to buy a Lamborghini.
Making the wild assumption that you would want a brand new car, the cheapest model I can find available in the UK is the Aventador LP 700-4 which starts at £260,040 (I love the £40!). I’m sure the reduction in petrol prices will help, but I imagine that this is a car that with a top speed of 217mph and a combined urban/extra urban fuel consumption of 16 miles per gallon is also going to be expensive to run, let alone service.
On the Road Price
Assuming that this is an “on-the-road” price you need to write a cheque for £260,040 to the dealer from your pension. As of today a pension isn’t a bank account and does not come with a cheque book. But from April 6th you will be able take all of the money out (if you are 55 or older). The new rules allow you to take all your money out should you wish to – you don’t have to buy an annuity. However the original rules still apply, in that you can take 25% of the fund as tax free cash, the balance is deemed as income and taxed at your marginal rate of income tax (as it would be if it were an annuity). So, to buy the Aventador LP700-4 you need to pay £260,040, there are two ways that you could now achieve this.
1. Use the tax free cash – you could have a pension pot worth £1,040,160 and be able to take out 25% as tax free cash (£260,040).
2. Use the entire pension pot.You need a pension of tax free or have a pension pot worth at least £393,000. This would mean that you could take £98,250 as tax free cash and £294,750 as income (but suffer 45% income tax) leaving a net income of £162,112.50 and so have £260,362.50 to hand over the the Lamborghini dealer. Ok not all your income will be taxed at 45% – just the income over £150,000.. but most will be taxed at at least 40%, some at 20%, you would forfeit your personal allowance and in so doing pay an effective rate of tax of 60% on part of the income.
It would take someone with either considerable additional resources, or perhaps a very short life expectancy to decide to buy the car with their pension… essentially costing £393,000 rather than £260,040. It may surprise you and probably alarm you to learn that the average pension pot “at retirement” is about £30,000, so for most people, they are more likely to be able to buy a model Lamborghini car which will cost between £6 and £3,654 (according to the site) or perhaps you fancy a T-shirt starting at £43.
Given that your pension, in combination with your other resources is meant to last for the rest of your life, the key is to ensure that it doesn’t run out before you do. This is precisely what we do for our clients, figure out what income you need to support your lifestyle, how much is needed, what returns required and making some assumptions (which we review together) about inflation (currently 0% here in the UK) and life expectancy. When it comes to avoiding living on the street, you really dont want a pension withdrawal strategy that is too fast and too furious.
Speaking up for Annuities
OK, let me be clear. I have long wished that the compulsion for people to buy annuities would be abolished. It seems that sometimes wishes do come true…as the Chancellor did precisely this in his Budget last year and on 6th April 2015 the new rules begin. However the general level of financial knowledge is very poor in this country… little wonder as its a dull subject for most people and full of very unhelpful jargon… and some maths… the perfect ingredients for neglect.
Annuities aren’t “bad”
Annuities aren’t good or bad. They are simply a financial product, designed to provide a guaranteed income for life. It is very true that annuity rates have fallen heavily over the last 20 years. This has nothing to do with “greedy insurance companies” but is due to low interest rates, low inflation, low gilt yields and increased life expectancy.
So when I came across an item from the Telegraph “I spent £100,000 on an annuity” I was drawn to it…. well.. thought I should read it anyhow. This is the sad story about Mr Archer, who following his purchase of an annuity decided to see his doctor, who suggested he has a scan and, as it turns out, had a large tumor growing and therefore posed some serious questions about life expectancy.
Now, we have probably all made decisions that we would like to reverse with the advantage of hindsight, but in truth the only real “mistake” made by Mr Archer was to fail to see his doctor and get a full medical prior to buying his annuity. Armed with such information his adviser would probably have provided him with different options.
A clean bill of health…
Normally in the world of financial services, you want a nice clean medical history… relevant when applying for any sort of financial protection (life assurance, critical illness cover, income protection and even private medical insurance). However when it comes to annuities you are more likely to have better options if your health looks… well not so good. In both instances you must be entirely honest, but quite obviously it would make sense to have a medical before an annuity application is made. This could lead to being offered an “enhanced” annuity (sometimes called an “impaired life” annuity). In short, meaning that your life expectancy is below average, so you are offered a higher income… perhaps 30%-40% more. Many retiree’s will qualify for an enhanced annuity.
You cannot change history… but can alter the future
This is not the fault of the annuity provider, or indeed the product. It is sadly a case of “if only I’d known”. Whilst some clamour for annuities to be unpicked, I think this very unwise. The new rules result in greater flexibility, but there are serious concerns that some will simply blow their pension. Indeed just because a doctor or insurer says you have a reduced life expectancy, does not mean that its a certainty… its all about likelihood and probability. The only certainty you can give yourself at retirement, is to book a medical with your GP first, then get a decent financial planner to outline your options. Please learn from the very understandable mistake that Mr Archer made and don’t make the same one. None of us are immortal, with age comes greater health problems… death is not a question of if, but when.. so please add some advantage to your hand.