You have probably heard of Mad Max – its latest incarnation is currently in UK cinemas. You may have heard about the Lifetime Allowance – which has been part of the pension vocabulary since 2006 or “A-Day”. Suffice to say that I believe that the Lifetime Allowance is rather mad.
In the event that you are a politician and reading this, may I ask why you think pensions are important? To my mind, pensions should be encouraged. The end result of a pension should be that people living in the UK are able to provide for themselves above the State Pension, so support their lifestyle. This has several obvious benefits – creating financially independent adults, not requiring State support. Having income means that income tax can be levied and collected to help pay for our society. Let’s also not forget that income is there for using (spending) which enables trade to occur and wealth to be created and so on.
A World of Plenty?
It would seem that politicians generally think not having a rising burden on the State is a good thing. Indeed encouraging pensions with tax relief is the “sweetener” or “bait”. Much like the film Mad Max, we probably don’t want to create a society reliant upon the occassional benevolence of the prevailing “Lord”. Surely we would like a society where all prosper? OK we know the UK has limited resources, so adjust the tax relief, but don’t make it hard or even pointless to save. Even the current regime isn’t tempting enough for millions of people that don’t or cannot save for their future.
At present pension contributions are restricted, which seems fair enough, but the amount that the pension pot grows to is also restricted by the Lifetime Allowance. This is currently £1.25million, which sounds like a reasonable sum, but in practice isn’t as much as you’d like to think, given that it has to last for the remainder of your life. The Lifetime Allowance has already reduced over the years from £1.8m and if the Chancellor does what he suggested he would in the last Budget, it is likely to shrink to £1.0m next April. In other words £250,000 of the Lifetime Allowance will be lost – or more accurately invoke a tax penalty of £137,500.
Mad Max and Excess Tax
If the Lifetime Allowance is exceeded, there is a tax charge of 55% on the excess. OK there are some ways that you can protect your higher pre-legislation allowance, but these are designed by bureacrats and “problematic” to say the least. Essentially this excess tax charge punishes those that save or get good investment results…. let’s not forget that the income from pensions is subject to income tax anyway. So I fail to understand why we don’t simply abolish the Lifetime Allowance and all the protections that have surrounded it. Your pension fund should be just that – a pot that you can actually use with confidence.
Mad Max – Fury Road is currently in UK cinemas, starring Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult. The Chancellor, George Osborne has his next Budget on 8th July 2015…
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.
Dispatches: How to Blow Your Pension
Last night Channel 4 showed a 30 minute programme called “How to Blow Your Pension”. The premise being that the new pension rules might result in thousands of “pensioners” cashing in their pension pots, blowing the lot only to run out of money. You can see the show on the 4OD website should you wish to. The intention was good, but the execution rather miserable and once again missing the opportunity to educate people and whilst Michael Buerk had a good reputation as a BBC newsreader, clearly he doesn’t appreciate that a document from a pension provider is not actually advice – but information about options. Frankly it isn’t that much of a jungle out there, but you will need proper advice, this is not the time to become a DIY internet “expert” it has to work and last. Just because someone has teeth that they care for, doesn’t mean that they should do their own dentistry. Just because you earn, handle and spend money does not make you best placed to do a proper job of planning and generating income for the rest of your life… So I thought I’d have a go at explaining the issues.
New Pension Rules – Simple
Pension rules are changing, from April 6th 2015 anyone aged 55 will be able to access their entire investment based pension pot should they wish to. There will be no compulsion to buy an annuity (an income for life). The principles have not changed – in that 25% of the pot is treated as tax free and the remainder is treated as income when you take it, however you take it – and so subject to income tax at your relevant rate of tax. You can still buy annuities should you want to. That’s it.
Running out of Money
The difficulty is that for most people their pension needs to last as long as they do…. ideally a bit longer if they have a spouse that outlives them too. So in practice you need to be careful about how much you take, its got to last and once its gone, its gone. So you have to guess how long you and your spouse might live (clue – actuaries do this for a living and designed annuities).
Make a Plan
So you will also need to reflect on how much income you need, what plans you have and it would be sensible to allow for some unexpected costs. You may need to pay for your own care or medical treatment – if you wish to choose how this is provided to you. You will also need to reflect on the impact of inflation, which at the moment is at record lows – but do the things you pay for really have such a low rate of inflation? and making a guess now for the next 20, 30 or perhpas 40 years of retirement needs some proper thought. If you don’t buy an annuity (which for many will be a very sensible option) the fund will need to grow (just to stand still and keep pace with inflation at the very least) – so how much investment risk is appropriate? what returns do you really need? what happens if these aren’t achieved? how will the portfolio be looked after? … and so on.
Review the Plan
As a result of these new “freedoms” (which some already enjoy anyway) you have a plethora of choices and the truth is that these need to be reviewed – in fact thats the beauty of it all, you get to alter your decisions (unlike simply buying an annuity and having to live with the consequences for the remainder of your life). The ability to access the money means that the crooks are on the scent… be it “pension liberation” or rubbishy investments that aren’t regulated and promise more than they could ever deliver. An independent financial adviser can sort the wheat from the chaff, but a financial planner, will do that and also help you plan your income requirements to suit your unique requirements.
Was that really so hard?
Clients should now have recieved a hard copy of Talking Money. This issue provides a little more “flesh on the bone” about the new pension freedom that the Chancellor outlined in his Budget. There are many very positive aspects of the changes announced and some are already in action. However some caution is needed and I imagine that there are likely to be some adjustments to the final terms, which are likely to be announced in the Autumn statement next month.
One of the main issues is that despite this making “grown up pensions” and providing people with choice, this does also come with a plethora of options that need thoughtful and careful reflection. Whilst the Chancellor told us that everyone would have free advice at the point of retirement, this has already been reduced to”free guidance” and in practice that means going along to the Citizens Advice Bureau to speak to someone who will almost certainly provide a guide and then refer you to an independent financial adviser.
As you may know, I spend a fair bit of the year attending conferences and training sessions. This is part of my own continual professional development (CPD) but there’s no lip-servcie to this – its pretty vital. The rules for pensions have altered, scrap that, been revolutionised in a “landmark” year for pensions. However despite the appearance of simplicity, there is even more need for good advice and for those that end up opting for a flexible pension rather than an annuity would be wise to review this decision regularly (one of the advantages of making it) and give proper consideration to guaranteed alternatives.
There are about 7.7million employed workers between the ages of 50-64 in the UK according to ONS reports. Even if there were an even demographic spread, that suggests a tidal wave of over 500,000 people reaching 65 each year. There are not enough hours in the day or qualified advisers to currently facilitate this easily. So make sure that your friends and colleagues are aware of all the options, but above all working with someone that puts pensions in their right context – your income to suit your lifestyle.