Pension Timebomb


Pension Timebomb

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.

Help to Save: Defusing the pensions time bomb

Dominic Thomas
Pension Timebomb2023-12-01T12:40:03+00:00

Pension Freedoms and a Lamborghini


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.

Dream Car? Aventador LP 700-4lamborghini

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.

Too Fast, Too Furious… for mosttoo fast

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.

Dominic Thomas

Pension Freedoms and a Lamborghini2023-12-01T12:40:00+00:00

The Budget 2015 – A New Mad Max


The Budget 2015 – A New Mad Max

So, the Budget is already ancient history, the political hoo-hah has been left to fester, tweak and develop into an election manifesto campaign. So what, if anything grabbed my attention?

Jilted Bribe

Firstly, I have to admit that I was expecting there to be a little more of an electoral bribe. Whilst the Chancellor certainly made much of the fact that he wasn’t going to (and thus seek to be understood as prudent or sensible) the truth is that, well… he didn’t really offer a bribe (unless its one I missed). Frankly with the national purse in the shape its in, I was rather glad, (though I remain open to the possibility of  solving the problems differently).

ISA with tax relief? – future implied?Mad-Max-5

That said, the first time buyer ISA does sound like a good idea. The detail needs further examination, but in essence there is 20% tax relief on the annual ISA allowance for people that are 18 or over and don’t (and have never) own a home. £3,000 of the £15,000 ISA allowance will be paid by the Government. Whilst everyone that qualifies will benefit, in practice, this will be a very good way of saving if you qualify… if not you, perhaps your children… opening up further options for more wealthy parents.

Pensions and Politicians… taking the …point?

As for pensions, I have to admit that the utter folly of politicians in relation to pensions has shifted gear over the last 10 years. Whilst knowing that we all need to save more so that there is less reliance on the State system… perhaps even the prospect of a means-tested State pension (who knows?) they are determined to punish successful investing and saving.

Here in the UK we are now restricted on how much can be paid into a pension and how much the pension fund can be worth. Utter madness. Yes £1m is a lot of money, but are we also going to cap how much can be held in a bank account or the value of property? what about the value of a business? These are measures to appear a poorly informed crowd by a poorly informed media. I would immediately abolish the Lifetime Allowance and simply restrict how much tax relief is provided on payments to pensions. It doesn’t have to be more complex than that. However we have a new maximum pot size for your pension. To say that this complicates life further for anyone in a Defined Benefit (DB) pension such as the NHS, would be a masterful understatement. Just so that we are clear… the Lifetime Allowance has reduced from £1.8m to £1.25m already and the Budget has reduced this to £1m in 12 months time. Ok, there will be some form of protection, but if recent experience is to go by, this is about as useful as pushing someone out of an aeroplane with an umbrella instead of a parachute. As for those that put a commercial property in their pension pot… good luck with that! The Annual allowance is now £40,000 a year as the maximum value of contributions to pensions, which may as well be written in algebra when attempting to calculate this for DB members.

Final note: our free APP is updated with all the changes announced for personal allowances, savings rates and so on.

Dominic Thomas

The Budget 2015 – A New Mad Max2023-12-01T12:40:00+00:00

What About Common Sense? Budget 2015


What About Common Sense?

There is another Budget tomorrow (Budget 2015). Sadly, the older I get the more cynical I become about whether these achieve anything. I shall be keeping clients posted in due course, but if the last Budget is to act as an indication, expect the unexpected… and as we have an election looming, expect a bribe.

I am concerned about pensions and the constant meddling by Governments of all persuasions. The point of pensions is to encourage people to save for their retirement, so that they are not dependent upon the State, something that would seem in stark contrast to “reforms” over the years. Pensions are meant to be simple, and frankly they could be. The fact that they are not is entirely due to politicians, not the pensions industry. Complicated doesn’t begin to touch the surface of rules that are designed by  short-term thinking…. so I shall reserve judgement until tomorrow, once I can actually digest the information rather than rely on newspaper stories.

Dominic Thomas

What About Common Sense? Budget 20152023-12-01T12:39:59+00:00

Saving Ryan, is Sacrifice


Can I earn sacrifice?

I was watching the 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan” again recently and quite apart from the feelings that it naturally invokes, I was captured by one of the last lines of the film. As Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) is dying, he whispers “earn this…. earn it” to Ryan (Matt Damon) … at least that’s what I think he said… this is then followed by a scene many years later at the grave of Captain Miller in Normandy when Ryan turns to his wife and rather desperately asks “Am I a good man?” in the hope that he had indeed earned his freedom.saving-private-ryan-poster

Now, I like the film and the Captain Miller character, but really – earn it? surely this is a last exasperated frustration at the unfairness of his death, not meant as some sort of life-bond to payback the sacrifice… which is frankly impossible – and as a teacher, Miller would have, in a less stressful environment appreciated as much. Certainly be eternally grateful, remember and bear witness to the huge sacrifices made… but to earn it? we can’t. We cannot earn our freedom, it is simply given… surely.

Choices and Sacrifice

Anyway, it made me wonder whether others have lived under the pressure to earn back the sacrifices made. Children are sometimes in this scenario, yet it is parents that choose to make the sacrifices, not the child. We make sacrifices surely because we are working towards and hoping for a better future, these are choices. We make them frequently in all sorts of ways. Money and the “sacrifice” of denial of self (and thus pleasure) raises different issues for each person. A basic budget implies some sort of sacrifice, building a pension fund involves a sacrifice of spending now… delayed gratification. To me the term is way too harsh in these contexts – what we are really talking about is making a choice and choosing to plan for the future rather than live for the present. This is a frequent tension in financial planning for anyone… do I save for tomorrow? (which I may not see) or do I blow it all now? It will be interesting to observe how those retiring this year will handle this question. The new pension freedoms pose precisely this dilemma…of course somone turning 65 in 2015 was born in 1950, after the war…but they too have made sacrifices over the years… the question will ultimately be – have they made enough?

Dominic Thomas

Saving Ryan, is Sacrifice2023-12-01T12:39:57+00:00

Auto Enrolment Fines – Workplace Pensions


Auto Enrolment Fines – Workplace Pensions

As expected, the pensions regulator is taking auto enrolment (workplace pensions) rather more seriously than it took stakeholder pensions. Employers were warned about the prospect of fines and as the number of firms that should have started their pensions has multiplied, so have the fines. This is unlikely to alter as the momentum increases. This year medium sized and some small firms will be expected to comply with the rules. 166 penalty notices were issued in the last quarter of 2014 and over 1,100 compliance warning notices sent to firms.

Avoid the FinesAE in a Box

Employers need to get on with their auto enrolment compliance. In practice this is a project management exercise rather than about finding a good pension. As a result I advise employers and Accountants to use the very low cost software from AE in a Box. It enables you to fully comply in time and avoid fines. Importantly it is an ongoing project – much like PAYE is an ongoing project, so data and processes need to be adhered to strictly.

AE in a Box

AE in a Box is very inexpensive, £79+VAT to set up and then £29+VAT a month thereafter. The monthly subscription will only begin 6 months prior to your staging date. I would urge you to consider this bit of kit. It isn’t a financial product, its a tool to help you do the job yourself, cost-effectively rather than getting a more expensive planner like myself involved.

Dominic Thomas

Auto Enrolment Fines – Workplace Pensions2023-12-01T12:39:55+00:00

Speaking up for Annuities


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.immortals

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.

Dominic Thomas

Speaking up for Annuities2023-12-01T12:39:54+00:00

Oldest Woman – secrets to longevity


Oldest Woman – secrets to longevity

Scotland’s oldest woman, Jessie Gallan recently turned 109 according to reports. She suggested that her longevity had been achieved by regular walking, eating porridge and avoiding men. Whilst I imagine this is is probably a little too reductionist, it does bring the issue of longevity back into the news again.breakfast at tiffanys

In April pension changes mean that it will be possible to encash an entire pension fund all at once. This would be very unwise for most people and there is concern that people will underestimate their longevity and thereby run out of money.

Living to a very old age is a mixed blessing and I imagine that you will have your own thoughts on this. As for anyone that is 109 now, if they began drawing a State pension at age 60, it has been in payment for 49 years… about the same as working life (16-65).

For those that wish to live a very long time, I guess its time to avoid the men and have a regular breakfast of porridge.

Dominic Thomas

Oldest Woman – secrets to longevity2023-12-01T12:39:53+00:00

Dispatches: How to Blow Your Pension


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.Dispatches Blow your pension

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?

Dominic Thomas

Dispatches: How to Blow Your Pension2023-12-01T12:39:51+00:00

High Charges On Pensions


High Charges on Pensions

Olivetti Typewriter

The Independent Project Board released their report about old-style pensions yesterday. Their findings suggested that there is around £26billion held in pension funds with high charges (high by today’s standards) in pensions prior to 2001.

Many will know that I have long advocated regularly reviewing pension providers to ensure that you are getting more competitive terms. The pension industry has moved forward enormously over the last 20 years or so. I still occassionally come across an old-style pension which has half a dozen fund choices and huge exit penalties, some thankfully have lower exit penalties, but this can still feel punitive and rather hard to accept.

In practice when I started Solomons in 1999, every pension that we set up didn’t have any penalties, the reason being rather simple – we removed contractual commission. At the time this was unusual and it wasn’t until 2013 and RDR that all advisers had to follow suit. Today a pension is little more than an investment portfolio with a pension tax wrapper around it, with access to thousands of investment choices and available to view online.

Perhaps you still have an old style pension or know someone that does. We have saved clients thousands of pounds in charges and improved returns by having an up to date arrangement. I liken the degree of change within pensions as the typewriter to the ipad or tablet, with its vast array of options and ease of correcting mistakes..ipad

Dominic Thomas

High Charges On Pensions2023-12-01T12:39:46+00:00
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