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Budget Statement 2016: Key Takeaways

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Budget Statement 2016: Key Takeaways

Chancellor George Osborne delivered his annual Budget speech yesterday. While there are winners and losers as usual, this year’s Budget can be considered quite favourable to middle income families and savers. The pension tax relief is safe (for now) and Capital Gains Tax goes down, among other things. Whilst the Budget contained a wide range of measure, our analysis concentrates on those aspects, which are most important to our clients, namely, taxes, pensions and investments. The full speech is available here.

Personal Allowance and Higher Rate Threshold Up

The Personal Allowance, which is the amount you can earn without having to pay Income Tax, will increase from the current £10,600 to £11,000 for the 2016-17 tax year and £11,500 for 2017-18 (up from the previously announced £11,200).

The higher rate threshold will rise from the current £42,385 to £43,000 for 2016-17 and £45,000 for 2017-18. It is estimated that about 585,000 taxpayers will fall out of the 40% tax bracket as a result.

Both of these are in line with the Government’s previous promises to increase the Personal Allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate threshold to £50,000 by April 2020.

Pension Tax Relief Remains

The fears of pension tax relief cuts or other radical changes to the existing pensions system have not materialised, at least for now. In light of the loud opposition to these plans, pointing out that such measures would discourage people from saving for retirement, the Chancellor has decided to not proceed at this point. The only reference in his speech was the following:

“Over the past year we’ve consulted widely on whether we should make compulsory changes to the pension tax system. But it was clear there is no consensus.”

Of course, this does not mean the issue is safely off the table forever. The Chancellor still needs to find ways to meet his goal of “surplus by 2019-20” and pensions certainly remain among the possible targets. For the 2016-17 tax year though, the allowance stays at £40,000 (for those earning under £150,000), with pension tax relief equal to your marginal tax rate. As previously announced, the Lifetime Allowance falls to £1m effective from April 2016.

ISA Allowance £20,000 and New Lifetime ISA

While pensions have been subject to shrinking allowances in the last years, the trend has been the opposite with ISAs, apparently one of the Government’s preferred ways for people to save for retirement. This time the Chancellor has announced that the annual ISA allowance would jump to £20,000, although only from April 2017. For the 2016-17 tax year the allowance remains at £15,240, same as this year, as previously indicated.

A completely new type of ISA will be introduced in April 2017, called Lifetime ISA. Young savers will be able to contribute up to £4,000 a year and receive a 25% bonus from the Government. That is extra £1 for every £4 saved, a maximum of £1,000 per year. You must be under 40 when opening the account; you will be entitled to the bonus every year up to the age of 50, but only if you have opened an account before 40 (therefore those reaching 40 before 6 April 2017 will miss out). Furthermore, to qualify for the bonus the money must only be used either to save for retirement or to buy a home. If you withdraw cash before the age of 60 and use it for purposes other than buying a home, you will lose the bonus (including any returns on it) and pay a 5% penalty.

The Lifetime ISA is intended as an alternative to pensions for young workers (“many of whom haven’t had such a good deal from the pension system”) and will most likely further develop in the next years. With its home ownership objective it will replace the previously announced Help to Buy ISA, which remains in place until 2019 and can be transferred to the new ISA after April 2017.

Capital Gains Tax Down (Excluding Property)

Shares and other investments sold outside an ISA or pension scheme are subject to Capital Gains Tax when the annual CGT allowance (currently £11,100) is exceeded. As another welcome change to investors, the rates of CGT will drop from 18% to 10% (basic rate) and from 28% to 20% (higher rate).

Importantly, these reductions won’t apply to capital gains from property sales, which will continue to be taxed at the existing rates. This is consistent with the Government’s recent actions against Buy to Let and intended to “ensure that CGT provides an incentive to invest in companies over property”.

Other Changes

The following are some of the other announcements from this year’s Budget speech.

  • From April 2017 there will be two new tax-free allowances (£1,000 each) to support micro-entrepreneurs and the “sharing economy”. The first will apply to property income (such as when renting out your home), the other to trading income (such as when occasionally selling goods and services online).
  • Corporation Tax will decrease further than previously announced, to 17% from April 2020.
  • Contrary to expectations, fuel duty will continue to be frozen for sixth year in a row.
  • From April 2018 there will be a new levy on soft drinks with high sugar content. The proceeds will help finance more PE and sport in schools.
  • Last but not least, Armed Forces veterans in need of social care will be able to keep their war pensions, rather than use them to pay for care.

Conclusion

For the time being, pensions remain the primary way to save for retirement and their tax and other advantages are hard to beat by the alternatives, even with the reduced CGT. Their major downsides are the reduced Lifetime Allowance and Annual Allowance for high earners, effective from 6 April. Of course, further changes may come in the next months and years.

With 25% bonus from the Government, the new Lifetime ISA offers attractive net returns, as long as you meet the conditions. It is only £4,000 per year, but that could add up and compound over time. Even if you are too old to qualify yourself, make sure your children know and take advantage of it when it starts to be available in April 2017.

Lastly, if you are likely to exceed the CGT allowance, consider deferring the sale until 6 April where possible. Not only you will have a new allowance to use, but also CGT rates will be lower by 8 percentage points if you exceed it.

When Chasing Interest, Don’t Forget Currency Risk

For many years, interest rates have been extremely low in the UK and most other developed countries. If you are living abroad and your new country’s interest rates are much higher than back home, it is natural to think about ways to capitalise on the difference. The right strategy can significantly enhance your returns, but at the same time there are risks which many expats underestimate or completely ignore.
Do You Want to Earn 0.35% or 14.35%?
At present, central bank rates are at 0.5% in the UK and the US, 0.05% in the Eurozone, and negative in several other developed countries including Switzerland, Sweden and Japan. You can get a cheap mortgage, but you also earn close to nothing on your savings. At the same time, the rates are 6% in South Africa, 7.5% in Turkey, 11% in Russia and 14.25% in Brazil, just to name a few.
Why save at 1% or less in a British bank when you can earn multiples of that just by keeping the funds in a different currency? It makes complete sense, particularly when you are living there and big part of your expenses are denominated in that currency anyway.
Interest Rate Differences and Exchange Rate Changes
You have heard it before: There is no free lunch in the markets. To earn considerable returns, you must take considerable risks. In this case, the risk is that the currency you hold will depreciate and the resulting losses will wipe out or exceed any interest gains. This risk is very real. It happens all the time.
Even with the pound’s current weakness, in the last three years the South African rand has lost 38% against the pound, the Turkish lira has lost 34%, the Russian rouble 56% and the Brazilian real 46%. In spite of their high interest rates, you would have lost money on all of them.
According to an economic theory (named uncovered interest rate parity), when there is a difference in interest rates between two currencies, it is expected (other things being equal, which they never are) that the high interest currency will depreciate against the low interest currency, so the total return will be the same on both. For example, if interest rates are at 0.5% in the UK and 14.25% in Brazil, it is reasonable to expect that the BRL will lose approximately 13.75% against the pound in the next 12 months.
Theory and Reality
In reality, other factors come into play. Sometimes the high interest currency does not depreciate that much and you indeed make money holding it. However, other times it loses much more than “expected”, as seen on the examples above.
The risk of disproportionate adverse moves in emerging currencies is particularly high at times of global liquidity shortage and increased risk aversion, such as in the 2008 financial crisis or the 1997 Asian currency crisis, which spilled over and contributed to subsequent problems in Russia, Brazil and Argentina. The problem with these events is that you never see them coming until it’s too late. Furthermore, even an otherwise stable country’s currency can often be affected only due to market sentiment and its emerging status.
What It Means for Your Finances
The above does not mean you should always keep all your savings in GBP or other major currencies. It means that whenever the currency structure of your income, expenses, assets and liabilities is in mismatch, you are exposed to currency risk. For instance, if you are living in Brazil and saving in BRL, but planning to eventually return to the UK or retire elsewhere, you are to a large extent betting your future on the BRL exchange rate.
Make sure you know what you would do in an adverse scenario, such as a currency crisis, however unlikely that might seem at the moment. Keep at least a portion of your savings in a strong and stable currency, even when the returns don’t look that attractive. It is widely known that rich families in places like China or Russia prefer to keep big parts of their wealth in developed countries, giving up the higher returns they would earn at home. They do it for a reason and that reason is safety and stability.
You can allocate some funds to high-yield currencies and riskier investments, but with the core of your assets, like the pension pot, it should be defence first. Don’t bet your future lifestyle.

Tax Year End Planning Checklist

The end of the tax year is approaching again; therefore it’s time to think about maximising allowances, minimising taxes and taking all the other steps to ensure your tax position will be as favourable as possible going forward. Although there are still almost two months left, it’s better to start now rather than leave it all to the last days, for some of the necessary steps can take some time to process.

When going through the checklist below, you may find this page useful. It contains all the key thresholds, rates and allowances for 2015-16 as well as 2016-17.

Income Tax and National Insurance

If possible, delaying an invoice (if you are self employed), salary, bonus or dividend payment (if you have a company) until 6 April can save, or defer, a considerable amount of taxes. Company owners should also find the right mix of salary and dividends to minimise taxes. Don’t forget to include all of them when making the decision – personal income tax, both employee’s and employer’s NI, corporation tax and dividend tax.

The key figures are:

  • £5,824 = Lower Earnings Limit – minimum to qualify for State Pension and other benefits
  • £8,060 = Primary Threshold – employee’s NI (12%) kicks in
  • £8,112 = Secondary Threshold – employer’s NI (13.8%) kicks in
  • £10,600 = Personal Allowance – basic rate income tax (20%) kicks in
  • £31,786 = higher rate income tax (40%) kicks in

Many company owners choose to pay themselves a salary equal to the Primary or Secondary Threshold, in order to avoid paying NI, and take the rest in dividends. However, if your company is eligible for the Employment Allowance (first £2,000 of employer’s NI free), it could make sense to pay yourself up to the Personal Allowance (£10,600) in salary. Of course, your other income, family situation and other circumstances could alter the figures and must always be considered.

Pension Contributions

Making pension contributions can save you a lot of money in taxes, as long as you stay within your annual allowance, which is £40,000 for the 2015-16 tax year. At the moment, pension contributions are subject to tax relief at your marginal tax rate, which makes them particularly attractive to higher and additional rate taxpayers.

Normally you need to make the contributions before the tax year end (5 April), but this time it is recommended to act before the Budget Statement, which is due on 16 March.

There is high risk that Chancellor George Osborne will announce important changes which may affect the tax relief. The exact outcome is not known, but experts have been speculating about a flat rate replacing the marginal tax rate (this would effectively reduce or eliminate the tax relief for higher and additional rate taxpayers). The Chancellor has also mentioned the idea of cancelling the pension tax relief altogether and using a completely new mechanism for taxing pensions in the future, perhaps similar to ISAs (after-tax money in and tax-free money out).

It is not clear if this will eventually materialise and when any changes would come into effect. However, pension tax relief has clearly been one of the Chancellor’s primary targets in the effort to reduce the deficit and raise tax revenue. In light of the uncertainty, the safest approach is to make pension contributions before 16 March to avoid potential disappointment.

Note that if you didn’t use your full allowance in the three previous tax years, you might still be able to get that money in, on top of this year’s £40,000. The previous three years’ allowances were £50,000, £50,000 and £40,000, respectively. One condition is that your total contribution must not exceed your earned income for the current tax year. Another thing to watch out for is the lifetime allowance (currently £1.25m, but falling to £1m in April), as exceeding that could be costly when you retire.

NISAs

If you have the cash, you should always use your annual NISA allowance to the maximum. A NISA is a tax wrapper which allows you to build savings and investments without incurring taxes on income and capital gains going forward. The allowance is £15,240 for 2015-16 and it is use it or lose it – if you don’t deposit the money by 5 April, this year’s allowance is gone forever. You may also want to use your partner’s and your children’s allowances (£4,080 per child under the so called “Junior ISA”).

If you have existing cash ISA accounts, now is also a good time to review them and check the interest rates. Banks like to lure savers with attractive rates, only to slash them after 12 months or some other period. In such case you may want to transfer the funds elsewhere. There are two things to keep in mind:

  • Always transfer from ISA to another ISA directly. If you do it via your regular bank account, once you have withdrawn the money, it loses the ISA status (and withdrawals do not increase your annual allowance – that will only change the next tax year).
  • Each tax year you can only deposit money to one cash ISA account and one stocks and shares ISA account.

Capital Gains Tax

You can often save on capital gains tax even outside ISAs. There is an annual CGT allowance, which makes the first £11,100 (for 2015-16) of capital gains tax-free. You need to realise these by the tax year end; otherwise the current year’s allowance is lost forever.

Depending on the investments you are holding, whether there are unrealised gains or losses and whether you want to sell any of them, the decisions to make can become quite complicated, but may save you a lot in taxes. A potentially large CGT bill can be reduced (by crystallising losses) or deferred (if you wait with the sale until 6 April). On the other hand, if you are well within your CGT allowance you can crystallise gains to reduce future taxes.

Always keep in mind that tax issues are an integral part of any investment strategy (and tactics), as taxes can affect net return substantially. At the same time, don’t forget to consider transaction costs.

Inheritance Tax

If your estate is likely to exceed the IHT threshold (£325,000 for individuals or £650,000 for couples), you may want to take steps to reduce it. Estate planning can obviously become very complex, but the easiest thing you can do is make gifts to your beneficiaries. These are subject to annual allowance of £3,000. If you didn’t use the allowance last year, it can still be used now (making it £6,000 in total), but after the tax year end it is lost. As long as you live for seven years after the gift, it is out of your estate.

Other Considerations

The above are the most common points which apply to most people. Depending on your circumstances, there may be other opportunities, further allowances and other things to do before the tax year end. In any case, it is best to discuss your entire financial and tax position with your adviser, as some actions might have unexpected consequences. Don’t forget the key date is 5 April, with the exception of pension contributions where it is safer to act before 16 March this year. Also remember that some actions will require longer time to process and don’t leave everything to the last days.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Investment Guidelines

The media would have you believe that a successful investment experience comes from picking stocks, timing your entry and exit points, making accurate predictions and outguessing the market. Is there a better way?

It’s true that some people do get lucky by making bets on certain stocks and sectors or getting in or out at the right time or correctly guessing movements in interest rates or currencies. But depending on luck is simply not a sustainable strategy.

The alternative approach to investment may not sound as exciting, but is also a lot less work. It essentially means reducing as far as possible the influence of fortune, taking a long-term view and starting with your own needs and risk appetite.

Of course, risk can never be completely eliminated and there are no guarantees about anything in life. But you can increase your chances of a successful investment experience if you keep these 10 guidelines in mind:

Let the market work for you. Prices of securities in competitive financial markets represent the collective judgment of millions of investors based on current information. So, instead of second guessing the market, work with it.

Investment is not speculation. What is promoted in the media as investment is often just speculation. It’s about making short-term and concentrated bets. Few people succeed this way, particularly after you take fees into account.

Take a long-term view. Over time, capital markets provide a positive rate of return. As an investor risking your capital, you have a right to the share of that wealth. But keep in mind, the return is not there every day, month or year.

Consider the drivers of returns. Differences in returns are explained by certain dimensions identified by academic research as pervasive, persistent and robust. So it makes sense to build portfolios around these.

Practise smart diversification. A sound portfolio doesn’t just capture reliable sources of expected return. It reduces unnecessary risks like holding too few stocks, sectors or countries. Diversification helps to overcome that.

Avoid market timing. You never know which markets will be the best performers from year to year. Being well diversified means you’re positioned to capture the returns whenever and wherever they appear.

Manage your emotions. People who let their emotions dictate their decisions can end up buying at the top when greed is dominant and selling at the bottom when fear takes over. The alternative is to remain realistic.

Look beyond the headlines. The media is by necessity focused on the short term. This can give you a distorted impression of the market. Keep up with the news by all means, but you don’t have to act on it.

Keep costs low. Day to day moves in the market are temporary, but costs are permanent. Over time, they can put a real dent in your wealth plans. That’s why it makes sense to be mindful of fees and expenses.

Focus on what you can control. You have no control over the markets, but in consultation with advisor acting in your interests you can create a low-cost, diversified portfolio that matches your needs and risk tolerance.

That’s the whole story in a nutshell. Investment is really not that complicated. In fact, the more complicated that people make it sound the more you should be sceptical.

The truth is markets are so competitive that you can save yourself much time, trouble and expense by letting them work for you. That means structuring a portfolio across the broad dimensions of return, being mindful of cost and focusing on your own needs and circumstances, not what the media is trying to sell you.

Business owners to profit from pension flexibility

Business owners to profit from pension flexibility
Business owners looking to extract surplus profits from their business will be looking forward to April’s new pension income flexibility. Not only will pension funding remain the most tax efficient way to extract profits, but those funds will also become far more accessible than ever before.

Allowable contributions have the double benefit of reducing the profits subject to corporation tax, without incurring an employer National Insurance liability. Extraction by salary or bonus will reduce profits before tax, but will not side step NI.

The only previous downside for business owners was that pension funds were not as readily accessible as cash. But all that will change from April if the owner of the business is over age 55. This could lead to business owners seeking advice on how to maximise their contributions.

How much can be paid?
Potentially if someone has not paid anything into their pension for some time they can pay up to £230,000 now. This would be done in two stages. First, by using carry-forward from the 3 previous tax years. This amounts to £150,000 using allowances from 2013/14, 2012/13 & 2011/12. Plus, in order to carry-forward they would also have to pay the maximum £40,000 for the current year. Potentially they may also be able to pay a further £40,000 towards next year’s allowance now if their current input period ends in the 2015/16 tax year.

Unlike paying pension contributions personally, company contributions are not limited by the business owner’s earned income. Instead, the company just has to be able demonstrate that the contributions were ‘wholly and exclusively for the purpose of trade’. However, the company would typically need to have enough profits in the accounting year to get the full benefit of corporation tax relief.

The financial dangers of hoarding cash
There may also be a spin off benefit of paying surplus profits to a pension instead of capitalising it:

Inheritance tax
Shares in unquoted trading companies normally attract IHT business property relief (BPR). But cash built up in the company bank account or investments held within the company could be regarded as an ‘excepted asset’ and not qualify for BPR. To qualify for relief; cash has to have been used in the business in the past two years or earmarked for a specific future business purpose. Clients should always obtain professional advice to get clarity on their particular situation.

With many companies still stockpiling cash following the credit crunch, some business owners could be unwittingly storing up an IHT charge. Amounts over and above their company’s usual working capital could be included within their estate.

Paying into their pension could help ease this. There is typically no IHT payable on pension death benefits provided the contributions weren’t made when they were in ill health. Extracting the cash from the business in the form of a pension contribution could result in an immediate reduction in the business owner’s estate.

Capital Gains Tax
Holding excess cash in the business could cause similar issues when shares in the company are sold. Entrepreneurs’ relief is valuable to business owners as it can reduce the rate of CGT payable on the disposal of qualifying shareholdings to just 10%. To qualify the shares must be in a trading a company. A trading company for this purpose is one which does not include substantial non-trading activities.

While cash reserves are not looked at in isolation, holding substantial cash and other investments could contribute to a company losing its ‘trading’ status. And unlike BPR, entrepreneurs relief is all or nothing. If cash and investments trigger a loss in relief it affects the full value of the business disposed of; not just the non-trading assets.

CGT will not be an issue if they intend to pass their shares on death to other family members. But it could have huge implications for business owners approaching retirement and planning to sell their business as part of their exit strategy. Extracting surplus cash through pension planning to ensure entrepreneurs’ relief is secured on sale of the business will be an important consideration.

The cost of delay
Each year clients delay, the maximum amount they can pay using carry-forward will diminish. The annual allowance cut from £50,000 to £40,000 in 2014/15 will reduce the amount that can be carried forward by £10,000 for each of the next 3 years. By 2017/18 the maximum carry-forward will have dropped from £190k to £160k.

What difference could this make to your retirement pot? Well, if your planned retirement was in 10 years, a net annual growth rate of 4% after charges on £190k would provide a pot of over £281K. By contrast, waiting three years and investing £160k, the accumulated pot would be £210k – almost £71k less.

Time to act
With the main rate of corporation tax set to fall by 1% from 1 April it makes sense to bring forward pension funding to maximise relief. Paying contributions in the current accounting period will see a reduction in the profits chargeable at a higher rate of corporation tax.

All in all, there are many compelling reasons to use pensions to extract profits which aren’t required for future business use. And the longer they leave it the greater the danger of missing out on valuable reliefs.

10 good reasons to pay into a pension before April

There are less than three months to go before the new pension freedom becomes reality. With the legislation now in place, the run up to April is time to start planning in earnest to ensure you make the most of your pension savings.

To help, here are 10 reasons why you may wish to boost your pension pots before the tax year end.

1. Immediate access to savings for the over 55s

The new flexibility from April will mean that those over 55 will have the same access to their pension savings as they do to any other investments. And with the combination of tax relief and tax free cash, pensions will outperform ISAs on a like for like basis for the vast majority of savers. So people at or over this age should consider maximising their pension contributions ahead of saving through other investments.

2. Boost SIPP funds now before accessing the new flexibility

Anyone looking to take advantage of the new income flexibility may want to consider boosting their fund before April. Anyone accessing the new flexibility from the 6 April will find their annual allowance slashed to £10,000.
But remember that the reduced £10,000 annual allowance only applies for those who have accessed the new flexibility. Anyone in capped drawdown before April, or who only takes their tax free cash after April, will retain a £40,000 annual allowance.

3. IHT sheltering

The new death benefit rules will make pensions an extremely tax efficient way of passing on wealth to family members – there’s typically no IHT payable and the possibility of passing on funds to any family members free of tax for deaths before age 75.
You may want to consider moving savings which would otherwise be subject to IHT into your pension to shelter funds from IHT and benefit from tax free investment returns. And provided you are not in serious ill-health at the time, any savings will be immediately outside your estate, with no need to wait 7 years to be free of IHT.

4. Get personal tax relief at top rates

For those who are higher or additional rate tax payers this year, but are uncertain of their income levels next year, a pension contribution now will secure tax relief at their higher marginal rates.

Typically, this may affect employees whose remuneration fluctuates with profit related bonuses, or self-employed individuals who have perhaps had a good year this year, but aren’t confident of repeating it in the next. Flexing the carry forward and PIP rules* gives scope for some to pay up to £230,000 tax efficiently in 2014/15.
For example, an additional rate taxpayer this year, who feared their income may dip to below £150,000 next year, could potentially save up to an extra £5,000 on their tax bill if they had scope to pay £100,000 now.

* Contact me if you don’t know what this is.

5. Pay employer contributions before corporation tax relief drops further

Corporation tax rates are set to fall to 20% in 2015. Companies may want to consider bringing forward pension funding plans to benefit from tax relief at the higher rate. Payments should be made before the end of the current business year, while rates are at their highest. For the current financial year, the main rate is 21%. This drops to 20% for the financial year starting 1st April 2015.

6. Don’t miss out on £50,000 allowances from 2011/12 & 2012/13

Carry forward for 2011/12 & 2012/13 will still be based on a £50,000 allowance. But as each year passes, the £40,000 allowance dilutes what can be paid. Up to £190,000 can be paid to pensions for this tax year without triggering an annual allowance tax charge. By 2017/18, this will drop to £160,000 – if the allowance stays at £40,000. And don’t ignore the risk of further cuts.

7. Use next year’s allowance now

Some may be willing and able to pay more than their 2014/15 allowance in the current tax year – even after using up all their unused allowance from the three carry forward years. To achieve this, they can maximise payments against their 2014/15 annual allowance, close their 14/15 PIP early, and pay an extra £40,000 in this tax year (in respect of the 2015/16 PIP). This might be good advice for a individuals with particularly high income for 2014/15 who want to make the biggest contribution they can with 45% tax relief. Or perhaps the payment could come from a company who has had a particularly good year and wants to reward directors and senior employees, reducing their corporation tax bill.

8. Recover personal allowances

Pension contributions reduce an individual’s taxable income. So they’re a great way to reinstate the personal allowance. For a higher rate taxpayer with taxable income of between £100,000 and £120,000, an individual contribution that reduces taxable income to £100,000 would achieve an effective rate of tax relief at 60%. For higher incomes, or larger contributions, the effective rate will fall somewhere between 40% and 60%.

9. Avoid the child benefit tax charge

An individual pension contribution can ensure that the value of child benefit is saved for the family, rather than being lost to the child benefit tax charge. And it might be as simple as redirecting existing pension saving from the lower earning partner to the other. The child benefit, worth £2,475 to a family with three kids, is cancelled out by the tax charge if the taxable income of the highest earner exceeds £60,000. There’s no tax charge if the highest earner has income of £50,000 or less. As a pension contribution reduces income for this purpose, the tax charge can be avoided. The combination of higher rate tax relief on the contribution plus the child benefit tax charge saved can lead to effective rates of tax relief as high as 64% for a family with three children.

10. Sacrifice bonus for employer pension contribution

March and April is typically the time of year when many companies pay annual bonuses. Sacrificing a bonus for an employer pension contribution before the tax year end can bring several positive outcomes.
The employer and employee NI savings made could be used to boost pension funding, giving more in the pension pot for every £1 lost from take-home pay. And the employee’s taxable income is reduced, potentially recovering personal allowance or avoiding the child benefit tax charge.

Changes to the UK State Pension

The Department for Work and Pensions has just launched a new campaign to explain the new single-tier state pension.

The new single-tier state pension, which will replace both the basic state pension and the state second pension (S2P) is now only 16 months away. While the focus of late has been on increased flexibility for private pensions, the state pension reform is in some respects more significant, if only because it will affect many more people.

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) has launched what it describes as a “new multi-channel advertising campaign” which it hopes will “ensure everyone knows what the State Pension changes mean for them.” That may be a tall order to judge from some research results which the DWP published alongside the press release announcing its new campaign. That research showed:
• 42% of people yet to retire admitted that they needed to find out more about saving for retirement;

• 38% conceded they “try to avoid thinking about” what will happen when they stop working;

• Only 60% of those surveyed realised it is possible to take action to increase their State Pension; and

• 37% of those aged 65 or over thought (wrongly) that the amount of their state pension will change as a result of the reforms. Although the DWP did not ask the obvious question, the chances are very few in that group were expecting a cut in payments after April 2016.

The DWP’s ministers “are urging everyone – and the over-55s in particular – to look at what the changes will mean for them and to secure a detailed State Pension statement so that everyone can plan accurately for retirement.” It is a recommendation we thoroughly agree with. However, be warned that if you have ever been a member of a contracted pension scheme you could well find that your projected state pension is less than “around £150 a week”, which is commonly quoted – even by the DWP in its press release.

ISA inheritability makes ‘allowance’ for your spouse

Details have begun to emerge on how the new inheritable ISA rules will operate. And the good news is that it will be achieved by an increased ISA allowance for the surviving spouse rather than the actual ISA assets themselves. This means clients won’t have to revisit their wills.

How the rules will work.

If an ISA holder dies after 3 December, their spouse or civil partner will be allowed to invest an amount equivalent to the deceased’s ISA into their own ISA via an additional allowance. This is in addition to their normal annual ISA limit for the tax year and will be claimable from 6 April 2015. This means the surviving spouse can continue to enjoy tax free investment returns on savings equal to the deceased ISA fund. But it doesn’t have to be the same assets which came from the deceased’s ISA which are paid into their spouses new or existing ISA. The surviving spouse can make contributions up to their increased allowance from any assets.

What it means for estate planning

By not linking the transferability to the actual ISA assets, it provides greater flexibility and doesn’t have an adverse impact on estate planning that your client may have already put in place. For example, had it been the ISA itself which had to pass to the spouse to benefit from the continued tax privileged status, it could have meant many thousands of ISA holders having to amend their existing Wills. Where the spouse was not the intended beneficiary under the Will or where assets would have been held on trust for the spouse – a common scenario – the spouse would miss out on the tax savings on offer. Instead it’s the allowance which is inherited, not the asset. This means that, even in the scenarios described above, the spouse can benefit by paying her own assets into her ISA and claiming the higher allowance. And the deceased’s assets can be distributed in accordance with their wishes, as set out in their Will.

The tax implications

The tax benefits of an ISA are well documented. Funds remain free of income tax and capital gains when held within the ISA wrapper. And it’s the continuity of this tax free growth for the surviving spouse where the new benefit lies. It’s an opportunity to keep savings in a tax free environment. But the new rules don’t provide any additional inheritance tax benefits. The rules just entitle the survivor to an increased ISA allowance for a limited period after death. The actual ISA assets will be distributed in line with the terms of the Will (or the intestacy rules) and remain within the estate for IHT. Where they pass to the spouse or civil partner, they’ll be covered by the spousal exemption. Even then, ultimately the combined ISA funds may be subject to 40% IHT on the second death.

With ISA rules and pension rules getting ever closer, it may be worth some clients even considering whether to take up their increased ISA allowance if the same amount could be paid into their SIPP. This would achieve the same tax free investment returns as the ISA and the same access for client’s over 55. But the benefit would be that the SIPP will be free of IHT and potentially tax free in the hands of the beneficiaries if death is before 75.

What’s next?

The new allowance will be available from 6 April 2015 for deaths on or after 3 December. Draft legislation is expected before the end of the year and the final position will become clear after a short period of consultation. The new inherited allowance will complement the new pension death rules – a welcome addition to the whole new world of tax planning opportunities for advisers and their clients from next April.

Temporary Transfer Relaxation for pensions carrying higher tax free cash or early retirement age

Formerly pension scheme members with schemes carrying a higher entitlement to tax free cash or an early retirement age would loose these when transferring to a new plan, unless at least one other member of the same scheme transferred with them at the same time, to the same scheme. For schemes without any other members, such as section 32 plans, one person EPPs or assigned policies, this meant that the option to preserve protections when transferring to personal pensions was not available.

However, solo transfers are now permissible, as long as the following criteria are met:

• The transfer must fully extinguish all rights within the current plan
• The transfer must be made in a single transaction
• The transfer must be completed before 6 April 2015
• The new plan must be fully crystallised (including any other rights held within the new plan) before 6 October 2015
• Benefits are payable from age 55 (unless a protected retirement age is available).

As the transfer must be completed before 6 April, the investor would also have the choice to set up a capped drawdown arrangement, should they wish to retain the higher annual allowance. It should also be noted that any GMP benefits will be lost on transfer.

So what does this mean?

Pension scheme members who have held off transferring their benefits due to a potential loss of tax free cash or because they will loose the ability to retire early may now make an individual transfer to a new plan without loosing the enhanced benefits.

Who does this affect?

• Sports people and members of professions who were previously entitled to early retirement ages
• Members of occupational defined contribution pension schemes such as Executive Pensions, Small Self Administered Schemes (SSAS), Contracted Out and Contracted In Money Purchase Schemes (COMPs and CIMPS)
• Those who have transferred their benefits to a Section 32 Buy-Out

This is a complex area and advice from a pensions specialist should always be taken before implementing any transactions.

The press was full of ‘pension bank account’ stories in October. Will it be that simple?

The Taxation of Pensions Bill, which will put most of the Budget 2014 pension changes into law, was published in mid-October. It contained few surprises, not least because it had been issued in draft in August, along with detailed explanatory notes. Nevertheless, the Treasury pumped out a press release and the media duly splashed the (old) news.

The emphasis in the press coverage was, to quote the Treasury release “Under the new tax rules, individuals will have the flexibility of taking a series of lump sums from their pension fund, with 25% of each payment tax free and 75% taxed at their marginal rate, without having to enter into a drawdown policy.” It was this reform which prompted the talk of using pensions as bank accounts. However, things may not be quite that simple in practice:

• The new rules do not apply to final salary pension schemes, which may only provide a scheme pension and a pension commencement lump sum.

• It is already possible to make this type of 25% tax free/75% taxable withdrawal under the flexible drawdown provisions introduced in 2011. This has not proved very popular.

• The new rules are meant to come into effect on 6 April 2015, but they are not mandatory, so some pension providers may choose not to offer them. It seems likely that many occupational money purchase schemes will avoid any changes, as they were never designed to make payments out – that was the job of the annuity provider. Similarly many insurance companies may not be willing to offer flexibility on older generations of pension plan – just as some do not currently offer drawdown.

• The short timescale has been criticised by the pensions industry. Systems and administrative changes can only be finalised once the Bill has become law and that will be perilously close to April, making it difficult for providers to bring in the changes from day one.

• If you are able to take a large lump from your pension, the tax consequences could be most unwelcome. For example, drawing out £100,000 would mean adding £75,000 to your taxable income – enough to guarantee you pay at least some higher rate tax, regardless of your income, and quite possibly sufficient to mean the loss of all or part of your personal allowance. No wonder the Treasury expects to increase tax revenue as a result of the reforms.

• Ironically another of the pension reforms, reducing the tax on lump sum death benefits, could mean you are best advised to leave your pension untouched and draw monies from elsewhere.

The new pension tax regime will present many opportunities and pitfalls, not all of which are immediately apparent. Do make sure you ask for our advice before taking any action.

The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. The value of investments can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.