Category: Uncategorized

Now’s not the time to play ‘financial chicken’

Sometimes it’s good to be the odd one out!

The election is over, now let the dust settle

Finally we have the outcome and a new strong direction for the UK, with Brexit now happening in the way that Boris Johnson has planned. There will be international reactions to the new political landscape and the markets will no doubt respond too. In fact, at the moment the exit poll was announced Sterling rose significantly; and we can expect to see further fluctuations across the board in the UK markets. Which is why, whatever way you voted, I’d like to just focus your attention on your finances and what you should and shouldn’t do next. 

Psychologists tell us that we have been hardwired over the last 100,000 years to behave the way we do. With most of these behaviors being based on primal instincts that determine our survival as individuals and as a species. So in many ways, these behaviors are so deep routed at a biological level, we don’t stand much of a chance of avoiding them as individuals. That is of course, if they are not pointed out and guarded against.

The modern world really is an extremely new phenomenon, especially when we look at it through the lens of evolution. The vast interconnections and the exchange of up to the minute information and ideas are truly phenomenal. So have some sympathy for that part of your brain that has been hardwired to live in a world that lasted for around 98,000 years and now no longer exists; and never doubt the influence it still has over you and your finances!

Here’s how a caveman still influences your decision-making

We all carry around these hardwired modes of behaviour; and one that may come to the forefront in the next couple of months is what psychologists call ‘The Bandwagon Effect’

There is an incredibly powerful compulsion to follow the herd. It’s been bred into us at the very base level of our existence; and in uncertain and stressful times, it comes right to the front of our thinking. That’s because for tens of thousands of years, belonging to and conforming to a group was a very successful strategy for survival. Staying with the group is far better for survival than going it alone. Hence, over thousands and thousands of years the desire to follow the herd has been bread into all of us over time – and is now a fundamental human instinct. 

How many times have you fallen for the appeal of a busy mediocre restaurant verses a fabulous empty one saying “Let’s eat here, it looks full so it must be good”?.. It’s the Bandwagon Effect in full swing.

When the wheels come off and that impacts your finances

An excellent and extreme example of The Bandwagon Effect causing financial problems was laid out in the dramatic rise and crash of Bitcoin. That particular bandwagon was one that people couldn’t get on fast enough, despite common sense telling them that it wouldn’t last. For the majority of ordinary investors, they bought Bitcoin at the height of its value only to watch the value plummet. 

Whilst Bitcoin is an extreme example, I use it to illustrate the Bandwagon’s grip on sane minds. So my words of caution are aimed at the post-election markets in general, over the short-term.

March to the beat of your own drum

Over the next few weeks or months the markets are going to react to the first quarter of the new Government. That may well create fluctuations and the odd perceived stampede toward the Bandwagons. My advice would be to bide your time and wait. 


Think about theold adage ‘If you see a bandwagon, it’s already too late’

Markets hate uncertainty and have been reacting to the political deadlock that we have been living with through the post Brexit Referendum. 

However, now is the time for the markets to settle again. It’s certainly not the time to take peer-pressured decisions on investment acquisitions or disposals. If you spot an opportunity whose value is created by a sudden influx or departure of groups of investors, please think again. Remember that bandwagons often artificially alter a market for the short term. So get some impartial advice and consider your options calmly and pragmatically. Please bear in mind that the powerful drives to follow the herd have been with us for over 100,000 years and have served us incredibly well. However, they are your worst enemy when it comes to the financial markets.

Unleash your inner Spock!

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as The Bandwagon Effect on Vulcan. However, I would say that approaching the financial markets with a Vulcan like emotionless clarity, and a determination not to get carried along with the crowd, is the only way to overcoming the possible pitfalls of market hysteria. 

The markets are probably ahead of you anyway

Most of the serious financial markets have had any political upheavals already costed into them. So what you will be witnessing in any fluctuations is merely a settling of the market.

Also, don’t forget that the markets are now interlinked throughout the world. So, whilst the UK General Election may seem incredibly important to us, to the international markets it’s just a small bump in a very long and well-established road – and nowhere near as significant to performance than many of us believe.

Don’t just take our word for it though – talk to us too!

If you have any questions or worries regarding the current or future financial and investment markets, then pleasecontact us at Bridgewater Financial Services where we will be delighted to help guide you through your individual options and strategies.

Life Assurance

Here’s a lovely Life Assurance idea..

..how about the taxman pays around half of yours?

If you take out a Relevant Life Plan, then he (or she) will.
If you want to provide yourself and your employees with an individual death in service benefit that pays a lump sum if the individual insured dies or is diagnosed with a terminal illness, thena Relevant Life Plan (RLP) is something you should seriously consider.

Is it for you and if not why not?
If you’re an employer, looking to give the peace of mind that Death in Service cover can provide, but you don’t have enough employees to justify a group scheme, then a RLP could be just what you’ve been looking for.

If you’re a Director wanting your own individual Death in Service cover, without including your employees, then a RLP could be for you.

If you’re a high earning individual where Death in Service isn’t currently a part of your lifetime allowance of £1,055,000 (2019-2020), then considering an RLP could prove to be advantageous.

However, if your business is a sole trader, equity partnership or equity members of a Limited Liability Partnership, and doesn’t have an employer/employee relationship, then unfortunately a RLP won’t be suitable.

How does the tax saving work?
Almost all company directors who have some life assurance are paying the premiums personally. This usually this means that they are paying premiums out of pre-taxed income or they’re paying through their company and attracting a P11D benefit-in-kind penalty. However a RLP is paid directly by the company, with premiums allowable as a business expense. This obviously means that Corporation Tax Relief can be claimed and no Employer’s National Insurance is payable either. But that’s not all, the RLP policy does not count as a benefit in kind, so it doesn’t attract Income Tax or National Insurance payments either.

For example, the real cost of a £200 per month insurance policy, to a high rate taxpayer, after tax and NI is around £392 gross. By taking out a RLP, and paying premiums through the company, avoiding the income tax and NI; the remaining £192 produces an extra £98pm of net income available to the high rate taxpayer, whilst providing the same cover. This is a real saving of 49% and for a basic rate taxpayer; the saving is around 36%.

So why isn’t everyone doing this? 
It seems like a no-brainer that anyone who falls into the category of qualifying for a RLP would immediately switch to one. So why aren’t they more popular?
The simple answer is most company directors and, I’m sad to say, their accountants simply haven’t heard of a Relevant Life Plan.

That’s possibly because when the RLP was originally launched, it was only offered by one provider and the message didn’t really get out to a wide audience. Fortunately for you, you read my blogs and I’m here to tell you all about it

Who can you talk to regarding a Relevant Life Plan?
Not so long ago there was only one company who spotted the opportunity to offer a RLP. Their unique approach took advantage of pension simplifications, which meant that due to the way that life insurance was set up under trust, and because the limited company paid the premiums, no benefit in kind issues impacted upon the director or employee.

Understandably other providers held back from entering the RLP market, whilst they waited to ensure that the legislation that the RLP took advantage of was robust and unchallenged. Happily, now that the principles have gone unchallenged, a further half a dozen or so big name providers have now also entered the RLP marketplace, which helps ensure that premiums remain low.

Let’s have a quick look under the covers
The first question people generally want answering is, how much cover can I have?

Just like any other Death in Service policies, the sum assured with a Relevant Life Policy is based upon a multiple of the insured annual remuneration. As a director, remuneration is based upon salary with the addition of dividends and the addition of any bonuses.

Depending upon the provider you pick for the RLP, the multiples may vary depending upon the age of the director being insured. Usually though, you can expect the range to be anything from 10 to 25 times remuneration. So get some independent expert financial advice, before picking your RLP provider.

Get the right advice
As always, if you have any questions regarding your current or future financial situation, especially regarding a Relevant Life Policy and which provider best suits your individual needs, then please contact us at Bridgewater Financial Services where we will be delighted to help guide you through your individual options and strategies.

Smart thinking AIMed to reduce your inheritance task exposure

An IHT opportunity you may not know about

As the game of cat and mouse continues with the government and taxpayers, the scope of tax planning opportunities that are legitimately open for high earners has been steadily reducing in number and variety.

The latest industry figures show that taxpayers paid £5.3bn in inheritance tax in the last year to February 2018. That’s a rise from the £4.7bn paid in 2016/17. UHY Hacker Young, have suggested that there is a real scope to use Business Relief (BR) to further lessen Inheritance Tax (IHT) bills to HMRC. With forecasts predicting that the value of BR to have risen 8% in 2017/18, from £655m in 2016/17.

Investing in the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), with an Inheritance Tax (IHT) Plan,enables qualifying taxpayers to reduce IHT bills, through investments made in unlisted companies and other business assets.Not only that, but both investors and the government seem to like what’s on offer; as it can produce healthy savings and returns, as well as contributing to the wider economy and create jobs and growth.

An alternative to a Trust that’s worth considering

When you invest in the AIM market, most companies are eligible for Business Relief (BR); and, if held for at least two years, the shares are classed as business assets, so are completely free from IHT.

An AIM Portfolio IHT Plan can also provide you with greater flexibility than a trust and can also be less expensive and time-consuming to set up.

Unlike a Trust, you don’t have to wait for seven years in order for your assets to escape the remit of IHT, as your AIM IHT Plan qualifies for tax relief after just two years as opposed to seven – provided the AIM shares continue to be held thereafter.

Another benefit over a Trust, is that you no longer run the risk of losing access to your investments, as you retain control of your assets at all times. You are also free to increase contributions in the future, as well as possibly earning equity related returns on your AIMs investments.

You can even utilize an existing, or new, (ISA) 

You can either transfer an existing ISA, or set one up in your AIM IHT Plan. Which has the double advantage of the holdings in the AIM companies qualifying for BR. You’ll also be exempt from any income tax on dividends and capital gains tax on profitable disposals. 

How are savings on Inheritance Tax achieved? 

Providing you have held the shares for over two years then, under the current taxation rules, there us unlimited exemption from IHT on all shares that qualify for BR held by you when you pass away.  

Pretty much all of the companies traded on AIM, with the exception of those principally engaged in property or investment activities, qualify for BR. Which means that, under the current legislation, all of the applicable shares in your AIM portfolio will be seen to be business assets, which means that they are exempt from IHT if owned for more than two years.

As the IHT exemption is only available on the qualifying shares, held at the point of death, any AIM IHT Plan should be viewed as a medium to long-term investment, with a view to keeping it for a minimum of five years. 

Upon your death, your portfolio can be sold, or transferred to a spouse, without attracting IHT. 

Is an AIM IHT Plan right for you? 

If you’re concerned that a large portion of your wealth may not get to the people you wish to leave it to, because of the likely IHT charges to be made on your estate, then the AIM IHT Plan could be just what you are looking for.

As it provides you with an investment opportunity that could not only deliver a strong performance, but can also reduce your IHT liability. 

If you are considering investing in an AIM IHT Plan, then it’s important that you get the right kind of independent advice. As it should always be viewed as a long-term investment option that carries a slightly higher risk than other investments and my not necessarily be the best option for your immediate requirements.

The usual minimum investment you should consider with an AIM IHT Plan is £100,000. An additional contribution of a minimum of £25,000, or the full annual ISA contribution, can be made at any time after you start the plan.

A cautionary word about the Plan

Firstly, it’s important to appreciate that the current rate of IHT as well as the value of this option regarding IHT savings and the exemption afforded by an AIM IHT Plan could all change in the future.  

Having said that, BR has been around for a number of years and under various different Governments, and doesn’t appear to be drawing attention in any of the current manifestoes. 

It is important to recognise the long-term, and higher risk, aspect of the plan. As I would suggest that you especially consider the following points, in order to ascertain whether this type of investment fits your personal investment profile:

  • As most AIM shares tend to be illiquid, it might be more difficult to sell them. Also obtaining reliable information regarding their value and the risks they are exposed too can also more difficult to find.
  • Any AIM company can revert to private status. This would mean that shares may become impossible to trade and the value and protection offered by AIM would end. 
  • Like the FTSE, past performance is no guide to the future and the value of shares purchased on AIM (and income received) may go down as well as up; and you may not get back your full investment
  • Not all investments into the AIM market qualify for BR, plus the amount of tax relief available may change at any time. 

Need to know more?
As always, if you have any questions regarding your current or future financial situation, especially around AIM IHT Plans, then please contact us at Bridgewater Financial Services where we will be delighted to help guide you through your individual options and strategies.

Stay on the right side of the law with Lasting Power of Attorney

Whilst Lasting Powers of Attorney can be the ideal way to safeguard the financial affairs of someone who has unfortunately lost the capacity to do it for themselves (the donor), it does come with some important and onerous responsibilities. 

If you are not fully aware of these, then there is a danger that you could end up with a court judgment against you. In fact, in 2018/2019 court judgements against people acting outside their permitted powers more than doubled on the previous year.

It’s a complex area of law. However following a recent ruling by the Court of Protection (COP), which was referred to them by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), new guidance is now available. In order to save you the job of sifting through the Court’s judgement and summary, I’ve highlighted the main points in this blog.

The majority of cases under review contained compulsory instructions given to the person with the power of attorney (an attorney) on how they should act. The court rules that the use of compulsory instructions was incompatible with the notion of having to ‘act in the best interest’ of the donor and that an attorney should not be bound by such instructions.

In terms of an attorney using the donor’s money for the benefit of others, without the need of gaining approval from the COP, the judge also made the following important comments:

How to make gifts 

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 clearlysets out what gifts an attorney is able to make. With restrictions in place to protect the donor’s assets from being ‘gifted away’.

As an attorney, you are able to make gifts on birthdays, Christmas or to charities the donor may have previously been a supporter of; with the value of that gift been seen to be reasonable and not detrimental to the donor’s future financial needs.

Obviously this hinders any estate planning that hopes to use large gifts as a mechanism for reducing the value of the estate.

It is possible to make gifts outside of these restrictions by applying to the COP. However this will add costs and delays, with no guarantee of a successful outcome.

If the donor is still capable of making the gifts themselves, then this should be supported. Although, if the donor has any intentions of making substantial gifts this is best done prior to incapacity becoming an issue.

Can an attorney provide for others?

If a payment is deemed to meet the needs of someone the donor was obliged to provide for, such as a spouse or any dependents, then this has always been viewed differently to that of a gift.

However, the recent ruling by the COP has extended this. The Judge commented upon the requirement to act in the ‘best interests’ of the donor, so felt that an attorney shouldn’t just be limited to ‘needs’, but should also take into consideration the donor’s ‘past and present wishes and feelings, beliefs and values’. Which broadly means that an attorney can do whatever he or she believes that the donor may have reasonably done themselves; but you may need to provide some evidence of this. 

Providing evidence of intention

The best evidence of intent comes from a donor’s past behaviour. Or, better still, an expression of intent included within the power of attorney document. 

When making decisions an attorney need only take evidence into account, they are not bound by it. As an attorney’s main consideration should always be the best interest of the donor and not the interest of the recipient.

Be aware that justifying an action on the basis of saving Inheritance Tax (IHT) is unlikely to be deemed to be in the donor’s best interest. There needs to be other factors and motives, although the size of the donor’s estate and associated costs of lifestyle and care can also influence decisions.

As a general rule, and to avoid misinterpretation, any money transferred to an individual that falls outside the definition of a gift under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, will be deemed to be a transfer of value for IHT, unless it’s covered by an exemption.

Scottish independence!

If you are in Scotland, then the legal position is a little different.

An attorney is able to make gifts, including those for estate planning purposes, just as long as the donor has specifically included this within their power of attorney document.

To sum things up

The ruling by the COP provides greater opportunity for an attorney to provide for the needs of family members, without being confined to only providing gifts on birthdays or Christmas. However, these provisions need to be made in conjunction with a clear expression of wishes by the donor along with a belief, by the attorney, that these actions are in the best interests of the donor.

Any uncertainty should result in an application to the COP for further clarity and permission. 

As always, if you have any questions regarding Lasting Powers of Attorney, or if you need to put an LPA in place, then please contact us at Bridgewater Financial Services, where we will be delighted to guide you through the complex process.

Don’t sleep through the changes in your pension statement

Wake-up packs and how NOT to lose sleep over them

“Pensions Statement” is possibly the right word for those of us who have thought about these things. Wake-up pack feels a little more like a hysterical last minute plea!

However, whatever your thoughts on the name, as of Friday 1 November 2019, The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has determined that every pension customer should receive a Wake-up pack, from the age of 50 onwards. The pack will be provided by the pension provider and will contain a one-page summary of the pension details and should be updated every five years until the pension is eventually cashed in.

The one-page summary will include:

• The value of your private pension
• Your assumed retirement date
• The contributions made that year by you and your employer
• General information on retirement planning

All Wake-up packs will also carry a risk warning that is tailored for the individual that the packs is being sent out to. So as you will imagine, the risk warning to a 50 year old will be different to that of someone who is 75 years plus. These warnings will be tailored according to the information that the pension provider holds on the client receiving the pack.

Although providers will have free rein to include whatever risk warnings they want, most will cover the risks of pension scams, contributions and investment risk as well as an explanation of tax issues.

What’s the big idea?

The motivations and idea behind this new wake-up pack is to encourage you to consider your approaching pension and to give you the time to put more money aside to cover your retirement, if it seems necessary.

The wake-up pack will also contain information regarding the Government’s Pension Wise Service. Along with a summary of the possible advantages of shopping around when purchasing a pension in the first place, as well as the best practice to follow when exploring this. Assuming you haven’t already covered all of this off with your Financial Adviser.

Packs will start to arrive:
• Within two months of you reaching your 50thBirthday
• Four to ten weeks before reaching the age of 55 years
• After 55 they will arrive every five years until your pension is cashed in

Additional triggers for the packs are:
• When you ask for a retirement quotation (if it’s more than six months before you intend to retire)
• When you are considering, or have stopped, an income withdrawal arrangement
• When you decide to take further benefits from your pension.
• When you request to access your benefits for the first time

Although packs do not need to be sent out, if you have already received one in the last year. Which is good news for the trees, as all wake-up packs must highlight that guidance is available from Pension Wise and, apart from the one sent at aged 50, will also have to be accompanied by a brochure from the Money Advice Service.

So has your financial adviser been asleep then?

You would assume that all these issues and more would have been taken care of by your financial adviser – and in most cases, you’d be right (depending upon who your adviser is).

So don’t worry, as these new requirements are mainly aimed at helping non-advised clients make better decisions for themselves. If however there is anything in your wake-up pack that you have any questions about, then don’t hesitate to contact your adviser and ask.

As always, if you have any questions regarding your current or future pension strategies, then please contact us at Bridgewater Financial Services where we will be delighted to help.

Dealing With Redundancy – what to do right now.

TC Plane
What you need to do, if you are facing redundancy

With the shock collapse of Thomas Cook, leaving over 21,000 people now facing certain redundancy and countless thousands working in support industries with an equally uncertain future, I thought that I might share some thoughts on what to do if you are facing immediate redundancy.

What to do right now

Finding yourself facing redundancy may have a profound psychological effect upon you, but it’s also a time when you need to be strong and take some immediate action.

If you are being made redundant, then you should spend today doing the following things as a matter of urgency. Taking back control of things starts here:

Claim everything you are entitled to. Nobody want’s to sign on, but you’ve been paying into the system; and it’s there for your benefit too. So sign on today, as you may be eligible to claim benefits such as Universal Credit, whilst you are looking for a new job.

There are also other benefits such as Housing Benefits, Council Tax Reductions, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Tax Credits that may be available to you. Here’s a link to the Citizens Advice Benefit Checker, that will quickly show you what benefits you are entitled to:
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/benefits-introduction/what-benefits-can-i-get/

Deal with your mortgage. As you won’t know just how long you will be without an income, notify your mortgage lender (and other lenders) today. That way, if you have problems keeping up payments, they will likely work with you to overcome short-term difficulties and may offer things like payment holidays, or a switch to interest only repayments. They are usually helpful and sympathetic, but they can only offer assistance if they are aware of what’s going on – so tell them as quickly as possible.

Claim on any policies. If you took out insurance against being made redundant, that should cover your mortgage and loan repayments, so claim today. The process of being paid out may take some time, so start the ball rolling now, to help avoid missed payments whilst you wait for the insurance money.

Work out your budget. Calculate what your assets and liabilities are, along with other household income and expenditure. That way you’ll get a clear picture of your current financial standing. Cut any unnecessary expenditure and prioritise remaining expenses in order of importance. Knowing exactly where you are financially will significantly help with any negative emotions you may be having.

Once you’ve done the basics, then it’s time to tackle the rest

I can’t stress how important it is to have done the above points – for both your financial and mental health. Once you’ve dealt with immediate actions, then it’s time to think about the following:

Get professional advice. If the whole situation seems daunting, reach out for some help. Talk to a properly qualified financial planner. You don’t know what you don’t know – and getting expert advice could save you a great deal of stress and money.

Clear existing debts. If you can, clear any outstanding credit cards or loans. Especially because the cost of most debts vastly exceeds any interest you’ll be earning on savings.

But keep access to emergency funds just in case you need them.

Those you can’t clear, move to the cheapest rate. Your credit score may take a post redundancy knock, so now’s the time to move debt to the best possible rate, such as the interest free balance transfers of certain credit cards

Once you’ve received your redundancy payment

Following the receipt of your final lump sum, there are one or two things you may want to consider.

Top up your pension. You could choose to take advantage of the tax relief available on the first £30,000, as you top up your existing pension from your redundancy payment.

Invest for your future. If you cleared your debts, and have a nest egg, you may want to consider your redundancy payment as a windfall and use it to make some longer-term investments.

Early retirement. You may even be in a position that your financial situation allows you to consider an early retirement, or at least a significant step away from the world of work.

Redundancy is a strange and stressful time

Facing redundancy can be emotionally draining and it’s easy to try to avoid meeting it head on. However, if you want to lessen the impact it may have on you, both psychologically and financially, then early planning and preparation is the answer.

Sorting out your existing finances and planning for the short and long-term future are fundamental and very wise moves. Talk to your financial adviser about the points I’ve highlighted in this blog. Then explore those areas of your individual finances that will also be impacted.

It’s not the end of the world, on the contrary, it’s a new beginning; and taking charge of the situation is your first step down the road to a brighter future.

As always, if you have any questions regarding your current or future financial situation, especially if you think that redundancy may be a future possibility, then please contact us at Bridgewater Financial Services where we will be delighted to help guide you through your individual options and strategies.

Some helpful links:

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/leaving-a-job/redundancy/preparing-for-after-redundancy/

https://www.gov.uk/redundancy-your-rights

http://www.executivestyle.com.au/what-they-dont-tell-you-about-being-made-redundant-gwacfd

Market Volatility a lesson from NASA

aldrin

Don’t Take A Giant Leap

Back on the 20thJuly we celebrated the 50thanniversary of the moon landings. I was totally in awe of Neil Armstrong, who took over the piloting of Eagle, from the computer once he noticed that the preselected landing place wasn’t going to be suitable.

Both he and Buzz Aldrin calmly worked together, whilst the vital fuel that would get them home was used to pilot Eagle over the rocky surface to a safe point of touchdown.

It was this calm, panic free approach that saved their lives, the mission and the hopes of the whole planet.

They trusted what they knew to get them through what must have been a terrifying descent. But they stuck to the plan established by NASA and they achieved what they’d all set out to accomplish.

I can’t help thinking that this idea of sticking to a plan, no matter how appealing it may be to abandon it, is a lesson for us all in the current investment markets, as we go through periods of increased volatility.

I say this because, unlike Apollo 11, we are not actually in uncharted territory. History shows us that volatility is a normal function of the markets.

Our long-term journey as investors will have highs and lows. However we should no more emotionally jump from a growing market than we should from a declining one. As reacting emotionally to market volatility could be far more harmful to your portfolios performance, than the market drop itself.

Here’s something to remember

This interesting graph showing the Dimensional UK Market Index returns by year (from 1956 – 2018*), should help put things in some perspective. As we can see, the markets have provided positive returns for investors for 47 of the 62 years shown (that’s 75% of the time).

So whilst it is sometimes difficult to remain calm during a market decline, it is however important to remember that volatility really is a normal part of investing.

Investors, who do seem to be able to time the market, usually do so with more luck than judgment. With the general wisdom suggesting that the big returns in the total performance of individual stocks over time, are usually produced in a small handful of days.

As investors can never really accurately predict when these days will come along, the prudent strategy would seem to suggest that remaining invested during these periods of volatility, rather than abandoning the stocks, means that investors won’t be on the sidelines on the days when the strong returns occur.

 

Screen Shot 2019-09-23 at 19.53.06

In a changing market, knowledge is power

Hear are the most frequently investment questions I get asked in times of volatility:

I’ve been looking at funds with strong past performances; can I assume that they will do well in the future?
Whilst some investors are known for selecting mutual funds based on past returns, research suggests that most US mutual funds in the top 25% of previous five-year returns did not maintain that ranking in the following five years.

So the short answer would be: No, past performance is just that, history. It offers little insight into possible future performance.

Is being a successful investor all about out-thinking the market?
The short answer is to let the markets do the thinking for you. It’s a fair assumption that people want a positive return on any capital they invest. Over time history shows us that the equity and bond markets have provided growth of wealth that has more than offset inflation. So instead of fighting the markets and trying to out-think them, let them work for you. Remember, financial markets reward long-term investors.

Should I think of stepping out of the UK and exploring international investing?
It’s a good question. We all know that diversification can help reduce risks and that diversifying only within your home market limits that benefit. Not only does global diversification extend your investment opportunity; but by holding a globally diversified portfolio, you are better positioned to seek returns wherever they occur.

To give you an idea of the opportunity, according to MSCI UK and ACWI Investable Market Index (IMI), the UK is one country with 364 stocks; whilst the global opportunity for investments ranges across 47 countries with 8,722 stocks.

Will constantly changing my portfolio help me achieve better returns?
As it’s almost impossible to know what market segments will outperform the others, it’s better to avoid unnecessary changes that can be costly.

Can my emotions affect my investment decisions?

There is a vast body of psychological research that shows that we struggle to separate our emotions when investing our money. Just remember that markets go up and down. So kneejerk reactions are usually poor investment decisions.

Every time I hear the news, I’m tempted to make changes to my portfolio,
is that a good idea?

Day to day commentary can make us question our investment discipline. Some news will stir anxiety about the future, whilst other news tempts us to chase the latest faddy investments.

My advice is to always consider the source and to keep your long-term objectives in focus.

I feel like I need to do something – so, what should I be doing?

Get another perspective on things, especially and independent and expert one. Talk with your financial adviser who can help you focus on actions that add value.
Sticking to actions that you know you can control can certainly lead to a better investment experience.

  • Create an investment plan to fit your needs and risk tolerance.
  • Structure a portfolio along the dimensions of expected returns.
  • Diversify globally.
  • Manage expenses, turnover, and taxes.
  • Stay disciplined through market dips and swings.

Stay on mission

Neil and Buzz didn’t panic. They didn’t cancel the mission, because things looked tough. They trusted in the plan. They stuck to a pre-agreed course of action and rode out the challenges that faced them on the descent to their ultimate goal.

I totally appreciate that market volatility can be a nerve-racking time for investors. However, reacting with your emotions and altering long-term investment strategies could prove more harmful than helpful.

Sticking to a well-thought- out investment plan, ideally agreed upon in advance of these periods of volatility, you’ll be better prepared to remain calm during periods of short-term uncertainty.

As always, if you have any questions regarding your current or future investment strategies, then please contact us at Bridgewater Financial Services where we will be delighted to help.

* Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

 

Death And Taxes – The Top 10

As far back as 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy where he famously said…“in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

As both of these don’t appear to be going anywhere, even The Office of Tax Simplification (and yes, there really is one) has been conducting a review of how the Inheritance Tax (IHT) process can be improved.

No doubt this will take some time to conclude, but as there is a current spotlight on IHT, I thought I’d write something on the top ten areas of confusion, I am often asked to explain.

  1. Transferable nil rate band

Under the current system, introduced in 2009, the standard nil rate band is set at £325,000. However, when someone dies, their executors can claim the unused nil rate band form any spouse or civil partner who passed away before them. So this could mean that the deceased’s estate can climb to £625,000 before IHT is applied.

The amount you are allowed to utilise from former partners will be reduced if gifts were made to the partner, or other people, in the 7 years prior to their death. This in itself can be complex, as copies of original wills and grants of probate will be required to determine the gifts made, when claiming the allowance of a former partner.

  1. Residence Nil Rate Band (RNRB)

As things currently stand, there is an extra £125,000 (rising to £175,000 by 2020/21) nil rate band available when the family home passes to direct descendants. However if you don’t have children or grandchildren, then you cannot take advantage of this. Estates valued over £2 million can also lose all or part of this allowance.

If you have downsized, or sold your home to pay for residential care, or moved in with relatives, then you can still benefit from RNRB, despite the fact that there isn’t a physical property that is passing to your direct descendants. Just watch out for the complex adjustment calculations though, as they can be particularly complicated when a number of beneficiaries are involved, especially when they are not direct descendants.

  1. Pensions and IHT

Most of the time any lump sum death benefits from a pension scheme will be IHT free. However, if you are in poor health and you transfer benefits to another scheme, or pay contributions, or place buy-out plans or retirement annuity contracts in trust – then this can result in IHT becoming payable.

As long as you are healthy when you make these changes, then the value transferred will be nil. HMRC will also assume someone is in normal health if they survive the above actions by 2 years.

  1. Lifetime gifts – who pays the tax?

Gift giving can be a successful way to help avoid IHT, however any responsibility for IHT belongs to the gift recipient. So it’s worth reminding ourselves of the different scenarios that can arise.

Any gift to a spouse or civil partner is exempt from IHT. Gifts to others are free from IHT as long as the gift giver survives for 7 years after the gift is made. If they pass away before 7 years, then the gift becomes chargeable and is added back into the estate for IHT.

Gifts made into trusts are seen as Chargeable Lifetime Transfers (CLT’s) and can be complex and worth chatting to a qualified financial adviser about, especially as they can often lead to uncertainty as to who ultimately has the potential tax liability.

  1. CLTs and the ’14 year rule’

If there’s one area that creates questions it’s the way that gifts impact on one another, especially how a gift made up to 14 years ago can still have an effect upon the tax paid on subsequent gifts.

As all prior CLT’s will continue to reduce the nil rate band available to chargeable transfers within the 7 years before death. This means that any recipient of a gift 7 years before death may have tax to pay due to another transfer made up to 14 years before the person passed away.

  1. Taper relief

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that taper relief can reduce the value of a gift made within 7 years of a donor’s death, as it can’t. It simply reduces tax payable on the gift, but not the gift itself.

If the gift was made between 3 and 7 years before death, then taper relief is available, reducing the tax payable by 20% for each complete year from year 3 onwards.

  1. Gifts with reservation

To be effective for IHT, a gift must be just that – a real gift.

The donor can’t benefit from the outcome of the gift. For example if the donor continues to benefit from the gift of a property, then it will be classed as part of their estate. This means that you can’t give away your family home and continue to live there, unless you pay the full market rent to stay, or only part of the property is gifted and the co-owners share the running costs.

  1. Normal expenditure out of income

Regular gifts made out of surplus income are immediately exempt from IHT.

But what counts as income isn’t the same as taxable income and it’s well worth having a conversation with your financial adviser to fully understand the definition of income and to identify the opportunities available.

  1. Reduced rate for charitable trusts

Making any gift to charity in a will, where the gift is more than 10% of the net estate, will reduce the rate of IHT from 40% to 36%, if the will is carefully drafted to ensure the 10% test is met.
However, it’s worth noting that the amount given to the charity will always be greater than any tax saved.

  1. BPR – trading businesses

Business property relief (BPR) on a trading business is available for transfers of unlisted shares and the business property itself, if the property has been owned for 2 years or more prior to the transfer.

IHT can be complex – but great advice is always the best place to start.

I hope that I’ve shed some light into the complex workings of Inheritance Tax Planning. With the on-going focus upon the various aspects of IHT currently being undertaken by the Government, it may be worth consulting with your financial adviser to ensure that your IHT plans are up-to-date and conform with changes in legislation.

As always, here at Bridgewater Financial Services Ltd, we would be happy to answer any questions you may have, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

The psychological science behind our unique approach to your finances

Psychology is a wonderful thing and a little application of some of the science that sits behind all the great psychological theories can pay dividends in your financial life too. Allow me to explain.

Accordion to scientific studies, 90% of people do not realise I replaced the beginning of this sentence with an instrument.

That was just a little jolt to remind you that we are not always completely aware of what’s going on in our own brains, before we get into this light trip around motivation and goal fulfilment.

It’s fair to say that Psychology is a vast, complex and interesting area of study, with branches that reach into every possible aspect of the human condition. But what I want to talk to you about in this blog, is the idea of ‘Self-Actualisation’.

Abraham Maslow first proposed Self-Actualisation in 1943 when he proposed his motivational theory often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

Maslow suggests that we need to move through each individual level from the base up, resolving each one, to eventually reach a state of ‘Self Actualisation’.

Maslow

Put simply, the process involves us overcoming our needs in a hierarchical order. Each need (or motivation) sets drives in play that help us to overcome one stage and move onto the next. Eventually reaching fulfilment.

Maslow and your finances

Once you understand the basic principle of Maslow’s motivational theory, you can apply it to all areas of existence. At Bridgewater Financial Services, we apply this science, in conjunction with you, to your financial goals.

In the same way that the hierarchy of needs proposes a pathway through life, we believe that an individual’s financial needs can be identified and pursued along the same structure as Maslow proposed:

Step One – PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS
Where Maslow identifies the fundamentals for survival (hunger, thirst shelter), in financial terms we equate this to budgeting, healthy cash flow and an appraisal of the current financial situation.

Step Two – SAFETY NEEDS
Maslow points toward protection for life’s unpredictable events (accidents, ill health). Financially this would equate to insurance, protection and provision for loved ones.

Step Three – BELONGINGNESS
Here Maslow identifies our striving for acceptance in our intimate relationships with our family and peers. Ultimately being resolves once we feel that we are an important person to those significant others. Financially speaking this is manifest in short and long term savings plans as well as pension provisions and legacy planning. In short, all those things we do for the future benefit of our family and ourselves.

Step Four – ESTEEM
According to Maslow, this is what motivates us to achieve high standing compared to our peers, driven along by a need for prestige and status. Financially speaking this is where we focus upon investment portfolios, creating a financial independence and non-reliance upon salary. It’s where we build upon existing wealth and protect against future financial uncertainty.

Step Five – SELF-ACTUALIZATION
This is the pinnacle of the journey of self. The reaching of one’s full potential. In terms of your financial self, this is complete financial security, which may lead to an onward exploration of philanthropic activities.

A clear path to follow

Maslow clearly lays out his pathway to self-actualisation, which depends upon each stage having been achieved before we can hope to conquer the next. It’s an established psychological principal for the drives and motivations of individuals and has found a place in many applied aspects of psychology.

Likewise, the principal of motivation and the striving for self-actualisation have found a place in our company’s unique approach. We call it “The Values Discussion” It’s a unique approach we use with every new client. It helps quickly identify the exact stage you’re at financially and the best way to achieve your goals.

As we believe that financial planning is inexorably linked to individual motivations and desires. Just as psychological goals progress in Maslow’s theory, we believe financial goals follow an established order too. Once one set have been achieved and imbedded into your financial status, then a new set of goals present themselves. It’s also vitally important that these are approached in the correct order. Just as the process of self-actualisation shows us a clear and linear path through the stages, there is also a linear path that should be followed in our striving for financial nirvana.

Your financial journey is also not something that can be shortcut. When you build a house, you start with the foundations and work your way up to the roof. You can’t hope to put the roof on a structure that hasn’t already been built with strong walls.

The same is true concerning your finances. If you would like to learn more about how our unique approach can significantly benefit you, then please get in touch.

If however you’re looking for a cure for your fear of spiders, then sorry that’s not us. But we would suggest you Google ‘Arachnophobia’ and ‘systematic desensitisation therapy’ around the topic of operant conditioning.

Making sense of Capital Gains Tax and your Property 2017 – 2018

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) is a complex area to dip into, so here I’ve tried to give a brief
explanation for the normal situations that many of us face, broken down into the following
sections:

When you don’t have to pay Capital Gains Tax
When you are eligible to pay Capital Gains Tax
How much you will have to pay?
What if you have a second residential property?
Letting relief and Capital Gains Tax
Capital Gains Tax on inherited homes
Capital Gains Tax on gifted homes
Capital Gains Tax Liabilities for UK Non-Residents
Capital Gains Tax on investments
Claiming Entrepreneurs’ Relief against Capital Gains Tax

As always, our advice is to seek clarification on any issues from your Financial Adviser.

When you don’t have to pay Capital Gains Tax.

If you are selling your own home (main place of residence) then the good news is, that it’s
very unlikely that you will need to pay CGT as you will benefit from 'Private Residence Relief'.
If however you are selling a home that you currently rent out, or you are selling a second
home, then CGT may become applicable. That said, there are a number of ways you may be
able to reduce your CGT bill through letting relief or by nominating which of your homes you
wish to be viewed as tax-free.

When you are eligible to pay Capital Gains Tax.

Although not an exclusive list, below are the most common scenarios that activate CGT on a
property sale:

• It is not your main place of residence
• You have developed your home. For example you may have converted part of it into flats
• You have sold part of your garden, where your total plot, including the area you are selling,
is more than half a hectare (1.2 acres)
• You exclusively make use of part of your home for business
• You let out all or part of your home. This doesn’t include having a lodger. To count someone
as a lodger you need to be living in the property too, or they are classed as a tenant
• You moved out of your property 18 months ago
• You bought the property for the purpose of renovating it and selling it on

How much you will have to pay?

The CGT rates for 2017 – 2018 state that when you sell a property, you are allowed to keep a
proportion of the profits tax-free. This is called your Capital Gains Tax Allowance.
In the 2017 – 2018 tax year, you can make a profit of £11,300 before you have to pay CGT.

With basic rate taxpayers paying 18% CGT on property sales over this profit allowance.
Whilst higher-rate and additional-rate taxpayers will have to pay 28%.

What if you have a second residential property?

As long as you haven’t bought your second home with the sole intention of selling it in order
to make a profit, and you use it, then you can nominate which of your two homes will be tax-
free. Just make sure you make the nomination before the two-year deadline from the time you
acquire your new home.

It’s worth noting that the property you nominate doesn’t have to be the one where you live
most of the time. So it makes sense to pick the one you expect to make the largest gain on
when you come to sell.

Civil partners and married couples can only nominate one main home between them, but
unmarried couples can each nominate different homes.

Letting relief and Capital Gains Tax.

Providing the property has been your main home at some point, and you have let out either
all or a part of your home, then you can claim tax relief in the form of Private Residence Relief
for the time it was your main residence, along with the last 18 months of ownership. You can
even claim if you weren't living in the property during those 18 months.

You may also be able to further reduce your capital gains tax bill by claiming Letting Relief.
However, you can't claim Private Residence Relief and Letting Relief for the same period.
The amount of letting relief you can claim will be the lowest of these three:

• £40,000
• The total you receive from the letting proportion of the home
• The total Private Residence Relief you get

Capital Gains Tax on inherited homes.

When someone leaves you their home in their will, you inherit the property at the market
value at the time of their death.

As there is no CGT payable on death, the value of the home is included in the estate and
inheritance tax may be payable instead.

If you sell the property without nominating it as your own home, you won’t be able to claim
Private Residence Relief, so there will be CGT to pay if the value has increase between the
date of death and the date of the sale.

Capital Gains Tax on gifted homes.

If the property is gifted to you during the owner’s lifetime (while they are still living there), this
is termed as a ‘gift with reservation’ and essentially means it still counts for inheritance tax
when the gift giver passes away.

So there will be CGT to pay when you sell the home if the value has increase between the
date of the gift and the date of the sale.

Capital Gains Tax Liabilities for UK Non-Residents.

Unfortunately, being an expat or non-resident in the UK no longer avoids CGT duties. Since
April 2015 British expats and non-residents are required to report the sale or disposal of
properties to HMRC. With the CGT being payable on gains made after 5 April 2015.

Please be aware that you must inform HMRC within 30 days after the ownership transfer
date, even if there is zero tax to pay.

Capital Gains Tax on investments.

Making regular investments is often seen as the smartest way to get into the stock market.
However it can present some challenges if you decide to partially sell your investments. If you
are completely liquidating your portfolio, then the CGT is straightforward – being the total
amount paid into the fund deducted from the proceeds of the final sale gives you the size of
your capital gain. With anything exceeding the £11,100 CGT limit becoming liable at your tax
rate.

It’s when you only liquidate part of your investments that things can become complicated. As
a rule of thumb, if you have bought units at a variety of prices over a period of time, then you
will need to work out the average price per share. You can then calculate your investment
against your gain. Again your financial adviser can help you with this.

Liquidating funds often allows investors to ‘Bed and ISA’. Where investments that are held
outside an ISA are sold and then the same investments are bought back within an ISA
avoiding CGT in the future.

Claiming Entrepreneurs’ Relief against Capital Gains Tax.

Business owners who are selling all or part of their business can claim Entrepreneurs’ Relief
(ER) on the sale and reduce their tax liability to 10% on all qualifying gains.

The main qualifications for ER, are if you dispose of any of the following:

• All or part of your business, including the business’s assets, once it has been closed
– either as a sole trader or business partner
• Shares or securities in a company where you have at least 5% of shares and voting
rights
• Shares you got through an Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) scheme after 5
April 2013
• Assets you lent to your business or personal company
Once again, this is not an exclusive list and further information can be found here

If you have any questions regarding Capital Gains Tax

As always, if you are in any doubts as to your current situation, or potential CGT obligations,
then you should consult a financial adviser. You are welcome to contact us where we
will be happy to help answer any questions you may have.