Tag: bridgewater financial

20-20 vision for your finances

Happy 2020!

We’ve just stepped into a new decade and all the surprises that brings. But as we set off on the next chapter, I always think that the exciting thing is the uncertainty. Yes we know some things are definitely going to happen, like most of our New Year’s resolutions will fall by the wayside, the UK will leave the EU and that we’ll all get older and hopefully a little wiser. 

However when it comes to the markets, we can’t know for sure how they are likely to impact our personal finances. Having said that, we do have the next best thing available to us; our ability to review and amend!

Whatever your long-term plans may be, now is the time to review how the last year or two has performed for you and to put yourself in the right position to take full advantage of the financial opportunities now available. A review of your Savings, Estate Planning, Insurance Covers, Investments and Pensions now will allow you to make any changes and tweaks in your finances in order to make sure that you reach the end of the 2020’s in the financial position that you set out to achieve.

Now’s the perfect time to inspect an ISA

If you don’t currently have an ISA in your portfolio, then can I suggest that you add one to your list of things to consider this year.

It’s a great tax-efficient way of approaching investments, as your returns are free of income and capital gains tax. You can invest in an ISA up to a limit of £20,000 of which £4,000 can be paid into a LISA (for those eligible). 

As the annual deadline for ISA’s is 5 April 2020, this means that you potentially have two bites of the cherry available to you throughout 2020. By that I mean that you can currently take advantage of the ISA Tax-free opportunity for the remaining of the tax year, plus you can then do the same again on 6 April 2020. Please don’t leave it too late though, as some providers take several working days to process new ISAs, so leaving things until the beginning of April may mean you miss the closing deadline.

Take a look at a LPA And Will

The chances are that you could be amongst over 50% of the UK adults, including many in their 50’s and 60’s, who don’t currently have a Will in place. If that’s the case, could I respectfully suggest that writing one really should be high on your financial agenda for 2020. 

Whilst you may already have a Will in place, or high on your ‘To Do’ list, can I also prompt you to consider Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), as incapacity often strikes without warning. Which means that sorting out a LPA can save your estate and it’s beneficiaries considerable costs and avoid unnecessary and lengthy delays.

If this all sounds a bit daunting, please be assured that putting Will and a LPA in place is nowhere near as difficult or costly as many people think. If you are unsure regarding whom to approach to best sort these things out, then start by contacting us. We can easily arrange Wills and LPAs through our sister company Bridgewater Wealth Protection www.bridgewaterwp.com

If you do already have a Will or LPA, then please take this reminder as an opportunity to review it. Checking that it is up to date and that it reflects your current wishes.

Improve your Insurance

Even if you have insurance covers in place, now is an opportune time to review things. Our advice would be to just make sure that each plan covers you for everything you need and that the costs are correct. Your circumstances may well have changed since you took any cover out. If that’s the case, then it’s critical that you ensure you are covered for all you require and that there are no plans available that could provide better cover and possibly a lower premium too.

The wrong product can end up costing you a great deal of unnecessary expense and stress, so please take the time to review and compare cover options.

Investigate your Investments

After a bumpy year (The Queen’s words, not mine) in politics and the markets, now is an excellent time to take stock and to just check that your investment strategy is on course to achieve your goals. 

An excellent starting point would be the latest report regarding your mutual funds. There you can check to make sure that they still match your appetite for risk and that you are also happy with where your money is being invested.


A good tip, for when you consider your investments, especially when thinking about your exposure to risk, is to always include your pension, ISA’s funds and stocks together. Do this even when the funds are spread around different accounts and investment products, that way you will get a better feel for your overall portfolio.

Peer into your pension

Lastly and certainly not least, is your pension. 

Your pension is one of the most valuable assets you can have, yet it often gets overlooked; and I feel that more often than not, we don’t give pensions the attention that they deserve. 

Regular reviews of your Pension makes excellent financial sense, especially as legislation has changed massively in the last few years. So if you haven’t recently reviewed your pension position, then now would be a very good moment to do so.

During your review, ask yourself the following questions:

• Are the level of your contributions correct? Too little could leave you
wanting in retirement and too much could create problems with your
Reduced Lifetime Allowance
• Does the strategy still fit with your time horizon, changes in your current
situation or attitudes to your investment risk?
• Is your pension scheme up to date and able to take advantage of the new
pension freedoms, or is it an older scheme that can’t benefit?
• Does your pension fit with your retirement and estate planning?
• If your pension is a Final Salary Scheme, then with the increases in
transfer values, is it worth requesting a transfer value and restructuring
the pension?

Although this isn’t every question you should ask, they are certainly questions you should know the answers to, if you want to ensure that your pension is in the best place it can be.

We’re here to help whenever you need us

Although no one can see into the future, having a close look at your finances now is the difference between approaching 2020 with a clear financial strategy or setting yourself up for a cry of ‘I should have gone to Specsavers’ later in the year! 

I hope that this blog goes someway to starting the new financial year off on the right foot. If however there is something specific you would like to talk to us about regarding your plans, then please get in touch with us at Bridgewater Financial Services, where we will be delighted to help guide you through your individual options and strategies.

Wishing you all a Happy and Prosperous 2020.

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.

Brexit …

Brexit becomes reality and the markets react with heavy selling of risk assets, particularly British and European stocks and the pound. The fears have materialised and the issue is taking its toll on investment portfolios. That said, the worst thing an investor can do at the moment is acting based on emotions rather than careful analysis of the situation. With the extreme levels of volatility that we are seeing now, a bad decision can have very costly consequences.

Market Volatility

The markets’ reaction can be best observed on the pound’s exchange rate against the dollar. In the last days before the referendum, it appreciated from 1.40 to 1.50 (7%), as polls started to predict a narrow Remain victory. This morning after the actual outcome it dropped to 1.32 (12% down), but at the time of writing this article it is trading around 1.39 (5% up from the morning low). Similar volatility can be observed on stock prices (British, European and worldwide), commodities and other assets.

The Market’s Reaction Is Not Unusual

While the fact of Britain leaving the EU is unprecedented and extraordinary, the way the markets react to the decision is not unusual. It is similar to the way markets react to other surprising outcomes of scheduled events, such as central bank interest rate decisions or (on the individual stock level) company results. We see a sharp initial move triggered by the surprising outcome (this morning’s lows), followed by corrections and swings to both sides, as the market tries to digest further information that is gradually coming in and establish a new equilibrium level. These swings (although perhaps less extreme than today) will most likely continue for the next days and weeks.

What We Know and What We Don’t

At the moment the actual effects of Brexit on the economy are impossible to predict – we will only know several years from now. Even the timeline of next steps is unclear. The only thing we know is that David Cameron is stepping down as PM (that means succession talks and some internal political uncertainty in the coming months) and that the process of negotiations of the actual EU exit terms will be started in the next days or weeks.

We don’t know what the new UK-EU treaties will look like. There are some possible models, like Switzerland or Norway, but Britain’s situation is unique in many ways. We can also expect the British vote to trigger substantial changes within the EU, as the first reactions of EU representatives have indicated; therefore we don’t know who exactly we will be negotiating with. In any case, this is not the end of trade between the UK and EU countries. The EU can’t afford to not trade with the UK or apply punitive protectionist measures against us.

Where Will the Markets Go Now?

Under these circumstances, no one can predict where stocks or the pound will be one month from now or one year from now. Nevertheless, for a long-term investor, such as someone saving for their pension, these short time horizons don’t really matter. If you invest for 10 years or longer, our view is that you don’t need to fear the impact of yesterday’s vote. Leaving the EU might take a few percentage points from the UK’s GDP and from stock returns, but in the long run it won’t change the trend of economic growth, which has been in place for centuries.

The greatest risk that the Brexit decision represents for a long-term investor is not what the market will do. In any case, it will recover sooner or later. The main risk is the investor acting on emotions, under pressure and without careful analysis of all consequences. The investors who lost the most money in past market crashes such as in 1987, 1997 or 2008 were those who panicked and sold at the worst moment, when it seemed like the economy and the financial system was going to collapse. Those who were able to take a long-term perspective and stayed invested have seen their investments recover and even surpass previous levels.

Our Recommendation

We recognise that this is a momentous event and it will take time to fully digest the implications. For now, it is important that investors maintain their disciplined approach and do not act in haste to sell off their investments. This would only serve to crystallise losses which currently only exist on paper. We recommend that they sit tight unless their goals have materially changed. We also ask them to note that we are not taking this lightly and will be maintaining our portfolio structures under review in accordance with our overall investment philosophy. If we judge that changes need to be made we will provide advice as appropriate and this will be dealt with as part of our normal review process.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

The Seven Roles of an Advisor

What is a financial advisor for? One view is that advisors have unique insights into market direction that give their clients an advantage. But of the many roles a professional advisor should play, soothsayer is not one of them.

The truth is that no-one knows what will happen next in investment markets. And if anyone really did have a working crystal ball, it is unlikely they would be plying their trade as an advisor, a broker, an analyst or a financial journalist.

Some folk may still think an advisor’s role is to deliver them market-beating returns year after year. Generally, those are the same people who believe good advice equates to making accurate forecasts.

But in reality, the value a professional advisor brings is not dependent on the state of markets. Indeed, their value can be even more evident when volatility, and emotions, are running high.

The best of this new breed play multiple and nuanced roles with their clients, beginning with the needs, risk appetites and circumstances of each individual and irrespective of what is going on in the world.

None of these roles involves making forecasts about markets or economies. Instead, the roles combine technical expertise with an understanding of how money issues intersect with the rest of people’s complex lives.

Indeed, there are at least seven hats an advisor can wear to help clients without ever once having to look into a crystal ball:

The expert: Now, more than ever, investors need advisors who can provide client-centred expertise in assessing the state of their finances and developing risk-aware strategies to help them meet their goals.

The independent voice: The global financial turmoil of recent years demonstrated the value of an independent and objective voice in a world full of product pushers and salespeople.

The listener: The emotions triggered by financial uncertainty are real. A good advisor will listen to clients’ fears, tease out the issues driving those feelings and provide practical long-term answers.

The teacher: Getting beyond the fear-and-flight phase often is just a matter of teaching investors about risk and return, diversification, the role of asset allocation and the virtue of discipline.

The architect: Once these lessons are understood, the advisor becomes an architect, building a long-term wealth management strategy that matches each person’s risk appetites and lifetime goals.

The coach: Even when the strategy is in place, doubts and fears inevitably will arise. The advisor at this point becomes a coach, reinforcing first principles and keeping the client on track.

The guardian: Beyond these experiences is a long-term role for the advisor as a kind of lighthouse keeper, scanning the horizon for issues that may affect the client and keeping them informed.
These are just seven valuable roles an advisor can play in understanding and responding to clients’ whole-of-life needs that are a world away from the old notions of selling product off the shelf or making forecasts.

For instance, a person may first seek out an advisor purely because of their role as an expert. But once those credentials are established, the main value of the advisor in the client’s eyes may be as an independent voice.

Knowing the advisor is independent—and not plugging product—can lead the client to trust the advisor as a listener or a sounding board, as someone to whom they can share their greatest hopes and fears.

From this point, the listener can become the teacher, the architect, the coach and ultimately the guardian. Just as people’s needs and circumstances change over time, so the nature of the advice service evolves.

These are all valuable roles in their own right and none is dependent on forces outside the control of the advisor or client, such as the state of the investment markets or the point of the economic cycle.

However you characterise these various roles, good financial advice ultimately is defined by the patient building of a long-term relationship founded on the values of trust and independence and knowledge of each individual.

Now, how can you put a price on that?

Gravel Road Investing

Owners of all-purpose motor vehicles often appreciate their cars most when they leave smooth city freeways for rough gravel country roads. In investment, highly diversified portfolios can provide similar reassurance.

In blue skies and open highways, flimsy city sedans might cruise along just as well as sturdier sports utility vehicles. But the real test of the vehicle occurs when the road and weather conditions deteriorate.

That’s why people who travel through different terrains often invest in a SUV that can accommodate a range of environments, but without sacrificing too much in fuel economy, efficiency and performance.

Structuring an appropriate portfolio involves similar decisions. You need an allocation that can withstand a range of investment climates while being mindful of fees and taxes.

When certain sectors or stocks are performing strongly, it can be tempting to chase returns in one area. But if the underlying conditions deteriorate, you can end up like a motorist with a flat on a desert road and without a spare.

Likewise, when the market performs badly, the temptation might be to hunker down completely. But if the investment skies brighten and the roads improve, you can risk missing out on better returns elsewhere.

One common solution is to shift strategies according to the climate. But this is a tough, and potentially costly, challenge. It is the equivalent of keeping two cars in the garage when you only need one. You’re paying double the insurance, double the registration and double the upkeep costs.

An alternative is to build a single diversified portfolio. That means spreading risk in a way that helps ensure your portfolio captures what global markets have to offer while reducing unnecessary risks. In any one period, some parts of the portfolio will do well. Others will do poorly. You can’t predict which. But that is the point of diversification.

Now, it is important to remember that you can never completely remove risk in any investment. Even a well-diversified portfolio is not bulletproof. We saw that in 2008-09 when there were broad losses in markets.

But you can still work to minimise risks you don’t need to take. These include exposing your portfolio unduly to the influences of individual stocks or sectors or countries or relying on the luck of the draw.

An example is those people who made big bets on mining stocks in recent years or on technology stocks in the late 1990s. These concentrated bets might pay off for a little while, but it is hard to build a consistent strategy out of them. And those fads aren’t free. It’s hard to get your timing right and it can be costly if you’re buying and selling in a hurry.

By contrast, owning a diversified portfolio is like having an all-weather, all-roads, fuel-efficient vehicle in your garage. This way you’re smoothing out some of the bumps in the road and taking out the guesswork.

Because you can never be sure which markets will outperform from year to year, diversification increases the reliability of the outcomes and helps you capture what the global markets have to offer.

Add discipline and efficient implementation to the mix and you get a structured solution that is both low-cost and tax-efficient.

Just as expert engineers can design fuel-efficient vehicles for all conditions, astute financial advisors know how to construct globally diversified portfolios to help you capture what the markets offer in an efficient way while reducing the influence of random forces.

There will be rough roads ahead, for sure. But with the right investment vehicle, the ride will be a more comfortable one.

Article by

Jim Parker, Vice President, Dimensional Fund Advisers