Tag: Independent Financal Advice

Social Care & Wealth Protection

What we gain on the swings needs to remain with us on the roundabouts

There are some interesting things afoot in the world of personal taxation. With two seemingly separate, but intertwined, taxes that all of us should be thinking about.

They are the freeze on Inheritance Tax (IHT) and the 1.25% levy and dividend tax the Prime Minister has just introduced to help fix social care. With hidden connections and implications that could directly affect your estate.

The cap on social care may generate some unforeseen problems for your estate

In order to help pay for on-going social care, on 7 September the Prime Minister announced an increase in the Dividend Rates in line with the 1.25% increase in National Insurance. This new levy will apply to everyone in work, including pensioners who had previously been exempt from NI payments after reaching state pension age.

The other significant announcement was that, coming into effect in October 2023, there will be an £86,000 cap on the cost of social care that any one person should pay during in their lifetime.

Until an individual reaches that cap, anyone with more than £100,000 in assets will be responsible for paying all their own care costs. Whilst those with assets between £100,000 and £20,000 will have their care partly subsidised, via local councils. With any individual with assets lower than £20,000 having all care costs paid for them.

While this is a long awaited reform to the current challenges concerning the funding of social care, it may have an unwelcomed knock-on effect regarding IHT.

It’s a stealthy attack on the wealthy

Retaining more of our assets could result in an increasing IHT liability.

The IHT nil rate freeze has resulted in the Government’s most recent Inheritance Tax receipts growing by £500 Million between April and July 2021. That’s a massive 33% up on the same period for 2020.

The reason for this dramatic increase in IHT revenues is simple. Whilst the IHT rate has stayed the same, asset values have continued to grow. This has been fuelled by increases in house prices, along with raises in the investment markets as the world’s economies come out of the Pandemic.

The hidden impact of this asset growth is that many of us will become unknowingly entangled in the Chancellor’s IHT net, as thresholds are silently crossed.

Add to that the impact of the Social Care cap and you’ll begin to realise why a refocusing on your IHT position is long overdue.

In an ever-changing landscape, reviews are essential

Just because there are no changes due to the IHT rate until April 2026 at the earliest, don’t fall into the trap of believing there is nothing to do with regard to IHT planning.

The increase of £0.5 Billion being collected in IHT should set the alarm bells ringing.

With the supercharged 10.2% increase in assets from March 2020-2021, that the housing market has caused, combined with the lack of access to one to one IHT planning with a financial expert, the pandemic has created the perfect storm for IHT.

As we emerge, blinking into the sunlight of the post-pandemic lockdown, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate the protection of your wealth. Not just from IHT and other stealth taxes, but also from other misfortunes that can befall your heirs, including the payment of care fees.

Depending upon your own unique circumstances, there will be all sorts of options available for you to consider. It may be as simple as revisiting your will and your gifting allowances. You may even want to explore setting up Trusts or making better use of your Pension.

According to Financial Service Industry data, in the past fiscal year alone, just 10% of clients have mitigated their IHT position. That means 90% of us are unaware that our IHT position may urgently need specialist advice to help avoid unnecessary payments. With many people unknowingly generating a large IHT legacy, because they are unaware of the impact of asset growth and don’t consider themselves as rich enough to worry about IHT.

The impact of care fees on those with estates below the IHT threshold, even allowing for the recently announced cap, can be even more severe than IHT, which only applies at 40% on joint estates over £650,000.

Protecting your wealth from IHT or care fees starts with a phone call to us. If you have any questions regarding how any of this could impact upon you, then please don’t hesitate to contact one of our team at Bridgewater Financial Services. One of our independent experts will be on hand to help in any way.

Goodbye 2020… Hello Brexit!

As we say goodbye to 2020, we usually look back and take stock of the events that have unfolded in the last 12 months. Well, I think we’ve all had a pretty miserable year, so let’s look forward instead. But let’s do that with this maxim in mind…

Plan for the worst, but hope for the best! 

This particular piece of wisdom comes from Maya Angelou’s book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” With the actual quote being
“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”
Which seems incredibly apt considering what we’ve been through and what we currently face.

With this in mind, this article concentrates on what the new Brexit deal might specifically mean to your finances. So once you’ve read this, hopefully you’ll be ‘unsurprised by those things in between’.

A flying start to your holiday?

The one massive ray of sunshine gleaming down the tunnel, is the vaccination program that should see us all safely immunised against Covid-19 by around Easter. This of course opens up foreign travel and holidays once more. So if you’re worried about the effect Brexit may have on the value of your pound abroad, then there’s a simple strategy you can follow to help reduce the impact of Sterling possibly dropping in value.

It’s important to remember that no one knows what the effect on the pound will be. It could end up stronger, weaker or it may stay the same. However, if you’re worried about it’s value against foreign currency for upcoming holidays, then follow this strategy. Purchase at least half of what you need at the best rate you can find today. Then get the rest nearer the time of travel.

Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

EHICs will remain valid until their expiry date with a new and similar Global Health Insurance Card eventually replace the old EHICs.

Currently your (EHIC) entitles you to the same treatment as the locals are entitled to throughout the EU and includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

It was expected that the EHIC cover would end after Brexit. However things aren’t as bad as we all expected. If you are a UK national, then you can continue to use your EHIC card in the EU, until it expires, which may be years away. However, you will not be able to use your EHIC in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, as they are not part of the EU.

Once your EHIC card expires, a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) will replace it, but you must apply for this new card. Holders of the GHIC will be entitled to emergency or state required medical care for the same cost as a resident in the EU country. Again your GHIC will not cover you in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. 

£85,000 Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS)

Any deposits you have with UK regulated banks will still be protected for up to £85,000 per person per financial institution, under the current FSCS protections.

It’s been widely reported that Financial Services has yet to be negotiated and is not included in the current Brexit deal. Which means that much of the UK’s financial service’s legislation comes from EU directives, with the FSCS continuing post-Brexit and post the transition period. 

There are no significant changes expected to the FSCS, with the only thing that might alter being the amount covered. This is because EU rules state that all member states must provide €100,000 protection and currency fluctuations may cause changes in the current UK amount of £85,000.

Expat Pensions and Bank Accounts

The current system known as ‘Passporting’, where any UK or EU financial firm (including those in Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) can offer their products and services to UK customers and Expats has now stopped.

If you are an Expat, this means that UK IFAs can NO LONGER advise you based upon their UK authorisation. As they now have to also hold an EU authorisation.

If you are an Expat with a UK based Private Personal Pension or bank account, you may also have a problems obtaining service and advice, due to the failure of the government to negotiate any aspects of Financial Services during the recent trade deal.

Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA)

Post Brexit the UK will remain part of a key Euro payments system. Which means that payment service providers based in the UK will still have access to the central payments infrastructure such as SEPA. So those of you who wish to make cross border payments will be able to continue doing so, at the current low costs or free of charge where applicable.

Slightly closer to home – your Mortgage & Savings rates

One happy or sad result of Brexit, depending on whether you’re a mortgage customer or a saver, is that the Bank of England dropped interest rates to 0.25% following the EU referendum result, in the hope of holding off a recession.

Right now, because of the pandemic it’s at its lowest rate ever, at just 0.1%.

It has been reported that the Bank of England recently did an exercise with UK banks to check they could cope with negative interest rates; and there’s little doubt that, even with our new deal, Brexit is likely to fuel this further.

However, even if the short-term impact of negative interest rates is detrimental to the economy, it pales into insignificance when we stop to count the financial cost of fighting the pandemic.

As always, rather than second-guessing the shifting economic sands, it may be better to simply focus upon your own personal circumstances. Make sure that you have the best mortgage and savings rates possible and hopefor the best, prepare for the worst, and try not to be surprised by anything in between.

As always, if you have any questions regarding any aspects of your finances in general, then please don’t hesitate to contact one of our team at Bridgewater Financial Services; where one of our independent experts will be on hand to help in any way.

 

Stay Safe!

How safe is your cash post Brexit?

The impact of Brexit on Financial Services and the FS Compensation Scheme

As we stand right now (December 2020) The UK is leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 December 2020. EU law will continue to apply to the UK financial services regulations through the existing agreement for UK firms to do business throughout the EU without obtaining further financial services authorisation (something known as Passporting) until then. 

Passporting has allowed firms authorised in the European Economic Area (EEA) to conduct business within the EEA based upon member state authorisation. The FCA has given guidance to firms that we should NOT expect these current arrangements to remain in place once the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. As current negotiations regarding a trade deal never included any discussions regarding financial services, you should assume that any financial interests you may have abroad, will no longer be protected by the FSCS once passporting arrangements between the UK and the EU end.

You may need to take action, in order to be ready and protected following Brexit. Which is why I have outlined a number of likely scenarios that UK customer with funds invested in EU jurisdictions may be facing. Obviously this also applies to EU citizens with funds invested in the UK.

Either way, there are things you may wish to consider to ensure that you and your money remain protected from 1 January 2021 onwards. 

Financial Services Compensation Scheme post Brexit

The FSCS is there to provide protection and compensation to customers or investors of authorised financial services companies that fail or go out of business.

For UK based customers of firms authorised in the UK, the FSCS will not change post Brexit. However, for customers and/or firms based in the EEA (including Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland) there maybe changes to the protection and compensation available. 

Deposit Protection with the FSCS

Protection via the FSCS will depend upon where the firm in question is authorised and which jurisdiction the firm uses to hold your deposits. My advice is to check with the firm for more information. In order to find where a financial services provider is based or authorised, the Financial Services Register is a good place to start,

Any deposits held in a UK branch of an EEA bank will be covered by the FSCS and your funds will be protected up to £85,000 post Brexit.
Deposits held in UK branches of firms based in Gibraltar are seen differently and are not covered by the FSCS; and will continue to be the responsibility of the Gibraltar Deposit Guarantee Scheme.  

Deposit Protection outside of the FSCS

At 11pm GMT on 31 December 2020, any FSCS deposit protection for funds held in EEA branches of UK firms will cease.

Although there should be an automatic transition to protection provided by an EEA deposit guarantee scheme. However this will be dependent upon the specific rules that apply to each EEA jurisdiction. Any change in, or loss of, protection should be notified to customers by firms prior to this date, but it’s always worth being proactive and checking things out yourself. 

Post Brexit, anyone with funds in EEA-authorised firms within the EEA will see no changes in their current deposit protection, as laid out in the EEA deposit guarantee scheme. 

Further information is available by contacting the firms in question, or visiting www.efdi.eu/full-members for a full list of EEA deposit protection schemes. 

Investment protections covered by the FSCS

If you are currently a UK based customer of an EEA authorised investment firm that operates within the UK, then you are currently protected by EEA compensation schemes.  Following Brexit, the protection that the FSCS provides will be extended to customers of EEA firms with UK branches; in the same way that cover is currently provided to customers of UK firms.  

However, it’s important to note that all customers of EEA authorised firms without a UK branch will no longer have access to the FSCS. The only exception is where there is already established FSCS cover for the operations and activities of certain fund managers. If you are in any doubt, my advice would be to contact your provider and find out for sure if your investments are covered by a relevant compensatory scheme.

Whether you live in the UK or the EEA,customers of a UK branch or of a UK authorised investment firm, will continue to benefit from the protection provided by the FSCS pre and post Brexit. This is because the FSCS has no residency requirements in order for investors to qualify for cover.

Investments no longer covered by the FSCS

If you are a customer of a local EEA branch of an existing UK authorised investment firm then you may not be protected by the FSCS post Brexit.

It is probable that the FSCS will not protect customers of defaulting (insolvent) EEA branches of UK authorised firms after 31 December 2020.

However, you may be protected by the local jurisdiction’s investor compensation scheme, but it may not provide the same protections as the existing FSCS scheme (up to £85,000 of cover). If you are in any doubt, please contact the provider and seek clarification prior to the Brexit deadline.

As always, if you have any questions regarding current FSCS protections, or if you have any questions regarding any aspect of your finances, then please don’t hesitate to contact one of our team at Bridgewater Financial Services; where one of our independent experts will be on hand to help in any way.

Stay safe

 

 

 

Annuities and the importance of advice

I wonder how many of them Google a medical cure too!

Now I’m all for us being self-empowered and sorting things out ourselves when and where we can, but I recently read a report by Aegon, who have found that a startling 10% of people do not consult an adviser when converting retirement savings into an income.

As an independent financial adviser with a pensions specialism, I find that statistic to be quite alarming. Firstly I can’t imagine why people wouldn’t seek professional independent advice on something as critical as their future financial wellbeing. Secondly, I am reminded of the phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know”. So how on earth are they sure that they are doing the right thing and that they have really been through ALL of the available options? It’s a little like me assuming that my soar throat can only be tonsillitis and setting about watching YouTube footage of a DIY tonsillectomy. When seeking professional medical advice would be the only sensible course of action I should take. 

You can’t put the genie back in the bottle

The choices you face when considering your retirement options are vast. Decumulation, or the drawing down of investments, requires a considered approach. Especially, as in the case of annuities, once the choice is made it cannot be reversed or repealed at a later date. It really does demand a serious and in-depth understanding of what is and isn’t available to you, as well as advice on the best course of action to meet your existing and future requirements.

A DIY approach to something this critically important is nothing short of foolhardiness.

History is playing a part

According to Aegon’s global retirement study, there are some worrying factors at play. It’s unfortunate that a traditional annuity currently offers lower levels of guaranteed income than it may once have done. This in turn has fed an increasing demand for drawing down the investment as a lump sum, without seeking professional financial advice. Now even if you don’t come to Bridgewater, can I please ask that you DO go somewhere to seek professional advice? As this needs to be carefully planned with a full understanding of the wide range of investments decisions, choices and potential pitfalls that clients face.

In short, you need expert guidance.

It seems to be a British problem

The global report found that UK savers view annuities as far less appealing than our European counterparts. With just 28% of UK workers wanting to convert their savings into an Annuity, compared to 47% of Netherland’s workers, 44% of German workers and 42% of Spanish workers who all favour this route.

All of which, according to the report, puts UK workers at a much higher risk of suffering from a poor outcome during retirement.

With age comes some wisdom

One upside of the report is that it suggests that those closest to retirement age (60-69 years), seemed to be far more financially literate than their younger contemporaries.

Having said that, only 43% (significantly less than half), were able to properly answer all of the questions asked in the survey. So there is still some worrying lack of knowledge amongst those just about to retire.

Just to put this into some sort of context, the report was compiled from research carried out online between 28 January and 24 February 2020 amongst 14,400 workers and 1,600 retired people across 15 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The survey was conducted online between January 28 and February 24, 2020.

There is an acknowledgement that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented financial challenges for everyone, particularly for those facing retirement. Not the least because interest rates have remained at rock bottom, with the prospect of an annuity delivering
all-time low returns understandably unappealing. However, decisions are being driven by these factors and outcomes are now being reached that will have a direct impact upon the quality of people’s retirements, without them seeking any expert advice.

The report itself concludes: “People often assume that taking a DIY approach and managing financial decisions themselves will be fine, but the findings of our financial literacy test suggests there are huge risks in taking complex decisions alone. While advice has to be paid for, the cost of not taking it ahead of some of life’s greatest financial decisions could be far higher.”

My advice is.. to get some!

If you are unsure about what to do about your annuity, or even if you are 100% positive what you are going to do, my advice is to seek professional expert financial input. 

As always, if you have any questions regarding your annuity, or any other aspects of your retirement planning or your finances in general, then please don’t hesitate to contact one of our team at Bridgewater Financial Services; where one of our independent experts will be on hand to help in any way.

Where there’s a will there’s a new way of witnessing it

The law covering how a will can be witnessed in England and Wales is just about to be updated to include the virtual electronic witnessing of wills, in certain circumstances.

This is as a direct result of the lockdown caused by Covid-19. Backdated to January 2020, the new law allows anyone who has been isolating or shielding, and who has access to video software such as Zoom or FaceTime, to get their signature on their will remotely witnessed online. 

The original Wills Act of 1837 stipulates that wills need to be witnessed in the ‘presence of’ at least two witnesses. This has proved to be almost impossible to do properly during lockdown, with many solicitors not having access to offices in order to arrange suitable appointments to witness signatures.

This recent amendment means that the established case law, that allows a witness to observe the signing through a window or door as long as they are in clear view, now extends to live video streaming, just as long as all parties can clearly see and hear what is taking place. 

Under the Electronic Communications Act 2000, a statutory instrument will be enacted in September 2020 stating that the existing phrase ‘in the presence of’ now means either in the physical presence of, or in the virtual presence of (via video link).

Virtually starting the year again

The amendment to the law will be backdated to 31 January 2020, in order that it covers all wills made during the pandemic. It will also be in place up to 31 January 2022, or longer if it is felt necessary to do so. 

However, the Government are also reserving the option to shorten the term too. Once the law reverts back to traditional forms of witnessing, then that will once again have to be performed by someone who is physically (and not virtually) present. 

A last resort

As welcome as it is, this change in the law should only be viewed as a last resort. With remote witnessing being used only once all other physical witnessing options have been explored and found to be impossible. 

Where remote witnessing does take place, then strict precautions must be in place to ensure that fraud and coercion are not present. The witnesses must understand what it is that they are observing and they will not be able to ‘witness’ a pre-recorded video of a will signing.

The Ministry of Justice states that testators (those making a will), when getting it witnessed remotely should make a formal statement such as “I (first name & surname) wish to make a will of my own free will and sign it here before these witnesses, who are witnessing me doing this remotely”

All signatures must all so be ‘wet’ as remote electronic signatures are unacceptable.

If possible, the video stream should also be recorded and kept as a record of events.

Socially distanced alternatives to video technology

As The Ministry of Justice have stated that ‘people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so’. With that in mind, they suggest that that witnessing wills in the following ways are an acceptable execution of the legal requirement during the pandemic, provided that the testator and witness each have a clear line of site:   

  • Witness through a window, or open door of a house or vehicle
  • Witness from a corridor or from an adjacent room into another room through an open door
  • Witness outdoors, from a short distance.

All wills still need to be signed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries and please keep in mind that electronic signatures are unacceptable.

The longer-term future

The Government has committed to considering ‘wider reforms to the law on making wills’. In the meantime this concession regarding the witnessing of wills during the restrictions imposed by the pandemic should go someway to helping relieve the stress associated with creating or amending bequeathments during lockdown.

In Scotland the law has also been temporarily amended to allow a lawyer to act as a witness via a video conference, just as long as they are not appointed as an executor, either directly or through a trust.

As always, we at Bridgewater Financial Services are here to provide expert and independent advice on any questions you have regarding making a will, Inheritance Tax Planning or any other financial enquiries you may have.

You can also see full the guidance on making wills via video conferencing in England and Wales by visiting GOV.UK. 

 

A New Deal For Britain..

.. a massive opportunity for your SSAS Pension.

There are some remarkable changes coming our way with regard to planning and building permissions for the conversion of commercial property to residential.

As we all know your small self-administered pension scheme (SSAS) is an ideal vehicle to purchase, develop and own commercial property; with some remarkably advantageous ways of funding potential purchases of commercial properties.

We also know that your SSAS isn’t allowed to hold residential property, but did you know that it is allowed to pay for any conversion from commercial to residential?

Meaning that, you can purchase commercial property with your SSAS, flip it to residential and develop it within the SSAS. Just as long as the property is removed from the SSAS Pension BEFORE it becomes habitable. For the avoidance of doubt, ‘habitable’ is defined as the point of which the certificate of habitation / completion is issued.

There are some VERY BIG changes coming to commercial property planning restrictions

In order to get the economy moving again, the Prime Minister has announced his ‘New Deal For Britain’. Within it are some remarkable opportunities for companies to utilise the power of their SSAS pensions, by developing commercial property for residential sale.

This September, we will see some of the biggest changes in planning regulations that have ever impacted upon the commercial property market.

If you have a SSAS pension, you could be perfectly placed to take full advantage of these. As of September this year a reform of the current system will introduce the following changes:

  • A vast amount of existing commercial property will be allowed to change its use to residential without the need for a planning application
  • Land and existing commercial buildings in town centres can change use without planning permission
  • Planning permission will no longer be required for the demolition and rebuild of vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings, as long as they are rebuilt as homes
  • Commercial premises, including vacant shops, can be more easily swapped to residential housing
  • Far more types of commercial units will have the flexibility to be repurposed through the reform of the User Class Order.

This is a fundamental changing of the rules around converting commercial property to residential and this can be done advantageously through the use of your SSAS pension.

However the rules governing what you can and can’t do must be closely followed, or you’ll run the risk of exposing the SSAS to draconian taxes on the profits that your property dealings create.

To avoid unwanted taxes there are a few simple things you can do to ensure that things go as smoothly and as tax efficiently as possible:

  • Make sure that your SSAS sells the property to a cash buyer prior to the conversion to residential completing. This means that the completion then takes place outside of your SSAS
     
  • You can leave the capital appreciation inside the SSAS and avoid Capital Gains Tax if existing SSAS members, or a sponsoring company, purchases the incomplete property form the SSAS at market value. They can then finish the project and sell it, paying only the stamp duty and legal costs
  • The SSAS can even sell the uncompleted property subject to a deferred consideration contract. This way the property is removed from the SSAS before completion, but the buyer doesn’t have to pay the full purchase price over until the conversion is complete and they can then apply for a mortgage
  • A great way of ensuring that any property in question qualifies as a genuinely diverse commercial vehicle, and therefore unaffected by the normal residential property rules, is for a number of independent SSAS’s to come together in order to carry out bulk projects
  • Another way to not get taxed for converting or building is simply don’t convert or build. A SSAS can buy and demolish commercial property and then sell the land to a developer for a commercial gain
  • You can also take advantage of any 12 month loan window available by getting the SSAS to lend up to 50% of the funds value in order for the sponsoring company to purchase or convert the property; and repay the SSAS upon the completion of the sale.

There are all sorts of opportunities to take advantage of these coming changes with a SSAS Pension. If you don’t currently have one, then perhaps now’s the right time to convert an existing scheme to a SSAS, or set one up.

Whatever you are thinking, now is the time to act as it can take up to three months to get a new SSAS registered by HRMC. Especially as many of their staff have been moved to other departments in order to handle the furlough scheme.

If you are thinking about setting up a SSAS, in order to take advantage of these new changes in property legislation when they kick-in in September, then please get independent and professional advice.

Doing things right from the very start will save an awful lot of hassle and expense further down the line. Especially with something as complex as a SSAS Scheme, where the wrong advice, or no advice at all, could result in significant tax penalties.

As always, we at Bridgewater Financial Services are here to provide expert and independent advice on any questions you have regarding a SSAS pension, or any other financial enquiries you may have.

Your SSAS pension can provide for your family AND future generations too

You really are never to young to join a SSAS
Your small, self-administered pension scheme (SSAS) doesn’t just provide death and retirement benefits for its members in a tax efficient way – It can do way more for you and your family. Due to their restriction of having no more than 11 members, SSAS schemes are often favoured by smaller businesses where the company directors, family members and senior executives are the beneficiaries. Especially as they allow for members of the family who don’t work for the company to also be included.

Not only that, but a SSAS pension is an asset that can be passed down the family through the generations. Best of all, as a pension it’s legally protected from personal or company creditors so it’s a safe place for the long-term storage of assets.

The big benefit to your family
As investments are held in the names of all of the SSAS trustees, this common ownership means that each member of the SSAS holds a specific portion of the SSAS’s assets. This makes ownership of assets like properties far cheaper and simpler to deal with than they would be if the asset were shared between three or more self-invested pensions (SIPP). The other big benefit of a SSAS, is that individuals can choose their own investments, which is really handy if the business is involved in property or land. Also, where individuals are saving in order to invest in property or land, a SSAS can really help fulfil that ambition (see my previous blog on SSAS property purchase).

What happens when a member retires?
Once a member of the SSAS retires, they have the same options as any other member of a defined contribution pension scheme. This means that you can secure a guaranteed income, take an income from the fund or a combination of the two. If the SSAS is invested in property that is generating and income, this can effectively be remitted out to the member to support their retirement.

Flexibility when it comes to your retirement day
A SSAS allows entrepreneurs to delay the time that they start retirement, as they often retire later than those in employment. It also allows for early retirement from the age of 55 years. Your SSAS will even let you carry on working part-time, receiving some pension and some income at the same time.

Tax Efficient Death Benefits
SSAS benefits payable on death are not normally subject to inheritance tax. If the scheme member dies before the age of 75, their family members can inherit their fund and take tax free withdrawals for life. After the age of 75, payments are subject to income tax at the beneficiary’s normal income tax rate. The fund can be passed down through the generations as long as it lasts. Unlike a conventional non-pension trust, there is no limitation on how long the trust can last. So the pension fund could be providing valuable benefits to multiple generations of the family of the original members. Beneficiaries are immediately entitled to draw benefits and they do not need to wait until they are at least 55.

Other benefits of SSAS to family businesses
Your SSAS can also be a great way to increase your purchasing power, if you’re looking to accrue assets for the future. Please see my previous blogs on using your SSAS to borrow funds for property and stock purchases.

Get it right from day one
With something as complicated as a SSAS, it’s vitally important that you get the right kind of professional advice from a qualified and expert financial adviser who knows this area well. The wrong advice, or no advice at all, could result in significant tax penalties.

As always, we at Bridgewater Financial Services are here to provide expert and independent advice on any questions you have regarding A SSAS pension, or any other financial enquiries you may have.

Stay safe

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.

Dealing With Redundancy – what to do right now.

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

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.