Case Study: “I don’t really know what we have, how can you help and if so, how much will it cost?”

Enquiry:

I received a call from Mary, a potential new client, asking me how I could help her and her husband to understand their current cover and pension provisions. She stated she had a mortgage protection policy but wasn’t sure exactly what this covered. She remembered her partner (Peter) taking out an insurance policy which included some illness cover but didn’t remember exactly why they had the policy. They both had various pensions with different companies and employers and she wanted to see if it would be worthwhile merging them.

Cost:

Mary hadn’t previously used a broker so was a bit apprehensive. “Before we go any further, what is the cost for you to review our policy’s?” I responded with “If you are happy for me to be your broker on these policies, there is no additional cost for you.” Mary: “But how do you get paid?” Me: “In many cases a broker’s fee is included in a policy whether you use a broker or not. You can request a fee-based charge which I can calculate based on work required but this will not reduce the cost of your existing plans.” In short, most people prefer to pay through fees paid direct from the pension/life providers.

Information gathering:

Mary asked me to investigate their policies and I informed her that if both partners simply sign a document entrusting me as her broker, I could obtain all the information required to review her policies. Mary asked if this would change her policies in any way or cost her more money. I reassured her that this just allowed me to discuss her policies with the companies but that it did not authorise me to make any changes or give any instructions that would impact these plans. I emailed this one-page document to Mary and they both signed and returned it to me.

Meeting:

I met with Mary and Peter following my review and was able to outline the exact cover and pension savings they currently held, along with the pro’s/con’s to making changes or leaving in place. They informed me of their priorities and as their children were in their teens there wasn’t a necessity for as much life assurance, so they decided to direct more of their funds towards their pension.

Peter had become a non-smoker, so a cheaper price or more cover for the same cost became available to him. Mary had the option to combine two pension plans, however she was better off moving it into a pension bond in her own name. If she had chosen to combine, she would have lost a tax-free lump sum option that was unavailable in her existing employers pension plan.  

Retire Inspired

The phrase ‘Retirement Planning’ is almost universally understood to relate to financial planning. But increasingly it is seen that there is more to retirement that just viewing this issue through a financial lens, i.e. planning for retirement.

As a financial adviser, I perhaps naturally focus on the figures – estimated pre-retirement earnings, fund projections, investment growth rates etc. But what sometimes is overlooked is getting the client to also envision what retirement will actually look like.

What do they plan to do in retirement, how they spend all the extra spare time, do they plan to do more travelling, what new interests/hobbies might they take up, will they engage in new learning etc?

When today’s retirees started working, perhaps in the early 1970s, the average life expectancy for retiring at age 65 was some 12 years for males and about 15 for females. Today the average is some 20 years and circa 24 years for females. Not alone can today’s retirees look forward to a much longer retirement, but in most cases, they are far healthier than in previous generations.

It is important that as people approach retirement, they have a good grasp of how their finances will be positioned so that they may look beyond the day of retirement. Some helpful questions to perhaps ask in the planning stage are;

  • What do you plan to do in retirement, how will you spend your time?

  • What are your major expenditures?

  • What new or increased expenditures might arise in retirement, e.g. more travelling?

  • Do you regularly shop around for better deals on items such as utilities?

  • Will you perhaps downsize after retirement?

Recently I have been contacted by several people who have received their leaving-service and retirement options directly from the Pension company. They were originally going to choose the option they thought suited them. But upon meeting with me and going through the above questions, they felt more confident that they made the right choice for them and in some cases they made different decisions than initially planned.

One client was entitled to a substantial tax-free cash amount which she nearly missed out on as she did not fully understand the options. Another client who initially thought they were required to wait until age 65 to drawdown their pension benefits, was able to access their pension options.

The better you can envision retirement, the better you will be able to decide on financial planning options (e.g. what tax-free lump sum, whether Annuity or ARF, investment profile/risk rating of investment options etc).

Are you too young for a pension plan?

You are never too young for a pension plan. That’s it, end of article? But maybe you need to be convinced of this fact!

The benefits of starting your pension funding as early as possible are really immense. Now we are not suggesting that everyone should live a life of penury in their 20’s and 30’s in order to safeguard their lifestyle in their later years. But starting a pension plan early has a significant impact on your final retirement outcome and this is down to one main fact, the effect of compound interest.

The Rule of 72
To look at compound interest, it’s useful to consider a maths equation that is commonly known as “The Rule of 72”. This is a simplified way to determine how long an investment will take to double, given a fixed annual rate of interest. All that you have to do is divide 72 by the expected rate of return. The answer is the number of years it will take for the amount of money to double. Consider two examples of how you can use this below;

• If you are aiming for a return of 6% p.a., it will take 12 years for your investment to double (72/6% = 12 years)
• If you want to double your money in 10 years, you will need to achieve a return of 7.2% p.a. (72/10 years = 7.2%)

The impact on your pension plan
This rule demonstrates that a contribution made to a pension plan in your 20’s or 30’s has the benefit of time on it’s side to grow very significantly from the time it is made, to your retirement age. And because you have this time on your side, you will probably also be willing to take some risk with your funds, with the aim of achieving higher growth rates.

These higher growth rates may be achieved through investing in the likes of equity (stock market) funds. If you had invested in the S&P 500 Index of shares from 1st January 1985 to 31st December 2014, your investment would have achieved a Compound Annual Growth Rate (annualised return) of 11.40 per annum over the 30 year period! Now of course previous returns are not necessarily a guide to future performance, but they give a sense of what can be achieved over a long timeframe.

So when you put higher potential growth rates and a longer term together, the impact can be significant. Instead if you wait until much later in life to start your pension planning, you will probably want to be more cautious in your investment choices (to limit any downside risk), thus reducing your potential growth rate. You also won’t have the investment duration to benefit from the compound interest effect.

So yes, live your life for today while you’re young. But doing this with some investment in your future will yield great benefits when you do eventually hang up your working boots!

What is . . . ?

Life Assurance: This is cover designed to provide a financial lump sum to a family/person/company in the event of the death of a specified individual. There are different kinds of Life Assurance that include:

  • Mortgage Protection – Decreasing Life Assurance – ends at set term

  • Term Assurance – Level Life Assurance – ends at set term

  • Whole of Life cover – Level Life Assurance – No set term

  • There is reviewable and non reviewable Whole of Life cover

    Life Assurance with convertible option: You can request a conversion option on some Life cover. This allows you to extend the lifetime of your policy without having to supply any medical information. This allows some people to choose a shorter term for cover now, at a lower cost.

    An example of this benefit would be if you take out €100,000 Life cover for 10 years with a conversion option. During the 10 year lifetime of this plan you might get sick or be struck with an illness that would prevent you from taking out Life cover in the future. The conversion option would allow you to extend the term of your €100,000 Life cover beyond the 10 years and the Life company could only use your medical information from the original application.

    Serious Illness Cover: This is cover designed to provide a financial lump sum to a family/person/company where a specified individual is diagnosed with a Serious Illness.

    Income Protection: This is a cover designed to be a replacement Income if a person is unable to work due to illness or injury. It is particularly important for self-employed people.

    The cost of these covers depends mainly on your age, your smoker status, your health and the length of time you would like the cover.

    Pensions: During your working life, you can save into a Pension arrangement to subsidise your drop in income at retirement. The main advantages of this are that you get tax relief on your contributions and you get tax free growth on your investment.

    Savings/Investment plans: An alternative to saving/investing money in the bank. The main advantage is that there is a much greater potential to grow your investment. The main disadvantage is that your value can go down as well as up.

Pensions, are they still worthwhile?

I am working in my office right now and was trying to come up with this month’s segment. My father in law came out to ask how business was and we got talking about Pensions. I was stressing how some people do not really value the concept of saving for retirement. He said, “Thank god I have my Pension secured, I know a lot of people who used to have a good standard of living who are struggling now in retirement”. His words, not mine.

As such I thought I would write about a question that has come up quite regularly from people who have arranged to meet with me to discuss non Pension products. That question is an inquisitive “Are Pensions actually worth paying into?” It is too broad a question to completely explore in this segment, but I will try to at least give people something to think about.

The biggest immediate benefit of saving in a pension is the tax relief you get at your standard rate. To save €100 into a savings plan, you have to invest €100. To save €100 into a Pension would cost up to 40% less after tax relief. You also get tax free growth on an investment in a Pension; you pay regular tax on any growth on normal savings/deposit accounts.

I am finding that some people actually like the fact that they cannot get their hands on their Pension until retirement. That is to say, they know that they can’t spend it impulsively like they would if it was available to them.

One of the things that many people find understandably difficult is putting themselves in their own shoes in the future. Imagine you are retiring next month and you have nothing but the state Pension, how would you manage? Some people have chosen to rely only on rental properties for their Pension and I would suggest that between 2007 and 2012 some of them have had a very stressful retirement.

Saving into a Pension doesn’t have to be your only source of retirement income (you can purchase rental property aswell). I find that once people start a Pension they don’t actually miss the money that they are putting aside. They also don’t think of it as something they can spend now and as such they have started the good habit of saving now for their eventual retirement.

People can argue the merits of saving into a Pension, but I would ask people to really think about how they intend on subsidising a drop in income at retirement. Whether you are an individual or a couple, the same conditions may apply once you cease working. The big question is will you have saved provisions to subsidise it.

Pensions: Exercise for your long-term financial wellbeing!

I have a wife, three young children and I work for myself. It can be tough to find time to get the exercise that I would like. I know exercise will help me feel better and will more than likely be extremely beneficial to me in the long-term if I keep it up. As such I have started to do a boxcercise class.

For me, exercise is not just about feeling good now; it’s about trying to feel good in the future. It’s about trying to condition my body to be healthy and strong and in the long term I hope it might extend my life. I know that exercise can improve my immune system which in turn may allow me to be more active in my later years.

A Pension is a personal retirement savings account (PRSA). You could say its exercise for your financial wellbeing. It’s about putting the work in now, so that you may benefit in the long term, particularly in your later years when you may not have the same opportunities to enhance your financial health.

There are days when for numerous reasons I really don’t want to get out to do the boxcercise. The days I push myself to get up and do it, I feel better and the days I give in and rest, I feel a little guilty. I can honestly say that any client that comes to me at retirement is happy when they have a Pension of their own to drawdown. In many cases they express remorse that they didn’t save more when they had the opportunity to do so.

Like exercise, the sooner you start contributing to a Pension the better the potential long term benefits. I know that I would prefer to retire as young as I can, but I also know that will be very much dependant on my physical health and my financial health. In both cases, I can only commit so much time/money now, but a little bit of both is better than nothing of either.

Questions on old Pensions left behind...perhaps even ones forgotten!

In this article I will run through some of the most frequently asked questions in relation to old paid up pensions. These are pensions that you may have had with a previous employer that you never moved or enquired about at the time you left employment.

How do I get information about my old Pension?

In most cases you should be receiving annual benefit statements with general details (including the value) of your Pension. If you are unsure where to look, the company’s human resource department (or Employee Pension department if there is one) is a good start.

Can I bring my pension with me when I move employment?

In most cases, when you leave employment, you have several options. Indeed you are entitled to request “leaving service options” which sets out exactly what you can do with your Pension. This can intimidate and confuse people but if it’s explained correctly I find people are more confident moving their Pension into their own name.

Will I lose out if I move out of the old Pension arrangement?

The only way of knowing is by enquiring about the benefits currently on the Pension plan, but in many cases you can actually benefit from moving your Pension funds into your own name.

If you do move a pension to your own name one of the biggest benefits is that you get direct access/information sent to you personally about you Pension. Some people like having complete control over their Pension and like not having to contact a Trustee (or old employer) anytime they want information regarding their Pension.

What can Drumgoole Financial Services Limited do for you?

Part of my job is to help people arrange their pensions together into an efficient/transparent portfolio. In simple terms this means you know exactly what you have and where you have it.

When many people move on from a job, they leave their Pension paid up (sitting idle) in their old Pension arrangement. I have had clients contact me who have had no correspondence in relation to their Pension for one reason or another.

Do you intend on relying on the government for assistance?

If you are currently employed and not saving into a Pension arrangement, have you ever thought about what retirement will be like? Have you dreamt of spending time with the grandchildren or going on nice breaks away every few months in your twilight years?

If retirement is not something you “dream” about, it is certainly something you should have in the back of your mind. A pension is a savings policy designed to subsidise the drop in income when we retire. The current state Pension is €230.30 per week (€11,975 per year).

Recently the age at which a person is entitled to receive the state Pension has increased. Some economical commentators think that the government may phase out the benefits of the state Pension over time. They could do this by raising the retirement age further or even by simply not increasing the current Pension entitlements (which will reduce the spending power over time).

A big question that people should consider now is that if they are comfortable with the thought of leaving the fate of their retirement in the hands of future governments? One of the biggest advantages of a Pension is that the more you have at your retirement age, the more financial control and flexibility you will have over how you spend your retirement.