You’ve worked for your money, make sure your money is working for you!

Although I believe commissions will remain part of the process on one level, I have been working on a new financial planning service which I will be offering to new clients over the coming months. Many existing clients have found this a very useful and concise tool in setting out a clear plan for their future. I believe this is a prudent exercise, wanting to know how our future will look and getting the most from our money.

Do you ever imagine what you would like to do in retirement or when your mortgage is paid off or even to retire earlier than you thought?

Some questions and comments I regularly hear when I meet people for the first time are:

  • I know I should save into a pension, but can you explain why it’s better than saving into a savings plan?

  • What will my pension pay me at retirement?

  • I am self-employed, can I protect my income if I am unable to work due to illness or injury?

  • I have pensions from a previous employment, can I get access to them on any level or what can I do with them?

  • I think I have mortgage cover, but I do not know what it does, can you explain it to me?

  • Should I pay more towards my mortgage and if so, what change will it have on my term and interest payments?

  • I don’t understand how a life assurance policy payment affects me if my partner dies.

  • What is the difference between Leaving Service Options and Retirement Options?

Should a person wish to avail of this financial planning service, it involves a simple 3-step process:

  1. You will receive a link to a budget planner where you fill in your personal and financial details. This is a comprehensive budget and will take up to an hour to complete.

  2. You submit the planner and I review and prepare recommendations and advice.

  3. We meet to discuss the results of your budget, your priorities and how you can better manage your money from a savings / pension / life assurance perspective.

Following this, you decide what step to take next. Either way this process will at the very least be an education to anybody who has no current strategy for retirement or savings needs.

Pension Update: AMRF and Potential Retirement Options

When you retire you are usually given several options for your pension savings. In most cases it involves a tax free lump sum and an option with the remaining balance. This is normally an option to buy a Pension/Annuity for life or alternatively to reinvest the balance into another pension vehicle called an ARF (Approved Retirement Fund) or an AMRF (Approved Minimum Retirement Fund).

A new revenue update carried out in recent months may be very beneficial for anybody who has or will have an AMRF after drawing down their pension benefits. Previously pensioners who held an AMRF could not access their funds before they were 75 or unless they had a guaranteed pension/annuity of €12,700 a year. This created problems for those who were on the full State pension but with no other income as the maximum they receive is €12,651 (€243.50 per week).

As a result of this update, Revenue will now accept the Christmas Bonus payments to those receiving payments from the Department of Social Protection. This means that some people who were originally below the €12,700 annual income threshold are now eligible to deduct more income from their AMRF policy.

AMRF holders currently on the maximum rate of State pension should be able to access their funds in full in December this year after they receive the Christmas bonus on their State pension. Some people may not pay income tax over age 65 if their total income is less than €36,000 (married couple) or €18,000 (single person). A person/couple could use this as a strategic way to drawdown these pension benefits in a tax efficient manner.

Over a period of years, a retiree may be able to completely withdraw their current AMRF tax-free. They could withdraw it faster but might pay some tax on the withdrawals. I would always suggest that the most prudent way of doing this is with the help of a qualified accountant who can help calculate the most tax efficient way for your personal circumstances.

If you feel you may meet the €12,700 income criteria at this time, you can look to attain official documentation to confirm this. Some people do this by contacting the social welfare services office on 1890 500 000 and request a “Statement of Social Welfare Payments”.

What is a Guaranteed Pension/Annuity?

This is effectively a guaranteed Income for life and is taxable as income. The state pension, public service pension and private pensions are the main methods of building up such an income.

Protecting Your Legacy

Saving enough of your hard-earned money into your pension to prepare for retirement is a good idea. But how do you protect what you have saved and make sure it goes to your family

 The advantages of having a retirement fund include tax relief on your contributions, tax-free growth on its investment and you can take a tax-free lump sum at retirement of up to €200,000. However, if you were to pass away what you leave behind as a legacy financially, including your pension, will more than likely be subject to tax.

Your Total Retirement Fund

Think of your total retirement fund as a pot. If you leave your pot to your child it will potentially be subject to inheritance tax or income tax. By using a small proportion of the value of your pot on an annual basis you can set up and pay into a life insurance policy, which will cover the tax bill that will inevitably be due. In this case, 100% of your child’s inheritance from your retirement fund can be protected.

You may or may not be familiar with what is known as a Section 72 life insurance policy which is used to help offset an inheritance tax liability. It is a special insurance policy taken out specifically to help pay taxes arising from inheritance. If setup correctly, the money paid out, when it is used to pay these taxes, will not be subject to tax.

You may leave your Approved Retirement Fund to your husband or wife to make use of when you pass away. It won’t be subject to inheritance tax but any money they take out of it will be liable to income tax.

• If they decide to cash in the entire fund it will be subject to PAYE at marginal rate

(plus PRSI and USC).

• If they don’t take any money out, the fund will still be subject to tax. From the year they turn age 61 ‘Imputed Distribution Rules’ will apply which means income tax is payable on an annual minimum withdrawal amount drawn down from the fund.

And when your spouse passes away the retirement fund may then be left to your children. Alternatively, you could consider leaving your retirement fund to your children.

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


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.


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.


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!

Pension and Investment Lessons from the Economic Crash: A Financial Broker Perspective

Think back to the start of 2008. The economic storm clouds were getting darker, there were rumblings about losses building in banks across the globe and investors were beginning to get nervous. And now race forwards 7 years and consider the lessons to be learned with the benefit of hindsight. Like all lessons, these are lessons that can easily be forgotten again!

Research has shown time and time again that “stock picking” investors rarely out-perform the market. Yes some hit lucky and beat the market, but the majority would be better off in a fund that tracks a stock market index, or a professionally managed active fund.


Why is that? At the end of the day, people make poor investment decisions because they are human. They see stock markets racing ahead, and then decide to buy in. Or indeed (as during the economic crash) when there are huge falls in the market, investors decide to jump ship. And of course this is exactly the opposite of what we should do, i.e. buy low and sell high. Your financial adviser will help you to do the right thing, and often that might be to sit tight and do nothing at all. 

Every Financial Broker will know the horror stories of one-way bets and sure things. Surely, if you had a genuine one-way bet, you’d tell no one about it! So the “guaranteed” returns that were coming from apartments in far-flung places and the certain returns from Irish bank shares were shown up for what they are – investments with risks attached, just like all other investments. Your Financial Broker will ensure you have a diversified investment portfolio that matches your risk tolerance. They will caution you against these “sure things”!

In the past, when people were asked about the amount of risk they were happy to take, they bullishly took on more risk, with the hope of gaining greater rewards. However the folly of this approach was laid bare when the crash came and investment losses increased. Many investors realised that they were ill equipped to deal with these losses, either financially or emotionally.

Having a Financial Broker in your corner will help take the emotion out of your investments. Their financial advice will be based on experience and knowledge of the highs and lows of the markets over many investment cycles. Their only interest is in your financial goals and objectives and how best to achieve them. From their experiences as a financial adviser, they have learned that there is no quick route to success.

Instead they will bring rigour and a structured methodology to the financial advice that they offer. So apart from fulfilling their traditional role as your financial adviser, a Financial Broker can be your financial conscience!

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.