Summer 2015 Budget… A Summary

Budget red boxWell the first all conservative budget is over and lots of changes as expected.

Although there is a lot of information and figures, we have taken the key information for our mortgage and protection customers and highlighted the impact of these to you here.

PLEASE NOTE: This snapshot is not intended as an in-depth analysis of the Chancellor’s speech (we will leave that to the press and experts) but we hope this brief summary helps you gain a quick grasp on the key points delivered by the Chancellor yesterday.

For full details of the following headlines (and more) you may wish to visit the HM Treasury website

The key points affecting mortgages, insurance and housing are as follows:

Insurance Premium Tax

This will be raised from 6% to 9.5% from November this year.  Any policies affected by this rise will be contacted by the provider in due course to advise of the rise and to confirm the new payments.

This is not a rise in premiums, just a rise in taxation and should affect around one fifth of all insurance bought in the UK.

Home Ownership

The chancellor reaffirmed that the government was committed to:

New Help to Buy Isa this Autumn

Giving Housing Association Tenants access to Right to Buy

Further planning reforms to be announced Friday 10th July

Buy to Let Mortgage Interest Relief

This will be restricted to basic rate tax only, meaning that higher rate tax payers will no longer receive tax relief at the higher rate.

This will be implemented over a 4 year period and will start in April 2017

Rent a Room relief

This has been set at £4,250 for the last 18 years.  Next year it will be raised to £7,500, a much more realistic figure in today’s economy.

Inheritance Tax on family homes

From 2017, an additional £175,000 allowance will be granted on top of the standard £325,000 threshold when you leave your own home to either your children or grandchildren.  For couples this means that from 2017 you can effectively leave a property worth £1 million to your family free of charge.

This is particularly welcome to those families that have owned their own home for many years and have seen it grow rapidly in value, especially in the London and South East of England.

However, for estates worth more than £2 million this relief will be tapered away, so the intention is to return inheritance tax payments back to the wealthier estates in society.

Housing Benefits

Mortgage Interest Support, will change from a benefit to a loan.  The timescale to make a claim will also change from 13 weeks to 39 weeks.

This is a major change in benefits and potentially impacts anyone who has a mortgage and is out of work through long term illness or redundancy.

In addition, social housing tenants earning more than £40,000 in London and £30,000 elsewhere will see their rents rise to market rates, rather than being subsidised as they currently are.

Social housing rents will reduce by 1% a year for the next 4 years as well.

Highlights of other changes in brief

Forecasts

  • Chancellor announces that this budget, a one nation budget, puts security first and is a budget for working people looking ahead to the next five years.
  • The Chancellor announced adjustments to previous growth forecasts from those previously announced in the 2015 March Budget.
    • Growth last year at 3% – up from 2.6%
    • Growth forecast for 2015 – revised down to 2.4%
    • Growth forecast for 2016 – unchanged at 2.3%
    • Growth forecast for 2017 – revised upwards to 2.4%
    • 1 million more jobs to be created over the next five years
    • OBR borrowing forecast revised down to £69.5 billion for 2015/16
    • OBR states national debt now decreased to 80.1% of GDP

Taxation/Welfare

  • New National Living Wage of £7.20 to be introduced in April 2016 (to reach £9.00 per hour by 2020 – compulsory for working people aged 25 and over)
  • £12billion in savings required through welfare changes
  • £5billion in savings through crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance
  • Corporation tax to be reduced to 19% in 2017 / 18% in 2020
  • Non-domiciled taxation status to be abolished from April 2017
  • Dividend tax credit to be replaced by £5,000 tax free allowance
  • Inheritance Tax  – up to £1million can be passed onto children without inheritance tax
    • This measure introduces an additional nil-rate band when a residence is passed on death to a direct descendant. This will be £100,000 in 2017 to 2018, £125,000 in 2018 to 2019, £150,000 in 2019 to 2020, and £175,000 in 2020 to 2021.
    • It will then increase in line with Consumer Price Index from 2021 to 2022 onwards. Any unused nil-rate band will be transferred to a surviving spouse or civil partner. It will also be available when a person downsizes or ceases to own a home on or after 8 July 2015 and assets of an equivalent value, up to the value of the additional nil-rate band, are passed on death to direct descendants.
  • NHS to receive a further £8billion over the next five years
  • Public Sector pay rises of 1% for the next four years
  • New youth obligation for 18-21 year olds to ‘earn or learn’
  • Automatic housing benefit abolished for 18-21 year olds
  • Rents in social housing sector reduced by 1% a year for next four years
  • All working parents with children age 3 & 4 to receive 30 hours of childcare per week
  • Working age benefits to be frozen for four years
  • Benefits cap to be reduced to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere
  • Threshold in tax credit to be reduced from £6,420 to £3,850
  • Tax credit and universal credit limited to two children after April 2017
  • Annual investment allowance set at £200,000
  • Personal tax allowance – increased to £11,000 from April 2016 (further rises in line with minimum wage)
  • Higher rate tax threshold – increased to £43,000 from April 2016
  • Disability benefits will not be taxed or means tested
  • Bank Levy to be reduced over the next 6 years / 8% surcharge on bank profits to be applied from January 2016
  • Insurance premium tax to be raised from November 2015 to 9.5%

Pensions / Savings

  • Green paper to be issued on reform of pensions

National Security

  • Real increase in defence budget guaranteed every year
  • Joint security fund of £1.5billion to be created by the end of Parliament
  • Commitment to meet NATO pledge of 2% of national income on defence

Housing

  • Mortgage interest relief restricted to basic rate of income tax
  • Reduced tax relief for buy-to-let landlords
  • Rent a room relief to be raised to £7,500 from 2016

Education

  • New apprenticeship levy on all large firms
  • To support Universities – From 2016/17 (academic year) maintenance grants to be replaced by loans for students. Loans only need to be repaid once the individual is earning over £21,000 per year.

Transport/Fuel/Energy

  • New car tax bands introduced for new cars from 2017
  • Vehicle Excise Duty: £140 per year for 95% of new cars from 2017
  • New roads fund will benefit from car tax payments
  • First MOT to be extended to 4 years from 3
  • Fuel duty to remain frozen this year
  • Climate change levy to be removed

Northern Powerhouse

  • Further powers to be devolved to Greater Manchester (option available to other cities)
  • £30million funding for Transport in the North
  • Various commitments to growing transport, industry and skills to create growth of Northern cities

Plus – Various other commitments and initiatives to be applied to Southern England, Scotland & Wales, more details to be released in the future.

I hope that this has provided a brief summary to you and covers the key points that affect our customers.

If there are points you want to discuss please feel free to contact me direct on 01278 453926 and I would be happy to discuss further.

Regards

Mark Davis

XL Financial Services Limited

How to Bag Christmas Bargains

fb - Christmas BargainsChristmas comes but once a year and for all the fun it brings it can be a significant drain on the family finance. With that in mind, it’s worth looking at opportunities to see where savings can be made. While it may still be too early to put up the decorations, some of the best Christmas bargains require a bit of advance planning.

Food and Drink

Think about having a non-traditional Christmas. Christmas dinner does not have to mean turkey (or any other kind of bird) and all the trimmings followed by Christmas pudding. Going vegetarian or opting for cheaper forms of meat can cut the costs without compromising on taste. Likewise, dessert can be anything you fancy rather than something which is specifically made for Christmas.

Actively compare the cost of making food at home as opposed to buying it ready made. Neither is necessarily cheaper or better. Be prepared to consider the budget/own-label brands. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Get in plenty of “soft” drinks. Keep expensive wine and spirits for particularly special times. For the rest of the time serve soft drinks either on their own or with a dash of alcohol (e.g. in a punch). This can help to make the expensive alcoholic drinks go much further.

Entertainment and Travel

If at all possible, book Christmas entertainment and travel well in advance. It can also help to be flexible when looking at your options. For example, whilst air and rail can be both quick, the bus can be substantially cheaper. Likewise smaller, more local entertainment venues can also put on very good shows, which can be substantially more affordable than their larger-scale counterparts. It can also be worth looking at whether signing up to a loyalty programme can cut costs even further. Similarly cultural venues may have a “friends of” programme with discounts.

Cards and Gifts

This is arguably one of the trickiest areas of Christmas. The key to managing it is setting expectations. This starts with setting a realistic budget, which means one that you can comfortably afford. Your budget is a limit not a target and if there is a conflict with it and your plans for card and gift giving, then you should change your plans, not your budget. Make a list of all the people to whom you want to give cards and/or gifts at Christmas. The key word here is want. If you routinely send gifts to people just because you know they’re going to send one to you, then put those names on another list. Contact these people well before Christmas to make them tactfully aware that you’re only planning to send a card this year. They may be relieved.

Your next challenge is to make your money go as far as possible. Ways to achieve this include: watching the internet carefully for special deals and flash sales; buying second-hand and creating home-made gifts. These can not only be welcome gifts in their own right, but help to keep the pennies for when they are really needed. Adults and older children could even be given IOUs for items which are likely to come down in price in January.

Avoiding New Year Financial Headaches

Keeping control of spending at Christmas can help you avoid a nasty money hangover at New Year. Why not go one step further and a make a resolution to review your personal wealth this coming year by investing some time getting advice from a financial adviser?

Financial Conversations Every Couple Should Have

fb - Financial Conversations Every Couple Should HaveIt can be hard to define the point when two people become a couple, planning to be together for the years to come. When it does happen however it can be an appropriate time to make sure that all practicalities are addressed. This means ensuring that you and your partner are aligned financially as well as emotionally. Entering into a relationship means changing from thinking in terms of personal wealth to thinking in terms of family finance. Here are five questions to get you started on these important conversations.

Do you have savings?

Before you start to align your finances, you both need to be honest to each other regarding the state your finances are currently in. This means that both of you need to be clear about your financial assets such as savings and their financial liabilities. You also need to be clear about your attitudes to money. From this point on you’ll be working to a joint financial plan and it’s crucial that you’re both comfortable with it. With this in mind, this may be a good point to get some professional advice from a financial advisor.

How would you describe your attitude towards investing?

There are a variety of different investments available and choosing the right one(s) for you depends on a number of factors including your goals, your anticipated time frames and your tolerance for risk. If you’re to develop a financial plan with which you both feel comfortable, then you need to agree on an investment style with which you both feel comfortable. You’re also going to have to reach an agreement on how to manage the practicalities of investing. In other words, who is going to take responsibility for choosing investments and going through the process of buying them? Even if one partner takes day-to-day responsibility for this, the other partner needs to be in touch with what is happening. They also need to know where to find all relevant documents in the event of something happening to their partner.

What would happen if one of us died tomorrow?

There are basically two parts to this question: Why do we need life insurance and if what needs to be in our wills? The answers depend largely on circumstances. When property or children come around, for example, then making provision for the death of one half of the couple needs to be taken very seriously. In addition to looking at loss of income from working partners, couples may also need to look at the cost of replacing everything each half of the couple does for free, e.g. providing childcare. This can mean that life insurance is just as important for the non-working partner as it is for the working one.

What would happen if one of us became severely ill/had an accident tomorrow?

This is a fairly similar question to the one of death; however in this case you also need to think about the cost of providing care for the affected partner as well as (temporary) loss of income and their general input to the family.

What sort of retirement do we want to have?

Understanding how you want to spend your post-work years is the first step in working out how much money will be required to pay for them. This is another area where is can be particularly helpful to get professional advice from a financial adviser.

How To Build A Nest Egg For Your Child’s Future

fb Building a nest eggWhatever your child wants to do when they’re older, preparing a nest egg for them can be a great help when the time comes for them to spread their wings and fly the nest. As an added bonus, showing your child how to manage the family finances in order to create personal wealth can be a valuable lesson in itself.

Start by making a financial plan

Securing your child’s future is so important that even the busiest people should strongly consider making time to get some high-quality financial advice from a professional financial adviser. There are many steps between birth and young adulthood and a number of decisions for parents to take along the way. In particular parents need to think about the benefits of spending money during their child’s younger years as opposed to investing it for their later ones.

Remember that time can turn pennies into pounds

Even if you can only put aside small amounts each month, it’s still worth doing so. Time will help those pennies grow into pounds. With this in mind, the earlier you start saving for your child, the longer time will have to work its magic. If, however, your child is already well on their way to growing up, then it’s still worth putting aside whatever you can for their future needs. Put quite simply, whatever savings and investments you can build for them, it’s going to be better than nothing.

Invest as much as you can afford

Roughly speaking most children will follow a similar path from birth to the end of compulsory education. During this period the key financial question is often whether a child will attend a private school or a state school. In either case the time the need to complete their core education is essentially the same. After core education is finished young people can choose to follow different paths depending on their interests and talents. These paths can broadly be defined as further education, professional training, employment or a gap year. Each of these paths has different financial implications. It’s worth considering, therefore, having as much money as possible available for them. Even if it is not needed, it may make a significant difference to their start in adult life. For example young people who find jobs may be able to get to them by public transport, but having their own transport can make life much easier.

Aim to invest regularly

Even when money is tight, try to look on investing for your child’s future as an integral part of managing the family finances. This may mean taking the decision to tighten other areas of spending in order to be able to plan ahead. Of course, it’s fine to top it up with extra funds from time to time. For example, family and friends could be encouraged to make donations at Christmas and birthdays instead of spending their full budget on presents. These should, however, ideally be extra funds rather than the bulk of them. Having said that, as always, even if you can only afford to set money aside from time to time, it’s still better than nothing.

Look out for the tax man

Children get the same personal income tax allowance as all people born after 5th April 1948. Under certain circumstances children can receive income from children’s savings accounts (which are different to Junior ISAs) without paying any tax on the interest. For this to happen, their parents need to fill in an R85 form. Junior ISAs, meanwhile, work in much the same way as their adult counterparts. It should however be noted that as soon as the child reaches 18, the full ISA will immediately become their legal property to use as they wish. Parents with concerns about how their child will react when suddenly handed a large sum of money may need to look for other ways to prepare for their future. This may be a good time to get some unbiased financial advice from a professional financial adviser.

Tax bands http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/rates/it.htm

Tax on saving’s interest http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/taxon/bank.htm

Rules on interest on children’s savings from funds given by parents http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/saimmanual/saim2430.htm

ISAs/Junior ISAS http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/taxon/savings.htm

Stay On Top Of Your Money In Just A Few Minutes Everyday

blog-1-1-2For people who lead busy lives, managing the family finances may be just one of many important jobs to do. Fortunately taking care of your personal wealth can take less time than you might think. Here’s a quick guide to what you need to do and how often.

Once a year – review your goals and your progress towards them

All of your financial decisions should help to bring you closer to your financial goals. In order for this to happen, you need to be clear about what they are. Like many aspects of life, financial goals can change through time. For young adults their major goal may be to buy a house, whereas for older adults it may be investing strategically to finance a comfortable retirement. In between there may well be children to raise and provide for. This annual review can also be a good time to get some unbiased financial advice from a professional financial adviser.

Once a quarter – make sure everyone is on the same page financially

In households where more than one person is financially responsible it’s important to make sure that the people in question stay on the same financial page. In an ideal world, people would take all financial decisions together. In the real world however, time pressures can make this impractical. Sometimes families need to divide financial tasks. This may be done equally or with one person taking most of the day-to-day responsibilities. In this situation people can drift apart, financially speaking, which can lead to problems later down the line. To prevent this from happening it’s important that all the people concerned have regular catch-ups.

Once a month – go over all financial statements from that month

Financial statements give you the reality of your financial situation. If you’ve kept on top of your finances then you’ll already have a pretty good idea of what they ought to say. You should, however, check them thoroughly to make sure of this. In particular take the time to investigate any transactions on your debit or credit card that you don’t immediately recognise. They may just be something you’d forgotten, but they may also be a sign that fraudsters are testing your card. This is also a good time to look out for any recurring transactions and decide if there are savings to be made. For example if you see three months’ worth of gym fees on your card but you’ve only managed to find the time to go a couple of times then is it really worth the cost? Finally, take a good look over your shopping receipts for the last month and see if there are any unnecessary expenses you could trim.

Once a week – tidy up your financial paperwork

These days paperwork is as likely to mean digital records as it is actual paper ones, but in either case financial records can only be any use if you can actually find them. Decide whether you are going to use paper records, digital records or both. Whichever you choose take some time out once a week to decide what you need to keep and what you don’t. Anything you keep needs to be stored in a safe place and organised in a methodical way. While you can use your own preferred system remember that if anything happens to you, even temporarily, someone else may need to take over. Anything you don’t keep needs to be checked for personal details and if necessary shredded before being recycled.

Once a day – keep track of your spending

It’s generally easier to see an elephant than a mouse. Similarly it’s often easier to remember big purchases like a weekly grocery shop than it is to remember all the little items. Fortunately smartphones and their cameras have made it much easier to stay on top of daily spending. Implement a straightforward rule that each and every purchase needs to be tracked. If you are given a receipt, photograph it. If you don’t get a receipt, photograph the item itself. At the end of each day, store these photos in a safe place to be reviewed later.

4 Simple Steps to Make Better Financial Decisions Today

Life is full of decisions. Some are simple and some are complex. Some are more important than others. Financial decisions have a direct impact on your quality of life. It therefore pays to get them right in every sense of the phrase. Here are 4 tips you can use to improve your financial decision-making. Starting today.

Think about who you are and what your goals are

It may be a cliché to say that everyone’s an individual, but it’s also true and this individuality is reflected in the decisions we take. As well as preferences based on our personality, age also plays a role in our financial decision-making. As children our goal may simply be to save up enough money to afford a special toy. As young adults we our immediate goal may be a deposit on a flat. As we grow into maturity, caring for children and planning for retirement may become more important priorities. In order to make effective decisions, financial or otherwise, we need to understand what our aims are and whether they are short, medium or long-term goals.

Don’t sweat the small stuff – but don’t ignore it either

On the one hand, the old saying “Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” has stood the test of time because it makes a fair point. Small costs here and there can slip by unnoticed until they turn into a surprisingly large amount. On the other hand, many people lead busy lives and would find it a huge challenge to keep track of every penny they spend and on what, let alone take the time to analyse whether each and every individual purchase was the best possible deal. This is where a little common-sense can go a long way. You don’t need to do your shopping at 4 different supermarkets to get the absolute best price on everything. It can, however, help to keep tabs on your day-to-day spending and think about where you could trim fat without too much inconvenience. For example, the savings you can make by taking a refillable bottle of water on the train to work as opposed to buying a bottle of water at the station can soon mount up and give a pleasant boost to the family finance.

Your personal wealth is your responsibility

Once you are an adult then you are responsible for your own health, wealth and happiness. This may seem like an intimidating prospect, but it can help to break it down into manageable chunks. You can create a budget so that you have more money than month. You can make notes of when financial purchases are due for renewal (anything from mobile contracts to insurance to mortgage deals ending) and find the time to look for the best deals; at least for the significant purchases. You can plan to ensure that there are funds in place to meet medium to long-term needs, whether it’s replacing big-ticket household items or funding a pleasant retirement.

Getting the right financial advice can more than pay for itself

Just because something is your responsibility, it doesn’t mean that you have to do everything single-handedly. Looking through the financial sections of the press can be a confusing and even intimidating experience for some people. Mortgage approvals, interest rates, market developments, mergers and acquisitions… -it can be a challenge to make sense of what it all actually means. Then of course there are conversations with family, friends and colleagues, some of whom may have their own advice to offer. It may be well intentioned but there’s no guarantee that it’s right for your situation. Fortunately a professional financial adviser can help cut through the headlines and jargon and tips from friends and help you to build your own plan for investing in your future. This advice can be, literally, invaluable.

How To Turn Money Into Happiness

As the Beatles pointed out in their 1964 hit “Can’t buy me love”, there are some things money can’t buy, at least not directly. Money can, however, influence happiness – if used wisely. Here are some tips on how using your personal wealth wisely can help to make you happier.

Health

Money can’t buy good health, but it can be used in a variety of ways to maintain it or improve it. At a fundamental level, money can buy a good diet full of healthy, fresh foods. It can also buy exercise equipment. Being able to manage the family finances so that there is money available for day-to-day bills and savings available to cope with unexpected events can also save a lot of stress, which could arguably come under the heading of a health benefit. Money can assist with quality health-care. It can provide the option to pay for quick access to private treatment rather than having to queue on an NHS waiting list. It can also help ease any convalescence period by providing funds to pay for helpful equipment (such as mobility scooters) or personal assistance.

Education and development – investing in yourself

Money can buy you opportunities and experiences which can enhance your professional options. While employers will pay for mandatory training and may assist with training which has a clear relevance to your current career path, quite simply the more money you have at your disposal, the wider your range of options. You can choose to undertake personal study to further your goals or you can choose to do something else completely. Perhaps you might like to have the security of knowing that you have an alternative means of earning an income if you find yourself between jobs in your main career. Perhaps you have dreams of turning a hobby into a business. Perhaps you just want to do something different. In any case, having money can make this possible.

Getting the right advice and skills

Money can buy other people’s time, knowledge, and expertise to make your life easier. Whether it’s getting someone in to clean the house and mow the lawn instead of doing it yourself, or going to a professional adviser for financial advice, spending money on getting the right people with the right skills can save you time and hassle. That frees up time and energy for other activities, which can bring you a whole lot more happiness. Instead of washing the dishes, use money to buy a dishwasher and spend some extra time doing something you enjoy. Instead of spending all day in the garden doing basic tasks like mowing and weeding, get someone else to do them and focus on the tasks you actually enjoy. Instead of spending time and effort to try to work out the best way to manage your money on your own, get help from a professional adviser who can provide financial advice and take some time out with your friends.

Staying in touch

No amount of money can replace the people we love. Money can, however, make it much easier to enjoy their company. To begin with money can pay for useful communication equipment to keep in touch with people when it’s impractical to go and see them. Money can make the difference between having a basic phone or even smartphone and one which can handle videocalls comfortably. It can allow people to upgrade from basic TVs to smart TVs with internet access so that people can enjoy quality video calling on a large screen. It can also make it easier to go and visit people face-to-face to let them know how much you value them and their company.