19 Oct 2016, 12:40pm
personal finance:
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  • Investing in…the State Pension?

    One for early retirees older than 40, really, the known unknowns are too great when you’re younger, but otherwise it could be an offer of an annuity at an unbeatable rate of more than 100%. Try getting that on the open market!

    I’ve never really taken UK State pension into account in my financial planning, for two reasons. One is that it never seemed to be near enough, and I always assumed it was going to be means-tested, and the second is that I have sufficient private pension. I’ve also been contracted out for 2/3 of my working life, which means I would get less anyway.

    Over the 30-40 years of an adult working life, you will go through many fads and phases of the State pension, you will see at least 8 government administrations, well, assuming that the logical conclusion of Brexit isn’t a one-party state at some point. Each of them will fiddle. As a result I filed the SP in the ‘too hard to think about and not very relevant to me’ department.

    Now someone pitching for financial independence and retiring early is likely to have a shortened working life, I had 30 years of proper working, ie rolling up at a place of work and getting paid for my trouble. When I started work you had to have 40 years of working life to earn a full State Pension, elementary arithmetic showed me that leaving university at 21 and retiring on a typical white collar pension scheme retirement age of 60 was going to leave me a little short, and I compounded the issue my taking a year out to do an MSc in the late 1980s 1. As it was there were no other periods of unemployment until my career ended at 52. Fortunately for me they changed the rules in 2006 I think so I only needed 30 years. I was chuffed, because 52-21-1 makes 30 years so I was home and dry.

    Then they changed it again in 2016 so I needed to get 35 years, and now I am SOL because not only am I 5 years short, a sixth of the total, but I was also contracted out and there were dark mutterings that this will cost me a lot. Looks like my original suspicion this will be means-tested on money-grabbed out was right.

    I’d already gone through the pain of getting a national insurance record statement from HMRC, which involved filling in forms and sending them off up North somewhere and waiting an interminable period before a computer printout landed on my doorstep through the post. I read this Torygraph article bitching about how it was all too hard and thought I would actually go read the PDF written by the ex pensions czar Steve Webb, because he always struck me as a sensible sort of fellow except for a brain fart when he invited pensioners to go get a Lamborghini.

    That'll be a nice Lamborghini, and to hell with the money

    That’ll be a nice Lamborghini, and to hell with the money

    He now works for Royal London insurance because ,well, nobody voted Lib Dem in the last election and he was one of them. Turns out he has written a pretty coherent guide, and it appears that the Telegraph was shit-for-brains when they wrote their article, or collectively feeling the after effects of a particularly excessive office party. In particular, their “Topping up your state pension guide” is the dog’s bollocks, written by none other than Steve Webb. I can only presume the Torygraph journos are arts/PPE grads who are scared by  flowcharts ;).

    It’s so good I’ve saved a local copy of it here because when I go through my older posts featuring external links, it is clear that Jakob Nielsen was on the wrong side of history in his 1998 “Fighting Linkrot” article. That’s battle was comprehensively lost, we all know what happened, the good guys lost and were trampled into the ground.

    You can now get your NI and State Pension forecast online

    Something that I learned from Steve was that you can go here

    http://www.tax.service.gov.uk/check-your-state-pension

    and go get your own SP forecast. It helps if you already have a HMRC ID like from self assessment, and you want a copy of your passport nearby, but it went okay for me, and you get much more detail on your NI payment history than the old system. It turns out an Ermine’s NI record, if I had stopped contributing in April last year, is good for a State Pension of  £141 p.w, which is about £7300 a year.

    Now at a SWR of 4% that is effectively a bond portfolio of £182500. It has different risks to a bond portfolio – it has political risk rather than market risk. That’s not so bad if it is part of your portfolio, as opposed to nearly all of your retirement savings, however, because diversification of risk is a good thing. Its nature, however, is well suited to underpinning market risk, and bond investing in boring. I personally hold no bond assets whatsoever, but this is because I have a deferred defined benefit pension due in four years, and this covers the same sort of risk. I also have far, far more equity savings in my ISA than my SIPP, because I don’t want to pay tax on my savings, so I am running that SIPP into the ground ahead of my pension.

    The State Pension offers an early retiree a great annuity rate

    For two possible reasons – if they are an early retiree they probably don’t have 35 years of NI contributions, that’s the whole point of early retirement, and moreover they may have been contracted out. It is the second reason that makes it worth me contributing another three years of NI contributions, because that will wipe out my contracted out deficit, and I will reach the upper ceiling of £155.65 a week, ~£8191 a year. The obvious question here is ‘is it worth it’. That nice fellow Steve has done the dirty work for you here. You can choose to sit on your early retired chuff and pay voluntary Class 3 NI contributions, at ~£730 a year (it depends which years you are buying, I am assuming in my case these are years going forwards, though I could pay a little less to buy out years 2013 and 2014). which buys me ~£207 a year according to Steve.

    A far better way, however, is for an Ermine to be self-employed for three years and to pay his Class 2 ~£150 a year NICS. An ermine obviously doesn’t want to pay tax, so I work at a very low level, nominal minimum wage for 1 day a week. However, I don’t spend a day a week doing that – I hired the magic of PERL to extract the records from a bank account to inject into Quicken for that job, where the previous lot used to type in all the transactions. Because I don’t need to pay PERL any wages, my earning rate goes up from NMW, but I go a lot more part-time to compensate 😉 The pay rate is still pretty piss poor compared to The Firm, but it beats NMW by a long chalk, and I don’t pay tax on it 2  😉

    Now paying £150 to get £207 a year for say 10-20 years 12 years in the future sounds like a bloody good deal to me. I paid my £150 with alacrity and good heart this April for the year 2015/16. Technically Steve Webb is right and I should refuse to pay for 8 years and then pay up all at the end, because for all I know I could cark it tomorrow or sometime in the next 12 years go and do a Jim and go back to work because I miss the metrics and performance management shite so terribly that I need it back in my life. But sod it, I am going to pay my £150 early for peace of mind. And next year and the year after that.

    There aren’t many places you can go buy a deferred to 67 inflation-linked annuity returning 138%. Normally you are looking at 3% and have to have one foot in the grave to get a better rate. Even if you can’t find a way to look self-employed and go the Class 3 NICs route you’re looking at an annuity paying 28%. A top rate, risk and asset-class diversification and backed by Her Majesty’s Government. You owe it to yourself to at least ask the question of whether you can do this 😉

    force majeure

    There’s always going to be the tin-foil hat brigade that say that these promises aren’t worth the steam off their piss and will be repudiated. I am/was one of them, but in the end it’s down to Stephen Covey’s Circle of influence versus circle of concern. Personally I prefer the other statement of the same conundrum –

    For sure, the government may repudiate the State Pension, tax the crap out of it, the buccaneering Brexiteers may destroy the value of the pound so much that a pound buys you half a peanut in 20 years or there may be a war of all against all. Any or all these things may come to pass. I’ve got a lot more chilled than when  I was working, shit happens but not usually all the shit happens. There’s somebody offering me a taxable inflation-linked income of £890*0.8 3 for a one-off cost of £600 spread over four years, and over there there are people offering me the same £891 as an annuity for about £23,000. I’ll take the government up on their kind offer and to hell with the downside. I can afford to lose £600 for those odds.

    Notes:

    1. Looking at my NI record I see that either my younger self bought the extra NI when I went back to work, or for some reason doing an MSc on a Manpower Services Commission grant meant I got NI credits for that year. I didn’t get NI credits while doing my undergraduate degree
    2. because I am careful to only have income below the personal allowance, rather than I am keeping it all in the British Virgin Islands with Mossack Fonseca
    3. 20% tax
     
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