Monday, 7 December 2009

Tax Efficient Investments and Tax Wrappers

You would think that governments throughout the world would be trying to encourage people to save for their own retirement and hence remove future burdens from the state. Unfortunately in the United Kingdom I don’t see the current government providing much support or encouragement here. Instead I see a lot of complexity which means unless you know exactly what you are doing you will over your investment life either:
- pay higher taxes than are necessary thereby ending up with a smaller investment pot in the future, or
- pay the same (effectively tax deferral) or lower taxes within tax wrappers but lose a lot or all of this benefit by paying higher fees / charges than needed or even in extreme cases charges on charges with in some instances the added negative of having certain restrictions on what you can and can’t do as defined by the government. Just to give one extreme example, I could even see that if you are only deferring tax within a wrapper but paying higher charges then you are actually worse off than not having a tax wrapper at all and just paying the full tax.

I guess it’s no different to anything else in life. Buyer beware and always carefully do your own research.

Minimising the tax I pay (along with the fees /charges I pay) is one of the cornerstones to my retirement strategy. I can easily show this by thinking of what percentage of my annual returns will come through dividends / interest and the affect that paying high rates of tax will have on my final retirement fund through losing on the compound interest effect. Let me give an example. Average Joe and Mr UK Average have £10,000 in share based investments that provide a dividend yield of 4.5% (average dividend yield of the S&P 500 since 1871 using the Shiller dataset). Both are higher rate 40% tax payers. Now Mr UK Average who doesn’t think about minimising taxation holds these shares outside of any tax efficient wrappers and so pays 32.5% (however in most instances this is really only 25% after tax credits on dividends are calculated). Average Joe holds half of his share based investments in tax wrappers meaning his effective tax rate is only 12.5%. I’m going to ignore capital gains to make the demonstration simple. So where are they after 20 years:

Average Joe has 11% more assets (and the more years in the calculation the better it gets for average Joe) than Mr UK Average meaning he has the potential for 11% more income in retirement or could hold a less risky investment portfolio for the same lifestyle. Taxes on investments matter.

I use one tax efficient investment type which are National Savings and Investments Index Linked Savings Certificates. Additionally I use 2 tax wrappers which are a Pension which is a Defined Contribution Scheme and a Stocks and Shares Individual Savings Account (Stocks and Shares ISA).

Just a little about each of these as I will cover them in more detail later:
- NS&I Index Linked Savings Certificates today offer a return of the Retail Prices Index (RPI) + 1% however the real benefit, particularly for high rate tax payers is that they are tax free.
- Pensions are extremely complex things and you would think that any government would be trying to simplify them so they could be understood and make them beneficial for all tax payers to save for their future. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be happening. I use them as for me personally they provide huge benefits. I can however think of a number of situations where they would provide little to no benefit and in some instances could even make a person worse off. What I am always nervous about however is that with a Pension you lock your money up for a lot of years and with past history as a guide governments will most likely change the rules. I therefore don’t put all my investments here.
- Stocks & Shares ISA’s seem to be no brainer for anyone wanting to invest in the stock markets. They form a pivotal part of my investment strategy. If you look around you can find Stocks and Shares ISA’s that don’t charge you to use the tax wrapper. You still pay to buy the investments inside and these investments might also see charges however this is no different to outside the wrapper. For higher rate tax payers they provide tax benefits from both dividends and capital gains. While for low rate tax payers today, they offer only really capital gains benefits. One thought however is that you never know when you might become a higher tax rate payer or given the disastrous state of the public finances of the UK you never know when as a low rate tax payer you will be taxed on your dividends.


  1. will follow this with interest, keep it coming...

  2. RetirementInvestingToday will unfortunately not have new content for a couple of weeks. I've lost internet access on the 08 December and don't expect it back until just after Christmas Day. Apologies for those following the content.