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Is Independent Advice all it is cracked up to be?

You hear a lot in the media when they discuss personal finance issues, about the importance of getting independent financial advice. Is it so important that the advice you get is independent? We believe it is…

To give you a sense of why it is so important, it’s probably useful to briefly cover what we mean by independent advice. This is advice that is given to a client on the basis that any product recommendations that may emerge, will deliver the very best product available in the market for the client. Independent advice is delivered by professionals, with access to products right across the market. These are usually financial advisers such as ourselves!

Non-independent advice is typically delivered by banks and direct sales forces from life assurance companies who only sell the products of a single company, irrespective of whether that is the best product in the market or not.

So why is your relationship with your independent financial adviser so important?

We’re here for the long haul

This is what we do; we provide independent financial advice. Our expertise is helping you manage your finances, grow your wealth, plan for your retirement and provide financial security for your family. We want to build up a professional, trusted relationship with you now and for many years to come, helping you achieve your financial goals. If we can help you do that, we’ll be successful too!

We don’t lend money, we don’t give out credit cards and we don’t hold your money on deposit. Banks are (supposed to be) good at that, as that is their role in your financial affairs. However are you going to build up the same trusted relationship with them as the provider of financial advice to you, where the person you deal with potentially changes from one meeting to the next?

Our advice is based on you

The critical requirement of financial advice is that it is based on your specific needs. Your current financial situation, your financial objectives, your attitude to risk. We spend a lot of time at the outset building up our understanding of you, as the time invested here reaps rewards as we progress. You see understanding your needs is the cornerstone of any recommendations we might make. Once we clarify these needs, then we can go out to the market to find the very best product for your specific circumstances, giving you the best chance of achieving your financial objectives.
The product provider is secondary

Of course the provider of your financial product is important, maybe that is a life assurance policy, a pension plan or an investment fund. But where you are getting independent advice, the provider is secondary. Because we ultimately have access to products across the market, we don’t have to start with a particular product and try to “force fit” your circumstances to make them suitable for the product. We’re not biased towards one provider, instead our product choice process starts with you. We identify your particular need and identify the right product in the market for you.

Of course underpinning this is the due diligence that we carry out on the products in the market, ensuring that they are all that they are supposed to be. As a result we recommend products based on a wide range of factors including;

  • Provider security
  • Price and charges
  • Product features
  • Investment range and methodology
  • Investment performance
  • Claims payment record
  • Customer service levels

And similar to everything else in the world, this landscape constantly changes. So we are constantly updating our knowledge of providers and their products and refining our recommendations as a result.

We do the legwork

Managing your financial affairs properly is a complex business. Gathering all your personal information and keeping this up to date, making sense of your assets & liabilities and your income & expenditure, getting all the information in relation to any existing financial products and turning all of this into a financial plan takes time. And then you need to stay on top of this, and keep it updated every year to ensure that your plan stays on track and that your financial objectives remain within reach.

You can try to do this yourself, however in our humble opinion we are probably more skilled and quicker at doing this for you, as this is what we do, day in and day out. We are qualified professionals who have trained for many years to provide this advice to our clients. All carried out with the aim of finding the right solutions for you.

We are your trusted adviser

At the end of the day, you want to ensure that you have an adviser with your best interests at heart, free from any bias. When you’re sick, you go to the doctor, if you need legal advice, you go to a solicitor. When you need financial advice, you should visit an expert financial professional. That person is your independent financial adviser.

Life Cover – “Surely that’s only for older people?”

Experience in the life assurance industry shows that most life assurance policies are taken out by people in their 30’s, 40’s and to a lesser extent in their 50’s. There is a very low uptake of life assurance by people in their 20’s who think; “I don’t need it now, I’ll buy it when I need it.”

We believe that it’s time to look again at all the possible things that can go wrong with this line of logic, and ask you to consider these points for yourself (if you’re fortunate enough to still be in your 20’s!) or indeed to advise your children to think about.

You are fit and healthy now

Typically when you are in your 20’s, you’re in the prime of your life!
You’re fit and healthy, and when it comes to life assurance, you have the choice of benefits, all of which can be purchased at ordinary rates, without loadings or exclusions.

Being overweight is a very common reason for additional loadings being applied to life assurance premiums. When you are young, your Body Mass Index (BMI) is less likely to incur additional loadings than in the future as some of us spread out a little bit!

You also must remember that your ongoing good health is not guaranteed. Many illnesses don’t raise their ugly head until later in life. Once you are diagnosed with an illness, it may affect your access to life assurance in the future, either altogether or possibly at normal premium rates.

So taking out life assurance while you are young gives you the best chance of getting cover at rates that are not loaded because of any health issues that you might have.

Your relatives are (more likely to be) fit and healthy

In a similar theme to the above point, the health of your immediate family is an important factor in determining your premium rates. When you are younger, your parents and siblings are of course also younger and as a result, you are less likely to suffer a premium loading based on family history at this stage.

Common Family History issues that can complicate an application for cover include cancers, heart disease, a stroke, haemochromatosis, multiple sclerosis and a range of other serious conditions.

You have not yet have taken up a hazardous activity.

There are a range of activities that can impact your access to and price of life cover if you carry them out, or are planning to carry them out at the time you take out the cover. These would include the likes of;

  • Working in a High Risk Area (eg: Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Colombia etc.)
  • Scuba Diving
  • Private Aviation

These types of activities can result in premium loadings, exclusion of cover if your death is related to these activities, or in some cases complete declinature of cover. It is quite possible that in your 20’s, you don’t carry out or plan to carry out any of these activities so you will be able to get cover at the most competitive rates.

You have not yet undertaken advanced diagnostic screening

As we all get a bit older, we begin to recognise our own mortality and most people start to pay more attention to their health. Many people as a result go for health checks. This is a great idea as they can pick up any potential issues that you have and enable you to deal with them as early as possible. However advanced screenings can also pick up incidental findings that can affect future life assurance applications.

So while undergoing the likes of ECG’s, MRI’s or Echocardiograms can be crucial to your ongoing health, you need to recognise that they may result in findings that can impact your access to life assurance. At the end of the day, you are less likely to be getting these diagnostic tests done in your 20’s.

Protect yourself against policy changes

Events happen in the life assurance industry that can impact the price of cover too! For example, the 1990’s HIV scare resulted in an approx. 15% increase in premiums overnight. So getting cover in place early can protect you against such sudden premium increases.

And of course cover is cheaper

I purposely left this point until last as the earlier points are equally important! But yes, cover is cheaper at these earlier ages, so getting the cover in place early secures these lower premiums.

“But I don’t need it now”

We hope that the above points have given you some food for thought as to why it might be a good idea to get cover in place now. Also, we’re here to find the most appropriate cover for you. So for example, if you are in your 20’s, we might consider cover with Life Events Options that allow you increase your cover (within limits) without further medical evidence at that time when buying a new home, when getting married or having a baby.

At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for – to find you the right cover, at the right time, to suit your specific circumstances and needs.

Ballybunion Golf Club Junior Scratch Cup

MCG Financial was delighted to be a sponsor for the Ballybunion Golf Club Junior Scratch Cup, which was held on May 24th. Over 200 players took part in the event and a great day was had by all!

This is the second year that MCG Financial have sponsored this event, and we are delighted to say that we have committed to sponsoring the same event again next year!

Here are a few photos from the event:

DSC_1953 DSC_1957

Pensions – Keeping The Dark Clouds Away From Your Later Years

The economy is recovering, incomes are starting to creep up again and hopefully you have some spare money that you are considering how to make the most of. Maybe your pension planning took a bit of a back seat during the last few years and it’s time to start thinking of planning for your later years again.

The tax benefits of pensions are well heralded. Tax relief at your marginal income tax rate (either 20% or 40%) continues to apply to your pension contributions, one of very few areas that continue to qualify for such attractive reliefs. Also the dreaded pensions levy which was effectively a tax on all our savings for the last few years finishes at the end of 2015. So from a value point of view, it’s hard to argue against pension plans.

But still when it comes to the subject of pensions, the questions we’re asked most regularly are;

  • Do I really need a pension?      and
  • Are pension plans the best way to plan for my old age?

We firmly believe the answers are YES and YES! Structured pension planning is far and away the most effective way to keep the storm clouds away from your later years.

Do you need a pension?

Well unfortunately none of us are getting any younger and even though retirement may seem like a distant event, steps that you take now will determine your lifestyle in your later years. At the end of the day, it’s really all about building up a war chest for when you stop working. The bigger this pot is, the better your lifestyle will be when your income stops.

Some good (and bad!) news is that we’re all now living longer than before.  Men are now living on average to age 78 and women to age 82. We can thank our healthier lifestyles, better diets and medical science for this! While this is certainly good news, it also comes with a price. If you live longer, you need a bigger nest egg to see you through these years.

Will the government look after you?

Unfortunately you can’t rely on the state if you want any more than a subsistence lifestyle.  The state (contributory) pension is currently €230.80 per week for a single person and €436.60 per week for a couple and these amounts haven’t changed in years. Not a lot of money if you fancy going on the odd holiday! Also the state has already started pushing out retirement dates – for anyone born in 1961 or later, they won’t get their state pension until age 68.

On top of this, the government actually hasn’t saved any money for future pensions. So as the numbers of those working reduces in relation to the numbers of pensioners receiving benefits (as our demographics show they will), there will be less money for the government to pay out. So what can they do? Well first of all, they can increase PRSI to bring more money in to pay out in benefits. Or else they can reduce the benefits or indeed introduce means testing of state pensions. The likelihood is, it will be a combination of these sort of remedies.

The reality is that it’s up to us to look after our own retirement needs if we want a nice lifestyle to enjoy.

Are Pensions the right way?

We know that pensions are a complex area and this puts a lot of people off. However working with a good independent financial adviser will help you cut through this complexity. We can help you identify the right pension structure for you to ensure that a pension plan meets your needs in later life. Pension plans today can be extremely versatile and tailored to you to ensure you maximise the benefits by;

  • Investing in assets that meet your risk appetite.
  • Investing in a wide diversity of assets to minimise any investment “shocks”.
  • Gaining tax relief (still at the marginal rate!) on your contributions.
  • Seeing your pension fund grow, free of any taxes.
  • Availing of a tax-free lump sum of part of your fund at retirement.

What do you do next?

Well it’s probably quite obvious but the longer that you pay into a pension fund, the more you can expect to receive when you retire and the more likely you are to achieve your financial goals. So don’t delay.

Also, be realistic about how much it will take to achieve your goals. As a rough rule of thumb, you should aim to save “half your age”. So if you’re 38 like me 😉 you should aim to save 19% of your income to build up a decent fund. Of course, this is only a rough calculation. We will help you develop a far more tailored picture for you, taking account of any existing benefits that you’ve already built up and will help you to implement a plan that is right for your particular circumstances.

And really this last point is the key to it all. Helping people to develop tailored solutions to address your retirement needs is meat and drink to independent financial advisers such as us. Talking to someone who is independent is crucial. Independent financial advisers devise solutions and recommend products that best meet your needs, as we have access to all the products in the market. Unlike a bank or a direct seller, we are not forced down the route of recommending a particular product of one institution.

So in summary, you’re hopefully going to be retired for a very long time. How well you can enjoy this is up to you, as you can’t rely on the state. Remember all the benefits of pension plans. Oh, and make sure you get independent advice.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user brainware3000)

Income Protection – The Glue that Holds Your Financial Portfolio Together

Income Protection is that still relatively rare product in many people’s financial portfolio. Why is this? Particularly when it covers far and away your biggest asset, your income.

The reason I believe that income protection remains ignored by many people is because they don’t have to take out this cover. Unlike car insurance, which is required to stay on the road, and house insurance and mortgage protection, which are probably conditions of your mortgage, income protection is a discretionary purchase. So it has to compete for your attention with your day to day spending, the spending on your social life, your saving for your holidays and all your other discretionary spending. It’s true paying for income protection is not the most enjoyable use of your money, however it’s a really important use of your hard earned cash. Without your income, everything goes; holidays, your lifestyle, your mortgage repayments, the lot. It’s your income that keeps all of these going for you.

Income protection provides cover against the loss of your income due to illness or accident. That is why we consider it the glue of a financial portfolio. It protects your income, which if you become unable to work may pretty much disappear. Income protection then steps in, replaces your income and enables you to maintain your financial objectives, continue your saving, your pension planning, and the protection for your family, as well as your lifestyle spending.

While obviously the best place to start looking for income protection is by talking to your independent financial adviser (which is covered in detail elsewhere in this newsletter), here are a few features you might not be aware of in relation to income protection.

Tax Relief

Did you know that the premiums paid for income protection policies qualify for tax relief at your marginal rate of tax? Unlike health insurance and other tax breaks that only get relief at the lower 20% rate, income protection (like pensions) attracts relief at your highest rate. This can reduce the actual cost by over 40%.
Align it with any existing entitlements

Income protection policies come in all shapes and sizes so this is where your independent financial adviser can really help you. One of the first places to start is to examine any existing entitlements you may have in the event of being unable to work due to illness or accident. Your employer may provide sick-pay for some time and / or you may have entitlement to some social welfare benefits. It’s really important to take these into account when identifying the right income protection cover for you.

The payment of income protection benefit usually begins after a deferred period (waiting period), usually anything from 8 weeks to a year from the date you are first out of work. The longer the waiting period, the cheaper the cover is. So it makes sense to take account of any sick pay that you might get in the short-term.
It’s all about claims

At the end of the day, income protection like all insurance is a simple concept. Lots of people pay in relatively small amounts of money (premiums), from which small numbers of unfortunate people claim relatively large amounts of money (claims) when an unforeseen event occurs.

To ensure you are getting the right insurance for your own circumstances, you need to examine in detail every aspect of the policy that you are going to take out. What does the provider mean by “unable to work”? What is their claims payment record, do they actually pay out? What added services are available – some providers will assist claimants in their rehabilitation and indeed will assist them in retraining etc. if this will help them get back to work, even on a part-time basis. Indeed some will continue to pay you a partial benefit if you manage to get back to work part-time.

The huge benefit of income protection is that claims can be paid right up to your retirement date. This is what makes it such a valuable benefit. There are claims that are currently being paid in Ireland that have been in force for literally decades.

And about premiums too…

Are the premiums that you pay guaranteed or might they increase over the years? While guaranteed premiums might look a bit more expensive at the outset, you get certainty that they will never change. It’s a bit like taking a fixed rate mortgage rather than a variable rate.

At the end of the day, the critical point is recognising how important it is to protect your income as this keeps all your spending possible. After that, you need to make sure that you get the right policy for you. And that is where we come in, your trusted independent financial adviser.

7 years on – what have we learned?

Think back 7 short years. A huge US investment bank that few people in Ireland knew much about called Lehman Brothers collapsed and started a shockwave in global banking that had huge ramifications in Ireland. Soon after, we saw the government guarantee scheme, followed by the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank and then the biggest recession in Irish history.

The recession has had enormous consequences for people in Ireland. However, some people have definitely been affected much worse than others. So as individuals, what are the lessons to be learned to best protect us against any future economic downturns?

 

Have a long-term investment strategy

The people who suffered most in the economic collapse were those who had no plan and tried to call the market. These people typically sold assets such as shares or property after significant falls in value and then after suffering so much, were very slow to re-enter the market and missed most of the recovery. In fact, stock markets had pretty much fully recovered in 2011, but many people were out of the market for much of the recovery period and their portfolios did not recover.

People with a plan typically stuck to it and avoided making short-term calls. As a result they did not make large scale asset movements and as a result, they experienced both the collapse, but more importantly the recovery in the markets.

Diversification is key

In Ireland in particular, this is one lesson that many people have bitterly learned. No matter what your investment objectives are, it is very important that you protect yourself by not being over-exposed to one asset category in particular.

A decade ago in Ireland, many people began to think that property was a one-way bet; that the only way was up! It was deemed disastrous to be “out of the market” as banks lent money with abandon and people over-extended themselves, buying in Ireland, the UK and then in more exotic places, some of which they knew nothing about. And then the global property crash happened. All those people who were invested only in property bore the brunt of the ensuing pain.

Debt must be carefully managed

A lot of the problems in Ireland were exacerbated by the easy access to credit, offered by the banks. Many people subsequently borrowed huge amounts of money, with little thought given to their repayment capability, assuming that capital growth would continue apace. The opportunity to make significant gains was there for highly leveraged individuals as the market continued to grow.

But unfortunately as the market collapsed, these individuals suffered greatly as their losses were multiplied in line with their high levels of leverage. Many have suffered to a point of no return financially and unfortunately face the loss of their assets and indeed in some cases bankruptcy. This has been a salutary lesson for all of us, to ensure our debt levels are manageable.

Keep emotion out of it

Investing is an art not a science. If investing were a science then there would simply be a formula for success. We all know this is not the case. Our successes (and failures!) are strongly affected by uncontrollable issues, which emotionally affect us and cloud our judgement. These influences are many. Things such as random events, investor sentiment, market momentum and of course, plain, simple luck all have an unpredictable and inconsistent influence on markets. Analysts are always trying to rationalize these issues, define them and ultimately predict their timing and influence. This is of course nigh on impossible.

The people who tend to suffer most are those who exhibit extreme emotions. Being too greedy is a recipe for disaster in a rising market, as these people often don’t take the opportunity to lock in any gains. In a falling market, excessive fear is also a big enemy as people exit the market and are too fearful to re-enter, thus missing a market recovery. The answer is to make investment decisions on logic alone…both yours and that of your adviser!

(Some) cash is king

The economic collapse resulted in a lot of pain for many people, with salary reductions and a large increase in unemployment being two of the most unwelcome effects.  For these people, cashflow became an immediate issue as their non-discretionary outgoings (such as mortgage and other loan repayments) typically did not reduce in line with the fall in income. This caused significant issues for people with no cash buffer as they struggled to deal with banks and other creditors, resulting in significant financial pressure, stress and a dramatic fall-off in their lifestyle. Going forwards, many people have prioritised a cash (or other liquid asset) buffer as one of their investment objectives.

 

Don’t go it alone

As people saw their portfolios collapsing and faced uncertainty about their financial futures, it became more and more difficult to make rational decisions. This is where a trusted voice became extremely valuable and for many, that voice was their financial adviser. They were able to stand back, remove the emotion from the situation and provide clear thinking in a difficult situation. Sometimes the advice given was to do nothing, often the right advice! For other people, their adviser was able to help them face up to their situation and plan on how to deal with it.

Having that second opinion, apart from the positive impact it will have on your financial wellbeing will also seriously reduce your stress levels!
I look forward to any comments you might have – are there any other big lessons to be learned?

Are you leaving over half the return from the stock market on the table?

“We have met the enemy, and he is us”, is a quote attributed to Pogo, a comic strip character created by American cartoonist Walter Kelly. Pogo may well have been referring to investors, whom it would seem are their own worst enemies when it comes to making investment decisions.

According to a recent study carried out by DALBAR, a leading financial services research firm, the average stock market investor over the last twenty years (to end 2011) has earned a return of 3.5% p.a. versus the average fund return of 7.8% p.a. Less than 50%! Are you leaving more than half the stock markets’ return on the table?

People make poor investment decisions because they are human. We all come with mental software that tends to encourage us to buy after results have been good and to sell after results have been poor. Exactly the opposite of what we are told to do, i.e. buy low and sell high.

So why does this happen? To explain, I’ll introduce two investment terms – time-weighted returns & money-weighted returns for funds.

  • The time-weighted return which is the return typically reported, is simply the return for the fund over time.
  • The money-weighted return on the other hand calculates the return on each of the Euros invested. These two calculations can yield very different results for the same fund.

So let’s look at an example to explain the difference between the two.

Say, a fund starts with €100 and goes up 20% in year 1. It’s now worth €120. The next year however, let’s assume it loses 10% (-€12). So the €100 invested at the beginning is worth €108 after two years and the time-weighted return is 3.9% p.a.

Now let’s say we start again with the same €100 and the same first year results of a 20% return. Investors see this very good result, and because they assume the good returns will continue (remember we’re human!), they pour an additional €200 into the fund. So now they have €320 at the end of year 1 — the original €120 plus the additional €200 invested. The fund then goes down 10% in year 2, now causing €32 of losses.

The fund will still have the same time-weighted return, 3.9% as this is calculated on the fund’s performance over two years (an increase of 20% in year 1, a drop of 10% in year 2).

But now the fund will be worth only €288, which means that in total, investors put in €300 — the original €100 plus €200 after year one — and lost €12.

So the fund has positive time-weighted returns but negative money-weighted returns. Investors’ tendencies for buying high and selling low means that investors earn, on average, a money-weighted return that is less than 50% of the market’s return (as per above). The results of our decisions with respect to timing are simply appalling.

The DALBAR study also identified something even more startling. An investor committing money on a regular basis to the stock market fared even worse than the lump sum investor, with a return of just 3.2%. So what are we to make of this?

Patterns of stock market returns are important to the regular investor. Investment strategy cannot be simply ignored if an investor is committing money on a regular basis. You can’t just throw money blindly at the market.

To investors that commit lump sums to the stock market, you’re pre-disposed to undermining your return through your own actions. Emotions, like hair growth or your heartbeat can’t be controlled. You need to take the emotion out of the investment decision making. To do this, at a very minimum, have a proper plan when investing and seek external validation of your plan. Or better still, employ an expert who won’t get caught up in the emotion of the investment decisions to invest the money on your behalf.

Where do you find and get access to such an expert? Well this is where we come in. It’s our job to show you the range of investment options available to you, to talk you through the different funds and fund managers available and to help you find the one that best suits your needs. We’re on your side and again, will be able to leave the emotion out of the decision making!

If you have any comments or queries in relation to this article, we look forward to hearing from you!

Make the most of your money in 2015

It’s a new year and traditionally now is the time to commit to some well-intentioned resolutions. We probably all set some goals; for some it might be to spend more time in the gym, for others it might be about getting a better work / life balance. So in this vein, we’ve put our thinking caps on and identified 8 areas for you to consider that will help you make the most of your money in 2015.

 

1. Get a full financial healthcheck

This is where we can really help you! We can help you to look at your particular circumstances and your financial objectives and then help you to get your money working harder for you. This might be through wiser investment choices or lower cost policies – there really are lots of areas in which we can potentially help you!

2. Create and follow a household budget

It’s really important to know how much money is coming in and going out every month and where you are spending it. Once you get a handle on this, you can start planning your personal finances in a structured way. This will help you to both manage your day to day spending, and will also help you to plan better for the bigger costs you face such as buying a house, a car or planning your holidays.

3. Reduce your tax bill

Take a lot of care completing your tax return – have you claimed all of your medical expenses and other deductible expenses? Lots of people fail to claim back all of their allowable expenses – a little effort might result in a nice refund cheque from the Revenue Commissioners!

Also, have you maximised your pension contribution in order to reduce your tax bill and also to save for the future? Have you claimed tax relief on your income protection premiums? What about your life cover – some policies qualify for tax relief…can you avail of this? Ask your independent financial adviser to review all your policies to ensure you’re availing of all the tax reliefs and other potential savings available to you.

4. Pay off your credit card every month

We all know this one but it is surprising how many people still run up and keep credit card balances that sit just below their spending limit. With such penal interest rates, credit card debt eats away quickly at your personal budgets. Make a big effort to reduce or better still, to clear your credit card balance and then make sure your credit card bill is paid off in full at the end of the month, every single month.

5. Protect your biggest asset – your income!

It’s your income that enables you to maintain your lifestyle and indeed covers the cost of the insurance you have for your car, house and indeed your life itself. But what happens if you lose your income? Income protection provides you with a replacement income in the event of an illness or accident and provides you with the comfort of not having to worry about money if or when you get sick.

6. Make sure you’re not paying too much for your life assurance

Premium rates for many protection products such as life assurance have reduced significantly in recent years. On top of this, since the end of 2012, premium rates for all insurance related products are the same for both men and women. This will result in potential savings in some areas.. Ask your financial adviser to do a review of your protection portfolio to see if there are any areas of potential savings for you with your protection products.

7. Make spare cash work harder for you

If you’re in the fortunate position to have some surplus funds, it might be some money left over every month or indeed a little nest egg set aside, make sure that it is working as hard for you as possible. Don’t just leave it sitting in your current account. Check out the different deposit rates on offer with your bank or better still, get an independent financial adviser to do the work for you and find the best rates to suit your circumstances.

8. Know the risk of your investments

Make sure that any investments you have in place reflect your personal appetite for risk. How important is capital protection to you? Will you be able to sleep if the values of your investments fall in the short term? Ensure your financial adviser has designed an investment portfolio that reflects your own appetite for risk.

We’re here to help you make sense of each and every one of these money saving ideas and to help you to manage your finances better in 2015. Please give us a call and we’ll work out how to get your money working for you as hard as possible.

Image courtesy of www.stockmonkeys.com

8 Investment Tips Worth Remembering!

People face a whole range of different personal finance challenges and often ask us for tips. The area of savings and investments is the one we’re asked about the most. So we thought it might be useful to give you a few tips to consider to best manage your hard-earned cash. Of course we strongly advise you talk to an expert about these first, to help you identify which of these are right for you.

 

Pay yourself first & save up to 10% of your monthly income

One of the biggest mistakes that people make in relation to saving is that they place it as the lowest priority item in their monthly budget. They pay their mortgage, their bills, they go shopping, they spend on luxury items and entertainment, they probably waste a few bob…and then they save whatever is left over! So effectively you’re paying yourself last.

One great habit of saving is to pay yourself first every month, immediately after you are paid. If you’re running out of money then at the end of the month, yes, you’ll have to “dip in”. But you’re much less likely to waste money, if you have to dip into your savings to do so. And how much should you be saving? Aim for 10% of your income, even more if you have no pension scheme in place.

Be careful of individual shares

So you get a great share tip. What do you do? Throw a lot of your money at it to really make a worthwhile gain? Well, be really careful, this is a very risky strategy. We only have to consider all the unfortunate people in Ireland who only 6 years ago had their wealth tied up in the shares of an Irish bank. Because they were a “sure thing”, with no risk attached. These people lost the lot.

Always spread your risk and build your wealth through funds or pools of shares. This diversification will give you some protection against one of the companies you’re invested in going south.

Learn the ” Rule of 72″

The Investopedia definition of the Rule of 72 is that it is a simplified way to determine how long an investment will take to double, given a fixed annual rate of interest. By dividing 72 by the annual rate of return, investors can get a rough estimate of how many years it will take for the initial investment to duplicate itself.

For example, the rule of 72 states that €1 invested at 10% would take 7.2 years ((72/10) = 7.2) to turn into €2.

Knowing this rule will help manage your expectations in relation to the performance of your portfolio or will help you identify the return needed to double your money in a specific timeframe.

Follow an Asset Allocation Strategy

Spending time getting your asset allocation right, and adjusting it as your investment objectives and/or market conditions change, is a much more robust investment strategy than trying to pick the right stocks. Yes picking the right stocks can result in very sharp gains in a portfolio. However they also can result in very steep drops too. Spending the time getting your asset allocation right and then adjusting it as required is likely to result in a more consistent return. Of course this is where we can really help you! We can help you identify the right allocation to suit your investment objectives and risk profile, and then help you to implement it.

Use investment strategies to increase wealth

There are a number of different strategies that you can use that are likely to serve you better than an ad hoc approach. A few to consider include:

  • Buy and hold: This is where you buy investments (usually stocks) and keep them for a long time, ignoring short-term fluctuations in the market.
  • Pound cost averaging: This is where you invest a fixed amount of money in a fund or basket of shares on a regular, monthly basis. When prices are high, your monthly amount will purchase less shares of a well-performing asset, but if the price falls, your “new” money will buy more shares.
  • Rebalancing: This is where you identify your desired asset allocation at the outset and then buy or sell assets in your portfolio to maintain this allocation as the prices of the assets change.

 

Adopt a non-emotional investment approach

Look at investment markets coldly and don’t allow emotion to cloud your judgement. Greed and fear are two of the greatest threats to a good investment strategy.                                                                                       

Learn the Market Cycle                  

The investment market usually (but not always) follows a typical cycle as shown below. While you obviously cannot rely on all of the different factors coming together as illustrated, this is a useful picture to bear in mind.

Marketycle

Get independent advice

Well we would say that, wouldn’t we? But this is so important. Your independent financial adviser can help you navigate your way through the choppy investment waters, with their sole objective being to help you achieve your investment goals. We’d be delighted to talk you through any of the tips in this article.

Warning: If you invest in these funds you may lose some or all of the money you invest.
Warning: The value of your investment may go down as well as up.