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Understanding interest income and expense

Understanding interest income and expense

In the UK, interest rates have now been so low for so long that even those who are, technically, old enough to remember the double-digit inflation of the 1980s, may have forgotten what it meant in practice.  It meant that cash deposits could bring could returns for savers – but borrowing could be eye-wateringly expensive.  With Brexit on the horizon and a “no-deal” looking close to certain, now may be a good time to go over interest rates, the theory and practice.

When currencies weaken, interest rates tend to go up

The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England is tasked with keeping inflation at exactly 2%, but since this is the real world, it is allowed a 1% “margin of error” either way.  If inflation falls below 1% or rises above 3%, however, the Bank of England has to write an open letter to the chancellor explaining what it intends to do about it.  If inflation falls below 1%, the BoE has two options.  It can lower interest rates (assuming there is room for it to do so) or it can implement a programme of quantitative easing.  When inflation goes up, however, the BoE’s only option is to increase interest rates.

The Brexit question

If Sterling weakens due to Brexit (or for any other reason), it will increase the cost of importing goods from overseas.  If this cost is offset by gains elsewhere, such as inbound tourism, then the net effect may be zero (or close to it), but if it is not, then either the UK will have to cease (or severely limit) its imports and/or inflation will increase and in the latter case the BoE will be forced to raise interest rates to meet its 2% target. The only other option would be for the government to change the inflation target in some way, either by permitting inflation to go higher or by changing the means by which it is measured (such as the change from the Retail Price Index to the Consumer Price Index).  This is certainly possible, but it would be politically challenging.  Allowing inflation to rise would potentially impact everyone, including borrowers, whereas allowing interest rates to rise would benefit savers but hurt borrowers. Raising interest rates would also, at least potentially, make Sterling more attractive on the international markets, thus potentially bringing the value of the currency back up and lowering inflation naturally.  Having said that, this tactic did not work for John Major back in 1992, when the UK exited the ERM.

What this means in practice

In very blunt terms, Brexit could mean that savers finally get to see better returns on their cash deposits and borrowers start to see an increase in the cost of financing their debt.  Having said that, it is still very possible that savers will not see enough of a benefit to make it worth their while to readjust their asset allocation in favour of cash.  Borrowers, by contrast, will have no option but to swallow up the higher interest rates as they will be reflected across all lenders albeit to varying degrees.  This means that it is now critically important for borrowers to do everything in their means to pay down debt as quickly as possible and the higher the level of interest payable on the debt, the more important it becomes to pay it down.  If borrowers are unable to pay down their debt immediately, for example, if they have mortgages with long terms, then it may be worthwhile to switch to a fixed-rate product so at least they will have the security of knowing what their payments will be over the life of the product.  As always, however, individuals will need to do their own sums to see if this approach makes sense in their own situation. On clicking third party website link you will leave the regulated site of Coombes & Wright Mortgage Solutions Limited. Neither Coombes & Wright Mortgage Solutions Limited, nor Sesame Ltd, is responsible for the accuracy of the information contained within the linked site.    
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A beginner’s guide to property investment

A beginner’s guide to property investment

If you’ve been paying attention to the financial news, you’ll probably have noticed that there have been numerous articles highlighting the increasing challenges faced by property investors in general and buy-to-let property investors in particular.  The fact still remains, however, that the UK has a high demand for property and especially for high-quality rental property.  This means that there are still very respectable profits available to astute property investors who operate in the right way.  If that sounds like something which would interest you, then here is a beginner’s guide to property investment.

It’s not just an old joke, location really does matter

If you’re planning on managing a property yourself, then you’re probably going to want to look for properties which are within practical travelling distance of where you live.  These days, however, property investors, especially beginners, might want to give serious consideration to using a lettings agent to ensure that every aspect of their buy-to-let business is managed in total compliance with the law.  This does add to costs, but it also means that investors can look at a far greater range of locations since they will not need to travel to them personally (or at least not often).

Teamwork makes the dream work

For “hands-on” investors, having an address book full of useful contacts (such as reliable and proficient tradespeople) can make life go so much more smoothly.  For “hands-off” investors, a good lettings agent can be more than worth their fee.  In either case, having an accountant on board is not just a convenience from the point of view of managing your tax returns with minimal hassle, but an investment from the point of view of minimizing the amount of tax you have to pay.  You may also want to have a lawyer on your side, particularly if you are a “hands-on” investor.  As previously mentioned, the UK buy-to-let market is becoming increasingly regulated and penalties for non-compliance, even inadvertent non-compliance, can be very severe.  You might also want to consider becoming a member of relevant associations and other networks as a handy way of keeping on top of developments in the property market and of benefitting from other people’s experience.

Make sure your portfolio is built on solid foundations

A rising tide floats all boats and a rising property market effectively gives property investors some leeway to make mistakes and escape unscathed (or with very little damage done to them).  When the property market is stagnant or falling, property investors need to tread more warily.  This has always been the case but recent developments have made it even more important that investors get their sums absolutely correct right from the off.  In this context, there are two changes which are of particular note.  The first is that Mortgage Tax Relief is in the process of being abolished, which could have significant implications for investors on higher incomes.  One way to deal with this is to hold property within a limited company, however, this carries a number of implications which need to be clearly understood before a property investor can make an informed decision as to whether or not this is the right approach for them.  It’s also worth noting that if you are a new property investor and choose to go down this road, you almost certainly want to buy your property through the company right from the start to avoid the costs of transferring it into the company further down the line.  Secondly, the government has now finally banned landlords charging additional fees to tenants, which means that it is now utterly vital that property investors have a clear view of all the expenses they can reasonably be expected to incur (and ideally a margin of safety) so that these can be incorporated into the rent tenants pay. Your property may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage. The FCA does not regulate some forms of buy to let mortgages. The FCA does not regulate tax planning and we act as an introducer for it.  
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