7 apps to give your brain a workout

If someone mentions getting into shape, you probably think of exercising, getting outdoors and eating better. But a mental workout is just as important for your health.

Just a few minutes a day can help keep your brain healthy and your mind sharp. With so many apps available on smartphones, there are plenty of ways to start building positive habits with just a few taps. If you’re looking for ways to train your brain, these apps can provide a fun place to start.

1. Lumosity

Lumosity has been around for a decade and has become a popular app. It includes a series of mini-games to get your brain working. The games are split into categories including speed, memory, attention, flexibility, problem-solving, word, and maths. The variety of colourful games means you can focus on a particular area or create a workout that covers them all. The app can also create a daily programme for you and will track your scores to show how you’ve improved.

The app will start with a fit test to provide you with a baseline and then provide three quick games every day to make it easy to fit into your daily routine. You can use the app across multiple platforms, from your mobile to a desktop computer. While there is a free version of Lumosity, to unlock all the games and features, there is a monthly subscription.

2. Peak

Peak is a slick app containing an assortment of mini-games that are designed to push your cognitive skills. Again, these exercises are broken down into several subjects ranging from mental agility to language. There are more than 30 games to choose from in total to ensure your daily workout remains fun and fresh. Each day you can log in to complete a daily set of games that promise to get you thinking. You can also set goals and the app will provide challenges that link to them.

The app provides you with plenty of statistics to track your progress too. Not only does it let you see your own brain map but lets you compare it to your friends, your age group, and others that work in your industry. There’s plenty to keep your focus on the free version of Peak but you can choose to upgrade your membership for a monthly fee.

3. Happify

Happify is a little different to other apps that focus on boosting your speed and concentrating. Instead, it delivers a series of games that were developed to improve mindfulness and help users overcome negative thoughts and stress. It aims to help you break old, potentially negative, habits and take control of feelings and thoughts.

The app is free and includes games to play, as well as meditations. With over 65 tracks designed to improve mental health, this is a brain training app that can boost your emotional wellbeing. One of the interesting features is a huge report on character strength, which outlines which of the 24 identified strengths, from creativity to leadership, are most essential to who you are.

4. Elevate

Elevate’s series of games are designed to improve your focus, processing speed, and more as you go through a personalised daily exercise. As well as helping you to develop particular skills, the app also aims to boost self-confidence and productivity that could benefit you.

The app logs your streaks and scores on a calendar encouraging you to log on daily. There are over 30 games that become more difficult as your scores rise. The app offers a basic version for free, which limits the number of games you can play each day, and an enhanced version, which you’ll need to pay for. The pro subscription unlocks more games and lets you play them as often as you want.

5. Not the Hole Story

Not the Hole Story can get you thinking by figuring out the answer to lateral puzzles and more. If you like solving riddles, this is a great app for you to download. The app can broaden the way you think and how you approach problems as you work your way through the challenges.

If you’re struggling to complete a riddle, the app will provide a series of hints that allow you to improve your skills over time. It’s a great option for completing puzzles with someone else or sharing the riddles with family and friends to see if they can solve them faster than you.

6.  Fit Brains Trainer

Fits Brains Trainer is a bold and colourful addition to brain workout apps. As with the above apps, it provides a series of games that can help to improve areas like concentration and memory. One key difference is that it includes an emotional intelligence training function. Some of the games focus on building skills like self-control, perseverance and people skills, providing users with a chance to improve their emotional control. As with the other apps, you can log your results to see your progress to motivate you to stick to a daily workout plan.

As with some of the other apps, you can complete the exercise on your smartphone or log in to your computer and a subscription unlocks more features for you to try.

7. Sudoku

While there isn’t just one Sudoku app, there are plenty of free options for you to download to complete these number puzzles. Sudoku can really get you thinking and boost your logic skills in the process as you work out which number belongs in each tile. The puzzles have been around for decades but started to become popular around the world in the 2000s.

Beginner Sudoku puzzles can be completed in minutes giving you a quick workout each day, while the more challenging ones can take some time to puzzle out. It means you can set the level of difficulty you want and there’s definitely a sense of satisfaction when you complete a particularly challenging one.

Everything you need to know about financially supporting children through university

It’s that time of the year when thousands of teenagers across the country are waiting to find out if they’ve been accepted to university. As your child or grandchild starts the next chapter of their life, it’s natural to feel some concern as well as pride in their achievements. Understanding what university means financially can help put some of your worries to rest.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there are over 2.5 million students, with about 1.7 million studying for their first degree. It’s a figure that’s risen over the years as more young people go to university to further their education. However, it does mean that more teenagers are taking on the cost of fees and living independently so it’s important to manage finances.

For most students, student loans will play a key role in being able to afford their course and lifestyle costs.

Student loans: How do they work?

For the 2021/22 academic year, full-time UK undergraduate students will pay a maximum of £9,250 for their course. Over a typical three-year course, that adds up to £27,750. This can be covered by a student loan.

On top of this, students may need to take out a maintenance loan to cover living costs. For students living away from home, they can borrow £9,488 for each academic year (£12,382 when studying in London).

If your child took out the full tuition and maintenance loan each year for a three-year course, it’d add up to £56,214. That can seem like a daunting amount of debt to graduate with. However, student loans don’t work in the same way as a traditional loan.

Students going to university this year to study for an undergraduate degree will be part of “plan 2”. This means they won’t need to start paying back their student loan until they earn more than £2,274 a month (£27,288 a year). Once they exceed this threshold, the amount paid towards a student loan is fixed at 9%.

So, if they earn an income of £35,000, they will pay 9% of their salary over the threshold to pay off the loan; £57.70 a month. As a result, paying back student loans can be manageable and may be viewed more like a “graduate tax” rather than a traditional loan.

What’s more, the student loan will be written off after 30 years if the full amount hasn’t been repaid.

Do children or grandchildren still need financial support after taking out a student loan?

While student loans aren’t prohibitive for most wanting to pursue further education, studying can still be a financial struggle.

According to Save the Student, the average student’s living costs are £795 a month and more than half of this (£418) goes on rent. As a result, many could struggle to make ends meet if they’re relying on the maintenance loan alone.

Students may need to get a part-time job to support themselves or rely on support from family. So, if you want to help, what can you do?

There are many ways you can financially support children through university. If you have the funds to provide a lump sum, paying rental accommodation can be a huge weight off their mind. Alternatively, providing a reliable income to cover essentials or paying for course materials can help them budget more effectively. If you’re in a position to offer financial support, it can mean your child or grandchild can focus on studying.

While you may want to offer financial support, it’s important you understand the implications of doing so. Would paying for accommodation affect your long-term plans, for example? If you’re unsure what support you can offer or where to withdraw money from, making your child or grandchild’s education part of your financial plan can give you the confidence to proceed.

Preparing teenagers for financial independence

Even if you’ll be providing financial support, passing on financial education is an important step when teenagers go to university. For many, it will be the first time they’re expected to budget, manage bills, and take control financially. That can be a daunting prospect. It’s also common for students to be offered overdrafts and credits cards, so it’s important they understand how they work.

Spending some time talking about the basics of finances can ensure your child or grandchild is equipped to handle their own money at university. The maintenance loan, for instance, is deposited in a student’s account three times a year and they’ll then need to budget to ensure it lasts several months. Setting out a basic spending plan and going over the bills they need to consider each month can help them keep track and ensure they don’t spend too much too soon.

Do you want to support a child through further education? Whether they’re going to university this autumn or it’s still several years away, we can help make it part of your financial plan. Please contact us to talk about your goals.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

ESG investing: The impact climate change could have on your investments

Last month, leaders of the G7 nations gathered in Cornwall for a summit. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic was top of the agenda, but climate change also featured prominently. As countries reaffirm their support for limiting climate change, it could affect businesses and, in turn, investors.

All seven G7 nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US – reaffirmed their support for reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This means that equivalent of emitted greenhouse gasses will be either offset or sequestered. It’s a step that aims to balance carbon emissions to reduce the impact of climate change.

The Cornwall summit comes just six months before the UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow. COPs bring together almost every country on earth for a climate summit. From 31 October, 190 world leaders, along with tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, and businesses will take part in 12 days of talks. During the COP, countries will update their plans for reducing emissions.

At COP 21, hosted in Paris in 2015, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming. This is known as the Paris Agreement. However, the commitments laid out have not come close to reaching the goal. As a result, COP 26 has more urgency than ever. Among the targets of the summit are:

  • Accelerating the phase-out of coal
  • Curtailing deforestation
  • Stepping up the switch to electric vehicles
  • Encouraging investment in renewals.

How could this affect your investments?

As governments around the world take action, some companies could find measures designed to limit climate change have a negative effect on them. For example, companies that operate within the coal industry could find their profits start to fall if they aren’t proactive in securing other sources of income as coal is phased out.

Governmental policy can and does have an impact on business profitability. With climate change uniting countries around the world, businesses that fail to consider incoming policy and sentiments may suffer.

It’s not just your investment portfolio that could be affected either. As your pension is usually invested over your working life, climate risks could have an impact on your retirement savings. It’s a challenge that The Pensions Regulator has recently drawn attention to. The organisation called on pension trustees to act now to protect savers from climate risk.

David Fairs, The Pensions Regulator’s executive director of regulatory policy, analysis and advice, said: “Driving trustee action on the risk and opportunities from climate change will create better outcomes in later life for workplace savers.”

He continued that pension schemes need to devote more time to integrating the consideration of climate change right across the decision-making process.

So, how do you reflect climate risks in your portfolio?

Understanding which businesses pose a climate risk can be time-consuming and complex. Multinational companies are complicated and while one area of the business poses a climate risk, others may not. The good news is that more institutions are publicising their investment decisions around climate risks, making it easier for you to invest in a way that reflects climate concerns.

Some investment funds already have clear climate policies and may restrict what companies they invest in, or actively seek to invest in firms that are taking positive action.

As climate action continues, there will likely be more funds that consider climate risk in some way, providing investors with more choice. Likewise, companies will seek to reduce their impact on climate change if it could harm their profits and operations. So, while considering climate risk may seem like a relatively new concept now, it could become one that’s commonplace as the COP goals draw nearer.

Action on climate change presents opportunities too

As well as climate risk, governments taking more action presents investors with opportunities. For instance, among the targets are encouraging electrical vehicle uptake and investment in renewables. With a focus on developing these areas, they could present an opportunity to climate-conscious investors to support emission goals and make a return.

Of course, there are no guarantees when investing. Investing in green technologies and innovations doesn’t mean you’ll receive returns. You should still take all the usual steps you do when investing, including assessing the risks and how they’ll fit into your overall portfolio.

Considering climate change is just one very small part of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing but it could help you manage risks and seek opportunities. If you’d like to discuss how you can incorporate ESG factors into your portfolio, including climate change, please contact us.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

Is £26,000 the secret to a happy retirement?

How much do you need to live the retirement lifestyle you want? It’s a question that’s on the mind of many people as they near their retirement date. Now research suggests that couples need an income of £26,000 to live comfortably, but if you want some luxurious extras, that needs to rise to £41,000.

Which? surveyed nearly 7,000 retirees to understand what they spend their money on and how it impacts the lifestyle they lead. The responses were split into three lifestyle categories – essential, comfortable, and luxury. The table below highlights the annual income you’d need to secure these lifestyles.

  One-person household Two-person household
Essential £13,000 £18,000
Comfortable £19,000 £26,000
Luxury £31,000 £41,000

 

In retirement, you’re probably hoping to live in comfort, with a few luxuries that mean you’re able to enjoy your time. So how do these sums relate to the lifestyle you can expect?

With a £26,000 a year income, the research suggests a couple will be able to pay for all the essentials, like utility bills, insurance, and household goods, with some left over for treats. This includes a £4,644 budget to spend on European travel and holidays, £1,476 for recreation and leisure, and £1,332 to make charitable donations.

The luxurious budget of £41,000 estimates you’ll have enough to splash out £7,620 a year on long-haul holidays, £4,861 to pay for a new car, and £1,128 on expensive meals out on top of the treats in the comfortable income bracket.

How much do you need to save to secure a £26,000 income in retirement?

The first thing to remember is that your full retirement income is unlikely to come from your personal and workplace pensions. Your State Pension can make up a significant portion and help you cover the essentials.

If you have 35 years of National Insurance Contributions on your record, you’re entitled to the full State Pension. For the 2021/22 tax year, the full State Pension adds up to £9,339.20 a year. Keep in mind that the State Pension Age may not align with when you want to retire. The State Pension Age is currently 66 and will reach 67 by 2028. As a result, if you want to retire before this age, you’ll need to draw a larger income from your pension to meet goals to begin with.

You can supplement your State Pension from a variety of sources, such as your savings, investments, or properties, but pensions will play a central role for most people.

If you have a defined benefit (DB) pension, you’ll know what annual income you can expect when you reach retirement age. However, if you have a defined contribution (DC) pension, your pension forecast will be a lump sum that you’ll need to take an income from throughout retirement. If you have a DC pension, it’s important that you understand how it’ll translate into an income.

Which? estimates that a couple would need pensions worth around £155,000 alongside their State Pension to produce an income of £26,000 when taking a flexible income. This rises to £442,000 to fund a luxury lifestyle. For a one-person household, the figures are £192, 290 and £305,710, respectively.

However, the above calculations make certain assumptions. For example, that your pensions only need to last 20 years. As life expectancy rises, you may spend far longer than two decades in retirement. It also assumes an investment growth rate of 3% a year. If you decide to take a flexible income, investment performance can affect your long-term income and you’ll need to manage withdrawals.

The only way to achieve a reliable income if you have a DC pension is to purchase an annuity. An annuity will pay out a regular income throughout your life and can provide long-term peace of mind. To purchase an annuity, couples would need pensions worth £265,000 and £757,000 to reach the comfortable and luxurious goals, respectively.

How much do you need in retirement?

While the research provides a useful benchmark when saving into a pension, your lifestyle goals may mean a very different income is needed to support you throughout retirement.

Both the comfortable and luxurious budgets include housing payments to cover rent or a mortgage of £3,240 a year. In retirement you may not need to include these in your plan, allowing you to achieve these lifestyles with less money. On the other hand, you may plan to spend more travelling or on your hobbies than the research estimates.

Setting out what you want your retirement to look like, even if it’s years away, can help you set a pension goal that will help you turn your dreams into a reality. If you’d like to discuss what your pension means for your retirement, please contact us.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

A pension is a long-term investment. The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available.

Your pension income could also be affected by the interest rates at the time you take your benefits. The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation, which are subject to change in the future.

Developers snap up urban properties for retirement villages: The pros and cons of retirement property

City and town centres have been hugely impacted by the pandemic. While the number of offices may dwindle, property developers are reportedly snapping up urban developments to turn them into retirement villages. It could offer retirees considering these types of properties far more choice.

While moving out of your home and into a retirement village can fill some with dread, today’s retirees have more options than a traditional nursing home. A retirement village can provide security, access to a range of facilities, and a community, but they’re not the right option for everyone.

Retirement villages might usually be associated with getting away from the hustle and bustle of urban centres, but some developers plan to use vacant retail and office sites to build new apartment blocks, according to a Guardian report. If you enjoy living in an urban location it can make local amenities, from shops to entertainment attractions more accessible in your later years. It could also help to regenerate town and city centres after a challenging year.

Retirement villages aren’t a new concept, but they’ve evolved over the years. They are simply housing developments built especially for older buyers. The properties could be houses, bungalows, or apartments. They usually come with communal areas and it’s these spaces that have developed over the years. As well as dining rooms, some retirement villages now offer onsite amenities like swimming pools and restaurants. Often there will be an onsite manager to provide extra support if it’s needed.

So, what are the pros and cons of retirement villages?

The pros of living in a retirement village

Properties are built with older people in mind

Your current home may be suitable for you now, but will it be in 20 years? Properties within retirement villages are built with older people in mind to provide a comfortable place to live in your later years. This may mean they are more accessible should you need to use a wheelchair in the future, or the bathroom already has mobility features in place to help you live independently.

They can provide a community with facilities in your later years

Retirement villages offer more than just a home; they also offer a community for you to be part of. Other residents provide an opportunity to make new friends and be involved in clubs that interest you. Many retirement villages have onsite facilities to support a community feeling that you can enjoy.

Many sites offer additional support and care options

If you’re worried about how you’ll cope in your later years, a retirement village can offer peace of mind. There will usually be a site manager and staff who can offer additional support and, in some cases, care services can also be provided in your new home.

Property maintenance is usually taken care of

If you buy a property within a retirement village, you won’t usually need to worry about things like repairing a leaking roof or maintaining the garden. There will typically be a team to take care of this on your behalf, meaning you can focus on enjoying your free time.

The cons of living in a retirement village

The community has a lack of diversity

While many retirement villages benefit from guest facilities so your friends and family can stay, the community will be made up of other retirees. While some will see this as a benefit, the lack of diversity can mean it’s not the right decision for some people.

Properties in retirement villages are usually leasehold

In most cases, retirement villages sell properties that are leasehold. This means you own the property, but not the land it’s built on. Instead, you have ownership of the property for a set period that’s defined in the lease. This means you’ll need to pay ground rent and service charges, so you need to consider how this will affect your retirement income. It could also impact the legacy you leave behind for loved ones.

You could face exit fees

There are many reasons why you may want to sell your property within a retirement village. In some cases, doing so will mean you face an exit fee. It’s important you read the small print before purchasing a retirement property to ensure you understand all the potential costs and keep in mind that your situation and wishes could change.

Retirement properties can be more difficult to sell

While there is a demand for retirement properties, there will be restrictions on who you can sell to. For example, buyers may have to be over 55 and this naturally limits the number of potential buyers. As a result, it can make a retirement property more difficult to sell than a traditional home.

If you’re thinking about buying a property in a retirement village, you need to consider your lifestyle goals and how your finances will support your decision. If you’d like to make purchasing a retirement property part of your financial plan, please contact us.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

What to consider if you’re worried about retiring with debt

When you think about retiring, you probably imagine you won’t have any debt. While retirees may have traditionally cleared their credit cards and paid off the mortgage, those nearing retirement today are facing more challenges. Nearing your planned retirement age with debt can be worrisome, but it doesn’t mean you have to cancel all your plans.

Changes to work and lifestyles mean it’s now far more common to have debt later in life.

Property is a good example of this. Older generations are likely to have purchased their first home while still in their 20s. This meant they had plenty of time to pay off the mortgage before they were ready to retire. Today, house prices have soared. The challenges of building up a deposit and being able to afford mortgage repayments mean the average first-time buyer is now in their mid-30s. So, retiring while still paying off your mortgage is more likely.

Similarly, having children later in life and job insecurity may mean you’re nearing your retirement with other forms of debt. There are many reasons why you may still have debt – the important thing to do is create a plan.

Over three-quarters of 45 – 54-year-olds have debt worries

According to Standard Life, the average age of a 2021 retiree is 60. With pensions accessible from the age of 55, rising to 57 in 2028, retirees have more flexibility than ever. While retirement can seem like it’s some way off when you’re 45 – 55, it could be just a matter of years away, and the sooner you start planning, the better.

Some 78% of 45 – 54-year-olds worry about debt, an Aviva survey found. Worryingly, 34% said they do not know how they’ll pay it off and 24% aren’t sure how much their debt adds up to. Covid-19 has exacerbated the issue for many. One in five say their debts have increased in the last year.

If you’re worried about debt, it doesn’t have to mean you need to delay your retirement plans. However, being proactive is crucial. So, if you’re thinking about retirement and the impact debt could have, what should you do?

Review your current situation

Your first step should be to take a step back and assess what debt you have. When it comes to debt, people can be guilty of burying their head in the sand, but ignoring the problem just leaves it for another day.

Understanding how much debt you have, from credit cards to your mortgage, can help you put a practical plan in place. Factor in what you’re doing now to reduce the debt, and how this will impact the level of debt you have when you retire. In some cases, you may find you’re on track to be debt-free in retirement or that a small adjustment now could help you reach that goal.

Remember to look at the level of interest you’re paying. Start by overpaying on any high-interest forms of debt you have and consider switching providers to access a lower interest rate. Some credit cards, for instance, will provide you with a 0% interest period when you transfer a balance, so all your payments go towards reducing the amount owed rather than paying the interest.

If your current situation means you’re likely to retire with debt, here are four options to consider:

1. Continue servicing debt in retirement

You don’t have to be debt-free in retirement, but you do need to ensure you can continue meeting repayments. This means calculating what your retirement income will be. Do you have enough to service debts? How would it affect your retirement plans? For some, carrying debt into retirement makes sense, but you should make sure you look at the bigger picture and what it means for your long-term income and the cost of borrowing.

2. Use your pension to reduce debt

For most people, their pension becomes accessible at 55, rising to 57 in 2028. If you have a defined contribution pension, you can take a flexible income, including lump sums. This could provide you with a way to pay off your debt as you retire. However, there are two important things to consider here.

First, your tax liability. You can usually take a 25% tax-free lump sum from your pension, but additional withdrawals may be subject to Income Tax. As a result, taking out significant lump sums can push you into a higher tax bracket. Second, taking a lump sum out of your pension at the start of retirement can have a long-lasting impact on your income and retirement plans. It’s important you understand these implications before proceeding.

3. Using other assets to pay off debt

While pensions are often associated with retirement, other assets can help you enter the next stage of your life debt-free too. Do you have savings or investments you can draw on to pay off the debt as you retire? Or could you downsize to a new property to release equity that could be used to pay off debt? Don’t just look at your pension but consider how your other assets could be used.

4. Change your retirement plans

Finally, you may need to adjust your retirement plans. For instance, delaying retirement by a couple of years could mean you retire debt-free and can enjoy a more comfortable retirement. To understand if this is the right option for you, you should set out what your priorities are and what you want your retirement lifestyle to look like.

If you’re starting to think about retirement and aren’t sure how existing debt will affect your plans, please contact us. We’re here to help you create a financial plan that matches your goals for retirement.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

A pension is a long-term investment. The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available.

Your pension income could also be affected by the interest rates at the time you take your benefits. The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances, tax legislation and regulation, which are subject to change in the future.