While you are living in Belgium, you have a number of valuable investment options available to you. If you wish to maximise tax efficiency, Branch 21 or Branch 23 products are very attractive. These are life insurance products widely used in Belgium for saving and investment. While Branch 21 can provide security through guaranteed returns, Branch 23 offers access to a wide range of assets which can provide you with excellent long-term capital growth.
Branch 21 vs Branch 23
Branch 21 products provide the investor with a guaranteed return (at the time of writing, between 0.1% and 1%), with a possible bonus. However, the bonus is not guaranteed and is dependent on the insurer’s terms and conditions. This solution is popular as a pension strategy, but crucially the effect of inflation should always be taken into account when calculating the real rate of return.
By taking out a Branch 21 policy, you qualify for tax relief, which can mean a tax saving of up to 30% on the amounts invested. Currently you can invest up to €980 per year and receive tax relief on it. You can invest more, up to €2,350 per year, in the long-term savings system.
A Branch 21 policy can have a fixed term of, say, ten years, or it can be open-ended. An open-ended policy ends when the policy is surrendered, or on the death of the life assured. You are also able to take out additional guarantees, such as death or disability cover. Note that as this is a life insurance policy, there is a 2% tax on premiums unless it is a pension savings insurance policy.
If Branch 21 is the no-frills option, then its sibling, Branch 23, is the all singing, all dancing alternative that offers broader investment scope and the prospect of higher returns (with of course the increased risk that comes with foregoing a guaranteed yield). A Branch 23 policy can invest in a wide range of assets including:
1. International, multi-asset mutual funds
2. Discretionarily managed portfolios
3. Active or passive investments
Importantly, there is no maximum investment in a Branch 23 product, and for larger amounts you can also access personalised, discretionary investment management.
Returns will vary, depending on market conditions, your attitude to risk and the length of time you remain invested. With the help of a financial professional, you have the opportunity to design a portfolio to suit your personal circumstances, maximising potential returns whilst managing and understanding the principles of investment risk and reward.
The time horizon is key here ie. how long before you envisage needing access to your money. You should not be investing in a portfolio like this unless you have a time horizon of at least 5 years.
Tax efficient investment
As mentioned previously, these solutions are very tax efficient. A 2% tax is payable on premiums if it is not a pension savings insurance policy, but in addition to up to 30% tax relief enjoyed by Branch 21 investors, you will not have to pay withholding tax (based on a notional return of 4.75%) if you leave your funds invested for at least eight years. If you did not received a tax benefit on the premiums, then there is no tax to pay on the money that has accumulated.
With Branch 23, you still pay 2% on your premiums (like Branch 21), but you do not pay a withholding tax on your investments unless it has additional performance guarantees (for example, from structured products). In that case, the withholding tax will then be calculated on the actual return and not a notional 4.75%.
Other than that, there is no tax to pay on the final amount, or on any withdrawals.
Furthermore, these products can also be very useful when it comes to estate planning, since the beneficiary and the life assured do not necessarily have to be the same person. Let’s walk through an example: a parent wishes to gift a substantial amount of money to their child. The child can be designated as the beneficiary of the policy and the parent as the life assured. At the time of the parent’s death, no inheritance tax is due if the parent passes away at least three years after gifting the sum of money to the child (the beneficiary). This is a straightforward and reliable way of ensuring that your wealth is passed on to the people you care most about, without them having to pay inheritance tax on the bequest.
On top of tax efficiency, estate planning opportunities and the freedom to invest in a wide range of international, multi-asset funds, if you have existing investments these can also be transferred into your Branch 23 policy, with flexible access when you need it.