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Life assurance investment policies and Brexit

By John Lansley - Topics: Assurance Vie, BREXIT, France, Investments
This article is published on: 15th August 2018

15.08.18

Is the uncertainty over Brexit causing you uncertainty over whether to stay in France or not? Whichever side of the Brexit divide you are on, and in the knowledge that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, there are some important issues to be aware of concerning life assurance-based investments and indeed insurance policies in general.

It is possible that ‘equivalence’ rules will apply, and UK insurers will continue to be treated after Brexit as they are currently. But bear in mind that some of the comments in this article are made against a background of a possible ‘no-deal’ scenario, where financial services would be hit hard, so it’s important to look objectively at some of the likely implications when considering your future options.

Firstly, in order to set the scene, Brexit is set to take effect at the end of next March, following which there may be a transitional period of 15 months, during which much will continue as at present. For many of us the most important question is whether we are able to remain in France (or other EU27 country) or whether we will have to, or simply wish to, return to the UK.

With such a move comes the question of if and when you cease to be tax resident in France and instead become UK tax resident again. This is a complex area, and of course many will have been spending large parts of each year in both countries, perhaps technically risking UK residence already, and clearly this is an issue that many will need to address in detail.

For those who have investments held via life policies, and who enjoy all the benefits these offer, a change in tax residence is an event that necessitates an early review of such investments in order to determine whether they can continue as they are or whether any changes need to be considered, and this is a matter you should discuss with your financial adviser at the earliest opportunity.

French Assurances Vie
These are offered by insurance companies in France, Ireland and Luxembourg, and provide considerable tax and succession planning benefits. They also provide access to diverse investment possibilities in different currencies, and French law even allows you to hold individual listed company shares, so certain assurance vie contracts provide this facility, which can be very useful.

However, it’s important to realise that such flexibility will be punished by the UK’s HMRC if you become UK tax resident – this is because such a policy would be regarded as ‘highly personalised’ (see also below) and would be deemed to generate profits of 15% pa, which would be subject to your highest income tax rate. This would be the case even if losses were made during the year, and is clearly something to be avoided if at all possible.

You may not even use the facility to hold shares, and hold only funds, unit trusts or similar, but fortunately this treatment can be avoided by converting the policy to a ‘collectives only’ version before moving to the UK. SEB Life International, a major provider of such policies, offers an easy conversion process for existing policyholders and, if you hold one of their policies, it would be worth asking yourself whether requesting this conversion is appropriate – if you don’t ever intend to hold shares, and there is a vague possibility of becoming UK resident in future, it might be worth acting now.

Other assurance vie providers don’t always offer such investment flexibility, and so are unlikely to be affected, but if you are unsure you should check with your financial adviser.

UK Single Premium Policies
Many people in the UK own these as they provide significant UK tax advantages, and operate in a similar way to assurances vie (although the precise treatment is different). As is the case with French assurances vie and similar local policies in other countries, these allow the (relatively) tax-free roll up of income and gains inside the policy, and much less onerous taxation of withdrawals than is the case with income and gains from conventional investment holdings.

For those who have moved to France and who still hold such policies, the tax treatment can vary. There is no means by which profits can be taxed as long as these remain within the policy; however, withdrawals and encashment proceeds need to be declared to the tax authorities and, since tax treatment can vary from area to area, it is as well to assume that any such profits will be fully taxable.

In the past, there has perhaps been some inconsistency in how the rules are applied, but it is extremely likely that British people living in France after Brexit will find their affairs subjected to greater scrutiny, and such policies will face a much more certain and consistent treatment.

An important additional point is that UK policies suffer a form of UK corporation tax on the profits generated by the insurance company (and which therefore reduces the investment reward), which can’t be reclaimed or set against a French income tax liability, so they therefore suffer a form of double taxation that cannot be avoided.

Returning to the UK will mean that the tax benefits will continue to be available, but for those who remain in France it is important to review such policies as soon as possible – indeed, the best way forward might be to surrender the policies before Brexit and reinvest the proceeds via an assurance vie, so that all future profits will enjoy the favourable assurance vie tax regime. However, again, this is a complex area and is deserving of proper professional advice, depending on your own personal circumstances.

Offshore Policies
These are policies issued by insurance companies in the Isle of Man, Guernsey and elsewhere. These jurisdictions are not part of the UK, and hence currently not part of the EU either, but which have over many years seen a large number of policies sold to people resident in the UK and in various expatriate locations around the world.

There are two types – highly personalised (often referred to as personal portfolio bonds) and ‘collectives-only’, similar of course to the two types of assurances vie as described above.

For the UK resident, the highly personalised version is deemed to generate a gain of 15% pa, as described above, but the collectives version is treated in a similar way to the UK Single Premium Policy, with the ability to take up to 5% pa (cumulative) on a tax-deferred basis and excesses being subject to your highest income tax rate. UK policies enjoy a tax credit, which reduces the actual tax paid, but offshore policies see their excess withdrawals fully exposed because there is no tax credit given.

There are a number of ways in which tax can be mitigated, and which are beyond the scope of this article. However, returning to the UK will involve a careful review of all such policies to ensure that unnecessary tax bills are avoided, and fortunately most providers will allow you to convert the highly personalised policy to a collectives version before becoming UK resident, as long as you accept certain investment restrictions.

Anyone resident in France who holds such a policy and who intends to remain in France after Brexit should give careful consideration to whether the policy should be retained or whether it might be best to surrender it, pay whatever French tax is due, and then reinvest using, for example, an assurance vie in order to ensure ongoing tax-efficiency in France. For some, this might be a costly exercise, but it would be a one-off event and would ensure full future compliance in France at a time when many aspects of people’s affairs are subject to higher levels of scrutiny.

Policies Held In Trust
In some cases, UK and offshore life policies were set up in a simple trust, provided by the insurance company. Trusts have enjoyed a less than favourable treatment in France in recent years, but can still provide tax advantages in the UK. So, if by chance you have such a policy, whether you intend to return to the UK or remain in France will determine what action should be taken.

Other UK Insurance Policies
On moving to France, many continue to hold UK insurance policies of different types – perhaps an ongoing endowment policy, other life insurance, medical cover, car insurance and so on. It has always been important to advise your insurer of your change of residence in such a situation – simply providing a change of address on its own is not good enough, because a change of residence often means a change in the risk and hence a change in the premium. Only providing change of address details can effectively result in the insurer having a reason to reject any future claim.

However, the post-Brexit situation will mean that such continuing policies may not be effective at all, even if your insurer knows you are resident outside the UK. This is because, as with Single Premium Policies, the provider will be based outside the EU and, unless the equivalence provisions or similar are confirmed, the policies may cease to provide cover.

Other Brexit Issues
Brexit has affected, and will continue to affect, exchange rates and investments. We have seen how Sterling dropped against the Euro immediately after the referendum, as it has on other occasions of course, and this has had an immediate and lasting impact on UK sourced income and pensions for those living in the Eurozone.

What can be done? The use of specialist currency exchange providers can help but it also makes sense to reduce the overall risk by reducing reliance on such Sterling sources, wherever possible. This is not so easy if you rely on UK pensions, or property investments, but a detailed review of your assets would be an important step to take.

As for investment, the fall in Sterling was matched by a rise in the UK stockmarket, and generally the FTSE100 has continued to do well because of the large number of companies that enjoy US Dollar income streams, and which have reaped the benefits of a low Pound. But the trade and other problems Brexit is creating will mean that British businesses are likely to experience many difficulties, and therefore their ability to generate profits for shareholders (such as funds that invest in the UK and UK pension schemes) are likely to be hit.

This could be seen as a contentious issue but reliance on UK investments will exacerbate the problems caused by over-reliance on Sterling, and a more diverse approach would probably be preferable.

One area of particular interest is the decision whether or not to transfer your UK pension to a QROPS provider, as this can help address the issues of currency and investment strategy by bringing your pension capital more directly under your control.

This is another complex area that requires very specific professional involvement, but your ability to use QROPS could be curtailed after Brexit. Already, transfers to non-EEA providers have been hit by a 25% exit charge, and this may be applied across the board after Brexit takes effect.

Conclusions
Change brings threats and opportunities, and can be especially challenging when you have retired and have made great efforts to adapt to what has perhaps been a very significant lifestyle change.

Fortunately, as ever, an awareness of the likely problems means you are better equipped to make suitable preparations. Hopefully this article has shone a light on some areas that could have a very significant impact on your finances and, more importantly, has suggested possible solutions.

Planning to retire to France – don’t get caught in the tax trap!

By Sue Regan - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Pensions, QROPS, Retirement, Tax
This article is published on: 18th September 2017

18.09.17

Retiring to France can be dream come true for many people. The thought of that ‘place in the sun’ motivates us to save as much as we can whilst we are working. If we can retire early – so much the better!

In the excitement of finding ‘la belle maison’ in ‘le beau village’, we really don’t want to think about some of the nasty things in life. I am referring to death and taxes. We can’t avoid these and so better to plan for the inevitable. Sadly, some people do not plan before making the move to France and only realise this mistake when it is too late to turn the clock back.

For example, investments that are tax-free in your home country will not usually be tax-free in France. This includes UK cash ISAs and premium bond winnings, as well as certain other National Savings Investments, all of which would be taxable in France. So too would dividends, even if held within a structure that is tax-efficient elsewhere. All of these will be subject to French income tax at your marginal rate (ranging from 0% to 45%) plus social contributions, currently 15.5%.

Gains arising from the sale of shares and investment funds will be liable to capital gains tax. The taxable gain, after any applicable taper relief, will be added to other taxable income and taxed at your marginal rate. Social contributions are charged on the full gain.

If you receive any cash sum from your retirement funds, for example, the Pension Commencement Lump Sum from UK pension funds, this would be taxed in France. The amount will be added to your other taxable income or under certain conditions, it can be taxed at a fixed rate of 7.5%. Furthermore, if France is responsible for the cost of your healthcare, you will also pay social contributions, currently around 7.4%.

Distributions received from a trust would also be taxed in France and there is no distinction made between capital and income – even if you are the settlor of the trust.

As a resident in another country, it would be natural for you to take advantage of any tax-efficiency being offered in that jurisdiction, as far as you can reasonably afford. So it is logical that you would do the same in France.

Happily, France has its own range of tax-efficient savings and investments. However, some planning and realisation of existing investments is likely to be needed before you become French resident, if you wish to avoid paying unnecessary taxes after becoming French resident.

I mentioned death above and as part of the tax-efficient planning for retirement, inheritance planning should not be overlooked. France believes that assets should pass down the bloodline and children are ‘protected heirs’, so they are treated more favourably than surviving spouses. Therefore, action is needed to protect the survivor, but this could come at a cost to the children – particularly step-children – in terms of the potential inheritance tax bill for them.

Whilst there might be a certain amount of ‘freedom of choice’ for some expatriate French residents, as a result of the introduction of the EU Succession Rules, this only concerns the possibility of being able to decide who you wish to leave your estate to and so will not get around the potential French inheritance tax bill, which for step-children would still be 60%. Therefore, inheritance planning is still needed and a good notaire can advise you on the options open to you relating to property.

For financial assets, fortunately there are easier solutions already existing and investing in assurance vie is the most popular choice for this purpose. Conveniently, this is also the solution for providing personal tax-efficiency for you. There is a range of French products available, as well as international versions. In the main, the international products are generally more suited to expatriates as a much wider choice of investment options is available (compared to the French equivalent), as well as a range of currency options (including Sterling, Euros and USDs).

If possible, you should seek independent financial planning advice before making the move to France. A good adviser will be able to carry out a full financial review and identify any potential issues. This will give you the opportunity to take whatever action is necessary to avoid having to pay large amounts of tax to the French government, after becoming resident.

Even if you have already made the move to France, it may still worth seeking advice, particularly if you are suffering the effects of high taxation on your investment income and gains or you are concerned about the potential inheritance taxes for your family. A full review of your personal and financial situation enables us to identify any issues and recommend solutions that will meet your long-term goals and objectives.

The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.

Update – Le Tour de Finance, Domaine Gayda, 6th October 2017
This year’s event is now fully subscribed but we are keeping a reserve list in case of any cancellations, so please let me know if you would like to be added to the list. Alternatively, if you would like to have a confidential discussion about your financial situation, please contact me either by e-mail at sue.regan@spectrum-ifa.com or by telephone on 04 67 24 90 95.

The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter

Ignorance is not always bliss…………..

By Sue Regan - Topics: Assurance Vie, BREXIT, France, Le Tour de Finance, QROPS
This article is published on: 17th July 2017

17.07.17

………..and, in the context of not structuring your investments to the tax regime of the country in which you reside, it can prove to be very costly.

Let’s take the scenario of the savings conscious UK investor who, over the years, has used some of their available cash to build up a nice portfolio of tax-free investments in ISA wrappers, but then decides to take up residency in France. From the date of moving to France the tax-free status of UK ISA is not recognised in France and any income or capital gains arising from the ISA portfolio become liable to French tax.

Not everyone is aware of the tax efficient structures available in France for longer term savings, the most popular of which is far and away the Assurance Vie, and, as a consequence, suffers the pain of incurring tax liabilities where there were none previously, not to mention the extra administrative burden (and accountancy costs) associated with completing the end of year tax return. In addition, they are missing out on the compounding effect that any unnecessary taxes would have on the growth of the portfolio, which, in itself, is a crucial factor which should not be underestimated.

It’s not only the tax-efficiency of ISAs that is affected but, if you have a UK financial adviser advising you on the management of your investments, then it is unlikely that they will be able to continue to give you appropriate advice due to your change in residency and tax regime. You probably wouldn’t have sought the advice of a French regulated IFA to manage your UK investments when you lived in the UK so it doesn’t make sense to expect a UK regulated IFA to advise you when living in a different tax jurisdiction to the one in which they are qualified and regulated.

Of course, making the switch from UK tax efficient savings to French tax efficient savings may not be without some cost at the beginning – but the longer term benefits are highly likely to far outweigh any initial cost. If you have not yet become French resident, by taking the initiative and disposing of your ISA portfolio beforehand, there would be no tax implications whatsoever.

An added attraction to the Assurance Vie is that there is no limit to how much can be invested and the longer you hold them the more tax-efficient they become. In addition, this type of investment is highly efficient for mitigating the potential French inheritance taxes so that your heirs can receive more of your wealth, instead of the French State.

The very popular Tour de Finance is once again coming to the stunning Domaine Gayda in Brugairolles 11300, So, if you are concerned about your investments and pensions in a post-Brexit world why not join us at this very popular event where you can meet the team in person and listen to a number of industry experts in the world of financial advice. This year’s event will take place on Friday 6th October 2017. Places are by reservation only and it is always well attended so book your place early by giving me a call or dropping me an email. Our speakers will be presenting updates and outlooks on a broad range of subjects, including:

Brexit
Financial Markets
Assurance Vie
Pensions/QROPS
French Tax Issues
Currency Exchange

With a newly elected French government now in office and the forthcoming publication of the French Projet de Loi in the Autumn, the seminar will be an ideal opportunity to find out how any potential French tax changes may affect you, particularly as President Macron has promised changes to the wealth tax regime.

Smoothing out the bumps of market volatility

By Sue Regan - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Interest rates, Investment Risk, Investments, wealth management
This article is published on: 9th June 2017

09.06.17

In today’s environment of very low interest rates, is it wise to leave more than “your rainy day fund” sitting in the bank, probably earning way less in interest than the current rate of inflation, particularly after the taxman has had his cut…..?

In the above scenario, the real value of your capital is reducing, due to the depreciating effect on your capital of inflation. So, if you are relying on your capital to grow sufficiently to help fund your retirement or meet a specific financial goal, then you should be looking for an alternative home for your cash that will, at the very least, keep pace with inflation and thus protect the real value of your capital.

In order to achieve a better return than a cash deposit, by necessity, there is a need to take some risk. The big question is – how much risk should be taken? In reality, this can only be decided as part of a detailed discussion with the investor, which takes into account their time horizon for investment, their requirement for income and/or capital growth, as well as how comfortable they feel about short-term volatility over the period of investment.

Although inevitable, and perhaps arguably a necessity for successful investment management, it is often the volatility of an investment portfolio that can cause some people the most discomfort. Volatility often creates anxiety particularly for investors who need a regular income from their portfolio, and for this reason some people would choose to leave capital in the bank, depreciating in value, rather than have the worry of market volatility. However, this is very unlikely to meet your needs.

There is an alternative, which is to have a well-diversified investment portfolio that provides a smoothed return by ironing out the peaks and troughs of the short-term market volatility. Many of our clients find that this is a very attractive proposition.

What is a smoothed fund?

A smoothed fund aims to grow your money over the medium to long term, whilst protecting you from the short-term ups and downs of investment markets.

There are a number of funds available with differing risk profiles, to suit all investors. The funds are invested in very diversified multi-asset portfolios made up of international shares, property, fixed interest and other investments.

The smoothed funds are available in different of currencies, including Sterling, Euro and USD. Thus, if exchanging from Sterling to Euros at this time is a concern for you, an investment can be made initially in Sterling and then exchanged to Euros when you are more comfortable with the exchange rate. All of this is done within the investment and so does not create any French tax issues for you.

As a client of the Spectrum IFA Group, this type of fund can be invested within a French compliant international life assurance bond and thus is eligible for the same very attractive personal tax benefits associated with Assurance Vie, as well as French inheritance tax mitigation.

Stop Press!!! Since writing this article the UK Election has taken place resulting in a hung parliament that brings with it more political uncertainty, but also the possibility of a softer Brexit or even a second election. This makes for a testing time for investment managers and the option of a smoothed investment ever more attractive.

What can I do to minimise any potential impacts of a tough Brexit process?

By Amanda Johnson - Topics: Article 50, Assurance Vie, BREXIT, Company Pension Schemes, Defined benefit pension scheme, Final Salary Pension, final salary schemes, France, QROPS, Retirement, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 11th May 2017

11.05.17

This is a question many expatriates are mulling over, now positioning for the upcoming negotiations has started. First and foremost, I remind my customers that the process to leave the EU is widely anticipated to take the full two years set out in article 50, so the only immediate areas people should focus on are changes in the U.K. and French budgets.

As the negotiations progress however, there are steps you can take which will ensure that any effects to you are minimised:

  1. Does your adviser work for a French registered company, regulated in France?

Working with adviser who operates and is regulated already under French finance laws means that any change in the UK’s ability for financial passporting will not affect you.

  1. Is your Assurance Vie held in an EU country, not part of the U.K.?

Again, any issues the U.K. may have to solve regarding passporting are negated by ensuring your Assurance Vie is already domiciled in another EU country.

  1. Have you reviewed any U.K. Company pension schemes you hold, which are due to mature in the future?

The recent U.K. Budget saw the government levy a new tax on people moving their pensions to countries outside the EU. There is no certainly that this tax will not be extended to EU countries once the U.K. has left the union.

The process of leaving the EU is very much unchartered waters and whilst I certainly do not recommend anyone acts hastily, a review of your financial position in the next few months may avoid future headaches.

Whether you want to register for our newsletter, attend one of our road shows or speak to me directly, please call or email me on the contacts below & I will be glad to help you. We do not charge for reviews, reports or recommendations we provide.

Reasons to Wrap

By Sue Regan - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Investment Risk, Investments, Saving
This article is published on: 3rd March 2017

03.03.17

It’s no secret that the Assurance Vie (AV) is by far and away the most popular investment vehicle in France……….and for good reason! Most of you will already be familiar with these investments, or at the very least, have heard of them, but it doesn’t harm to be reminded now and again as to why they are so popular.

What are they? – An AV is simply a life assurance wrapper that holds financial assets, often with a wide choice of investments, and there is no limit on the amount that can be invested.

What’s so good about them?…..quite simply, their huge tax advantages, such as:

  • Tax-free growth – funds remaining within an AV grow free of French Income and Capital Gains tax
  • Simplified tax return reporting – considerable savings in terms of time and tax adviser fees
  • Favourable tax treatment on withdrawals – only the gain element of any amount that you withdraw is liable to tax. There is an additional benefit after eight years in the form of an annual Income tax allowance of €4,600 for an individual and €9,200 for a married couple
  • Succession tax benefits – AV policies fall outside of your estate for Succession tax and the proceeds can be left directly to any number of beneficiaries of your choice (not just the ones Napoleon thought you should leave them to!). There are very generous allowances available to beneficiaries of contracts taken out before the age of 70.

Why invest in an International Assurance Vie? 

There are a number of insurance companies that have designed French compliant international AV products, aimed specifically at the expatriate market in France. These companies are typically situated in highly regulated financial centres, such as Dublin and Luxembourg. Some of the advantages of the international AV contracts are:

  • The possibility to invest in multiple currencies, including Sterling and Euros.
  • A large range of investment possibilities available.
  • The majority of international AV policies are portable, which means that should you return to the UK, it will not be necessary to surrender the bond.
  • The documentation for international bonds is available in English.

At Spectrum, we only recommend products of financially strong institutions and domiciled in highly regulated jurisdictions. If you would like to know more about these extremely tax efficient investments, or would like to have a confidential review of your financial situation, please feel free to contact me.

The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter at www.spectrum-ifa.com/spectrum-ifa-client-charter

Fonds en euros in assurances vie policies.

By Graham Keysell - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Investments, Uncategorised, wealth management
This article is published on: 6th October 2016

06.10.16

There has been concern for some time, about how plummeting bond yields may affect the extremely popular ‘fonds en euros’ (by far the most popular choice for French investors in assurances vie policies). The question is how life insurers are going to be able to continue paying an acceptable annual return to their policyholders, while sovereign bonds offer increasingly low (or even negative) returns?

To explain, these ‘fonds en euros’ have to guarantee capital whilst paying a bonus every year. The only way that a fund manager can be sure of meeting this obligation is to put the vast majority of investors’ money into French government bonds. By doing so, they fund government debt to the tune of trillions of euros.

As recently as 2007, they were paying an attractive 5% per annum net. This has now fallen to about 2.5% and are set to fall further, almost certainly to under 2% for 2016. With bond rates at historically low levels, they should now only be paying about 1%, but companies have been dipping into their reserves as they fear that such a low rate would lead to a mass exodus from these policies. This has inevitably caused concerns about the financial stability of the insurance companies.

There have been several recent developments:

1) The state has imposed new reporting requirements on life insurers from 1 January 2016 under which they are obliged to provide details of policies with a value of more than €7,500. This is to assist the fight against money laundering but it could also be used to test the solvency of insurance companies.

2) For the past few years, the French Ministry of Finance and the Governor of the Bank of France have been consistently urging life insurers to lower returns on their ‘fonds en euros’. This has not been sufficiently acted upon and the government has now passed an amendment to Article 21a of the law “Sapin 2”.

Voted in secret on June 23 (with the French population concentrating on their imminent summer holidays and the euphoria of the European Cup!), the new legislation passed virtually unnoticed by the mainstream media.

There were very few immediate reactions, even though some members of parliament were taken aback by this amendment when it was presented to them to vote on by the MP proposing the bill.

The government, as has often happened in the past, conveniently happened to be going on their own summer holiday immediately afterwards. This avoided their having to answer any awkward questions, had this matter happened to come to the attention of the media!

Whether this legislation ever needs to be acted upon depends on government bond and bank interest rates. However, the future certainly looks bleak for investors in ‘fonds en euros’ (probably 90% of all French assurance vie policyholders).

What does this new law actually say and how will it affect you?

It gives the ‘Financial Stability Board’ (‘HCSF’) the power to ‘suspend, delay or limit temporarily, for all or part of the portfolio, withdrawals or the option to switch funds’.

The implications of this are clear: overnight, at the request of Governor of the Bank of France, the HCSF may prohibit you carrying out all normal policy operations, including withdrawals and fund ‘switches’.

In short, some or all of your assets could be frozen for “a period of 6 months, renewable” (i.e. for whatever time is required for the crisis threatening an insurance company to pass). It is not inconceivable that your investment could be reduced in value in order to avoid an insurance company becoming insolvent. Article L.612-33 of the Monetary and Financial Code provides the means for this reduction to be imposed. It is not known how this would affect the official guarantee of €70,000 for every assurance vie policy.

People are becoming increasingly disturbed, and rightly so, that this draconian law will now allow the authorities, in total disregard of contract law, to deprive you of access to your money!

However, on closer inspection, the powers given by this new legislation were already granted to the ACPR (Prudential Control Authority and Resolution) by Article L. 612-33 of the Monetary and Financial Code, as follows:

“If the solvency or liquidity of a person or institution subject to supervision by the Authority or when the interests of its customers, policyholders, members or beneficiaries, are compromised, the Prudential Control Authority shall take the necessary precautionary measures […] it can, as such: […] 7. instruct a person or institution […] to suspend or limit payment of cash values, the option of switching investments, or the granting of policy loans.”

One should remember that similar provisions exist in the banking sector. The directive on the recovery and resolution of banking crises (BRRD) authorizes freezing of clients’ assets and potential loss of money in bank accounts, in case of any difficulty that might lead to insolvability..

The new version of the text is intended to prevent and reverse the effects of a contagion that could affect assurance vie investors in the event of a severe financial crisis, It is designed “to preserve the stability of the financial system or prevent risks seriously threatening insurance companies or a significant number of them.”

Clearly, these measures are intended to protect insurers, especially if investor panic sets in and there were mass surrenders of assurance vie contracts, an event which insurers would be hard pressed to cope with. They are holding bonds with maturity dates of ten or even thirty years from now. To try and offload trillions of euros of bonds would just not be possible.

How to react?

One suspects that this situation is worrying insurers because they are struggling to meet the expectations of their investors. This is eating into their reserves and, regardless of the prospect of an eventual increase in bond yields, some of them could find themselves in a precarious situation in the months and years to come.

The threat is therefore not just a short term one.

Of course, it would be reassuring to think that worried investors would not panic and withdraw their money from these policies, knowing that this would only exacerbate the situation.

Policyholders are all too well aware that if they rush en masse to cash in their contracts, they could actually cause the assets in these policies to be frozen. But is that going to stop them trying to be ‘first in the queue’ and avoid the suspension of withdrawals?

The ideal scenario would be for investors to stay calm and avoid possible future difficulties by gradually switching out of ‘fonds en euros’ to other assets (unit linked multi-asset funds, property funds, etc). We will see if this is what happens!!!

In spite of all this, assurance vie remains an attractive investment, especially in view of its advantageous tax benefits. Investors therefore have to weigh up the advantages compared to what is obviously an increased element of risk.

Fortunately, there are companies who offer alternative funds to ‘fonds en euros’. There are also policies domiciled outside of France (in Dublin, for example) who should be completely immune to this French legislation.

Tax-Efficient Savings & Investments in France

By Daphne Foulkes - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Investment Risk, Investments, Tax, Uncategorised, wealth management
This article is published on: 24th May 2016

24.05.16

Some of you reading this article have just completed your first French income tax return. Well done if you achieved this without difficulty – ce n’est pas facile!

Whether you are new to France or not, the annual tax return is an opportunity to take stock of your financial situation. In particular, if you had to declare interest from bank deposits (including ISAs), dividends from shares (even if these were reinvested), and perhaps also gains from financial assets, then your tax and social charges bill will be higher than necessary. No-one likes paying taxes and so now is a good time to consider alternative tax-efficient savings and investments, if you want to avoid reduce your future tax bills.

For short-term savings, France has a range of tax-free accounts. The Livret A for deposits up to €22,950 and the Livret Développment Durable (LDD) for deposits up to €12,000, both paying interest of 0.75% per annum. For households with taxable income below certain limits, there is also the Livret d’Épargne Populaire (LEP) for deposits up to €7,700, which pays 1.25% per annum. You have full access to your capital in these accounts at any time.

The interest rates for the tax-free accounts are set by the French government, taking into account average short-term interest rates and inflation – both of which are very low at present. Realistically, the current tax-free interest rates could be lower, however, even the French say that it would be political suicide for the government to reduce these rates now! Whatever the tax-free rates are, however, these are better than comparable standard deposit rates for other accounts with instant access. Hence, the tax-free accounts are very useful for depositing cash that you need for an emergency fund, or to meet other short-term capital needs. The accounts do not create any tax issues and earning some interest is better than none at all.

For medium to long-term savings, the most popular type of investment in France is the Assurance Vie (AV). This type of investment is very tax-efficient as there is no income tax or capital gains tax on any income or growth, whilst the monies remain within the AV. Annual deduction of social charges is also avoided, except when investing in fonds en euros, which are offered by French banks and insurance companies.

When you do take a withdrawal from the investment, part of this is considered to be a withdrawal of capital and this part is therefore free from any tax. For the taxable element, you can opt for a fixed withholding tax rate, in which case the insurance company will take care of the necessary deduction, declaration and payment of the tax and social charges. Alternatively, you can opt to declare the gain through your annual income tax return, in which case the company will not make any tax or social charges deductions and will provide you with notification of the amount that you need to declare. The taxable gain will then be added to your other sources of taxable income and taxed at marginal rates.

Over time, AVs become even more tax-efficient and after eight years, the gain in amounts withdrawn can be offset against an annual tax-free allowance of €9,200 for a couple who are subject to joint taxation, or for ‘one-person households’, the allowance is €4,600.

Millions of French people use AV as their standard form of savings and investment and many billions of Euros are invested in this way via French banks and insurance companies, which offer their own branded product. In addition, there is a much smaller group of companies that are not French, but have designed French compliant AV products, aimed specifically at the expatriate market in France. These companies are typically situated in highly regulated financial centres, such as Dublin and Luxembourg. However, before choosing such a company, it is important to establish that the company has complied with all the formal French tax registration procedures, so as to ensure that you will receive the same tax and inheritance advantages as the equivalent French product.

Some of the advantages of the international product, compared to the French product, are:

  • It is possible to invest in currencies other than Euro, including Sterling and USD.
  • There is a larger range of investment possibilities available, providing both access to leading investment managers, as well as capital guaranteed products and funds.
  • Documentation is in English, thus helping you better understand the terms and conditions of the policy.
  • The AV policy is usually portable, which is particular benefit if moving around the EU, since in many cases, the policy can be endorsed for tax-efficiency in other EU countries.

AV is also highly beneficial for inheritance planning, both as concerns freedom to leave your financial assets to whoever you wish, as well as providing valuable additional inheritance allowances for your beneficiaries and I will cover this in a later article.

Everyone’s situation is different and any decision to invest in assurance vie should only be considered as part of a wider review of your overall financial situation, as well as your plans and objectives for the future. Hence, if you would like to have a confidential discussion with one of our financial advisers, you can contact us by e-mail at limoux@spectrum-ifa.com or by telephone on 04 68 31 14 10. Alternatively, drop-by to our Friday morning clinic at our office at 2 Place du Général Leclerc, 11300 Limoux, for an initial discussion.

The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of the investment of financial assets or on the mitigation of taxes.

The Spectrum IFA Group advisers do not charge any fees directly to clients for their time or for advice given, as can be seen from our Client Charter.
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UK Inheritance Tax V French Succession Tax

By Lorraine Chekir - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Inheritance Tax, Succession Planning, Uncategorised, United Kingdom
This article is published on: 19th May 2016

19.05.16

This is an area that many expats find very confusing: what and where to declare, what and where to pay, where to even start!

It doesn’t help that UK and France have completely different rules. In the UK the estate pays the tax and the net proceeds are paid to the beneficiaries. In France, the proceeds are paid to the beneficiaries. The beneficiary will then complete a Succession tax form and pay the inheritance tax, the amount of which is based on their relationship to the deceased.

What many expats do not realise is that if you are a French resident and inherit from someone who was a UK resident you need to complete and submit a French Succession tax form to URSAAF within 12 months of their death. No actual tax is payable in France as there is a tax treaty in place between the two countries.

Let’s look at a couple of different scenarios:

You are a UK resident and own a property in France. When you pass away your estate will be taxed in the UK on your worldwide moveable assets. However, your property in France will be subject to French inheritance tax.

If you are a French resident, when you pass away French inheritance tax will apply to your worldwide assets. If you still have UK assets, it may be that you will also pay some inheritance tax in the UK, however there is a tax treaty in place to ensure that you do not pay tax twice on the same assets.

Inheritance Rules:

In the UK the law says you can make a will naming whoever you wish as your beneficiaries. If you have not made a will, then the rules of intestacy apply and the distribution of your estate is based on these. If you have no living relatives, even long lost and distant, then everything you have will go to the Crown. Anyone born in Scotland would have some restrictions on who they could leave their estate to.

In France you cannot freely dispose of “la réserve” which must be held for your children. You are only free to dispose of as you wish the “quotité disponible”. A spouse is not a protected heir in France, however unless you specifically disinherit them, they are entitled to a quarter of your estate. The amount freely disposable from your estate will depend on the number of children you have.

  • If you have one child they are entitled to half of your estate with half freely disposable
  • Two children are entitled to two thirds with one third freely disposable
  • Three children are entitled to three quarters with one quarter freely available

Since August 2015 it has been possible, in your French will, to adopt the inheritance rules of your country of nationality. This means if you are from the UK then you can adopt UK inheritance rules and leave your estate to whoever you wish. However, it is important to note this applies to inheritance rules not tax, French inheritance tax will still apply. I think this change in legislation will be of particular importance to people in second marriages with children from previous relationships and maybe from the current relationship also. For some reason, the UK and Ireland have chosen not to sign up to this change, which means if you are from the EU and living in the UK your estate will be subject to UK inheritance rules and tax.

Inheritance Tax Rates:

In the UK, the first 325,000 GBP of a person’s estate is free of inheritance tax. From the tax year 2017/18 if you have a family home that will pass directly to your children, then an additional allowance of 100,000 GBP will apply, rising to 175,000 GBP by 2020. This means that by 2020, married couples and those in civil partnerships with a family home to pass to children, could pass a total of 1m GBP free of inheritance tax. Inheritance tax in the UK is 40% of everything above your allowance.

In France, each person can leave 100,000 Euro to each of their children free of inheritance tax. Above this there is a sliding scale starting at 5% and rising to 45%. However as a guide, between 15,932 Euro and 552,324 Euro, the rate payable by the beneficiary is 20%.

For siblings, the first 15,932 Euro of what you leave them is free of inheritance tax, then they pay 35% on the next 24,430 Euro and 45% on everything else

Nieces and nephews can have just 7,967 Euro free of tax then pay a whopping 55% on the rest.

Everyone else (including non-married partners) can inherit a measly 1,594 Euro free of tax and will pay a massive 60% on amounts above this.

An important tax planning tool is the Assurance Vie. Providing it is set up before age 70, you can name beneficiaries and each beneficiary can inherit 152,500 Euro free of inheritance tax, amounts between 152,500 Euro and 852,500 Euro will be taxed at 20% and anything over this at 31.5%. As you can imagine, this could make a huge tax saving, especially for non-married partners, nieces, nephews and beneficiaries not related to you, with potential tax savings of up to 60%. The great thing is, it remains your money until you die which means you have full access if you need it, unlike when you put money in a trust in the UK to try and reduce your inheritance tax liability. In addition, it is the nearest thing the French have to an ISA as your money grows tax free.

If you want any more information or would like some advice, please contact me on the number or email below.

I also hold a free financial surgery in Café de la Tour in Les Arcs on the last Friday morning of each month where you can discuss your own situation in confidence over a cup of coffee.

This article is for information only and should not be considered as advice and is based on current legislation. 04/05/2016.

Remember our old friend the Assurance Vie?

By Rob Hesketh - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 10th July 2015

10.07.15

In last month’s article I maintained that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Whilst that met with general agreement, it did provoke some interesting responses; mainly exploring the ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ theme so loved by fans of The Clash. Here is an excerpt from a mail I received from a regular critic of my articles. I left the first line in, out of vanity:

Just for a change, I rather liked your piece in the A&A.  Very sensible.

Although for me this is home.  Eventually cremated here and ashes scattered over France.  It’s in my last wishes. But here’s a thought for another piece for you, progression from your current article. Although I myself have no intention whatsoever to return to the UK – I intend to die here – I read that one of the things that can go, as you get really old, is your ability to speak a second language.  If that happens, and should I finish up in a care home, it will be difficult both for me and my carers. In that case my family, most of whom do not live in the UK, might reasonably consider I would be better off in the UK………….

And so be it; let’s explore this theme a little. I’m sure Charles Green (not his real name) would never be packed off back to the UK by uncomprehending carers and uncaring children, but it is an important point. I for one would not relish spending my bath chair days in what I perceive to be the alien environment of a French care home. Coincidentally, I met a couple last week who have retired from UK care home ownership to live in France. I put it to them last week that if they were to open a home in France solely for UK elderly clients, they might be very successful. Unfortunately my idea was shot down in flames. They retired from the business due to increasing bureaucracy and paperwork in the UK, and certainly wouldn’t dream of trying to recreate the same nightmare in France. Can’t blame them I suppose, but it still sounds like a nice idea to me, from a future consumer point of view.

For obvious reasons, I need to steer this article towards financial concerns. I talk to virtually all my clients about retirement provision. It’s not uncommon to hear that actually people would quite like to spend all of their money before they ‘shuffle off’. The problem, I always point out, is timing. It’s one thing to put in place a programme of concerted spending that will exhaust your funds when you reach the age of say 85, but most inconvenient to yourself and others when you last until you are 103. Life can of course be great fun, and we should always enjoy it while we can, but let’s be under no illusion here; none of us gets out of this alive. Money comes in very useful while you are living, and my view is that if there is any left after you die, it might be put to good use elsewhere.

My average client couple; Mr. E. and Mrs. X. Pat, have worked hard during their lives and have garnered enough cash to see them through to the bitter end. I use the word ‘bitter’ deliberately, as I don’t think life has many happy endings. Some of my clients take a rare and altruistic view of their legacy. They may not have children or close relatives, or maybe they just don’t like them. They feel totally at home with the concept of their residual wealth being assimilated into the French national coffers as their contribution to society. Thankfully, to my mind anyway, this approach is rare, and could even be a sign of approaching mental frailty. The vast majority of the people I talk to would much rather that anything left be put to somewhat better use; any use in fact that doesn’t involve the word ‘tax’.

Without any tax planning at all, anything you leave to your spouse will be free of succession tax, and your children will get a moderate allowance before paying the tax, but can end up paying 45% on large sums. Pretty much everyone else need a tin hat to protect themselves from the onslaught from ‘le fisc’. Step children; your best mate; your ex-wife (?), they will all pay 60%. In anyone’s language, that’s a lot of tax.

There is a better way. Remember our old friend the Assurance Vie? He keeps your investments away from the prying eyes of the tax man, and when you eventually need to draw income, he may be able to get you a very good rate on the tax you will then pay. He also happens to come in pretty handy with succession tax. In theory even the richest of investors could manage to pass on all of the invested wealth free of succession tax; all he would need would be a lot of beneficiaries. Each one of them could take away €152,500 without paying a centime in tax. For we mere mortals, this sort of tax generosity should solve the problem quite easily. All you have to do is get your act in gear in good time. You must set up your policy before you get to 70 to get the full benefit.

A bit more thought needs to go into how you pass on property, but it can be done. For now though, I’m just going to concentrate on the ‘spare’ cash. Bank accounts; premium bonds, ISAs; PEPs; National Savings, your old Pru bond that you’ve had since Adam was a lad…   They are all manna from heaven to the French succession tax system, and it will swallow them up. Only Assurance Vie has that nasty tasting Teflon coating that it doesn’t like, and spits out again.

And all you need to do to get an assurance vie is talk to your financial adviser…

In the few days since I wrote this article I have learned of the tragic death of one of my earliest clients; a good and kind man, fallen victim of the carnage so often seen on French roads. This sadness only reinforces my view that life rarely has a happy ending.

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