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RISK Can you avoid this in financial terms?

By Occitanie - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Investment Risk, Investments
This article is published on: 26th March 2021

26.03.21

Welcome to edition number ten of our newsletter ‘Spectrum in Occitanie, Finance in Focus’, brought to you by your Occitanie team of advisers Derek Winsland, Philip Oxley and Sue Regan, with Rob Hesketh now consulting from the UK.

It seems remarkable, to me anyway, that we are already nearly a quarter of the way through the year. We still have the same problems to deal with, namely the fallout from Brexit and the continuing scourge of the Covid 19 virus, where the UK and France seem to be on diverging paths, both in terms of infections and vaccinations. With this in mind, we decided that it might be a good idea to talk today about risk, and how we might learn to live with it.

What is Risk?
Firstly, it is important to realise that risk is everywhere, and in various forms. In a sense it is like oxygen; without it, nothing happens. Sometimes you can see it, but most of the time you cannot. One thing that Covid 19 has taught us is that the very air that we breathe and the everyday items that we touch can kill us, and that is a sobering thought. The real definition of risk is the possibility that something bad might happen, either to you or because of something that you do; or even do not do. That is what makes risk exceedingly difficult to avoid. Often, we think of risk as taking a chance or a gamble, but sometimes a decision not to do something is just as risky.

Can I avoid Risk?
Yes, it is certainly possible to avoid some risks, but sometimes this has unintended consequences. If you do not eat, you cannot get food poisoning, but if you cut out that risk altogether, the end result is not positive. When it comes down to it, you have to accept risk. The real trick is calculating those risks and evaluating the likelihood of something bad happening. In investment terms, if you do not invest (and take some level of risk), you eventually run out of money. Unless of course you have a never ending and regular source of income – wouldn’t that be nice?

investment talk

What is Financial Risk?
Basically, the danger of losing some or all of your money. And it comes in all shapes and sizes. There is a bewildering array of types of risk that analysts use to make them sound clever. There are however some really big ones that you need to look out for, and here are what I consider to be the most important. Have a think about how you would rate them in order of importance.

Specific and Market Risk
Here we have in fact two slightly different risks. Specific Risk is the danger of investing in one individual share, fund, or bond. If you limit yourself in this way, you put yourself at far greater risk of loss. All your eggs are in one basket. Market Risk is the danger of losing money even if you have spread out your investments more widely. Whole sectors can suddenly dip and turn against you.

Institutional Risk
You may have the best investment portfolio in the world, but what if your chosen investment company goes bust due to mismanagement, or maybe a rogue trader? Think Equitable Life, or Nick Leeson at Barings Bank.

currency fluctuations

Foreign Exchange Risk
One day we may have just one global currency. Then we will be able to forget the pitfalls of F/X risk. Until then we need to be very wary, especially we UK expatriate residents in the eurozone. In just twenty-one years the exchange rate between the pound and the euro has fluctuated between 1.75 and 1.02. That is a massive trading range. Big enough to put a huge dent in even the best investment performance. Worse still, it was not a linear move. It keeps on going up and down.

Inflation Risk
Remember 23% inflation rates in 1975? I do. Great for reducing the value of debt very quickly, but equally adept at destroying the value of savings and investments.

With all these dangers lurking at every corner, you may well be considering the mattress as a suitable home for your money. Forget it. Inflation risk will kill you, even if your house doesn’t burn down, taking the mattress and your savings with it.

The plain fact is that we all need to accept some level of risk. There is a risk/reward ratio; there is no gain without some degree of risk. The more risk you take, the more chance you have of seeing exceptional returns, but there is also more chance bad things can happen to your investment. The trick is to evaluate your true appetite for risk, and that is not as easy as it sounds. Left to his or her own devices, a single investor will tend to overestimate an appetite for risk and end up with a more aggressive portfolio than he or she feels comfortable with when a market ‘realignment’, sometimes referred to as a crash, happens a few months or years later.

our services

The truth is that we need someone to hold our hand and lead us through this risk minefield. If we try to navigate the minefield ourselves, we are likely to lose a financial limb or two, or even worse. There are various levels of help available to us

The most effective, in theory anyway, is the DFM, the Discretionary Fund Manager. He (or she) will sit down with you at the outset and ask you lots of clever questions which are designed to reveal your real appetite for risk (not just what you thought it was). You then pay a fee of around 1% of your portfolio each year for the DFM to invest your money for you and produce as good a return as possible without exceeding your risk pain threshold.

If you decide that you cannot afford a DFM, or maybe you have not got quite enough money for a DFM to offer his services to you, the next best thing is MAP, which stands for Multi-Asset Portfolios. They are offered by insurance companies or investment services providers. These funds are specifically designed to offer you investments that are graded for risk and ensure that your investments are spread out over many markets and sectors, thereby reducing your ‘specific’ risk. Both DFM and MAP investments can be held in what are known as ‘open architecture’ bonds within assurance vie policies in France.

Many of you will also be acquainted with the ‘closed architecture’ assurance vie offered by Prudential International. This assurance vie effectively combines the dual role of the DFM and MAP. Their PruFund range of funds is administered by Pru’s own in-house team of fund managers, and each fund is invested in a wide range of markets and sectors.

In essence then, my message is this; do not take on risk without knowing exactly what you are doing, but do not avoid investments. If you do not know exactly what you are doing, get a professional to do it for you. They are acutely aware of all kinds of risk, and how to use it proportionately. Your friendly local International Financial Adviser (that’s us by the way) is there to act as a conduit to guide you into safer investment waters.

Do not be afraid to ask for advice. It also happens to be free.

Please do not forget that, although we may be restricted on where we can travel at present, we are here and have the technology to undertake your regular reviews and financial health checks remotely. If you would like a review of your situation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your Spectrum adviser or via the contact link below.

Occitanie@spectrum-ifa.com

Should I leave money in the bank?

By Michael Doyle - Topics: Assurance Vie, Bank Charges, Banking, France, Investments, Luxembourg
This article is published on: 22nd March 2021

22.03.21

For citizens living in France, assurance vie is known to be one of the safest ways to invest money and organise your inheritance. It is an insurance instrument that serves as a tax-efficient investment vehicle containing one or more underlying investments.

Why It’s Considered Better Than the Bank?
In November 2020, the Banque de France told us that the average interest rate on bank deposits is 0.46%, unchanged since August 2020.

Any gain on your deposit would be subject (in general) to a 30% charge between tax and social charges, leaving a return on investment of just 0.32%.

Couple that with the fact that inflation in France in 2020 was 0.46% (www.statista.com) and you are effectively losing money by leaving it in your bank account.

A well-managed cautious portfolio held within an assurance vie returned about 4% in 2020.

Benefits of Inheritance
When you set up this form of investment before you turn 70, each beneficiary is entitled to a tax-free deduction of €152,500 for money invested before you turn 70, with taxes limited to 20% for everything beyond that (although sums exceeding €700,000 per beneficiary are subject to a higher tax rate of 31.25%).

Why Should You Invest in Assurance Vie?
Investments held within an assurance vie grow income tax and capital gains tax free, so you have a gross roll up of any gains within the investment.

Tax and social charges are paid only on withdrawal, however as part of the return is capital much of these gains are offset.

Advantages for Foreigners
If you are a foreign national living in France, assurance vie should be a key investment, particularly if you expect to live there for the long term. As a British expatriate living in France, you have a host of international assurance vie policies at your disposal, most of which are Brexit-proof. Not only are these policies consistent with the European Union rules, but they also operate across borders in the United Kingdom, meaning you can take them with you if you change your home again or go back to the UK.

Assurance Vie, an Alternative Way to Save For Your Retirement

By Michael Doyle - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Luxembourg, Retirement
This article is published on: 15th March 2021

15.03.21

Many people are looking for an alternative to setting up a regulated pension for their retirement savings. Whilst there is tax relief on pension contributions in the savings phase, they are happy to give this up for more flexible and tax-effective income during retirement. In France, the most popular vehicle used for long-term savings is a contrat d’assurance vie, in which investors have the opportunity to invest regular premium savings or a temporary amount.
What Is an Assurance Vie?

An assurance vie is an insurance-based investment that can be as straightforward or as nuanced as you like. The following are the benefits of assurance vie for French residents:

  • While the funds remain within the assurance vie, there is usually no tax on any income or gains (i.e., the tax is deferred). However, social contributions are now withheld on an annual basis (rather than when the funds are withdrawn) for sums invested in a fonds en euros portfolio, just as they are for French bank deposits
  • A portion of any withdrawal is regarded as a capital withdrawal and is tax-free
  • An assurance vie becomes more tax-effective over time, and after eight years, the income can be offset against a tax-free allowance of (currently) € 9,200 per year for a couple submitting a joint tax return or €4,600 for an individual
  • You have total control of your money and may obtain monthly income payments from the insurance provider. However, withdrawals in the policy’s early years you can incur penalties, depending on the contract you select
  • If your circumstances or attitude toward investment risk changes, you might be able to change the funds in which you invest
  • For inheritance purposes, assurance vie is extremely tax-efficient
Assurance-Vie-France-English

Assurance vie is the traditional form of saving for millions of French citizens. Several billions of euros are invested by French banks and insurance firms that sell their own branded products.

Additionally, a much smaller group of non-French companies have designed French-compliant policies for the expatriate market in France. These businesses are generally located in heavily regulated financial hubs like Dublin and Luxembourg.

However, before selecting such a firm, make sure that it is a product completely compatible with French law to get the same tax and inheritance benefits as the French equivalent product.

Below are some of the benefits of a foreign assurance vie policy over a French assurance vie policy:

  • Other currencies, such as sterling, US dollars, and Swiss Francs, may be used to save
  • There is a wider variety of investment options available, including access to top investment management firms and capital-guaranteed products and funds
  • The report is written in English, making it easier for you to comprehend the terms and conditions of the assurance vie program
  • The assurance vie policy is generally portable, which is beneficial when travelling within the EU (or many other countries in the world)

When it comes to EU countries, the taxes can be confusing. In these jurisdictions, the plan is often accepted for its beneficial tax performance.

How Does Assurance Vie Work?
Your one-time or regular investment or premiums are paid to an insurance firm, which then invests the funds with the investment managers of your choosing. These are typically unit-linked investments, such as equity or bond funds, but they may also be deposits or unique products sold by different financial institutions.

You may invest in a range of funds which the insurance provider can pool together to create a mutual bond, which is your assurance vie policy. The value of the units you keep in managed funds is likely to increase over time if you have selected your investment wisely.

As a consequence, the value of your assurance vie policy will grow accordingly. You must, however, be fully conscious of and comfortable with the level of risk you are taking. As with any unit-linked investment, your fund’s value will go up or down depending on what is happening in the investment markets. Short-term market instability, on the other hand, typically has a lower impact over time

Smoothing out the bumps of market volatility

How Do I Choose What to Invest Inside My Assurance Vie?
You may hold strong opinions on the subject or have no opinions at all. In any case, having an excellent financial planner on hand is helpful. His or her job is to help you comprehend the full definition of investment and decide your attitude toward investment risk.

Without acknowledging any risk, there is little reasonable chance of making a significant return on your savings. Even leaving your savings in a bank these days carries the risk of not receiving a ‘real’ rate of return, i.e., one that keeps up with inflation.

An adviser can show you various types of investment options, clarify how they operate, their track record, and the nature and level of risk that the investment entails. Although you make the ultimate decision, his or her support may be helpful.

Following the initial investment, there should be regular follow-up meetings to assess your investment’s success and make any appropriate adjustments. This may be because your circumstances have changed or because certain funds aren’t performing as well as anticipated, and you’d like to replace them with funds that are.

Can Capital Be Guaranteed Via a French Assurance Vie?
The willingness to invest in a fonds en euros is a common feature of the French assurance vie (though this is also available, in limited circumstances, from insurance companies outside France).

Since your money, as well as any interest and year-end bonus applied to it, is guaranteed, this unique type of fund is structured to shape a very conservative base for your overall investment.

The majority of foreign companies that supply these forms of funds also provide sterling and US dollar equivalents. Intending to increase returns, the funds invest mainly in government and corporate bonds, with some exposure to equities and assets (real estate). Your money will earn interest over the year.

The insurance firm is allowed by statute to refund the bulk of the funds to your account in the form of a year-end bonus. The remaining portion of the fund’s return is kept in the insurance company’s reserves to smooth out potential investment gains, such as in periods of weak market results. However, the rate of return on the fonds en euros is ordinarily low due to the quality of the guarantees. Still, it is generally better than the interest received on a bank deposit account with immediate access.

However, the French tax authorities consider this form of a fund to be so without risk that annual social charges are imposed on the gain, potentially lowering the return rate over time.

It is also possible to invest in structured bank deposit offerings through some foreign assurance vie policies. The investment return is related to the stock market, but the capital invested is guaranteed.

French Tax Changes 2019

How Is an Assurance Vie Taxed?
Only the benefits portion of every amount you withdraw is taxable, and after January 1, 2018, the tax treatment differs depending on whether premiums were charged before September 27, 2017, or after that date.

Premiums paid before September 27, 2017
You may either be taxed at the set prelevement rate or file an annual income tax return, depending on your tax situation. The following is how the prelevement scale works:

  • Withdrawals made within the first four years are taxed at a rate of 35 percent
  • Withdrawals made between years four and eight are taxed at a rate of 15 percent
  • After eight years, withdrawals are taxed at a rate of 7.5 percent

Furthermore, social charges are imposed on the benefits portion of the amount withdrawn, at a rate of 17.2 percent. People prefer the progressive rate tax if it is lower than their marginal rate of income tax.

In France, the highest income tax rate is officially 45 percent. As a result, even though 35 percent appears to be a high rate, it is still the best choice for higher-rate taxpayers. After four years, you’ll have to reconsider which form to use. If your marginal tax rate is at least 30 percent, a prevelement rate of 15 percent is a better choice.

If you are a non-taxpayer (as more people are now since the 5.5 percent tax bracket was eliminated), you can opt to report the withdrawal on your annual income tax return.

After eight years, there is an extra income tax incentive to encourage people to save more for the long term. A single taxpayer is entitled to a €4,600 income tax credit against the benefits portion of any withdrawals made during the tax year. This is raised to €9,200 for married couples who are subject to joint taxation. There will be no income tax to pay if the benefits portion of total withdrawals made during the year does not surpass the allowances.

This might not seem like much, but it’s a valuable allowance, as shown by this example of Peter and Pam’s assurance vie policy, which they began nine years ago with a €100,000 investment. They have not taken any withdrawals, and the account is now worth €160,000. They want to buy a new car and need €15,000 to help pay for it, so they withdraw this amount. They receive a tax certification from the insurance firm when they make this withdrawal, showing how much gain is included in the amount withdrawn. The guaranteed value has risen by 60%, but the taxable benefit factor is only 37.5 percent (or €5,625) in this case. Since they have a tax-free allowance of €9,200 and they are subject to joint taxes, there is no income tax to pay.

Premiums paid from September 27, 2017
The tax rate varies based on the contract’s duration, plus whether capital remaining in the contract as of December 31 of the year before the withdrawal was above a threshold sum for contracts longer than eight years. The threshold amount is €150,000 per person (across all assurance vie policies), measured by the amount of premiums invested minus any money already withdrawn, rather than the contract’s value. Couples taxed as a household cannot share each other’s threshold because the threshold is not cumulative between individuals. As a consequence, one spouse can meet the threshold while the other does not.

On January 1, 2018, France adopted a 30 percent flat tax,’ consisting of 12.8 percent income tax and 17.2 percent social charges. As a result, for contracts that are less than eight years old, a flat tax is levied on gains in withdrawals which are deducted automatically by the insurance provider. The flat tax replaces the pre-September 27, 2017 rate of 52.2 percent (35 percent tax plus 17.2 percent social charges) for contracts of up to four years and 32.2 percent (15 percent tax plus 17.2 percent social charges) for contracts of four to eight years.

After eight years, the tax rate is 7.5 percent. In addition, there is 17.2 percent social charges to pay. The tax free allowance of €4,600 for a single taxpayer or €9,200 for a couple is still in place after eight years. When filing their French tax return, taxpayers can also choose to pay tax at their marginal rate in the ordinary income tax brackets (rates varying from 0-45%) plus social charges. Any excess tax already charged would be refunded after processing the tax declaration made in the year after payment of the withdrawal since the insurance provider will have already deducted 12.8 percent or 7.5 percent.

However, taxpayers should be mindful that if ordinary band taxation is selected for assurance vie dividends, this will extend to all other sources of investment profits, such as interest and persons, as well as capital gains from the selling of shares.

livret A

Does Assurance Vie Have Other Advantages?
Without question, assurance vie is also a powerful tool for estate planning, both in reducing French inheritance taxes and giving you leverage over who inherits your properties after you die. This form of investment is considered outside of your estate for

When you set up this form of investment before you turn 70, each beneficiary is entitled to a tax-free deduction of €152,500 for money invested before you turn 70, with taxes limited to 20% for everything beyond that (although sums exceeding €700,000 per beneficiary are subject to a higher tax rate of 31.25 percent).

The inheritance benefits are limited for sums invested after the age of 70. There is a €30,500 tax-free exemption in this situation (plus the investment return on the total invested) for all of the people who profit from it. Any portion of the premium that reaches €30,500 is subject to regular French inheritance allowances, which differ based on the beneficiaries’ connections to the policyholder. Any gain in the scheme paid out as a death benefit is also subject to social taxes at the current rate of 17.2 percent.

Assurance vie can be a valuable tool for estate planning and providing a tax-efficient source of income for the policyholder over his or her lifetime.

Is your money safe under the mattress?

By Katriona Murray-Platon - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, investment diversification, Investment Risk, Investments
This article is published on: 5th March 2021

05.03.21

March is my favourite month of the year, not least because I celebrate my birthday during this month and this year will be the end of my 4th decade. Traditionally it has always been a busy month because it is a great time for events and starting new projects. This month my colleagues and I will be attending another virtual property fair hosted by Your Overseas Home. The event we did last year was very good and lots of people were able to see our presentations and then chat to our advisers from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

By October 2021 I will have lived in France for 18 years continuously, but I first arrived for my Erasmus year in September 2001 making it 20 years since I started living in France. As you may know I am married to a Frenchman and I have adopted much of the French culture and way of life. But my husband and I have very different views in our attitude to risk and finances. My husband came from a farming background where money was hidden under the mattress, you only bought when you had the money and you insured everything that could be insured. My husband will take a 10 year extended guarantee on a toaster! I came from a background where it was common to use credit cards to fund Christmas and holidays and I went to university with a student loan.

What is the point of having money?

The idea that money is safe under the mattress or in the bank is no longer true. In France the traditional popular savings accounts such as the Livret A and LDD now only have an interest rate of 0.5%. The other misled belief that French assurance vie policy holders have is that Euro Funds are a good investment and a safe investment. Whilst it is true that Euro Funds are still one of the least risky investments after the traditional bank savings accounts, their performance continues to drop year after year. The average growth rate of the Euro Funds in 2020 is 1.2% which, once you deduct social charges (17.2%) and take into consideration inflation (0.5%), the net gain is only 0.5%. One of my own French assurance vie policies, which is 69% Euro Funds, has made an average of 1.6% over the seven years since it was created. The problem with French assurance vies is that they are not bespoke; they come with certain formulas, some that you can contribute to monthly, some that you cannot, and depending on your choice you cannot go lower than the prescribed amount in Euro Funds, no matter what your risk profile.

When I compare this with the range of product providers we can offer our clients and the choice of funds, the difference is astounding. Thank goodness that as English speakers we have access to better investment possibilities from as little as £20,000/€25,000. The average performance of my clients’ portfolios is around 3% after charges, with no social charges taken at source, and they have a lot of choice and flexibility regarding which funds they want and how much of that fund they want their investment to be in. They also have access to English speaking product providers, English speaking fund managers and their own English speaking financial adviser who is supported by the knowledge and experience of all of the Spectrum advisers.

I am fully integrated into French society and believe in adhering to many things about French society, but when it comes to finances there are differences between us that we cannot ignore so it is not in our best interest to invest in French financial products.

investing in tough times

The outlook this March is thankfully much better than last March. There is more good news for Prudential policy holders. At the end of February Prudential announced no changes to the Expected Growth Rate and upward Unit Price Adjustments in the PruFund Growth Sterling, PruFund Growth Euro and PruFund Cautious Euro funds.

For other funds and the markets in general the outlook is equally positive. “The combination of vaccine roll-out, substantial fiscal stimulus, and elevated consumer savings should drive a sharp recovery in economic and earnings growth,” said Ryan Hammond, a Goldman Sachs strategist, in a report this week.

Whilst mask-wearing and social distancing will still be necessary for some time to come, a lot of our friends and family members have been vaccinated, therefore reducing the risk to the most vulnerable. With the coming good weather, meetings and get togethers will be able to take place out of doors. As always, if clients are happy to arrange a face to face meeting, I look forward to seeing them for outside meetings in their lovely gardens. If however you prefer video meetings or phone calls that is also possible.

Wishing you all a bright, sunny and floral month of March!

Top 3 Financial questions after BREXIT

By Andrea Glover - Topics: Assurance Vie, BREXIT, Financial Planning, Financial Review, France, QROPS
This article is published on: 1st February 2021

01.02.21

We asked Andrea Glover & Tony Delvalle – What are the current top three ‘hot topics’ with clients, particularly affecting retirees?

UK State Pensions
Andrea commented, “The withdrawal of the UK from the EU has obviously been an area of concern regarding UK State pensions. Now the Withdrawal Agreement has come into force, it is reassuring that those covered by the agreement will continue to benefit from aggregation of periods worked in the UK and EU, and those not yet retired will have the same benefits as current claimants.”

Tony went on to say, “UK State Pensions will be uprated every year whilst residing in France. This will happen even if you start claiming your pension after 1 January 2021, as long as you meet qualifying conditions.”

UK Properties
Many people coming to live in France often decide not to sell their UK home, instead renting the property out to supplement their pension income. Tony explained, “We are frequently asked if this is sensible as a form of investment. Whilst there is often an emotional tie to a former home, or perhaps a client wants to keep the option of returning to their UK home, there can be punitive tax consequences to such a decision, should they then decide to sell the property as a French tax resident.”

Tony continued, “The sale of a UK property has to be declared in both the UK and France. Although under the UK/France double tax treaty you receive a credit in France for any UK tax paid, French residents can also pay social charges on gains arising on the disposal of a UK property. There are also new rules effective from April 2020 in the UK, making such a decision even less attractive.”

Andrea summarised by saying “It really is important to speak to a Financial Adviser, particularly if you haven’t yet made the final move to France. Dependent on personal circumstances, it may be more beneficial to sell their property and invest in a more tax efficient investment vehicle such as an Assurance Vie.”

qrops

Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (QROPS)
Tony told us that many of their clients have taken advantage of a
QROPS, which enables consolidation of UK pension policies and which has attractive tax and inheritance tax advantages for French tax residents. QROPS can also offer multi-currency flexibility.

Andrea commented, “Many clients currently considering moving their pensions are querying if there are to be any changes in QROPS legislation, in view of Brexit. Our stance on this is that we believe it is highly likely that the UK Government will, after the transition period, impose a 25% tax charge on future transfers to a QROPS, making them less desirable. So, although they may not be suitable for everyone, don’t risk leaving it too late or you may face the 25% charge.”

As featured in BUZZ

Which Assurance Vie is best?

By Katriona Murray-Platon - Topics: Assurance Vie, France
This article is published on: 7th September 2020

07.09.20

In answer to the question of where do you put your money for maximum tax efficiency, an assurance vie is certainly the best place to put it. The French have continued to favour this investment over the years. According to the French Insurance Federation (FFA), in 2019 the premiums paid into assurance vies increased by 3.5% in 2018, to a total of €144.6 billion. I subscribe to a French financial magazine and every year they do an article on the best assurance vies in the market. This gives me an interesting insight into which products are recommended for the typical French investor.

What is interesting to note is that it is very rare for bank assurance vies to appear in this list. Banks have several assurance vie products under different names with different offers and it can be hard for the consumer to understand and compare performance and costs. Every member of my household, including my children, has an assurance vie, because even after social charges on the part in Euro funds, they are more likely to outperform any cash savings accounts. For example, the Livret A (the preferred savings account of the French) and the LDDS now only pay 0.5% interest per year and any other savings account offered by banks only generally offer between 0.2-0.3% interest which is not exempt from tax and social charges.

assurance vie

The French tend to favour investments in Eurofunds, believing them to be a safe option. Whilst this may be true if the investment horizon is less than three years, in the longer term inflation has a negative effect. The days of glory of the Eurofunds was around 2013-2014 when rates reached 2.5%. In 2019 the average rate on Eurofunds was 1.5% compared with 1.8% (net of fees) in 2018. However when compared with inflation, which was 1.8% in 2018 and 1.1% in 2019, there wasn’t much ‘real’ growth. Social charges are taken at source on such investments which further impacts performance. If your investment horizon is over three years and closer to between five and eight years then you should be investing at least partly in equities to produce a positive return above inflation. If it’s security you are looking for, the more diversified your assets, both in terms of asset classes and geographical location, the better your portfolio will be to weather market fluctuations.

The advantage with bank assurance vies is that you can start with smaller amounts to invest and build up with regular monthly amounts. However as a financial adviser with a high level of French, even I find it difficult to understand what exactly is in these assurance vies and where the underlying investments are held. Usually you are given the option of eurofunds and euro equities. It is rarely possible to hold assets in a different currency. We work with assurance vie providers who can allow you to hold assets in sterling and dollars as well as euros, which would allow you to leave this money to beneficiaries living in the UK or the US and avoid transferring the money into euros at today’s exchange rate. If you wanted to invest in euros but are holding sterling, over time it can be switched into euro funds at the appropriate time and with advice from your financial adviser.

It is not easy to change assurance vies. The French government changed the rules at the beginning of last year allowing people to change contracts but only with the same insurer. However this depends on whether the insurer will allow you to change contracts and whether they have anything better to offer.

Assurance-Vie-France-English

If you are in your 40s, 50s or 60s and your investment horizon is longer than eight years, and if you find that your assurance vie is not performing as it should, or you no longer get the proper advice/service from your financial adviser/assurance vie provider, you could consider encashing the policy and finding a better investment. Professional guidance from an authorised financial adviser is essential to determine whether this this option is appropriate for your circumstances.

If however you are over 70 and set up the assurance vie before 70, or you set up the assurance vie over eight years ago and are benefitting from the income tax abatements of €4600 per person (€9200) per couple, it may not be in your interest to change assurance vie providers. There are still many benefits of setting up a small assurance vie after 70 to benefit from other abatements, but that will depend on your situation and you should discuss options with your financial adviser.

I would always advise speaking to a financial adviser before going into any investment whether French or foreign. You need to be aware of the past performance of the investment (although this is no promise of future returns), the reputation of the investment company and the costs and how this may affect investment performance. For more information about assurance vies in general please see our guide but if you are considering this type of investment please do contact your local financial adviser.

“Brexit proof” your investments using a top UK financial institution

By Spectrum IFA - Topics: Assurance Vie, France
This article is published on: 27th May 2019

27.05.19

If you are living in France, did you know that a certain large, household name
UK financial institution offers a product locally from Dublin based sister organisations? This product is both EU regulated and tax efficient in France, an Assurance Vie and it is in English.

As a result, should the UK leave the EU, you can still invest with a company whose name you know and trust in a tax efficient manner, in the country you now call home.

So what is Assurance Vie (AV)?
For Brits, an Assurance Vie could be viewed as a sort of ‘big ISA’. It is the tax wrapper ‘par excellence’ for French residents and for the French themselves. Most French families have them, even members of the current government, and at the end of February 2019 total holdings in AV stood at a whopping 1,798 billion EUR! So for the foreseeable future, AV is here to stay.

As a British expatriate resident in France you have a number of international AV policies available to you, all of which are Brexit-proof. Not only are such policies compliant in the European Union, but they work cross border in the UK, so you can take them with you if you change home again or return to Blighty. And while you continue to live in France you have the reassurance that your policy benefits from the advantages of French AV, but not subject to the potentially punitive Sapin II Law which could be used to block French AV policies.

What are the main advantages of international Assurance Vie?

1/ AV has liquidity advantages for better cash flow planning
• Regular withdrawals can be made, making it an ideal vehicle to provide income to compliment your pension and rental income.
• Unlike an investment in rental property, the capital from an AV policy can be obtained relatively simply, quickly – and also partially.
• Wealth Tax (IFI) applies to real estate assets but not financial assets held within an AV policy.

2/ AV takes the hassle and cost out of tax reporting and legal paperwork
• If your investment portfolio is unwrapped (i.e. held directly and outside of an AV tax wrapper), then all transactions must be reported when completing your French tax return. The French tax authorities require all calculations to be reported in Euros, regardless of the currency of the underlying investment, and may also request the translation of various documents. The option of paying an accountant or tax adviser may save time and simplify matters for you, but will increase expense.
• In contrast, if the investments are held within an AV policy, all transactions are grouped for the purposes of administrative and tax returns, regardless of how many purchases and sales of investments occur over the year.
• Also should your priorities change over the years, it is a simple procedure to alter your choice of who will benefit from the money when you pass on. Changing the beneficiary clause within an AV is a simple procedure, and certainly a lot easier and less costly than altering your will with a lawyer.
• Moreover, when the time comes, your beneficiaries need simply apply directly to the insurance company itself. There is no need to pass via a notary to access the funds, the release of which can otherwise be subject to delays especially in the case of complex successions or legal challenges.

3/ AV reduces capital gains tax and investment costs
• When a portfolio is ‘unwrapped’, the sale of any investment triggers tax at the full prevailing tax rate on the resultant gain realised. So, if a portfolio consists of 15-20 lines which are being regularly bought and sold, this can become a reporting nightmare.
• Worse still, it also means that amounts can be taxed, then taxed again, and this perhaps several times over the lifetime of the portfolio. The tax consequences that typically apply to directly held portfolios can become an important consideration for your investment manager, reducing the scope of investments they are likely to consider, therefore potentially hampering performance.
• In contrast, within an AV policy, income tax and capital gains tax are not applied as long as a withdrawal does not occur. Thus, investment funds growing within the tax wrapper accumulate gross and benefit from a ‘compounding effect’ over time.
• And when a withdrawal does occur, only the gain or growth element is subject to income tax, not the capital. The actual liability is determined by how long the policy has been in existence, with the rate payable reducing on a sliding scale which is progressively lower depending on the duration of the policy. After 8 years any withdrawal benefits from an annual tax free allowance of €4,600 of the gain for a single person (€9,200 for a married couple).
• Moreover, a discretionary managed investment portfolio held within a Dublin domiciled AV is not subject to VAT, representing substantial saving on investment management fees.

4/ AV has significant inheritance planning advantages
• Planning who benefits from your estate is complicated in France by the restrictions imposed by the Napoleonic Code. Leaving sums to an unrelated third party such as a friend or unadopted foster child can attract tax of up to a massive 60%, so taking advice is essential.
• In contrast, AV avoids French inheritance law, so any funds held within a contract are effectively taken out of the French succession process.
• Within an AV policy, any number of beneficiaries (related or not) can be appointed and a tax free allowance of €152,500 per beneficiary applies. Above that threshold, a rate of 20% is payable up to €700,000 after which a rate of 31.25% applies. These rates compare very favourably with those that apply outside the wrapper.

5/ AV is more secure than your bank account
• The least customers should be able to expect from their banks is that they are solid and secure, but all is still not well in the banking sector. Since the height of the financial crisis, which began in 2007-08, banks have come under pressure to put their houses in order. In spite of this, a number of big banks have weak balance sheets, and remain technically insolvent. This is not the case of the bigger insurance companies in reputable jurisdictions like Dublin and Luxemburg which are required to maintain minimum capital levels and liquidity ratios.
• There is also a potential risk of levy on client deposits. Customer savings are held on the bank balance sheets as liabilities, not ring-fenced and protected as they are with insurance companies in certain jurisdictions. Therefore, in the event of a bank failure or forced restructuring, customers’ deposits could be at risk, at least partially. Indeed, in the EU there exists a precedent when so-called ‘haircuts’ were taken from personal savings deposits during the Cyprus banking crisis of 2012-13.
• There is now an EU ‘bail-in’ law. On 1 January 2016 the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD) came into force across the EU confirming new bail-in regulations. In the event of a future banking crisis depositors could face having to foot at least part of the bill – in contrast to the government bank bail outs of 2007-2009, when taxpayers’ money was used.

In July 2017, the Financial Times reported that ‘Those who receive financial advice are on average £40,000 better off than those who don’t’. And significant savings can indeed be made on condition you have proper financial advice, solid investments and the right tax wrapper. So do not let Brexit hold you back. The time to make money and save costs is now. Get the right advice, and maybe you too could save £40,000!

French Tax Changes 2019

By Sue Regan - Topics: Assurance Vie, France, Income Tax, Tax, tax advice, Tax Relief
This article is published on: 31st January 2019

31.01.19

2019 has brought a number of changes to the French tax system. Below is a summary of the principal changes affecting personal taxation.

INCOME TAX (Impôt sur le Revenu)
There has been no change to the rates of income tax of the barème scale, but the tax bands have been increased as follows:

Income Tax Rate
Up to €9,964 0%
€9,965 to €27,519 14%
€27,520 to €73,779 30%
€73,780 to €156,244 41%
€156,245 and over 45%

PAYE (Prélèvement à la Source)
PAYE has been introduced in France with effect from 1st January 2019.
The types of income subject to PAYE include:

  • Income from employment
  • Retirement income, including UK private and State pensions, but excluding certain pensions where tax is already deducted at source, such as UK Civil Service pensions
  • Rental income, including that from French properties owned by people who are not resident in France.

For French source income, the employer or pension provider will deduct the tax at source.

Clearly, where income is generated from outside of France there can be no deduction at source by the French authorities. This means that many expatriates living in France will be subject to a monthly withholding tax on their income. Therefore, starting in January 2019, the tax authorities will collect a sum equal to 1/12th of the tax paid in 2018 (based on income declared for 2017).

Excluded from PAYE is investment income, such as bank interest, dividends, capital gains and gains from life assurance policies.

New residents of France who have not yet submitted a French tax return, will have the option of paying a sum ‘on account’, or be taxed in May 2020, following submission of their first tax return.

Everyone will still be required to submit a French tax return in the May of the following year. Thereafter, the final assessment of tax liability will be carried out, and you will either receive a tax refund or be required to pay any additional tax due, over a four-month period.

If you do not currently pay any income tax, you will not be required to pay provisional monthly payments. Similarly, if you anticipate a significant change to your income during the course of the year you can request that the tax authority alter your tax code. However, if you do so, and your income is 10% greater than advised, you could face a tax penalty of at least 10%.

REFORM OF SOCIAL CHARGES (Prélèvements Sociaux)
Some changes have been introduced to certain social charges, which is good news for some taxpayers.

The main rates for social charges remain the same as for 2018, i.e.:

Source of income Rate
Pension 9.1%
Investment and property rental 17.2%
Employment 9.7%

 

Social Charges on Pension Income
The exemption from social charges on pension income still applies if you hold the EU S1 Certificate or if France is not responsible for the cost of your healthcare.

However, those pensioners who do not satisfy the exemption conditions above, but whose pension income is less than €2,000 per month (or €3,000 for a couple), will now pay a lower rate of 7.4% on pension income.

Social Charges on Investment Income and Capital Gains
From 1st January 2019, individuals covered under the health care system of another EU or EEA country are no longer subject to the existing rate of 17.2% on investment income or capital gains. Instead they will now pay a new flat rate of 7.5%. This new flat rate is known as the ‘Prélèvement de Solidarité’ and represents a saving of 9.7%. It applies to investment income, such as property rentals, bank interest, dividends and withdrawals from ‘assurance vie’ policies, and capital gains realised by both residents and non-residents of France.

In summary, taxpayers can benefit from the new 7.5% rate on investment income if:

  • They hold the EU S1 Certificate
  • They are a non-resident of France earning French source income (i.e. rental income, capital gains on the sale of a French property, etc) and are covered by the health system of another EU or EEA country

ASSURANCE VIE
There are no changes to ‘assurance vie’ apart from the social charges reform detailed above which will benefit some policyholders.
For policies held for more than eight years, the annual allowance remains at €4,600 for individuals and €9,200 for married/PACS couples.

This outline is provided for information purposes only based on our understanding of current French tax law. It does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action to mitigate the effects of any potential changes in French tax legislation.

If you would like to discuss how these changes may affect you, please do not hesitate to contact your local Spectrum IFA Group adviser.

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