Category Archives: Finance

Multiple bond applications affect your credit score

There is a view among many South African consumers that applying for a bond at more than one bank will have negative consequences. The belief is that these enquiries will impact on your credit score and therefore hurt your chances of getting a loan or push up its cost if you are successful.

Many people only apply at their own bank for just this reason. They think that they are taking a risk if they shop around.

This raises some obvious concerns. After all, you are only exercising your rights as a consumer to compare prices, so why should you be penalised for it?

Footprinting

What is a given is that every time you apply for a loan of any sort, this will be recorded on your credit profile. This is called footprinting, and credit providers may use this information to assess you.

“Credit providers consider a multitude of factors when vetting applications for credit, one of which would be demand for certain types of credit,” explains David Coleman, the head of analytics at Experian South Africa. “A sudden surge in demand for unsecured or short term credit, linked with signs of stress building on indebtedness and repayment capacity of the consumer, would result in the credit provider taking a more cautious approach in extending further credit to such a consumer.”

However, short term credit is not the same as long term credit like a home loan in this regard. In fact, Nedbank says that it views multiple applications for a bond made at the same time as a single enquiry.

The head of credit for FNB retail, Hannalie Crous explains that they also make a distinction:

“From an FNB perspective we do not look at number of bureau enquiries pertaining to home loans as a key determinant of a credit score,” she says. “The handful of credit bureau enquires associated with a bond application will have no effect, however  a consistent trend indicating that a consumer is taking on multiple loans could influence the outcome of a credit application.”

Not all bureaus will see you the same

In other words, the banks don’t see it as a negative if you shop around for a bond. A number of credit bureaus approached by Moneyweb also took the same line, although with a caveat:

“Each credit bureau and each credit provider that has their own in-house score will score consumers using their own criteria,” says Michelle Dickens, the MD of TPN. “It’s not a one size fits all. As a result there will be a higher weighting towards different aspects of data that will improve or decline the ultimate overall score.”

Property and bonds

Old Mutual Investment Group sees domestic equities, property and bonds delivering higher returns in 2017, on the back of improving economic prospects.

It expects peaking interest rates and inflation in South Africa to create a positive environment for interest rate sensitive assets such as domestic property and bonds.  It sees inflation averaging at 5.4% in 2017 compared with 6.3% in 2016 and the benchmark repurchase rates falling to 6.5% by the end of 2017, down from 7% currently.

According to Peter Brooke, head of Old Mutual Investment Group’s MacroSolutions Boutique the 13.5% return on domestic bonds year-to-date as at November 24 2016 is artificially high due to an oversold bond market.

Instead, he said SA cash – with a 6.8% return in rand terms – is the best performing local asset class thus far. SA listed property delivered returns of 4% and the FTSE-JSE Share Weighted Index (SWIX) returned 2.5% over the same period.

After starting the year with the highest level of cash in its fund ever, the group is seeing more opportunities in equities as the domestic equity market de-rates.

“We’re not at the stage where the JSE is cheap yet. It is on a 13x forward but it does offer a real return in the region of 5%. We’re not back to levels that we have enjoyed for the last 100 years of around 6.5% but value is starting to incrementally rebuild,” he said.

Paying too much in bank charges

In South Africa’s somewhat peculiar banking system, monthly charges for transactional accounts are a given. But is the few hundred rand you’re paying per month (if you’re lucky!) the best possible deal?

The first question you need to answer is whether you value having a ‘platinum’ or ‘private clients’ account with all the “value-adds” these offer?

Things like lounge access, bundled credit cards and a ‘personal’ banker are must-haves for some in the upper middle market. On the other end of the scale are basic, no-frills bank accounts (like Capitec’s Global One (and the clones from the other major banks)), but the truth is that most people need something a little more comprehensive than that. There’s likely a home loan, almost certainly vehicle finance and definitely a credit card.

So, do you need a ‘platinum’ (Premier/Prestige/Savvy Bundle)-type account? Do you actually use or need those value-adds? Or, do you enjoy the ‘status’ of having a platinum or black credit card? (Here, emotion – and ego – comes into the equation….)

This is an important question to answer, because the difference in bank charges between a more vanilla bundle account and ‘platinum’ is easily 50%!

While banks try to shoehorn you into product categories based on your salary or profession, there’s nothing stopping you from moving to another product (or refusing those ‘upgrades’). From a personal perspective, the only reason I have an FNB Premier (i.e. platinum) account (not gold) is because I do actually make use of the ‘free’, albeit diminishing, Slow Lounge access. And, the eBucks rewards I earn on this account are the most lucrative of the lot, based on the products I use, my transaction habits and spending patterns. (‘Upgrading’ to Private Clients is a mugs game because the thresholds for ‘earning’ rewards are significantly higher, to match one’s status and earnings, of course!)

Once you’ve answered this question – which is more important than most people realise – the next step is to figure out whether a bundled account or pay-as-you-transact one makes the most sense. Most of us enjoy not having to ‘worry’, so we readily sign up for the all-in-one package without actually understanding the differences in pricing.

A financial kick in the pants

  • Prepare an itemised list of all your expenses and divide the expenses into Group A, being fixed expenses, such as car repayments, other debts and payments you are contractually bound to pay monthly. Other discretionary expenses you are able to reduce or even cancel without suffering any negative legal or financial consequences such as entertainment, clothing, cable TV should be included in a Group B.Select certain Group B expenses you wish to reduce or stop [that gym subscription?), do so and allocate extra payments to shorten the outstanding payment periods (and reduce the interest payable) of Group A expenses or start a small rainy day account for those unexpected financial surprises. Which expenses should be reduced and in what order of priority will depend upon circumstances such as interest rates, tax deductibility, outstanding payment periods and so on. Always a good idea to consult a professional to assist you in making the correct decision.
  • Make an appointment with your financial planner to verify whether your life, disability, dread disease and accident benefits are adequate or surplus to your needs and whether recent product developments have resulted in more cost efficient and/or comprehensive cover being available at the same or at a cheaper cost to you. Planners are, today, required to provide you with comprehensive comparative information to provide you with the peace of mind that you are making a decision that is in your best interest.
  • Create a filing system (whether it be a lever arch file or a folder on your desktop for emailed documentation) for all your financial records such bank or credit card statements, accounts and invoices. This will save an enormous amount of time when a payment is in dispute. If you have other important legal documents, why not also save these using a similar format?
  • Request your short term broker to review your insurance to ensure that your house, car and other property is sufficiently insured against damage or loss.
  • You will have, in all probability, already made a decision as to your medical aid plan for 2017. Speak to the medical aid consultant about so-called Gap cover to meet any possible shortfalls you may experience in the event of a medical emergency. These plans are relatively inexpensive and worth consideration.
  • Harass your banker for a better deal around your banking options. Is it really worth all those bank charges to have a Rolls Royce cheque account and credit card if you are not making use of all the benefits they offer? Consider a down grade of the banking package, at the risk of losing benefits you don’t use anyway but in so doing your bank charges may very well be substantially reduced.

Parents to save for their kids

With the start of 2017 looming, many parents may have started to consider the cost of their children’s school and tuition fees for the next school year. While families have a number of financial commitments to attend to every month, this is the time of year where school funds are often moved to the top priority to ensure that the family is financially prepared for the expenses that accompany a new school year.

Saving for a child’s education requires careful consideration and proper planning.

Here are some tips below for parents to ensure that they have planned appropriately for their children’s education costs:

Start early

Parents should start saving for their children’s education as soon as they possibly can. Many people do not consider, or are not aware of, the great advantages of compound interest, and how accumulated savings grow over several years when invested properly. By investing from an early age, parents will eliminate the financial worry of not having sufficient funds to give their children the best education possible, as the funds in their investment will grow every year.

Automate savings

The best way for parents to ensure they are regularly contributing towards their children’s education is to open a dedicated savings account and set up a monthly debit order. This way the parents will automatically save money every month towards this cause. However, they must have a strict rule in place to never withdraw any money from this account if it is not related to the child’s education.

Explore ways to get discounts

It is advisable to do some research and contact schools to find out whether they offer financial incentives that could result in long-term savings. Many schools offer a discount if the fees are paid as a once-off amount in advance. Some also offer a reduction when there is more than one child attending the school. These types of savings can make a big difference over an 18-year period.

Include education funding in the financial plan

It is important that parents include education funding in their overall financial plan. These expenses have to be accounted for as part of the monthly household expenses to determine how it will affect the family’s overall financial position. When it comes to developing financial plans, it is usually a good idea to consult a reputable financial planner who will be able to develop a solution for the client to ensure that they have provided sufficiently for their children’s tuition fees and related education expenses.

The gift that keeps on giving

This time of year sees both children and adults preparing their wish-lists for the upcoming festive season. But as many South Africans continue to grapple with rising debt, now is a good time to shift the focus from giving material items to providing future financial well-being.

Giving a child an investment as a gift will not only promote a culture of saving from a young age, but will also show them how you can make money grow.

There’s a powerful story of one customer’s commitment to leave a legacy for his family, and the value of sound financial advice. In November 1968, a customer made an initial deposit of  R400 into the Old Mutual Investors’ Fund and 48 years later, his investment is today worth over R600 000.

More precious than the value of his money, however, was the culture of saving and the legacy that he passed on to his children and grandchildren. On special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays, he invested a set amount of money on his children’s or grandchildren’s behalf. With this investment, his daughter was able to provide for her daughter’s schooling.

If South Africa is to develop a generation of financially savvy adults, it is crucial to not just talk about it, but actually practise good money habits. It is important to teach your children about money, and the festive season – with the spirit of giving – is a good time of the year for parents to set a good example. Teach your children about the importance of giving within your means, as well as showing them the value of relaxing with family and rewinding after a long, hard year, while respecting the value of hard-earned money.

Families should consider starting a financial tradition of their own. Set a reasonable budget for gift giving this festive season, and instead of spending all your money on gifts that are likely to fade, go missing or be forgotten, speak to your financial adviser about starting an investment in the name of your children.

When children become old enough to understand more about money management, parents should involve them in the process. Teach them the principle of compound interest and explain why putting money away today means they will have more money tomorrow. Help them set a budget for the money they’ll receive over the festive season, encouraging them to spend a smaller percentage today, and investing the rest for the future.

Here are various ways you can give a gift that keeps on giving long after the hype of the festive period has subsided:

  1. Start saving for your children’s education: A hotly debated topic this year, the cost of education is something that needs to be saved towards and planned for. Opening an account and allocating money to it each month can help you fund your children’s future education.
  1. Life-starter fund: Every parent dreams of having the power to provide their children with the necessities in life, but in reality, this isn’t always possible. Setting up an investment and adding to it each year, even just a small contribution of R500, will enable you to provide your children with a lump sum that they can use as a deposit for their first car or deposit on a house.
  1. Set up a tax-free savings account for your children: A tax-free savings account can enable you to save towards your children’s long-term dreams and financial goals, but is also flexible enough to be accessed at any time should it be required. Also, by investing in a tax-free savings account, you won’t get taxed on the growth earned from the investment.

Public pay practices

Remuneration practices have far-reaching consequences, not only for individuals and companies but for the economy as a whole.

Employees’ personal finances for the most part, depend on their salaries. These salaries allow them to procure goods and services which stimulate the economy and ultimately form the life blood of the economy. These salaries, however, cannot simply be raised indefinitely in a bid to stimulate the economy (through increased demand), as the cost associated with these increased salaries will cause the cost of goods and services to rise (inflation). As a result, individuals would still only be able to purchase the same basket of goods as they did before, despite the increased salaries.

Employee remuneration is more often than not, the largest percentage of a company’s total expenditure. As a result, firms are highly concerned with their pay practices as they impact on their financial bottom line.

The pay practices of public (municipalities and State-owned enterprises (SoE)) and private sector firms differ significantly, particularly at the lower levels. According to 21st Century’s salary database, Table 1 shows the pay practices of the public and private sector at each occupational level.

Executives have been left out of the analysis as the remuneration structure of private sector executives is heavily influenced by long-term incentives. The compa ratio of the public entities is expressed as a percentage of the private sector salaries e.g. at the A band the SoE salary is 192% of the private sector salary and the municipal salaries are 231% of the private sector salaries.

Table 1: Total guaranteed packages compa ratios, compared with the private sector by occupational level.

Impersonator still at it with phishing scam

A marketing and sales team purporting to represent Old Mutual Financial Services has re-emerged and is offering fraudulent loans to the public at 5% interest in an effort to get hold of personal details and solicit upfront payment for the release of loans.

This type of phishing scam has become popular over the last few years, with fraudsters using the name of well-known, credible organisations to gain legitimacy. Moneyweb’s name was previously illegally linked to a similar loan scheme offered by “Moneyweb Private Banking South Africa”.

In November last year, the Financial Services Board (FSB) issued a warning against a scam called Skeme Finance Group which requested an “enclosure fee” from individuals before a loan could be granted. To pacify individuals getting wind of the con, the scheme issued a fraudulent letter using the FSB’s logo and a picture of the deputy registrar of financial services providers, Caroline da Silva.

Consumers are lured with promises of very low interest rates – typically no more than 5% per annum. Interest rates on personal loans at most banks generally range from 13% to 28% per annum. This makes the offer “too good to be true”, often the first warning sign that something fishy is afoot.

But shutting down these operators can be a long and cumbersome process and individual vigilance remains the best form of protection.

The Old Mutual impersonator, who calls herself “Melissa Green”, was offering loans to the public late last year, but despite Old Mutual issuing an alert and reporting the case to the police, “Green” was sending emails with a loan offer as recently as Monday.

A woman named Mary-Ann reported “Green” to the fraudalert website in January and although she did not lose any money (Green allegedly asked for R5 750 to cover attorney and insurance costs), she did share her personal details.

“I am afraid that they can do something illegal with it,” she wrote on the website.

Green’s number is still in service. When Moneyweb phoned the number on Wednesday, she repeated the emailed offer, highlighting the “special” interest rate and added that the offer would expire by the 15th. Scammers often put a clock on offers to put pressure on individuals to commit.

Collecting more tax revenues by stealth

Over the last few years government has collected a significant amount of tax revenue by not fully adjusting the personal income tax tables for inflationary increases in earnings, thereby increasing the effective tax rate of individuals.

A middle-class individual earning a taxable income of R400 000 per annum in the 2016 year of assessment, would have seen her after-tax income increase by only 5.42% and 5.05% in the 2017 and 2018 tax years respectively, even if her taxable income increased by 6% every year.

During his most recent budget speech, finance minister Pravin Gordhan collected more than R12 billion of the R28 billion in additional taxes he needed from the personal income tax system in this way.

In a similar fashion, taxpayers may now become liable for capital gains tax (CGT) purely because three of the exclusions have not been adjusted for the effects of inflation since March 1 2012.

1. The primary residence exclusion

When taxpayers sell their primary residence and realise a capital gain on the transaction, an exclusion of R2 million applies.

Louis van Vuren, CEO of the Fiduciary Institute of Southern Africa (Fisa), says if the exclusion was adjusted for inflation over the past five years, it would have increased to around R2.6 million over the period.

For someone who bought an upper middle-class house in Cape Town for R650 000 in 2002 and who wants to sell it now, this has significant implications.

Van Vuren says today the house would be worth roughly R3 million. If it were sold, the capital gain realised would amount to R2.35 million (assuming no capital improvements and a base cost of R650 000). Due to the primary residence exclusion, R2 million would be disregarded, and 40% (the inclusion rate for individuals) of the capital gain of R310 000 (after deduction of the R40 000 annual exclusion) would have to be included in the individual’s taxable income.

At an assumed marginal income tax rate of 41%, the individual would have to pay R50 840 in CGT, purely because the primary residence exclusion hasn’t been adapted for inflation, he adds.

2. The year of death exclusion

Apart from the primary residence exclusion, the South African Revenue Service allows for a capital gain exclusion of R300 000 on all other assets in the year of an individual’s death (instead of the normal R40 000 annual exclusion). Personal use assets like artwork, jewellery and vehicles do not attract capital gains tax.

Van Vuren says if someone had invested R250 000 on the JSE in March 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis and it kept track with the performance of the All Share Index, the investment would have grown to roughly R700 000.

Since the individual would be deemed to have disposed of the investment upon death, the capital gain would amount to R450 000, which would reduce to R150 000 after the R300 000 exclusion had been deducted.

Van Vuren says if the exclusion kept track with inflation it would have been around R400 000 today and the gain would be only R50 000 (R700 000 minus R250 000 minus R400 000).

At an inclusion rate of 40%, the R100 000 “additional gain” that had been realised will add R40 000 to the individual’s taxable income, which, at a marginal tax rate of 41% would lead to R16 400 in CGT, purely due to inflation.

3. Special exclusion for small business owners

Van Vuren says because the retirement provision of small business owners are often locked up in the value of their companies, it would be quite harsh to levy capital gains tax in the normal way when they dispose of their interest in the business upon retirement.

As a result, small business owners receive a special capital gains exclusion of R1.8 million upon retirement (minimum age 55 years) or death, subject to certain conditions (and over and above the R40 000 annual exclusion):

  • The individual must own at least 10% of the business;
  • The total business assets of all businesses the person is involved in must not exceed R10 million;
  • The individual must have been actively involved in the business for at least five years;
  • If at retirement, the disposals must all happen within a 24-month period.

Reduce the costs in an estate

The death of a spouse, friend or relative is often an emotional time even before estate matters are addressed.

And truth be told, death can be an expensive and cumbersome affair, particularly if estate planning was neglected, the claims against the estate start accumulating and there isn’t sufficient cash to settle outstanding debts.

People generally underestimate the costs related to death, says Ronel Williams, chairperson of the Fiduciary Institute of Southern African (Fisa). Most individuals have a fairly good grasp of significant expenses like a mortgage bond that would have to be settled, but the smaller fees can also add up.

To avoid a situation where valuable assets have to be sold to settle outstanding debts, it is important to do proper planning and take out life and/or bond insurance to ensure sufficient cash is available, she notes.

Costs

The costs involved in an estate can broadly be classified as administration costs and claims against the estate. The administration costs are incurred after death as a result of the death. Claims against the estate are those the deceased was liable for at the time of death, the notable exception being tax, Williams explains.

Administration costs as well as most claims against the estate will generally need to be paid in cash, although there are exceptions, for example the bond on the property. If the bank that holds the bond is satisfied and the heir to the property agrees to it, the bank may replace the heir as the new debtor.

Williams says quite often estates are solvent, but there is insufficient cash to settle administration costs and claims against the estate. In the event of a cash shortfall the executor will approach the heirs to the balance of the estate to see if they would be willing to pay the required cash into the estate to avoid the sale of assets.

If the heirs are not willing to do this, the executor may have no choice but to sell estate assets to raise the necessary cash.

“This is far from ideal as the executor may be forced to sell a valuable asset to generate a small amount of cash.”

If there is a bond on the property and not sufficient cash in the estate, it is not a good idea to leave the property to someone specific as the costs of the estate would have to be settled from the residue. Where a particular item is bequeathed to a beneficiary, the person would normally receive it free from any liabilities. This could result in a situation where the beneficiaries of the residue of the estate may be asked to pay cash into the estate even though they wouldn’t receive any benefit from the property, Williams says.

The most significant administration costs are generally the executor’s and conveyancing fees.

If the will does not explicitly specify the executor’s remuneration, it will be calculated according to a prescribed tariff, currently 3.5% of the gross value of the assets subject to a minimum remuneration of R350. The executor is also entitled to a fee on all income earned after the date of death, currently 6%. If the executor is a VAT vendor, another 14% must be added.

Assuming an estate value of R2 million comprising of a fixed property of R1 million, shares, furniture, vehicles and cash, the executor’s fee at a tariff of 3.5% would amount to R70 000 (plus VAT if the executor is a VAT vendor). Conveyancing fees will be an estimated R18 000 plus VAT. Depending on the situation, funeral costs may be another R20 000, while other fees (Master’s Office fees, advertising costs, mortgage bond cancellation and tax fees) can easily add another R10 000. By law advertisements have to be placed in a local newspaper and the Government Gazette, with estimated costs of between R400 and R700 and R40 respectively. Master’s fees are payable to the South African Revenue Service (Sars) in all estates where an executor is appointed with a gross value of R15 000 or more. The maximum fee is R600.

Where applicable mortgage bond cancellation costs, appraisement costs, costs of realisation of assets, transfer costs of fixed property or shares, bank charges, maintenance of assets and tax fees will also have to be paid. The executor is also allowed to claim an amount for postage and sundry costs, while funeral expenses, short-term insurance, maintenance of assets and the cost of a duplicate motor vehicle registration certificate may also have to be taken into account.