Post about boosting your funds through investment. Includes both traditional and non-traditional investment opportunities.

Nutmeg Review: My Experiences with this Robo-Adviser Investment Platform

Nutmeg Review: My Experiences with this Robo-Adviser Investment Platform

In April 2016 I invested some money with the Nutmeg investment platform. It turned out to be one of my better investments, so today I thought I’d say a bit more about it.

What Is Nutmeg?

Nutmeg is a low-cost online investment platform. It is aimed at people who want to invest in stocks and shares to take advantage of the potentially better returns, but don’t want the hassle of researching every investment themselves.

With Nutmeg you simply choose the type of account you want and say how much risk you are comfortable with and how long you want to invest your money for. You can deposit a lump sum and/or set up monthly payments. Nutmeg then invests your money in a range of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

For those who don’t know, ETFs are a package of shares from a particular section of the stock market. For example, an ‘Asia Pacific ETF’ is a collection of shares from the Asia-Pacific region. ETFs are different to most investment funds in that they don’t usually have a manager running them. Instead, most ETFs are run by computers that regularly balance their portfolios automatically. This helps keep costs low, while still producing respectable returns in most cases. You can learn more about ETFs here if you wish.

Nutmeg currently has four different types of investment product on offer. They are as follows:

ISA (individual Savings Account) – These accounts have to be funded from your after-tax income, but they grow tax-free and withdrawals are also free of tax. Everyone has a maximum annual ISA allowance, which is currently a generous £20,000.

SIPP (Self Invested Personal Pension) – A SIPP has the big attraction that you get tax relief on your contributions, so the government effectively tops up every contribution you make. On the downside, you can’t withdraw money from a SIPP until you are at least 55, and only a quarter of the money you withdraw is tax-free, with the balance counting towards your total taxable income.

Lifetime ISA – A Lifetime ISA, sometimes called a LISA for short, is a new tax-efficient saving vehicle launched this year. You can use a LISA for one of two specific purposes – buying your first home or saving for retirement. You have to be under 40 to open a Lifetime ISA. The government will then top up any contributions you make with an extra 25%.

General Account – This is for when you have used up all your other tax-free savings allowances. You can use this for whatever you like, but there are no tax benefits or top-ups.

My Own Experience

I invested £6,188 in a Nutmeg ISA in April 2016. If you’re wondering why it was such an odd sum, I put in £6,000 from my savings. The other £188 came from another small ISA account I thought I might as well transfer at the same time.

Since then, despite the challenging economic environment, my investment has grown by £1,832 to £8,020. That’s a 22.85% increase in a year and eight months. Needless to say, I wish I had put in a bit more money now! Here’s a chart showing how my investment has grown.

Nutmeg performance chart

As you will see, I accepted a high risk level with this account, which may partly explain the performance achieved.

As you will also note, Nutmeg charge a fee of 0.75% a year on investments of up to £100,000, and 0.35% on investments beyond that. That’s competitive compared with traditional mutual funds, although you can find cheaper investment opportunities and platforms if you look around. You may or may not get such good overall results, of course.

A reader asked if Nutmeg reveal what ETFs your money is invested in. The answer is that they do. In case you are interested, here is a screen capture from the website showing how my money is currently invested…

Nutmeg ETFs

I am obviously a fan of Nutmeg and intend to use their service again in future. Of course, I am not a qualified financial adviser and everyone should do their own research (and/or take professional advice) before deciding to invest with Nutmeg. Based on my own experiences, though, I am happy to recommend them. They provide a simple, easy to understand investment platform, the customer service is excellent, and certainly in my case the results to date have exceeded my expectations.

Special Promotion

If you are considering investing with Nutmeg, you might like to know that until January 5 2018, they are running a special promotion where if you join and invest at least £500 and commit to investing a further £100 a month, you will get £50 worth of John Lewis vouchers as a bonus. Alternatively, you can make a single investment of £5000 or more to qualify for the vouchers.

If you are interested in taking advantage of this offer, please contact me using my blog contact form and let me know your full name and email address. I will then arrange for Nutmeg to email you with full details. Obviously there is no obligation to proceed further if you decide against.

Disclosure: As stated above, I am a Nutmeg account holder myself. If you decide to take advantage of the promotion above, I will also receive a £50 John Lewis voucher as recompense for introducing you. This will not have any effect on the terms you are offered or the performance of your investment.

If you have any comments or questions about this post or Nutmeg in general, please do leave them below.

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Planning Your Finances in Retirement (Infographic)

Planning Your Finances in Retirement (Infographic)

Today I am pleased to share with you an infographic from Ireland-based insurance company Easy Life Cover (shared with their permission). This covers various aspects of finance in retirement, which is of course a core theme of this blog.

One of the most interesting facts shared in the infographic is that 7 out of 10 pre-retirees say they plan to carry on working in retirement. This represents a sea change from the old days when most people worked till retirement, took their pensions, and lived off that for the rest of their lives.

Nowadays retirement is increasingly done in stages, with many people choosing to work part-time in the run-up to retirement, perhaps switching to a different job or role within their organisation. The concept of semi-retirement would have been barely understood fifty years ago, but is increasingly becoming the norm now. I am 61 and regard myself as semi-retired, incidentally.

And even in retirement, many people choose to continue doing some work, part-time or short-term. As the graphic says, 80% do this because they want to rather than have to. Important reasons might include using (and passing on) skills they have built up over many years, keeping physically and mentally active, and providing a source of engagement outside the home. Many older people do voluntary work, while others do paid work to help supplement their pension.

Thank you to Easy Life Cover for an interesting infographic. You can read more about their mortgage protection insurance here (not a paid or affiliate link).

As mentioned above, the nature of retirement has changed dramatically in recent times. The old certainties are long gone. Retirement is undoubtedly more challenging than it used to be, but with people on average living longer, healthier lives, there are many more opportunities to enjoy this period of life as well. But this does mean it is more important than ever to plan carefully for retirement in order to enjoy it rather than merely survive it.

If you are retired or semi-retired, I do of course regularly list opportunities on this blog to generate extra income. They include home-based opportunities such as matched betting and part-time work in the gig economy, such as supervising property viewings for Viewber.

As always, if you have any comments or questions about this post and the points raised in the infographic, please do leave them below.

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How to Check What Your State Pension Will Be

How to Check What Your State Pension Will Be

Today I thought I would discuss the state pension. This is a subject that concerns everyone, but may be of particular interest to readers of this blog who are approaching retirement age.

Of course, many people have one or more workplace or private pensions. However, the state pension is still a very important component of most people’s income in later life.

And unlike many workplace/private pensions, it rises automatically every year at the rate of inflation or above (under the current triple lock guarantee). That makes it increasingly valuable as you get older.

In this article I’ll be revealing how to check how much state pension you are due and when. But I’ll start with a look at the various changes to the state pension in the last few years and how they affect anyone coming up to pensionable age now.

Speaking of which, let’s start with one of the biggest changes…

Your State Pension Age

It’s unlikely to have escaped your notice that the pension age is rising. At present men can access their state pension at 65 while women get it at around 64. The age for women is in transition at the moment as it rises to equalize with men in 2018.

By 2020, the pension age for both men and women will go up to 66. Between 2026 and 2028 it is due to rise again to 67, and under current government plans it will go up again to 68 in 2037.

You can check when exactly you can start to claim the state pension by entering your date of birth and gender at this government website.

The New Flat Rate Pension

This is the other major change to the state pension in recent years.

Prior to April 2016 everyone received a basic pension (currently £122.30 a week). This was (and still is) topped up by additional state pension elements (S2P and Serps) which you accrued during your working life.

Anyone retiring from April 2016 onwards now receives a ‘flat rate’ pension currently worth £159.55 a week. If, however, you ‘contracted out’ of S2P and Serps at some point in your working life, you may get less than this. The presumption is that your contracted-out pension will provide another source of income for you, so you don’t need (or qualify for) the full flat-rate pension.

A further complication is that the government doesn’t want people who accrued large state pension entitlements under the old scheme (basic pension plus S2P and SERPS) to miss out. So when you reach pension age your entitlement under both the old and new methods of calculation will be worked out and you will receive the larger of the two. That means some people could actually qualify for more than the new flat-rate pension (£159.55 currently). If this is the case, it will be shown separately as a ‘protected payment’ on your state pension statement.

Also, to get the maximum new flat-rate pension you need to have at least 35 years of qualifying National Insurance contributions at the full (non-contracted-out) rate. If you have less than that you will get a reduced pension; and if less than 10 years, nothing at all.

In some circumstances – which I’ll discuss shortly – you may be able to pay a lump sum to fill in gaps in your record. Even if you do have 35 years or more of contributions, though, it may not entitle you to a full pension. The government website (see below) tells me I have 37 years of contributions, but because I was contracted-out for some of these years and so paying a lower rate of National Insurance I still have to contribute for another three years to get the full flat-rate pension. Here’s a screen capture of my actual statement:

State pension statement

If you’re confused by all this, I’m not surprised. The rules are complicated and still being tweaked. So to avoid any nasty surprises it’s important to check what you are due to receive as well as when you are due to do so. There is now an official website where you can access all this information in one place.

Checking Your State Pension

Anyone aged 55 or over who has lived and worked in the UK for 10 years or more (even if they are not British citizens) can now visit to get an estimate of how much state pension they will receive when they retire.

Doing this is a bit more involved than just checking your start date on the pension age site mentioned earlier. You have to sign in with proof of identity, so allow a bit of time for this. If you already have an HMRC online tax account, the good news is you can use this to log in.

Once you’ve done so, you will see a forecast of how much state pension you will get once you’re eligible to start receiving it. This is based on current figures, so if you won’t reach retirement age for a few years yet, it will of course have risen by that time.

Boosting Your State Pension

If you’re disappointed by the amount forecast, one thing you can do to boost your state pension is defer taking it. Under the new rules you will receive an extra 1% for every 9 weeks you put off claiming.

Obviously, to benefit from this overall you should be in good health. For women especially, as their life expectancy tends to be a few years longer than men, deferring your pension (if you can afford to do so) could well be a profitable option. In a way this is a form of investment, underwritten by the government.

No special action is required to defer taking your pension. You just delay claiming and it will be assumed that you wish to defer it.

Another thing you may be able to do to boost your state pension is buy extra voluntary contributions to fill in any gaps in your record. Buying a year of extra contributions (normally Class 3 National Insurance) costs around £733 and will boost your pension by around £230 or £4600 over a 20-year retirement. This can be well worth doing if, for example, you were contracted out for several years.

There are some restrictions, however. In particular, as a general rule it must be done within six years of the end of the tax year concerned. So if the gaps in your record go back further than this, it’s unlikely you will be allowed to make up the whole shortfall in this way.

There’s also the question whether paying voluntary contributions to fill gaps in your record will be cost-effective for you. There is no easy way of calculating this, and I highly recommend getting advice from an independent financial adviser specializing in pensions if you are thinking of going down this route. It’s also a good idea to contact the government’s Future Pension Centre to find out what your options are.

Finally , it should be said that while the state pension provides a baseline income (currently equivalent to around £8,300 a year), on its own it won’t stretch to many (or any) luxuries. Most people will have private or workplace pensions and perhaps other investments as well, and this will be very important if you hope to enjoy your retirement rather than merely survive it. I will look at these in more detail in future posts.

As ever, if you have any comments or questions on this post, please do leave them below.

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How to Invest for Income from High-Yield Share Dividends

How to Invest for Income from High-Yield Share Dividends

Today I have a guest post for you from my fellow money blogger Lewys Lew, who blogs at The Frugal Student.

Lewys has a particular interest in dividend investment. As I know this is a subject of interest to many readers of this blog, I asked him to write about it here.

Over to Lewys, then…


I watched the Conservative party conference in despair!

Not because I’m a Conservative but because once again the vultures circle Theresa May and Brexit seems to be going backwards.

Not that I voted to leave, but this constant uncertainty unsettles me and the market.

To add a cherry on top of bad news, productivity in the UK has begun shrinking and we’re no better off than we were in 2007.

What this means for you and me is that the economy continues to struggle and along with that interest rates remain dire.

Sure, for those of us who save a few pounds a month there are some decent bank accounts out there that offer 2%+ interest but these usually come straddled with a set of conditions and maximum deposits.

For those with large sums lying dormant in bank accounts the deals on offer are pitiful. With the current rate of inflation, your cash-pile may even be worth less.

In this post, I’m going to share with you how you could earn 5% in interest yearly.

Before we begin, there are a few things to note:

  1. If you use this method your money is at risk.
  2. To reduce risk, you should be prepared to lock your money up for 5+ years.
  3. This method may not be suitable if you’ll need to use this money in an emergency
    (remember to always keep six months’ worth of expenditure in an easy-access account)
  4. Here’s some key terminology before we start:

Dividend = Money a company pays to you as a reward for being a share-holder.

Dividend Yield/Yield = A dividend as a percentage of a current share price, as so:

Dividend per share/Price per share.

Right, let’s get stuck in!

Dividend investing is a vast field. Myself, I’m a dividend growth investor. At 24 years old, I seek to buy stakes in companies who are growing their dividend at a rapid pace. Over time these types of stocks often increase their dividends at higher rates than companies who already pay a dividend at a higher yield.

But for those who maybe don’t have the benefit of a 30-year investment horizon, dividend yield investing may be a better choice for you. Frankly, getting just 1% of invested monies back as a dividend each year isn’t going to satisfy you if you’re close to retirement or retired.

The good news is that there’s an alternative dividend investing method that could see you getting 5% of your invested monies back each year, along with some capital gains along the way.

I’ll illustrate dividend yield investing with this example…

National Grid is a very boring, steadily performing utility company. It owns and manages the UK’s grid structure along with some bits in the United States and in return is allowed to make a modest profit from its operations. It’s a monopoly, meaning that we don’t need to worry about competition or anything of that sort.

As we can see from the graphic below (from the Hargeaves Lansdown website), National Grid pays a 5.15% dividend. This effectively means that for every £100 you invest, you’ll get £5.15 back every year.

National Grid share performance

The good news is that National Grid buys back its own shares, pushing up the capital value of your holding and reducing the possibility of capital loss over the long term (5+ years).

Dividend investing can be especially powerful if you use your dividends to buy more shares.

£1,000 worth of National Grid shares would let you buy around 5 additional shares with the dividend after one year. Compound this over the years and you could really start building a decent stream of dividend income.

Pros and Cons of High Yield Investing


  • When dividend yields go over 6%, this can be an indication that the stock is risky, as investors are fleeing the stock, thus reducing the share price and increasing the dividend yield (as this is relative to the price).
  • Stock prices could fall below your original purchase price and dividend income combined, leading to a net loss.
  • A large capital deposit is needed to make this method really effective; small amounts won’t really go a long way.
  • You have to pay to buy/sell stocks.
  • Identifying safe higher yield stocks can be difficult and time-consuming.


  • A 5+% dividend yield smashes any bank account out there.
  • The combination of steady stock price rises and dividend income can really boost your savings.
  • Large and ‘boring’ companies such as National Grid are very resilient and it’s relatively unlikely that you’d find yourself at a capital loss if you held such stocks over five years.
  • Remember that other investments can carry large risks and costs too. One such example is buying a rental property, where bad tenants, maintenance costs and the hassle can eat away at returns. By investing in a large company you won’t need to do anything else. Just sit back and soak up the dividends!

How Do I Buy Shares?

If you’re interested in building yourself a dividend income later on in life (40+) then I would certainly recommend chasing higher yields from boring large companies such as National Grid.

In order to buy shares you’ll have to sign up with a broker.

The most popular in the UK is Hargreaves Lansdown, but this platform charges a management fee of 0.45% annually, in the case of National Grid lowering your net income from 5.15% to 4.7%. They also charge £11.95 for share repurchases and 1% for dividend reinvestment.

To really reap the benefits of this strategy, I’d recommend signing up with online brokers De Giro, who only charge £1.75 a trade with no management fee.

If you like the idea of dividend yield investing but the risk is a little too high for you, I recommend you take a look at my Nutmeg Investment Review for a platform that manages your portfolio for you.


LewysMany thanks to Lewys (pictured, right) for an eye-opening article.

Personally I have tended to stick with self-selected funds and ready-made portfolios (including Nutmeg) for my core investments, but I can certainly see the attraction of high-yield share dividend investing for part of my portfolio – especially as (being semi-retired) I am now looking to generate an income from my savings.

Another thing in favour of dividend yield investing is that there is a generous annual tax-free dividend allowance (which most people don’t make use of). Currently you can earn up to £5000 a year in dividends before any tax is due. The government has threatened to reduce this to £2000, but even if that happens the allowance is still well worth taking advantage of, as it comes in addition to other tax-free saving and investment opportunities such as ISAs.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, as always, please do leave them below.

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PrimeStox - An Unusual Way to Make Money Investing in Food

PrimeStox – An Unusual Way to Make Money Investing in Food

If you’re looking for a more remunerative (and interesting) home for some of your savings than a low-paying bank account, you might like to check out what PrimeStox has to offer.

PrimeStox is basically a crowdfunding platform for high-quality food producers and sellers. These businesses are seeking short-term funding (typically for four months) to make products and get them to market. Once the products are sold, investors get their money back with interest. This is generally around 8% for four months, which works out as an annual rate of around 24%. If you immediately reinvest your money in another project, the annual interest rate will be more than this, due to the effects of compounding.

The opportunity may be best explained by an example, so here’s one product I invested in recently. Scarlett and Mustard is a range of premium salsas, dressings, and so on produced by a husband and wife team in East Soham. They say all the ingredients they use are 100% natural and sourced locally.

Last month they were looking for a total investment of £6,000 to fund 6,000 jars of their tomato salsa range (pictured below). I decided to invest a modest £50, which made me the beneficial owner of 50 jars. All being well, I shall receive £54 (my original investment plus 8% interest) by the end of September 2017.

Tomato salsa jars

You might ask what will happen if they don’t sell the salsa. The answer is that all investments are secured by the products concerned, so in the worst case scenario I will receive 50 jars of tomato salsa, which would keep me going for a very long time! Or I could sell them or give them away to friends, of course.

In practice, though, that is an unlikely scenario. So far all investments on PrimeStox have been repaid with interest on or before the date specified. If there is a problem, all investors vote on how best to resolve it, e.g. by selling the goods to a third party for a smaller margin. It is therefore highly unlikely that you would ever lose all your money.

Primestox Pros and Cons

Obviously, investing in PrimeStox is not as safe as putting your money in the bank. In addition, the money will be tied up during the investment period with no easy way of accessing it (although generally no more than a few months). You shouldn’t therefore invest money you may need urgently in the near future.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things I like about it…

  • Rates of return are highly competitive, even compared with other crowdfunding and P2P investment opportunities.
  • The minimum investment is very low – typically £20. You can therefore test the water without risking any significant funds.
  • If you are prepared to spend a bit more – say £100 or over – in many cases you will receive a higher interest rate.
  • Unlike some other crowdfunding platforms where demand from investors greatly exceeds supply, with PrimeStox there are generally a few days to decide whether you want to invest and how much (though I have noticed that opportunities are filling up faster and faster).
  • You are supporting small businesses in the UK and abroad who are dedicated to producing high-quality foodstuffs.
  • And, as mentioned earlier, as an investor you hold title in the product until it is sold. PrimeStox will even send your share to you free of charge if you want.

As for why producers are offering these sort of returns, it is basically to aid their cashflow by covering the cost of raw materials, production, storage, transportation, and so on. But also, they hope that investors will act as ‘brand ambassadors’ for them, helping to promote the product, and maybe even buying some themselves.

In that spirit, here are links to the three products I have invested in on the platform so far, with the amounts I purchased included.

Scarlett & Mustard – Tomato Salsa – £50

Strong Roots Sweet Potato – £100

Bread Tree – Rainbow Pasta (pictured below) – £56

rainbow pasta


There is absolutely no obligation to promote any of the products you invest in, but obviously as an investor you have a financial interest in ensuring they are successful. Investors are also sometimes offered rewards, discounts and other incentives by the producers in question.

Clearly nobody should invest more than a small portion of their savings in PrimeStox, but the potential returns on offer are compelling, and investing this way is certainly more fun than stocks and shares!

If you have any comments or questions about PrimeStox, as always, please feel free to post them below.

Disclaimer: I am an investor with PrimeStox but have no other relationship with the company and am not an affiliate for them. Neither am I advising anyone to invest in PrimeStox. Investment decisions are personal to every individual and if in any doubt you should seek advice from a qualified financial adviser. This post is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice..










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The Alternative Guide to Property Investment - Review

Review: The Alternative Guide to Property Investment by Frazer Fearnhead

Today I’m reviewing a guide to property crowdfunding that has just been published by Frazer Fearnhead. The full title is The Alternative Guide to Property Investment: How to Build Your Property Portfolio via the New Property Crowdfunding Platforms.

The book is available in both hard copy and Kindle e-book form. I bought the e-book version, partly because (I admit it) I’m a cheapskate, but also because I wanted to get my hands on it as quickly as possible.

For those who may not know, Frazer is the founder and managing director of The House Crowd, one of the UK’s leading property crowdfunding platforms. In his book, he explains what property crowdfunding is and the pros and cons compared with other forms of investment. The book is organized in twenty-three main chapters (most of them quite short), as follows:

  1. Why Invest in Property at All?
  2. How Much Diversification is Sensible?
  3. Why Property Investment is the Best Vehicle to Supplement Your Pension
  4. Establishing Your Own Investment Criteria
  5. Capital Growth vs Cash Flow
  6. Residential vs Commercial
  7. How to Beat the Averages and Give Yourself the Best Chance of Making a Successful Property Investment
  8. The UK Property Market – 2017 and Beyond
  9. Passive Property Investment
  10. A Brief History of the Alternative Finance Industry
  11. All About Equity Crowdfunding
  12. How Does Property Crowdfunding Compare with Traditional Property Investment?
  13. All About Peer-to-Peer Secured Lending
  14. Commonly Asked Questions About Property Crowdfunding
  15. Comparison: Equity Crowdfunding vs Peer-to-Peer
  16. What Returns Can You Expect?
  17. Taxation
  18. How to Decide Whether Crowdfunding is Right for You
  19. Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Property Crowdfunding Platform
  20. Using Your Pension to Invest via Crowdfunding
  21. Crowdfunding Your Own Property Deals
  22. FCA Regulated Companies
  23. In Conclusion

My Review

The Alternative Guide to Property Investment is well written and neatly presented, with illustrations where relevant. It covers most things someone new to property crowdfunding would want to know. As I have been investing this way for several years (using The House Crowd and other platforms such as Property Partner and Crowdlords) quite a lot of the information was familiar to me already. Nonetheless, it is valuable to get Frazer’s perspective as one of the pioneers of property crowdfunding, and there is plenty of food for thought even for seasoned property investors.

Clearly, as the MD of The House Crowd, Frazer has a vested interest in promoting the attractions of property crowdfunding. Nonetheless, he gives a balanced view of the pros and cons and is not afraid to state that it does carry a degree of risk. I agree though with his view that people should not automatically rule it out because of this. While property crowdfunding is not as safe as putting your money in a bank savings account, the potential returns are much higher. And a variety of safeguards exist, including the fact that most property crowdfunding (except for the most speculative development projects) is secured by bricks and mortar. But of course, you should only invest in property crowdfunding as part of a balanced portfolio.

Another aspect of this book I liked is that it explains the range of investment opportunities now available in property crowdfunding. These include equity crowdfunding – the original and most familiar form of property crowdfunding – where investors purchase shares in a property and receive a proportion of the rent paid as well as capital appreciation when the property is sold. But the book also covers secured lending – an increasingly popular option – where investors provide cash to property owners and get the capital and interest back at the end of the loan period (typically 6 to 12 months). And finally, the book discusses property development projects, which offer greater potential profits but also involve bigger risks.

Another important topic covered in the book is taxation, and specifically how property crowdfunding can be used to make the most of your tax-free allowances. The latter include savings interest, dividends, and capital gains. This is a feature of property crowdfunding that can be highly advantageous for investors.

If you are new to property crowdfunding, The Alternative Guide to Property Investment will provide a concise and easily digestible introduction to this field, from someone who really does know this business inside and out. The asking price is modest, and all profits from sales are going to the charity Lifeshare who work with the homeless and vulnerable in Manchester (where Frazer was born).

If you have any comments about The Alternative Guide to Property Investment (or property crowdfunding more generally) please feel free to post them below and I will do my best to answer them. You might also enjoy reading my earlier post How to Profit from Property Crowdfunding, which sets out the basics of how property crowdfunding works.

Disclosure: I have a range of investments with The House Crowd and other property crowdfunding platforms, including development loans, secured lending and equity crowdfunding. I am also a shareholder in The House Crowd. I firmly believe that property crowdfunding can be a worthwhile addition to any investor’s portfolio, and have put my own money where my mouth is!



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How to Boost Your ISA by up to £250!

How to Boost Your ISA by up to £250!

At the time of writing there is just over a week to the end of the 2016/17 ISA season. That is all the time you have left to make use of this year’s allowance of £15,240 before it is gone forever.

If you haven’t already used your allowance – and you have money available to invest, of course – it is therefore essential to take action now. Investing via an ISA means that any profits you make will be free of UK Income Tax or Capital Gains Tax. And you won’t even have to declare it on your tax return, which if you’re anything like me will be a welcome simplification…

You can of course put your money into a cash ISA, but the rates of return on such accounts are currently derisory, and basic rate taxpayers now have a £1000 tax-free savings allowance anyway. The argument for investing in a cash ISA is therefore weak for most people, although if you think interest rates are likely to rise significantly in future there might still be a case for using one. Count me out, though 🙂

That leaves stocks and shares ISAs (and the new IFISAs, if you can find one). For most people this is likely to be the favoured choice at the moment. So in this post I wanted to reveal a way you can get a cash boost of up to £250 if you plan to invest in one of these.

The method in question is to use a cashback platform such as Top Cashback or Quidco. I wrote about cashback platforms in this blog post a while ago. Basically, the platforms rebate the commission they receive from ‘introducing’ you to a company if you click via a link on the platform. Obviously, you need to sign up for an account with the cashback platform itself before doing this. I highly recommend signing up with both Quidco and Top Cashback, even if you aren’t planning to invest in an ISA currently.

So What’s On Offer Right Now?

On Top Cashback one of the best offers comes from Fidelity. If you put £5000 or more into their Stocks and Shares ISA, you can get £105 cashback. You have to be a new customer and remain invested for a minimum of three months to get the cashback.

If you invest in a Shepherds Friendly Stocks and Shares ISA, an even more generous £126 cashback is on offer for a minimum £5000 investment. And you can earn as much as £210 if you set up monthly deposits instead, though to get the full amount you must put in £900 a month or more. Again, you must remain invested for a minimum of three months to receive the cashback.

Another offer on Top Cashback that’s well worth a look comes from the investment platform Nutmeg. They are currently offering a generous £200 cashback to anyone investing a lump sum of £5000 or more or an initial investment of £500 and monthly payments of at least £100. You will need to move rapidly on this, though, as this offer ends today. I expect there will still be an offer available tomorrow but it probably won’t be as generous. I am, incidentally, a fan of Nutmeg myself, and will be writing about their investment service soon.

Over on Quidco there are also some great offers. With Scottish Friendly you can get up to £215 cashback when you invest in their My Moneybuilder ISA. To get the maximum you have to invest at least £1000 a month, though.

Nutmeg are also on Quidco. Their current offering is £150 with the same conditions as Top Cashback (see above). At present, then, Top Cashback offers slightly more cashback on Nutmeg than Quidco, but this can change by the day, so it’s important to check and compare both.

Finally, Shepherds Friendly are on Quidco too. Currently £150 cashback is on offer there for a minimum £5000 investment. And you can earn up to a chart-topping £250 if you set up monthly deposits, although to get the full amount you must invest £900 a month or more.

Obviously you shouldn’t invest in an ISA purely for the cashback on offer, but if you are thinking of doing so anyway it makes sense to do it through a cashback site and get the benefit of the extra money available.

Good luck, and if you have any comments or queries, please do leave them below.







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When Ernie Became Scrooge - Why I Just Sold Most of my Premium Bonds

When Ernie Became Scrooge: Why I Just Sold Most of My Premium Bonds

In late 2014 I invested £30,000 from an inheritance on premium bonds. I liked the idea of making a tax-free income this way, with the (admittedly slim) chance every month of winning a life-changing sum.

Initially anyway it went fairly well, though all I ever won were £25 prizes. Then in June 2016 the interest rate and hence the prize fund was reduced, and almost immediately I saw a big drop in the number of prizes I was receiving. For comparison purposes, here are the prizes I got from November 2014 (the first month my bonds were eligible for the monthly draws) to May 2016…

Month/YearNumber of Prizes wonTotal Prize Value £s

In contrast, here are my winnings after the change was made in June 2016.

Month/yearNumber of Prizes wonTotal Prize Value £s

So in the period November 2014 to May 2016 I won 23 prizes totaling £600 in value, and from June 2016 to February 2017 I won 7 prizes totaling £150 in value.

Obviously we aren’t comparing like with like here, as the first period is 16 months and the second period just nine months. So here are the pro rata figures for the returns both pre- and post-June 2016.

Pre-June 2016 – 600 x 12/16 = £450 per year

June 2016 onward – 150 x 12/9 = £200 per year

So, in effect, my rate of return has more than halved since the June 2016 changes. When you calculate this as a percentage return on my £30,000 investment it looks even worse.

Pre-June 2016 – 450/30000 x 100 = 1.5%

June 2016 onwards – 200/30000 x 100 = 0.67%

By current standards, a tax-free return of 1.5% per year isn’t too shabby – it compares pretty well with cash ISAs, for example, even though the return with the latter is guaranteed (until the rate changes anyway).

On the other hand, 0.67% is clearly disappointing. I would have made more keeping the money in my Santander 123 current account which pays 1.5% (3% pre-November 2016), even though they only pay this on the first £20,000 in your account.

It’s hard to quantify what the chance of winning a big prize is worth. On the one hand you probably won’t – but on the other hand, somebody has to!

So What Action Am I Taking?

After nine months under the current premium bond terms I have decided enough is enough.

I withdrew £25,000 of my £30,000 today and plan to put this in a variety of equity-based investments. Obviously these are not guaranteed either, but by a conservative assessment they should generate an annual return of around 5%, or about eight times what I am getting from premium bonds currently.

I am going to keep £5,000 in premium bonds for the time being. At least it gives me a bit of excitement at the start of every month. And I am never going to lose this money, although obviously in time its value will be eroded by inflation.

So that’s my view of premium bonds, but what do you think? Are they still a worthwhile investment or are they now a mug’s game? Please leave any comments below as usual!

UPDATE 7 February 2017 – Just heard that the premium bond prize fund is being slashed again in May 2017. Yet another reason for looking elsewhere!






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How to profit from property crowdfunding

How to Profit from Property Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding and crowdlending are opportunities I particularly wanted to discuss on Pounds and Sense, so I thought I would kick off by looking at the investment possibilities offered by property crowdfunding.

As ever, I have to start with a disclaimer that I am not a qualified financial adviser. I am simply talking about this topic as an interested individual who has invested this way himself. You should do your own ‘due diligence’ before investing, and never risk money you cannot afford to lose in a worst-case scenario.

Why Property Crowdfunding?

Investing in bricks and mortar has long been a favourite strategy of the wealthy. Property owners get a double benefit: rent from tenants for as long as they own the property, and – in most cases – a profit if they choose to sell.

Of course, property doesn’t come cheap. And even if you can stretch to buying a modest house or flat for investment purposes, you are taking the risk of putting all your eggs in one basket. As a result, many people of more modest means have concluded that property investment is not for them.

Crowdfunding is changing all that, however. A growing number of platforms now exist that allow ordinary folk the chance to buy a share in an investment property for as little as £50. Investors then receive a proportion of the rental income generated, and also get a share of the profit when and if the property is sold.

I now have investments via three different property crowdfunding platforms – a block of flats in Torquay in which I own a small share is pictured above – but in this post I want to focus on one platform in particular, the UK-based Property Partner. This was only launched in January 2015, and has swiftly become the UK’s largest property crowdfunding website. They have over 9,060 investors, who between them have invested over £44 million in properties across the UK. Non-UK investors are welcome to join Property Partner too, so long as the legal system in their country permits it. Unfortunately, US residents are not able to invest this way at the moment.

One big attraction of Property Partner is that they have an active secondary market. That means investors can offer part or all of their portfolio for sale at any time.

Obviously, to sell your shares in a property you will need a buyer, but Property Partner say that so long as they are priced reasonably (i.e. at or below the current official price) shares normally sell within 72 hours. By contrast, other property crowdfunding platforms such as The House Crowd and CrowdLords do not run formal secondary markets, though they say they will always help would-be sellers find a buyer if required.

Another attraction of Property Partner is that dividends are paid monthly, unlike other platforms which typically pay annually. Money from dividends builds up in your account, and you can either withdraw it or reinvest it in other properties. When you add that you can get started on Property Partner for as little as £50, it is not all that surprising to me that they have enjoyed such success.

Understanding the Risks

With all property crowdfunding platforms, it is important to understand that there is an element of risk. Clearly, your returns may be affected if occupancy falls or there is a major issue affecting the property (e.g. a fire). Your money is not as safe as with a UK bank savings account (although of course the potential returns are much better).

It is therefore important not to put all your eggs in one basket. As mentioned, I have investments with three different property crowdfunding platforms, and within each platform I am invested in several different properties as well. I have only had one investment fail – a highly speculative development venture – and fortunately I only had the minimum amount invested in that.

On the positive side, I have made several thousand pounds profit from my property crowdfunding investments to date, and have been pleased with the net rate of return. With Property Partner alone I have around £5000 invested and made £500 profit in the last year or about a 10% return (allowing for both rental income and capital appreciation).

Clearly, I’m not saying that everyone should invest in Property Partner – that depends on your personal circumstances and investment goals, and you should always take professional advice if you have any doubts before investing. But if you are looking for a property crowdfunding platform to invest with, in my view they should definitely be at or near the top of your list.

£50 Sign-up Bonus!

Finally, if you join Property Partner via any of the links in this article and invest at least £1,000, you will receive an extra £50 (and so will I!). This is a special promotion and may of course be withdrawn at any time. I am not aware of any plans to end this offer currently, but if that happens I will of course amend this post accordingly.

I do hope you have found this post on property crowdfunding of interest. As I mentioned earlier, this subject (and crowdfunding/lending in general) is one I intend to return to on Pounds and Sense regularly in future.

Good luck, and if you have any comments or questions about property crowdfunding and/or Property Partner, please do post them below.

Please note: This article is an extended version of one I posted last year on my Entrepreneur Writer blog.

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Sign Up Now for this Free Online Course on Managing Your Investments from Futurelearn

Sign Up Now for this Free Online Course on Managing Your Investments from Futurelearn

Futurelearn is a UK-based platform for short online courses from British and international universities. All Futurelearn courses are free and open to anyone in the world.

I thought you might like to know that a course titled Managing My Investments begins on 20 March 2017. It comes from The Open University. It will run for six weeks and you can enrol now if you wish.

Managing My Investments is intended for anyone with an interest in developing their personal financial skills to make good decisions when managing their investments and buying investment products. The course does not require any previous experience of this subject.

On the website, it says:

On this free online course, you’ll learn about different investment choices, the returns and risks associated with each, and the evidence about their historical performance. You’ll explore investment strategies, as well as the practicalities about involvement in personal finance markets. And you’ll look at how to avoid the individual and group behavioural traits that can impair effective investment decision making .

Throughout, the course will provide recent and current case studies on investment issues, to demonstrate how the ideas and issues explored in the course are reflected in the arena of personal investments.

The course is up-to-date and covers the current reforms to UK pensions due to be rolled out in 2015 – changes that will radically alter the way many people will use their pension savings as they move into retirement .

Managing My Investments aims to give you the knowledge and confidence to take charge of your investments and your financial future.

Finding Out More

The course is run by Martin Upton of the OU Business School (previously Treasurer of the Nationwide Building Society). It requires a commitment of around three hours a week.

For more information (including a video trailer) and to register, visit the Managing My Investments information page of the Futurelearn website.

Futurelearn have lots of other interesting free courses, incidentally. I recently took one called Strategies for Successful Ageing from Trinity College, Dublin, which was informative and thought-provoking. I am currently half-way through a course on understanding diabetes (I was diagnosed as prediabetic earlier this year).

As well as the teaching, another big attraction of Futurelearn courses is the opportunity they provide to interact with fellow students from all over the world. There is often almost as much to learn from the other students as the course material itself!

I am also enrolled on Managing My Investments, so if you decide to sign up for the course, keep an eye out for me on the course website. I try to comment regularly and get as actively involved as I can in discussions 🙂

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please do post them below.

NOTE: This course has been postponed till 20 March 2017 from its original start date of 9 January. I have amended the post accordingly.





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