Do you feel ready for retirement? Or have you followed all the steps, been saving wisely, but now find yourself deflated to realise your nest egg is less of an ostrich, more of a sparrow? Maybe you’ve worked hard but haven’t been squirrelling away as much as you should have, and now want to make the money you’ve got work hard for you. Whatever your situation, padding up your pension is never a bad idea.

Let’s be clear: the 2016 Census saw the greatest population increase in those over the age of 65. By 2026, more than 16% of Irish citizens will be of pensionable age; by the year 2050, that will have risen to 1.8million people. To put it simply, it’s highly unlikely the government will be able to afford to subsidise the lives of its aging population, even at the 2017 rate of €238.30 per week. And with recent rumblings of the age of retirement increasing and the state pension jumping from 66 to 70, it’s looking more and more likely that the most important element of your long-term budget should be planning a financially sensible, safe and sufficient pension fund.

Why now?

“October: This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August and February.” – Mark Twain

First things first: the unpredictability of investing in stocks means they’re not for everyone – and that’s ok! All jokes aside, last year, the stock market averaged a return on investment of 8% – not too shabby. But it’s important to note that we are currently experiencing the second-longest bull market of all time, during which share prices have steadily risen. Now in its 8th year, deposit rates are going nowhere – and are likely to stay that way. Savvy pension investors everywhere are looking for alternatives; so, if you can aim higher and stay safe – why not try it out?

Where to begin?

First off: don’t panic! There are plenty of ways to diversify and get a decent return on your investment – without getting bogged down by all the options, and without taking too many risks.

We’ve all heard that wry advice, “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket”. It might sound safe; and yet, trusting your savings to cash is one way to ensure the least lucrative return on your investment. Take a look at the current best savings options from Irish providers:

Account type Provider Interest rate Notes
Fixed Term Deposit – 10 Year National Solidarity Bond Irish Government 1.5% AER (16% return after 10 years) Maximum € 120K     per person
Fixed Term Deposit – 12 month Fixed Permanent TSB .75% Minimum investment €10,000
Regular Saver

EBS Family Saver

– max € 1,000 pm

EBS 3% Maximum of two withdrawals per annum
Notice Deposit – 30 days’ notice Leeds Building Society

Freedom a/c

.65% Minimum balance €2,500
Demand a/c

Instant withdrawal

KBC Bank .45% Maximum €100K

When you take 41% DIRT into consideration (reducing to 33% over the next 4 years), deposit accounts only eat into your capital over time – meaning the meagre returns you see above will be set to diminish even further.

Remember, the best time to save money is when you have some. When even the best regular saving account in Ireland promises only an interest rate of just 3% (net 1.77% after DIRT), you have to get creative. If you’re within sight of pensionable age and have some available funds, there are some suggestions you can easily work into your pension plan.

Loan notes

Consider an alternative to the 12-month fixed rate option from Permanent TSB. You have the minimum of €10,000 to invest, but you’re looking for a slightly less paltry return than that of .75%. Now is your chance to take a less traditional route. As an investment opportunity, loan notes are an ideal option for those seeking higher-yield, shorter-term options but with a measured acceptable risk element.

Think of a property owner seeking to take out a loan against an unencumbered building or piece of land. He knows the property is worth around €1m and wants to borrow €500,000, but is unable to source the funds from a high-street bank, for whatever reasons. A pension fund holder is sourced who is willing to lend to the borrower. The borrower then signs a loan note agreement whereby he pays a coupon of 10% (annual interest) to the pension fund holder for the term agreed, at the end of which the full amount originally borrowed is repaid. All costs would be paid by the borrower too. This is a win-win for both sides: the borrower accesses money from an asset, while the pension fund holder receives a far greater return for his pension fund than he would from a deposit account. And the best part? It’s totally secure, as a first charge is put in place on the property.

By opting in as an investor on this loan note, your return is guaranteed in a way that stocks never will be. Monthly interest can also be requested so that at the end of the loan term, the original capital borrowed is the only sum outstanding to be repaid.

Higher stakes

For those with Small Self Administered Pension schemes (SSAPs) or Self Invested Pensions (SIPs), a slightly larger investment may be possible. If the option of loan notes appeals to you and you’re of the good fortune to have a little more money (and time) to play with, now is the time to seize the opportunity to make the most of it. Rather than simply investing in a single-property venture, you can also avail of the chance to sink your teeth into syndicated commercial property deals as well as individual direct loans.

While this may require a higher investment on your part, it’s worth remembering that it also equates to a higher return, delivered at set intervals over the term of the project. For example, with a slightly longer lead time of 36 months, this type of loan note enables you to plan for a number of years down the line. Knowing that each year will earn you a coupon equal to an agreed-upon interest percentage of your investment, you can rely on an income each year until your original investment is returned to you. So, an initial investment of €50,000 with a coupon of 9% would earn you € 4,500 per annum for each of the 3 years. Investments in loan notes need careful consideration. The paperwork is important so there are no surprises along the way.

What about me?

If you’re thinking, “I’m struggling to keep on track as it is – I don’t have the luxury of €50,000 to play around with!” – don’t despair! If you’re reaching retirement age and have been paying into a private pension or PRSA all your life, you’ll know that you can take up to 25% of your fund as a tax-free lump sum, up to the limit of €200,000. Many people use this to help out their children or pay off a mortgage, but if you’re one of those fortunate enough to have already taken care of such responsibilities, this could be your fast-track into loan note investments. By taking a portion of the lump sum that you can afford to spare temporarily, and rerouting it into a new investment, you could very well find yourself with a healthy windfall just a couple of years down the line – even with the DIRT tax, the return could be 700% greater than that available in a cash fund. Investing your ARF (Approved Retirement Fund) or AMRF in a loan note has the added advantage of the returns being tax free.

As Warren Buffett says, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Your pension should be your reward to yourself at the end of a long road of work. Make sure you get what you deserve. If you need help, call me.

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