Personal Finance: Financial Makeover: Share and share alike: but when to sell them?

NAMES: DAVID AND ELLEN LOVELL AGES: BOTH 35 OCCUPATIONS: COMPUTER SERVICES COMPANY EXECUTIVE AND PART-TIME MEDICAL CONSULTANT
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David and Ellen have two children, aged two and two. Ellen works part-time as a doctor. David's company floated on the London Stock Exchange in June 1998.

Shares in the company were acquired through bonus schemes at a nominal value and the current holding of around 20,000 shares were valued at the time of flotation at around pounds 70,000 (pounds 3.50 per share). The shares are split equally between David and Ellen.

The shares represent a substantial percentage of the couple's total investments and have shown a fairly high degree of volatility - something that is concerning to David.

David and Ellen moved house in September 1997, using most of their savings to finance the deposit and taking a pounds 138,000 mortgage.

A number of improvements are needed to the property, which could be financed by the sale of some of the shares. However, David is finding it difficult to handle the selling of the shares, bearing in mind the issues of Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and timing.

The adviser: David Wright, who is a director at Johnstone Douglas, financial planning consultants, Lennig House, Masons Avenue, Croydon, Surrey CR0 9XS (0181- 686 0660).

The advice: The question as to when you should sell your shares is virtually impossible for us to advise on. At one extreme, as you did not pay anything for the shares, if there was an urgent need for cash, money is available at any time.

The quoted price at close of business on 18 May was pounds 3.44 which obviously is lower than the pounds 3.50 on flotation. Your concern about volatility is demonstrated by the fact that over the past 12 months the shares have hit a high of pounds 5.19 and reached a low of pounds 2.93.

Apart from any cash that you must have now for the improvements - and which can only be achieved by the encashment of shares - we believe that you should consider holding on to them. You could agree a benchmark price of say, pounds 4.50, which means that if and when the shares reach that price you sell then. Naturally, there can be no guarantee that the share price would not subsequently rise above their benchmark of pounds 4.50 but at least you would be taking a profit.

When you do decide to sell, you would be well advised to seek the services of either a local stockbroker or your own clearing bank, which is likely to have a share dealing service. Costs vary but can be in the order of 1 per cent

Your CGT allowance for 1999/2000 is pounds 7,100 and CGT will have to be paid on any profits above this amount. To calculate the exact figures, it is best to contact either an accountant or a specialist taxation company before you have sold the shares, to ensure that you have taken full advantage of any opportunities relating to timing or other factors.

In the course of our meeting, we automatically conducted a comprehensive financial fact find as a result of which we believe there are a number of other important issues which you need to address in the fairly near future.

One of them relates to what you might want to do following the sale of any or all your shares.

Once the exercise has been completed and the correct amount of shares have been sold, the available capital that is not to be used to fund the property improvements can then be re-invested into a more balanced portfolio, thus widening the range of underlying investments and reducing volatility.

Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) would be the first style of investment to consider. Here, it makes sense to see what funds are available when the shares are sold. Not all former PEP providers have put in place their final plans for ISAs.

Then there is the question of retirement planning. You are both members of your employers' pension schemes and are both contributing to private top-up schemes, known as free-standing additional voluntary contributions (FSAVC).

We would advise looking to maximise AVCs either by way of extra monthly contributions, or by utilising some of the capital each year. You will receive tax relief at your highest rate and tax efficient growth within the AVC plan; this is an efficient method of long-term investment and will also improve your retirement income.

We would, however, question the use of "freestanding" (or private) AVC plans, when in-house AVC plans may well be a more competitive method of saving, and will allow higher rate tax relief at source. Again, we suggest it is worth investigating the relative cost and investment approach of both in-house and private funds before making a final decision.

From a protection point of view, you do need to establish the current level of "death-in-service" benefit, as well as the total life assurance coverage, in order for us to ascertain whether there is sufficient protection in place.

You also need to check how long your employers will pay you in the event of being incapacitated from work. After this period, at present, you have nothing protecting your income - permanent health insurance (PHI) pays an income should you not be able to work due to accident, sickness or ill health.

In addition, it is advisable to consider establishing some critical illness cover, which pays a tax-free lump sum on diagnosis of a range of serious medical conditions, including heart attack, stroke, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

As you have not yet made a will, we would strongly recommend that you do so.

Finally, you have paid pounds 30 per month into a savings plan for the last 12 years that does not mature until retirement age. Due to the type of investment and charges that apply we would recommend re-investing the pounds 6,000 that has accrued into a plan with more competitive charges and a risk profile more suited to your circumstances and requirements. The pounds 30 per month could also be re-invested, either into a medium- term investment vehicle or towards your AVCs.

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