Simon Read: The right planning will help your dreams come true

When will you be able to afford to retire? The answer, increasingly, looks likely to be never. If you're not still trying to pay off your student debts in your sixties, you'll need cash for your children, your crumbling home, or even to simply pay for decent healthcare.

It's not a pretty prospect. The Government is not helping by increasing the state pension age, meaning we'll all have to work longer just to claim state benefits. But next year's scrapping of the default retirement age, which allows companies to pension you off at 65, will give many a great opportunity, according to Clive Bolton, a pensions expert at Aviva.

"The removal of the default retirement age provides people with the freedom to design their own retirement," Clive says. "Some people will naturally choose to stop work when they start claiming their state pension, but many will continue working as they genuinely enjoy their roles and gain social and financial benefits."

Research published by Aviva this week suggests this is already beginning to happen, with a trend towards down-shifting rather than retiring and stopping work altogether. Surprisingly three out of five over-55s have already chosen to down-shift. For some, that simply means reduced working hours, but many are moving to a different form of employment.

Some 16 per cent have decided to move to a less stressful role, while 11 per cent are now undertaking consultancy work. That's all well and good, but it's the remaining 11 per cent, according to the research, that excite me. They've turned a hobby or interest into an income-generating career.

That sounds like a dream move. If we can look forward to earning money from spending time doing the things we enjoy, then the fact that we are all likely to be forced to worked for longer is not so daunting. In fact it's quite the reverse, and could be something to look forward to.

Of course we'll only be able to achieve that dream if we plan for it, which may mean adjusting your finances now to allow you to downshift into your dream career when you reach retirement age or thereabouts. But with the right financial planning, who knows what could be possible?

My dream would be to be able to play football every day, which is obviously not going to happen because no one would pay me to do so and, sadly, age will eventually render me unable to manage regular games. But the idea of having something fun like that to look forward to makes the chore of retirement planning all the more exciting.

Forget about all the tedious tax rules (there's more about them on p63 this week) and just think about the opportunities you could open up with some sensible financial decisions now.

* Boiler rooms were back in the news this week after the City watchdog reported that it has recovered a list from share scamsters containing the names, addresses and telephone numbers of 49,387 people. The Financial Services Authority is contacting all the people listed to warn them that they may have been victims of a con.

Boiler room operations work a simple sting. They contact people out of the blue – often names they've found on a publicly available share register – and offer the chance of a lifetime to buy into a share that is going to rocket. They use high-pressure sales techniques and tricks to persuade people that they must act at once to take advantage of inside information, such as the fact that a mining company, for instance, is just about to announce that it's hit gold. But the shares are always worthless and often non-existent. Anyone handing cash over will never see it again.

The crooks get away with it, as they call from unauthorised, normally overseas-based companies with fake UK addresses and phone lines routed abroad. If you deal with them, you simply have no protection and the police are powerless to get your money back.

The FSA says the average boiler room victim loses £20,000. That means that if just one in 10 of the people on the latest list found by the City watchdog has fallen prey to the tricksters, the crooks could have made off with £96m.

Don't let it happen to you. If you get an out-of-the-blue call from someone offering shares, simply hang up. No decent stockbroker would cold-call you.

However if you are contacted by a firm with what sounds like an interesting share opportunity, you should check the FSA's Register at www.fsa.gov.uk/register to ensure that the person selling shares is authorised to do so. Then call the company back using the details on the register to verify their identity.

If they are not registered or appear dodgy, report their activities to the police. You could end up saving someone else from becoming their next victim.

Any questions?

I'm planning a new feature next year where I'll be giving you - our readers - the chance to grill senior financial figures. Simply send your questions to me and I'll put them to bank bosses, fund managers, or whoever else you want. I'll try to ensure they give honest and robust answers but they'll only be able to respond to the questions you send.

For starters I'm linging up the mortgage chief at one of the country biggest lenders. I'm going to ask him why he can't do more for first-time lenders and why arrangement fees are sometimes so high (£1,000 or more when one lender charges just £99). What would you like to ask him?

Next up will be one of the UK's biggest motor insurers. I want to know from him why premiums are rising so quickly. You can put forward whatever queries you like. Please email me with your questions and suggestions of other people we can grill. Together we can get the answers.

s.read@independent.co.uk

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