Wealth Check: 'I run a care home, but am I looking after my money?'

Sally Wells, 53, runs a care home in Stroud with her partner Nick. She and Nick sold separate homes when they took on the job and have invested the money to generate returns until they feel the need to buy a house again. However, they are concerned that they may not be making the best possible use of the money.

From Sally's monthly income of £650, she is paying £40 into a pension fund and £100 into a high-interest savings account. Apart from that she spends all her money on holidays and visits to her children as she has no other bills; all her living costs are covered by the care home, where she lives.

Sally has four financially independent children and two younger ones who live with her former partner. But she does not have any health or life insurance, which could be a worry. She is also concerned about her income in old age, though she says she is keen to work as a counsellor when she has retired.

We asked three independent financial advisers for their suggestions: Patrick Connolly of JS&P; Justin Modray of Bestinvest; and Ben Yearsley of Hargreaves Lansdown.

Case notes

Sally and Nick Wells, care home managers, Stroud

Salary: £7,800 of income annually.

Monthly spending: accommodation costs, food and other bills are all taken care of as part of job. Spare cash is used on travel expenses and holidays.

Savings: £100 a month into a Halifax savings account. About £86,000 in corporate bond funds, with-profits, ISAs and other saving accounts. Sally's savings include £10,000 in premium bonds.

Debts: none.

Pension: £40 a month into Sally's personal pension, which currently stands at about £5,000.

Property: Sally hopes to buy a new home when she finishes work. She is expecting to retire within the next 15 years.

SAVINGS

Sally's cash savings include £10,000 in premium bonds, which can be easily accessed if needs be. However, the chances of a big win are very small, warns Justin Modray. The average yield on the premium bond fund is just 4.75 per cent, and Sally is likely to do better by moving the money into saving accounts paying a higher rate of interest.

She already has a cash ISA with Halifax. Modray suggests that this would be a good home for some of the premium-bond cash, though the annual contribution limit is £3,000. Once this is exhausted, she should move the rest of the cash, together with £3,000 invested in another Halifax account, into the highest-paying deal she can find.

Patrick Connolly suggests a different account at Halifax as a possibility. Its regular savings deal, into which it is possible to pay up to £250 a month, pays 7 per cent a year.

INVESTMENT

Sally is keen to buy a new home once she finishes working as a care home manager. Bearing in mind that she will be retiring within the next 15 years, Sally should be aware that a new property might swallow up all of her and Nick's assets, warns Ben Yearsley.

He is also concerned that Sally has invested £50,000 in a with-profits investment bond with CIS, an unlikely source of decent returns, but warns her to investigate any exit charges before cashing it in.

Yearsley thinks that if Sally plans to use some of her cash for retirement, rather than just property purchase, she can be more aggressive with her investments. He thinks that too much money - £10,000 - has been tied up in corporate bond funds.

However, Modray is concerned that investing in shares is too risky an approach, given that Sally may want to buy a property sooner rather than later - particularly if she ends up buying in less than five years' time. Cash accounts might be a better option for the bulk of her savings.

Modray suggests that if Sally does opt for the stock market option, she should consider a fund such as Midas Balanced Income. This offers a combination of investments including global equities, bonds and property.

PENSION

The first thing for Sally to do is to look at what the state will provide, says Yearsley. She can ask for a retirement forecast by going online at www.thepensionservice.gov.uk or by calling 0845 300 0169 - this will give Sally details of her projected basic state pension as well as any additional earnings-related benefits she may qualify for.

Connolly says Sally is doing the right thing paying into a personal pension but thinks that she isn't contributing enough, particularly as pension contributions get generous tax relief. A pension pot of £5,000 would provide a pension of just £22 a month, Connolly warns, which is a problem if Sally and Nick end up using all their investments to buy a new property.

INSURANCE

Yearsley says Sally needs to review her lack of insurance. Although her children are not financially dependent on her, she should still consider life cover, which would pay out to them in the event of her death. Other types of cover would protect her is she was unable to work due to ill health.

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