Wealth Check: 'I've no debt but I need to save more'

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The Independent Online

Phil Dave, 21, is a computer technician in a family-run business in north London. Earning £21,000 a year, Phil has what he thinks are modest expectations - he'd like to retire at 65 on an annual income worth around £36,000 and in the shorter term to get on the property ladder. Above all, he wants to have a comfortable standard of living.

Phil has not yet started paying into a pension and, for now, has no significant savings or investments, though he does have a savings account with his bank.

As for property, Phil still lives with his parents, but he does make a monthly contribution towards the family's housing expenses. The good news is that he has no debts, but while he regularly tries to put money aside in his savings account, he rarely seems to have much spare cash at the end of each month. He also points out that he has a "cautious" attitude to risk.

We asked three independent financial advisers for their help: Anna Bowes, of AWD Chase de Vere; Patrick Connolly, of Towry Law JS&P; and Philippa Gee, of Torquil Clark.

Case notes: Phil Dave, 21, computer technician, north London

Salary: £21,000 a year; a monthly take-home of £1,200.

Savings: Small amount of savings with bank

Debts: None

Pension: None

Property: None. Phil lives with his parents but wants to buy.

Monthly outgoings: £600 on general living; £100 on entertainment and incidentals.

SAVINGS

Phil's big advantage is his young age, says Bowes, because he has plenty of time to achieve his financial goals. Right now, he is in an enviable position. He has a regular income and no major financial obligations - a great foundation on which to build. And at £21,000 a year, Phil's income seems to comfortably cover his outgoings

On the other hand, Phil's stated monthly income is around £1,200 and he says he is only spending £700. So where is the rest of his money going? Gee says his first step towards saving should be to carefully analyse his spending, by keeping a money diary. Once he has a clearer picture of his outgoings, he can start trying to identify opportunities for cutting back. Could he, for example, find a cheaper mobile phone contract?

Once he has freed up cash, it's a question of identifying the best savings products. Cash individual savings accounts (Isas) are a good option, because interest is tax-free, but for a basic-rate taxpayer such as Phil, a monthly savings account currently offers better rates, adds Gee.

HSBC, for example, will pay 8 per cent on the first £250 he saves each month. Her final tip is for Phil to withdraw a fixed sum in cash every week - that way he will know exactly how much he is spending.

Bowes also likes regular savings account deals. Alliance & Leicester (A&L) is offering a fixed interest rate of 12 per cent for a year, she points out, while Ipswich Building Society's Target Saver currently pays 8.25 per cent - unlike A&L, it doesn't require savers to open a current account.

MORTGAGE

Phil has sufficient disposable income to be able to start putting some of it towards planning for longer-term goals. He would like to own a house one day, yet he is worried about the cost of future mortgage repayments and, therefore, reluctant to make any financial commitments.

Such anxiety is understandable, but Phil needs to adopt a more realistic attitude, says Patrick Connolly - taking some financial risks is unavoidable if Phil wants to own a house, get married and have children. He suggests mini-cash ISAs - where he can invest up to £3,000 a year - as a good start for a fund set up to eventually finance a deposit, as they will allow him instant access to his money.

PENSION

With a stable income, Phil should make some pension provision for the future. But he needs to bear in mind that in 45 years' time, when he hopes to retire, his desired income of £36,000 a year will be worth very little due to annual inflation, adds Bowes.

If he projects this amount forward, taking annual inflation into account, his target will amount to more than £136,000. If Phil wants to achieve this sort of pension, he should start investing around £325 a month and increase these payments in line with inflation - probably not an option.

Gee worries that Phil's expectations are too optimistic, given that he wants to retire on an income over 50 per cent more than his current earnings, even though he has not made any pension contributions. She says the most flexible way to establish a pension is to set up a stakeholder plan, as these products offer competitive charges and transparency.

The downside to this arrangement is that the money will be inaccessible before retirement age, which is why a balance between short-term and long-term planning is essential. Pension companies such as Friends Provident and Standard Life are worth considering, she adds. Phil should start with paying a monthly amount of £100, which he should increase when his earnings go up.

As he gets older, Phil's income will rise, but so will his financial commitments, Connolly warns. He recommends a combination of pensions, ISAs and mini stocks and shares. As a cautious investor, Phil may feel happier with selecting a range of different asset classes, including shares, fixed interest and property. Funds will be the best way to get this exposure.

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