Wednesday, February 18, 2009

'Excessive Debt' Disorder

As if we needed reminding at this stage of the game, the EU Commission has come out today and told us that we are suffering from an 'Excessive Debt' Disorder. Unfortunately, our political masters are struggling to to come up with a remedy; a cure that will be unpalatable.

I often wonder if it ever occurs to those that control the State purse strings that you have to save for a 'rainy day' or does this euphemism only apply to the 'little people'?. Without savings, the future is bleak.

Does it ever occur to these people that a prevention is better than a cure or that, instead of leading us down an undignified road to penury, they could (and should) have done something about it. Was anybody keeping watch?

As we cling to wit and comedy while trying to dodge the recessionary bullets, it is disheartening to listen to the mitigated words of all parties to the debacle. It seems that the culture of the vulture will be ingrained in our corporate legacy for some time to come. Unless of course, it is acknowledged by those concerned, NOW.

Then, and only then, can they start putting in place a system that does not feed the greedy and unscrupulous. You can't right a wrong until you admit that it was morally inappropriate in the first place.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Eating Out (with Kids)

As a regular visitor to Tenerife I find it refreshing to experience the welcome that is afforded to children once they enter the door of a restaurant. Shy and all as they pretend to be, they do like the attention; so long as the staff don't start rubbing their hair or gently pinch their cheeks.

The majority of these restaurants carry a 'Kids Menu' which is predominately intended to suit the demand of the sausage and chip aficionado, but more often that not, will include a pasta dish or two. In some cases they even go to the bother of naming a dish after something that the kids can relate to. For example, the 'Mickey Mouse Steak'.

It is also reasonable to ask for a kids/half portion from the Á La Carte menu, and receive it without any 'tut-tutting' or having to fret about it costing much more than half the cost of the adult portion. The whole experience is relaxing, consistent and it makes you want to come back for more.

So why do I find it difficult to find a similar experience here, without it costing an arm and a leg. Surely there has to be a fairly constant demand for this type of service with good food? Is there some fundamental cultural difference that needs to be addressed so that I am not made to feel like a skinflint when I have to ask for an adult portion, with two plates?

Are there restaurants out there that offer a relatively healthy, reasonably priced, 3 course set menu for kids of the non-chip/nugget/sausage variety?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

'Top Gear' and the Honda FCX Clarity

I was watching a re-run of 'Top Gear' on Sunday evening and I was taken aback by the positive comments that were made about this car on the show. What was remarkable was that the presenters regarded it as the most significant car development in a 100 years.

Don't get me wrong, I agreed with what they were saying but I thought that it was momentous to hear confirmed petrol/diesel 'heads' extolling the virtues of an electric car. A car, where you fill your tank with Hydrogen and the only emission, is water.

I am not sure about how far off Honda are in making this vehicle a commercial proposition for the mass market as it would appear that it is only available for lease, to 'select' Californians, at a cost of $21,600 over 3 years and there is no purchase option.

I think that Jay Leno really hit the nail on the head when he spoke about the market for this type of car being, individuals and families that would use a car like this during the week and probably take the petrol/diesel motor out at the weekend. This, in my opinion, would be a realistic compromise as I can't see it as a permanent substitute.

New Pension Product and Enhancements to Existing Products

Personal Retirement Bond (also referred to as a Buy-out-Bond or Pension Transfer Plan). This is a single contribution retirement investment product designed for those who are leaving employment, moving from one employer to another or transferring between pension schemes.

The minimum transfer amount is €2,500. There are no entry/exit charges, so 100% of your money is invested. The only charge is an annual charge of 0.85% on the value of your investment fund. There are 26 funds to choose from and you will have the option of having on-line access to your account.

The minimum single contribution on the product has been reduced from €7,500 to €5,000.

The Global Absolute Return Strategies Fund (GARS) has been added as an investment option.

Monday, February 2, 2009

PRSAs and Transfers

The following is a summary of the transfer options available to individuals who may want to transfer their existing pension fund, to and from PRSAs.

PRSA to PRSA - As all PRSA contracts must allow the transfer of assets from one PRSA to another.

Personal Pension to PRSA - Fund assets can be transferred with the mutual agreement of the Personal Pension Provider and PRSA Provider.

PRSA to Personal Pension - Not currently allowed.

Occupational AVC to PRSA - AVCs can be transferred to a PRSA if the pension scheme member is leaving service or the AVC Scheme is being wound up.

PRSA to Occupational AVC - Not currently allowed.

PRSA to Occupational Pension Scheme - Can be transferred if the company pension scheme Trustees agree.

Buy-Out-Bond to PRSA - Not currently allowed.

PRSA to Buy-Out-Bond - Not currently allowed.

Company Pension Scheme to PRSA - If any of the following are satisfied, the transfer can take place without a disclosure requirement (see note*) (i) you have less than 15 years service (ii) the transfer is less than €10,000 (iii) the employee has less than 2 years qualifying service (iv) the Pensions Board have been notified that the scheme is being wound up.

PRSA to Overseas - This is allowed provided the PRSA Provider and/or Pensions Board are satisfied that the overseas arrangement is suitable.

Overseas to PRSA - This is also allowed if the Irish Revenue, Overseas Revenue and Overseas Pension Provider agree.

*Disclosure Requirement - The scheme member must be provided with (i) a certificate of comparison of benefits (ii) a written statement as to why the transfer is in their interest.

As this is intended as a brief summary, it may be prudent to seek independent financial advice on your specific circumstances.