Fergus Muirhead answers your consumer questions
I'm Fergus Muirhead and I'm here to answer any questions you may have about any money or consumer issues.
I'll be dealing with a selection of your queries every other Wednesday on Scotland Live, on Reporting Scotland and here on the BBC Scotland news website.
Please drop me a line here at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.
You can also read more on money and consumer issues on my blog at www.moneysucks.net.
Q. I hope you can help with a pay/expenses issue. As many employers these days use the excuse of not paying wage rises due to the economic state of affairs there is little we can do but accept that everyone has to tighten their belts, but when it comes to an employee "subsidising" an employer this seems unfair.
A. As I understand it the HMRC guide of 40p per mile for the first 10,000 business miles and 25p per mile thereafter is supposed to take into account all of the things you mention and is, therefore, designed to be a fair price for you if you have to use a personal vehicle for work. I have had emails from other viewers in the past who have complained that their rates have not increased for some time, and I have some sympathy for that view. In fact I spoke with an accountant friend before writing this and he reckons that the time is long overdue for a review. But we don't make the rules! Of course there is nothing to stop your employer paying you more than these figures on the understanding that there may be a tax implication for you if they do. It's also worth mentioning that there may be insurance implications if you regularly use your own car for business so it might be worth having a word with your insurer to make sure that you have the right level of cover.
Q. Many people in their fifties have been basing their financial planning for the future on receiving their state pension at the age of 65. In the light of this and the high levels of unemployment and ill health in this age group would you not agree the change of state pension age to 66 in 2020 (maybe even as early as 2018) is unfair and particularly discriminates against women?
A. I don't want to get drawn into the 'fairness' question here but what I do think is that if you take the changes you mention alongside plans to increase the State Pension to a flat rate of £140 per week and the plans to significantly change the way public sector pensions are funded and paid for, then it makes the whole area of retirement planning much more important for all of us. I think that there was an inevitability about the State Pension age increasing but that people now need to look at 'retirement' more flexibly rather than as a single day when work stops and something else, often undefined, begins. I think that although you mention high levels of ill-health people are in general living for longer and need to plan to take account of that when looking at retirement options. You mention people looking at planning their retirement in their fifties and perhaps they would have more flexibility in how they planned if they started to look at it earlier. I know that this is not always easy with so much pressure on money at an earlier age but as you will see from my answer to another question below it is really important to look at planning for retirement as early as possible.
Q. I was after some advice for saving for the future. I am 23 and I have been working for a year now after university. My company does not have a pension plan, so I was wondering what would be the best way to save for the future. The options I was thinking of were a private pension plan and an ISA and maybe putting £100 a month into them. Can you tell me what would be the best option or if there are any other saving plans out there that I should check out?
A. I think that it is great that you are starting to address these issues now, rather than waiting until you are older, and I think that your suggestions make perfect sense for now. Two of the main differences between all of the different types of savings around are how quickly you can access the money you are saving and how the savings you make are taxed. Because pensions are designed as long term investments they are tax efficient, and money you save in a pension, within limits, will be tax free. Having said that, you will need to leave the money in your pension until you are at least 55 and you will need to pay tax on at least some of the income you take from your pension. An ISA, on the other hand, will not allow you tax relief when you invest but you can take the money out of it whenever you like without having to pay any more tax on it. I think that it makes sense to have a spread on investments as you go so to put a bit of money in your pension, that you can't access, and a bit into a shorter term investment such as the ISA, will give you more flexibility. The next thing you need to decide is how much investment risk you want to take. All of your pension money, and the same is true for an ISA investment, can be in cash, or it could all be held in the shares of one company. The former strategy is clearly less risky than the latter so you need to have an idea of how much risk you will be happy to take and use funds that are appropriate for that level of risk. The adviser that is helping you should be able to guide you on these matters. You then need to look at the particular company you are going to use for each investment and satisfy yourself that you are happy with the products they are offering, the level of service they provide, and the way they charge for these services. Again a suitable adviser will guide you through these areas as well.