Do you have any NI gaps?

Paying out for voluntary National Insurance contributions now could improve your state pension by up to £4,000 – but it’ll cost more if you wait until after 5 April 2019.

Anyone who reaches state pension age after 5 April 2016 and has a gap in their NI payments between the 2006-07 to 2015-16 tax years has until April 2023 to ‘plug’ the holes by making voluntary contributions. In the new tax year, the amount you pay for voluntary National Insurance (NI) will increase to a more expensive flat rate for all tax years. But, if you pay between £600 and £700 – the equivalent of £100 a week between now and April – you could pay off a missing year in your NI record and secure thousands of pounds of state pension when you retire.

Euro growth slows

Although GDP growth in the Euro Area remained positive, the headline figure was quite disappointing, as on a quarterly basis, growth was 0.2% in 4Q18. Italy’s economic environment is deteriorating. Not only has the economy now contracted for three straight months but the banking system also proved problematic with Banca Carige entering into temporary administration.

Help for new mothers

From April, the government will rewrite child benefit forms to highlight the risks to stay-at-home parents’ retirement income if they fail to register for child benefit. The forms are available online and given to new mothers in hospitals.

Registering for child benefit allows parents with children under 12 to build up their entitlement to state pensions, even if they do not pay national insurance (NI) contributions.

However, a tax on child benefit for higher earners, introduced in 2013, has discouraged hundreds of thousands from claiming the perk. Since 2013, 516,000 parents have opted out of child benefit — 84% of them women.

About 1.1m families are affected by the tax charge on child benefit, which reduces payments when one parent earns £50,000 or more and wipes out the benefit for those who earn £60,000 and above. The rule applies to married and cohabiting couples.

Families with a higher earner can opt not to receive any child benefit. However, they still need to register and opt out. Parents who fail to do so miss out on the NI credits.

Non-Farm Payrolls

The jobs report’s main message was that labour market tightness continued to persist in January. Non-farm payrolls rose 304,000, while unemployment rate slightly ticked up, by 0.1 ppt to 4%, as labour force participation rate rose to 63.2% – the highest reading since August 2013. As a result of the tight labour market conditions, nominal wage growth hit 3.5% YoY.
Although the unemployment rate rose to 4%, counter intuitively, its good news. It is a sign that the labour market has been improving in a more broad-based manner than before: previously inactive people (i.e. unemployed people, who were not officially registered as job searchers) re-joined the market and are actively seeking employment.

FED Policy U-Turn

Mr. Powell delivered a speech, which signified a policy U-turn compared to his thoughts presented in December. The Fed Chair not only claimed that the FOMC is ready to pause its rate hiking cycle, but he also stated that the Committee ‘will not hesitate to make changes [to the process of balance sheet normalisation] in light of economic and financial developments.’ This was the first time that Mr. Powell publicly and openly talked about the possibility of pausing the run-off of the central bank’s balance sheet – should the environment call for it.