Monday, February 9, 2009

Britons Are Keeping Cash in Their Homes

Keeping cash in our homes rather than in savings accounts is what five percent of us would rather do, according to MGM advantage, faith in high street banks and building societies has fallen according to the company’s recent Retirement Nation Study. The downfall of Northern Rock hit the north eastern area of Britain particularly hard. This said, confidence in these companies was at its lowest in Plymouth, it was revealed. Regardless of your wealth the trend to store your cash in your home was equally true, suggested the company.

Some eighteen percent of people struggling with personal loans and other debts also revealed they would rather keep their money beneath their mattress than trust it to a financial institute. Keeping hold of their money is what twenty five percent of respondents, with assets over one million pounds, said they would do.

Regardless of these facts, for the majority of us, we prefer to use savings accounts than any other way of investing. Fifty five percent of people asked favoured this method of saving as a means of protecting their future finances. Seventeen percent of people chose pension funds, with just over one in ten of us relying on the property market. In todays economic climate it was no surprise that just six percent of respondents would go for stock market investments.

The difference between men and women, in terms of the type of savings made, was apparent in the report. Some sixty percent of women have a savings account against just under half of males having the same. Also favouring this type of investment were the over sixty fives with again over sixty percent owning an account. Coming out on top though was the younger age group of sixteen to twenty four. This group trust financial companies most with two thirds of them owning a savings account.

Some investors are unaware of the most efficient ways of saving money, according to MGM advantage. Nearly a fifth of participants do not understand key financial terms like individual savings accounts, defined-benefit/final salary schemes, stakeholder pensions, pension credits, equity release mortgages, annuities and indeed independent financial advisory (IFA) services.

Investing in a mutual is something only ten percent of us would do. Instead of a question of trust this is probably due to a lack of knowledge. However, going to a mutual is something that double the number of those who use an IFA would do, rather than those who don't. That said, with less than a third of respondents understanding the term “mutual” it remains at the bottom end of the list of financial terms that are understood by the population. Included in these are “pension credit”, “stakeholder pension”, “defined -benefit final salary scheme”, “annuity” and “FSA”.

Talking about their financial situation is something people are not willing to do even with friends and family, according to Saga. Discussing their pension provision is something thirty eight percent of people will do whilst only fourteen percent will discuss personal loan or credit card debt.

Are Secured Loans the Answer?

Homeowners needing some spare cash are being attracted to secured loans as interest rates fall, despite the risks.

As personal loans and credit cards become harder to find with lenders being more selective, consumers are putting their properties up as security.

“There is no doubt that unsecured loan companies are tightening up their lending criteria, secured loans are becoming a very viable option as a result” says Tim Moss, head of loans and debt at comparison website

As with mortgages, failing to keep up with payments puts your property at risk of repossession.

Historically, secured loans were only available through brokers and were less popular as they were seen as a last resort for people with poor credit ratings. They also had higher rates.

However, secured loans with rates as low as 6.9 percent are now being offered direct to consumers by some companies.

“Loan brokers generally receive commission of between 2,500 pounds and 3,000 pounds per loan sold, so marketing secured loans directly to customers has allowed companies such as Fair & Square and Picture Loans to offer lower rates,” Moss says.

The terms have become easier to understand too. Neil Radley of secured loan provider Fair & Square says: “We recognise that people are often wary of secured lending, which is why we have been careful to make our loans as simple and ¬transparent as possible and to keep penalties to a minimum.”

Homeowners who face severe penalties to leave their low rate deals to remortgage are opting for secured loans, Moss says: “Home improvements are one of the most common reasons for people to take out a loan.

Radley says “Secured loans offer a means of getting some of the money out of your property without incurring penalty charges,”

If people also want to consolidate unsecured debts, a secured loan would be a good option, he claims.

“Our research shows a lot of people have unsecured loans and credit card debts they would like to consolidate at a lower rate to give them greater control,” he says. “Why pay 18 per cent or 20 per cent on a credit card when you could be paying just 6.9 per cent on a secured loan?”

Also saying “I believe secured loans will become more and more popular during the next year or so, that said, you must remember that loans of this kind
are secured against your home, so it is very important not to miss the repayments.”

Planning on taking out a secured loan for home improvements is Andy Symons, 33.

“We are having lots of work done and, as usual, the cost has spiralled above the initial quote,” says Symons.

“I also have some credit card debts I would like to consolidate at a lower rate, so I plan to take out a secured loan of about 30,000 pounds from Fair & Square to cover both.

“I am waiting to hear exactly how much more the work is going to cost before applying.”

This will be the first time Symons opted for a secured loan although he has had student loans and an overdraft in the past.

If You Draw Cash on Your Credit Card You Will Be Out of Pocket

It is a well known fact that drawing money out on a credit card at an ATM is costly but the staggering truth is that around 750 million pounds is withdrawn in this way every single month in the UK. The rates that the card issuers charge seem to be ever increasing at a time when they are already being accused of profiting with their exorbitant charges.

It seems that the biggest percentage of people who are doing this are people usually on low incomes or those who are finding it impossible to borrow money from anywhere else.

Research by the price comparison website says that on average the APR (Annual Percentage Rate) for the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ clients has gone up by more than 2% in the last year from 21.27% to 23.48% and interest is charged from the moment the money is withdrawn from the machine.

Added to this, as if that was not enough, there is a one-off fee for every single transaction done in this way. This charge can be anywhere from around 2.5% up to as high as 3%.

So, just so that we know in pounds what that means, if a person were to withdraw, and in effect borrow, 100 pounds it means that they will pay 25 pounds and 98 pence, over a quarter of the amount borrowed, if they do not repay it within the year.

Some card providers charge substantially more than that, for example, the Abacus card from Vanquis charge 46.19% which is almost half of the amount borrowed which is extortionate. Also, where most other card providers charge an average of 15.9% on purchases, Vanquis charge an astonishing 39.9%.

Vanquis is owned by a company called Provident Financial, and they are very quick to point out that the Abacus card is suitable for people with either a bad credit history and past debt problems or no credit history whatsoever. Basically, they are higher risk which is why they have to pay higher rates for the privilege of being able to borrow.

However, the Office of Fair Trading insisted that providers of credit cards had to cut penalty charges for exceeding payment limit agreements or for late payments and because of this imposition by officials, in return, the banking industry has intimated that they may have to increase their charges.

Chief executive at, Sean Gardner said: “Borrowing cash on your credit card is incredibly expensive and unless it is really necessary we would urge people to think twice before doing it.

“The average APR was already expensive enough but card firms have pushed up rates by more than two per cent in the last six months. There are so many cheaper ways of borrowing than 23.48 per cent.”

A spokesman from the Consumer Action Group Marc Gander is very scathing about the lack of awareness by the borrowers and obvious transparency within the banking industry that these extortionate charges can be made and really are boosting the providers’ profits.

“There is no doubt that the whole business is built of stealth. The consumer does not really know what they are paying,” he says.

"The banks have relied on customers being apathetic and not being astute in financial matters to rip them off," said the Independent Banking Advisory Service’s spokesperson, Eddy Weatherill.

Some Tips For Loans as Borrowing Gets Harder

It is no surprise to any of us that interest rates have risen and are still rising and lenders are able to be choosy so borrowing on a whim is no longer possible.

The credit crunch has made borrowing prohibitive as the bank loan rates have soared on personal loans and mortgages. The popular lenders have made increases in the last couple of weeks including Nat West with a 2.5 per cent rise.

Michelle Slade from the financial comparison website says, “It is not only mortgage rates that continue to increase, so have personal loan rates and monthly repayments.”

She says Tesco Personal Finance has gone up another 0.6 per cent, Lombard Direct has gone up 1 per cent, the AA is up 0.1 per cent and Barclaycard rates have increased by 0.5 per cent. Barclaycard have also put a stop on their one-time best-buy product which they used to offer through Masterloan.

At least half of the lenders who offer personal loans have altered their charges since the beginning of the year.

An increase of 11 per cent on smaller loans by Black Horse has seen an addition of 52 pounds and 68 pence in interest, per year, on a 1,000 pound, one-year loan.

To borrow 25,000 pounds from the Nat West over 5 years with a rate increase of 1.5 per cent on these bigger amounts, will see an extra 1,015 pounds and 20 pence on the total cost of the loan.

Some lenders have actually reduced rates. Brittania BS and Moneyback Bank lowered rates at the beginning of 2008 and a loan for 5,000 pounds with the Clydesdale Bank or Yorkshire Bank can cost up to 7 per cent less than before.

The experts are all echoing that in such glum economic circumstances and family budgets are really being squeezed borrowing should be thought about.

Steve Wilcox at Citizens Advice warns, “The fact that a lender has approved your loan does not mean you can afford the repayments, “and he goes on to say, “Loans are not for paying off current borrowings or to buy everyday essentials such as food or energy. While there is a credit crunch on, lenders still need to make some money but borrowers must be extra-careful that they can afford repayments.”

Do not forget, if you can justify borrowing, that the “typical rate” may not be the rate that you will be offered. By law a “typical rate” must be offered to a minimum of 66 per cent of approved borrowers, which leaves a remaining third that may well be charged a higher rate.

As we know, lenders are picky so you may not qualify for a loan if your credit history is nothing other than perfect; the slightest blip may cause your application to be turned down flat.

Also, buying Payment Protection Insurance from your lender is not a good move and can cost you thousands. If you want this cover go for independent cover from insurers like or

Another mistake is to assume that your own bank will offer you the best the deal – get quotes from other lenders.

You must not forget that every application you make for a loan will leave a footprint on your credit file which in turn might push up the rate that you are offered or you could result in being refused by lenders contacted subsequently.

Smoking – More Expensive Than You Think?

Are you a smoker? Have you ever tried to give up the habit? The chances are that you have, but like any addiction it can be (and usually is) extremely difficult to stop, and even attempts to cut down rarely last very long. Part of the problem is that smoking can be very enjoyable, but only too often something can turn up which will instantly remove the enjoyment. Unfortunately that ‘something’ will very often be loss of health.

The insurance industry is well aware of this fact, so not surprisingly they try to ensure that they do not lose money by covering high risk customers at low risk rates. At the same time non-smoking customers for life insurance have been piling on the pressure in their search for lower premiums. This is where the internet comes into the picture.

It used to be the case that at best, anyone looking for competitive quotations for life insurance had to be prepared to spend a lot of time searching adverts and telephone directories for likely companies. They also had to be prepared to spend a lot of time on the telephone collecting information, and then to settle down to long and careful comparisons, covering bits of paper in confusing and often indecipherable notes.

But all that has changed. Now all they have to do is go online and check out as many companies as they wish. They will find information which is very carefully presented for maximum clarity, because a confused enquirer is highly unlikely to become a customer. It is now so easy to reach a decision that a ‘price war’ has developed and some very competitive quotations are available. This competition has however had an inevitable effect in that insurance companies have had to tighten up their procedures or risk losing money on the narrower margins.

So they have hit the obvious target – smokers. Whilst the life insurance premiums for non-smokers have been steadily reducing, smoker’s premiums have moved away in the opposite direction. This has resulted in rates for smokers which are 100% or more above standard rates and still climbing. This, on top of the cost of the cigarettes (currently estimated to be approaching £100,000 in a lifetime and still climbing) means that anyone who still smokes must be very determined not to curtail their enjoyment.

Critical illness insurance is another policy which many people take out, to provide financial security for their families in the event of loss of income due to lengthy illness. It is reasonably self-evident that this too will be a great deal more expensive for smokers, simply due to their greater propensity for such illnesses as a result of their addiction.

So do you dig your heels in and continue to enjoy smoking, or do you give way to the financial pressure (not to mention the widespread anti-smoker climate) and give up the habit. The sad news is that even if you grit your teeth and stop smoking, as far as the insurance companies are concerned you are not out of the woods (or the Woodbines) for at least 12 months or maybe much longer. Some may require complete cessation for at least five years – contact your intended insurers after 12 months completely smoking free and see how the premiums look now. A considerable cost reduction should be evident.

Some folks cheat themselves and their friends by claiming to have stopped smoking when they are still sneaking the odd one in dark corners. This is up to the individual, but don’t try it with your insurers; it would not be difficult for a relatively low-key enquiry to expose the lie and your cover (in both meanings of the word!) would be blown. All the effort, the subterfuge, the self-deceiving would have been wasted. You would not be insured.

Right, you have made the praiseworthy and not inconsiderable effort and you are now a non-smoker. You can feel some justifiable pride as you tick the ‘NO’ box on a form with a smoking query. Now take advantage of your position, get on the internet and shop around for insurance quotes. You may be pleasantly surprised by some of the offers which you get, but don’t let your euphoria get the better of you. A move too soon, before everything has been confirmed, could leave you with a cancelled policy with your old company and an oversight leading to rejection by your new company; result no cover. Check the details carefully, finalise all the figures and then change to your new insurer.

Finally, don’t let those savings in expenditure just melt away. Add the money saved on cigarette purchases to the money saved on reduced premiums and invest it, and just watch that total climb!