Today, Money Mail launches a major five-part series to help you beat the traps that cost families millions of pounds a year.
If you’ve ever suspected a bank, insurer or utility provider has been taking you for a ride, you were probably on to something.
Today and all next week, we will reveal how to recover £3,000 that’s sneakily been added to your bills; cunning ruses to stop banks hiking your mortgage; the secret that professionals use to make money from the stock market; the only credit cards you really need in your wallet; and how to outwit the greedy taxman.
Today, Money Mail launches a major five-part series to help you beat the traps that cost families millions of pounds a year
This is your chance to give your finances a proper spring clean — and save yourself a fortune in the process. We start with the loyalty con. Imagine next time you go for a walk, you take a wad of £10 notes and hand them out to passers-by. It may sound crazy, but that is more or less what you are doing if you stick with the same suppliers every year for household essentials such as insurance, energy, phone, TV and broadband.
Your loyalty could be ruthlessly exploited, because the best deals are often aimed at landing new customers. Once firms have reeled you in with a tempting offer, they hike prices and use every trick in the book to keep you paying through the nose. But some research, a few phone calls and a bit of negotiation could potentially save you thousands of pounds a year.
In an ideal world, you would spend a day reviewing and swapping all your bad deals for better ones. This may work in some cases, but many deals only come up for review once a year. Don’t rely on a reminder from a big company. They will privately be hoping that you’ll mistake their letter for junk mail. Instead, make a diary entry a couple of weeks before the renewal date to give yourself time to take a look at what’s available.
Smartphones generally have a reminder function. Or, if you have Amazon’s Alexa device, get it to remind you. Alternatively, write a note on a wall calendar. The key is to make sure the reminder is where you will see it, rather than stuck in a drawer.
How much power your home really uses … (and easy ways to keep costs low)
Is boiling a full kettle really that wasteful? And how much does it actually cost to charge your smartphone every night? Homeowners are often told they are guilty of overspending by unnecessarily guzzling gas and burning through electricity.
Here, in the graphic on the right, we reveal the true cost of powering your home. You’ll find some surprises in the figures from the Energy Saving Trust. For example, it costs less than £1 a year to charge your mobile phone. And who knew there was such a big difference between an A+ and an A+++ rated fridge freezer?
The average dual fuel energy bill already stands at £1,138 a year — and suppliers are thought to be preparing a new round of price hikes. So the time to act is now.
As well as switching to a cheaper supplier, there are plenty of other ways to keep costs low. Our simple tips will help you cut your bills without making any major changes to your lifestyle . . .
MAKE A BUDGET
Before going into battle, check the details of your current deal, including how much you pay. If it’s insurance, carefully check your cover. Then look to see how much you could pay elsewhere. This will usually mean using comparison websites. But don’t forget, some insurers are not on these sites, which may give precedence to firms that pay commission.
Before considering a switch, make sure you are comparing like for like with what’s covered. Then call your current provider armed with details of the best offer and see what counter-offer it might be prepared to make. It’s essential to emphasise that you are planning to leave, because the best deals come from business retention specialists whose job it is to persuade you to stay. Bearing these general principles in mind, let’s take look at the main areas in which you could save . . .
Potential saving: £600 a year
Ask yourself: do I really need all these TV channels? Many people are led to believe that they have to pay for TV that is actually free. Check the websites of Freeview (freeview.co.uk) and Freesat (freesat.co.uk). If all the channels you watch are on these, you don’t need Sky, Virgin, BT or TalkTalk for telly.
You can watch Freeview via a normal TV aerial or Freesat using a satellite dish. Both carry the HD channels for BBC1, BBC2, BBC News, ITV and Channel 5 and have a host of options including BBC4, ITV2, 3 and 4, Channel 4, Drama, Film4, True Entertainment, Dave, Challenge and Food Network.
Ditching the bundled TV and just taking phone and broadband could save you £50 a month. If you want some extra TV, you’ll often find it more cheaply and flexibly from around £6 per month with Netflix, Now TV or Amazon Prime, delivered via the internet. Check you have the right internet package because downloading TV uses a lot of data, especially if you want to watch your shows in ultra-high definition — for this, you will also need a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second.
Gadgets to save you cash
Switching energy tariffs is a surefire way to slash your power bills. But these five quirky gadgets could also secure you some serious savings…
Replacing your letterbox with an Ecoflap could help warm up a chilly hallway. It is designed to let post through easily, but then stay firmly closed, stopping any air from coming in (£27.99, ecoflap.co.uk).
If your fireplace is purely decorative, consider a Chimney Balloon to stop heat escaping. You place it just far enough up the chimney so it’s out of sight, then inflate it enough to block cold air getting through (from £17.50, chimneyballoon.co.uk).
A portable, solarpowered charger can power up gadgets such as a mobile or laptop for f ree. Freeloader can power a smartphone for 18 hours (£15 to £50, various sizes, amazon.co.uk).
Radiators need to be bled on a regular basis to remove any air bubbles that might stop them heating up properly. If you are prone to forgetting, consider fitting an automatic bleed valve that will do the job for you (£7.75, amazon.co.uk).
Tea for one
To reduce electricity bills, boilonly the amount of water you need. The Philips HD 4644 kettle (£30, amazon.co.uk) has a one-cup indicator. Meanwhile, temperature control kettles heat water to lower temperatures, using less power (£30, Asda).
Average saving: £300 a year
The Government’s price cap is likely to knock around £30 a year off the standard variable tariff. But regulator Ofgem says you could save ten times that by switching provider. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is risky. For those concerned about switching, there is an Energy Switch Guarantee. This promises that swapping to another supplier should be reliable, hassle-free and completed in 21 days.
If any problem occurs, your new supplier should resolve it ‘swiftly and efficiently’. It also promises that any credit from your old energy bill will be refunded within 14 days of your final bill. If you’re a first-time switcher, then check out websites such as Which? Switch, uSwitch, MoneySuperMarket or Energy Helpline.
Make sure you click on the whole of market options, rather than just the ones they say they can help with — the latter only shows those that pay the sites commission. You can contact the new firm directly, if you wish, and it will organise the changeover.
On the day of the switch, take a meter reading and supply it to both companies. This will prevent you being lumbered with an estimate. When bills arrive, check that the start reading from your new company and the final one from your old one tally with the reading you took. Leave your direct debit with the old company open for a few weeks, so it can take any cash you owe or refund any it owes you.
Ask yourself: do I really need all these TV channels? Many people are led to believe that they have to pay for TV that is actually free
Potential saving: £400 a year
Mobile phone providers often trap you by offering upgrades while your old phone is still in contract. So you sign up to a new, often more expensive, contract sometimes for as long as two years. But almost all mobile phones now allow us to do all of the essentials. We can text, use the internet, keep a diary, take photos and even, occasionally, phone a friend! So if you are happy with your phone, why not cut costs by letting your current deal run out and then switching to SIM-only?
You don’t have to stay locked to the same provider. You can scour the market for the best deal. The cheapest SIM-only deals now stand at around £5 per month for around 750 minutes and a reasonable amount of data. Even data-hungry users who stream a lot of music and videos can get a SIM-only deal for less than £20 per month. This compares with £50-plus per month for an upgraded phone.
Potential saving: £100 to £300
There are two rules of thumb when it comes to car insurance: never accept the renewal quotation and don’t pay monthly. Car insurers link with finance companies to charge ludicrous levels of interest for paying monthly. It could add 20 per cent to your premium, turning a £500 bill into £600.
Insurers bump up premiums at renewal on the flimsiest of pretexts. Some argue, for example, that the fact you have made one claim means it’s more likely that you will make a second. Yet they are far less likely to take into account factors that might reduce your premiums, such as the falling value of your vehicle.
So check your no-claims discount and use a comparison site to see what’s on offer elsewhere. Vital things to consider include whether you use your car for commuting, protecting your no-claims discount and whether you want access to a hire car and legal expenses cover. The level of voluntary excess (that’s the first part of any claim you pay yourself) may have less effect on your premium than you expect.
Some insurers, such as Aviva and Direct Line, are not linked to comparison sites, so it can be worth trying these companies direct, too. Armed with quotes, you can then negotiate with your existing insurer or take your business elsewhere.
There are two rules of thumb when it comes to car insurance: never accept the renewal quotation and don’t pay monthly
HOUSE POLICY PLAN
Potential saving: £100-plus
If you’ve been with one house insurer for several years, you are likely paying well over the odds. To compete in the age of price comparison websites, home insurers have been forced to slash prices for new customers. Nowadays, new deals are almost considered loss-leaders. That means insurers have to hike prices for existing customers whenever they can to make a profit.
Take the opportunity to review the value of your contents to make sure you have enough cover. Some of the key aspects to check on contents cover are whether you are covered when taking things out of the home, accidental damage and if you will get new goods to replace any lost or damaged.
What happens if a collection of CDs or records is damaged in a fire or stolen? If you have valuable jewellery, it is particularly important to check the clauses covering these items, as you may want the money if you have a family heirloom stolen, rather than a similar replacement.
Also check where you stand if bikes or sports equipment are stolen. When it comes to buildings insurance, it’s important to make sure that the cover will be enough for any rebuilding costs if your property is severely damaged.
Potential saving: £1,000-plus a year on a £100,000 loan
Reviewing your mortgage offers the biggest savings if you are languishing on the standard variable rate (SVR) of your lender, as the researcher CACI estimates around three million borrowers are. The average SVR is 4.76 per cent, according to Moneyfacts. Yet the cheapest fixed-rate deals cost less than 2 per cent.
A £100,000, 25-year repayment mortgage at 4.76 per cent would cost £571 per month, while a two-year fix at 2 per cent would cost £424. That’s a saving of £1,764 per year for fixing.You need to make sure that there are no penalties if you exit the deal early and remember, there will be additional fees to pay. But even after paying these, you could still be hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds better off.
Potential benefit: £100 a year per £10,000 of savings
With interest rates of 1 per cent or less, savings are hardly inspirational.But interest rates are expected to rise faster than previously expected, so things are looking up. Swapping a normal savings account is simple. Just go to the branch or online and ask for your money. To move a tax-free cash Isa, go to the new provider’s website or branch or phone them up. They will do all the work.
You will need some identification, your National Insurance number and details of the old cash Isa you want to ditch. The worst Isas pay just 0.1 per cent. These include Santander Easy Isa on balances up to £40,000 and NatWest Cash Isa on up to £10,000.The best pay around 1.3 per cent. Check our savings tables at thisismoney.co.uk for the latest figures. Just 1 per cent extra on £10,000 will net you £100 a year more in interest. Even in taxable accounts, your interest is likely to be tax-free because basic-rate taxpayers can earn up to £1,000 of interest a year without paying tax on it. Higher-rate taxpayers can earn £500 a year.
Potential saving: £200 on every £1,000 owed
We’re addicted to credit cards. Between us, we hold around 32 million of them. Yet borrowing on cards is very expensive. Last autumn, data firm Moneyfacts warned the average interest rate had hit 23 per cent. But, because the interest is taken in dribs and drabs each month, few people realise that they are being charged hundreds for modest amounts of borrowing.
Switching cards to grab an interest-free period is easy, but unfortunately, some banks only want to take on risk-free borrowers. Let’s say you owe £3,000 on a card charging 23 per cent. You decide to repay £130 a month to clear the debt. It would take you 37 months and you would pay £1,089 interest.
If you had a two-year interest-free balance transfer deal with another card provider, you could clear the whole lot, including a balance transfer fee of perhaps £60 to £90, within the same time frame. Once the interest-free period ends, the rate will jump, so these cards should be seen as an opportunity to clear existing debt, not to go on a spending spree.
Among the best at the moment are Post Office, Halifax, MBNA and Barclaycard. If you’re worried about damaging your credit score by getting rejected, try using MoneySavingExpert’s online credit card eligibility calculator before you apply.