Give yourself a financial healthcheck

Published:
02 January 2009
Topic:
News,Broadband,Gas & Electricity,Mobile Phones,Money

Sorting out your finances is one of those things that you know you should do, but, if you're like millions of others, you never quite get round to it, because there's always an excuse as to why it can be left until another day. Well, make 2009 the year when those excuses stop.

Setting aside a few hours to plough through your paper work can be time well spent: the chances are you'll be able to save yourself hundreds, if not thousands of pounds by switching your financial, insurance and home service products.

We've compiled a check list to make the task even easier for you.

Utilities

When did you last switch your gas and electricity provider? If you haven't changed provider or tariff in the last six months then you'll probably be able to save a considerable amount of money.

A London household that uses an average amount of energy and gets their electricity from EDF Energy and their gas from British Gas could save £321 a year by switching to British Gas' dual fuel WebSaver 1 tariff.

  • Online deals are the cheapest and the most cost efficient way to pay is by monthly direct debit.

  • Switching couldn't be easier. Our comparison tool will enable you to identify the cheapest deal for your own personal usage.

Ideally have a copy of your most recent bill from your current provider as it will mean you can input the most accurate details of your consumption, but it's not essential so don't worry if you can't find it.

You'll be asked for your postcode, who your current provider is and how you pay your bills. You'll also be asked how much your bills are or how much energy you use (this can be an estimate if you can't find your bill).

Insurance

If you're part way through an annual motor or home insurance policy now may not be the time to re-insure, but when your policy is up for renewal make sure you shop around to find the best quote.

  • Your current insurer is unlikely to offer you the most competitive quote when your policy needs renewing. Insurers know that most people stick with the same provider year after year so they focus on offering their most competitive prices to new customers. It is therefore essential to compare prices from different providers every year to ensure you are getting a good deal.

  • You don't need to spend hours on the phone or internet getting quotes from individual providers. Our motor insurance comparison tool compares prices from more than 80 insurers and brokers, while our home insurance tool enables you to get quotes from more than 40 providers.

  • Read our articles 20 tips to cut the cost of car insurance and How safe is your home for more information.

Protection

When was the last time you reviewed your life insurance? Do you have any?

  • Protection, whether it's life cover, critical illness, income protection or all three is something many people overlook. If you don't have any cover in place, think about whether you need it - what would happen to you and your family if your income was to stop? If you'd struggle to pay the bills, then protection is a must have.

  • Even if you've already got insurance, when did you last review it? You may find that the level of cover in place is no longer adequate. As well as that you might be able to save money by re-broking with a different insurer.

  • See if you could save by using our life and income protection comparison tools.

Home services

If you have a landline, broadband and satellite or cable television are you paying different providers for them? If you are you can probably slash the monthly cost by purchasing a 'bundled' product from a single provider.

  • The savings to be had in this area are big - you could potentially save more than £250 a year by buying a bundle. To find out if you could save, visit our broadband section.

  • As well as comparing cost it's also important to think about usage - if you are a heavy internet user there's no point in going for the cheapest broadband option as the chances are your monthly usage will be capped.

  • Watch out for hidden costs and charges. As James Parker explains in his article Watch out for broadband's hidden rip-offs, there are various fees and charges that could catch you out and bump up the monthly cost of your internet access if you're not careful.

Mobile phones

Most of us are not on the most suitable mobile tariff and because of this our mobile bills cost us about £130 a year more than they should. This is because we either exceed our monthly call and text allowances or we are paying for more than we actually need. If you fall into either camp and are not tied into a contract, then switch to a new tariff.

How the switching process works:

  • First find a new contract that suits your usage levels and budget by using our comparison tool and apply for that deal.

  • Advise your existing provider that you intend to port your number and ask them for your Port Authorisation Code (PAC). This is effectively a reference number, which you pass on to your new network.

  • It may be possible to ask your new network to retrieve the PAC for you - ask them after you've applied for the deal. There should be no charge for this service.

Credit cards

If you're dreading the arrival of your Christmas credit and store card bills over the coming weeks because you won't be able to repay them in full, it's time to see if you can save money by transferring the balances onto another card.

  • Providers are becoming more choosy about who they will offer credit to but if you have a good credit score you should still be able to take advantage of one of the 0% balance transfer deals available.

  • Peter Harrison's article Hey big spender, switch that card will give you more information on how to take advantage of the leading card deals.

  • Click here to compare more than 300 credit card offers and use our Smart Search tool to identify which deals you are most likely to qualify for.

Savings

With interest rates falling it's getting harder for savers to earn a decent return on their money which makes it more important than ever to ensure your savings aren't languishing in a poor paying account.

  • Have you used your Isa allowance yet this year? If not, open a cash Isa - you can deposit up to £3,600 each tax year and interest is tax-free. Click here to compare the best Isa rates.

  • Consider a fixed rate account if you have money you can afford to lock away. With further interest rate cuts expected in the coming months, this is a good way of protecting yourself against further erosion to the returns on your savings. But you need to act now as many providers are reducing their fixed rates so the leading deals may not be around for much longer. Compare rates using our savings comparison tool.

  • Remember, if you have more than £50,000 in cash savings, spread your money around between different providers because in the event of an institution going bust, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme only guarantees the first £50,000 held with a single institution. For more on this read our article Who owns who?.

Mortgage

Are you tied in to your current mortgage deal? If not and you can switch to another product without incurring a penalty consider remortgaging. Your mortgage payment is probably your largest monthly outgoing and as such the potential savings to be had by moving onto a deal with a lower rate are substantial.

Someone with a £150,000 25-year repayment mortgage could slash their monthly payments from £932 to £843 by switching from a rate of 5.50% to 4.50%. This will save them £89 a month - £1,068 a year.

  • Things to consider when remortgaging: do you want a fixed or variable rate deal? With interest rates on the way down the temptation may be to go for a variable rate mortgage so that you'll benefit if there are any further rate cuts. But remember, interest rates may start rising again before the deal ends. If money is tight and you can't afford the risk of your mortgage payments rising, a fixed rate deal may be a better option.

Also think about how long you want to be tied in for. Most mortgage deals levy an early redemption charge if you want to redeem the loan within the fixed or discounted period. Therefore there's no point in going for a five year fix if you may want to repay the loan within that time.

Current account

The chances are you've probably never switched your current account and you bank with one of the big four banks - Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland/NatWest. Is that the case? If it is, then it's time to change as none of these banks offer competitive deals on their standard current accounts.

  • Whether you're always in credit or regularly overdrawn there are some great current accounts available, as Kevin Mountford explains in his article Switch current account and pocket £100.

  • Alternatively, go straight to our current account channel to see what's available.

  • Don't be put off by the common perception that changing current account provider is a complicated nightmare - it isn't. Most banks now have dedicated switching teams that do most of the work for you. They'll arrange for your direct debits and standing orders to be transferred to your new account and inform your employer of your new bank details so your salary is paid into the right account.

Disclaimer: Please note that any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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