How our finances were affected in 2007

What were the highlights of the past 12 months – and how do they affect the year ahead?


As we come to the end of 2007, it is worth using this Rate Alert to look back at the past 12 months and see how they affected our finances. Apart from anything else, doing so helps us to learn from what has happened, especially for the coming year.

Almost without question, the two key issues that hit people hardest were the combined effect of a seemingly-endless rise in mortgage interest rates, topped off by the recent credit squeeze.

By mid-summer, it became clear that hundreds of thousands of the poorest US homeowners could no longer afford to pay their mortgages. This made their debts to lenders worthless, in turn infecting all those banks who had previously thought these loans were a superb investment. The contagion spread to the UK.

Earlier this year, carried out research showing that half (53%) of people with a mortgage were affected adversely by earlier base rate rises.

Even then, 15% were only just coping financially with their current lifestyle, while 9% were struggling so much with recent increases in mortgage repayments they were already making sacrifices. 

If there was one thing the shocking interest rate rises of the past year taught us it was that shopping around for the cheapest possible mortgage deal became vital. It remains so in the months ahead. For the best mortgage deals, use our mortgage comparison tool.

Another casualty of the credit squeeze was Northern Rock. The squeeze meant the Rock was forced to go to the Bank of England as a "lender of last resort". As news broke, queues of customers formed outside Northern Rock branches all wanting to withdraw their savings.

A crash was only averted after the government guaranteed that all savers’ money would be safe. Meanwhile, according to reports last week, the government is now considering nationalisation of Northern Rock.

Luckily there were plenty of other accounts available that offered great rates of interest – an ironic by-product of the same problems affecting many borrowers.

Many banks and building societies ended the year offering 6% and above on savings rates. But with rates potentially starting to fall, checking our savings account comparison tool to make sure you are not being left behind in a potential savings rate retreat is vital.

Meanwhile, a massive consumer rebellion gathered pace against excessive unauthorised overdraft charges. Banks were forced to pay back hundreds of millions of pounds under threat of court action.

The mass reclaim campaign was only halted after the Office of Fair Trading and the big banks finally agreed a test case, to be heard early in 2008, where the legality of these charges will be decided on.

For many, the charges were the final straw and they used our bank account comparison tool to find a new home for their money.

Credit card users, luckily, did rather well – certainly for most of the year – as 0% cards staged a comeback. To be sure, most came with a charge of up to 3% on balance transfers, but that was a small price to pay for up to 15 months of zero interest on transfers and up to nine months on purchases.

Many of these deals are still available via our credit card comparison tool, offering the potential to make Christmas less of a long-term financial burden in the months ahead.

Utilities customers also did well, with a mini price war breaking out at the start of the year that left users paying up to £150 less for their energy bills than last year.

The downside was that, as calculated last week, up to £2.5bn of those potential savings are not being accessed by customers, as providers fail to tell them about cheaper deals on offer. All those deals can be found using our utilities comparison tool.

On the insurance side, mass floods engulfed tens of thousands of homes in Lincolnshire, Humberside, Yorkshire and other parts of Britain. Many homeowners faced damages costing tens of thousands of pounds.

The floods led to insurers increasing the cost of insuring homes by about 10% on average, with those living on flood plains facing a much larger hike in premiums.

In the weeks immediately after the floods, saw a 300% increase in people applying for cover through our home insurance tool. For many others, the need to seek out cheaper cover remains as great as ever.

Mobile telephone users had some good news: so-called roaming charges for using mobiles across Europe dropped dramatically. The cost of making a mobile call anywhere in the EU has been capped at about 33p a minute since September 2007, while receiving a call costs 16p. These costs should fall to 31p and 14.9p respectively next year, and even more in 2009.

Meanwhile, for those who wanted to own the latest mobile technology, the Apple iPhone was launched. Other mobile companies responded with their own high-tech phones, offering greater choice than for many years. More deals are constantly appearing on our mobile comparison tool.

On the minus side, broadband users continued to receive a raw deal, with broadband speed failing to match those advertised by providers. Those who want better, cheaper deals can use our broadband comparison service to seek them out.

One group who kept on battling were the 125,000 members of occupational pension schemes that went bust in previous years. Bowing to a long-running campaign by those affected, the government announced a U-turn last week. As we lurch to the end of the year, it has just raised their compensation payouts to 90% of what they lost.

A final issue that affected the government’s credibility was inheritance tax. In October, the Conservatives announced at their party conference that they would scrap IHT on all assets below £1 million, up from the current £300,000 limit.

Labour was panicked into unveiling its own reform, doubling allowances to £600,000 for married couples.

Oh, and what about the loss of 25 million personal records by HM Treasury? What a cock-up that was.

Who says personal finance is boring? Merry Christmas.

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