Keeping your finances in check over the festive period

Christmas is a time for giving, but it’s easy to let your inner Saint Nick get out of control. If you suffer from an excess of altruism, there are some easy ways to keep your spending under control this festive season.

Plan presents early

Avoiding the last-minute rush for presents is a good start. With consumer confidence rising, retailers aren’t rushing to discount goods – but many have been attempting to encourage early spends with offers and if revenue keeps rising, the discounts may disappear. Planning early also prevents those impulse buys that quickly add up – there’s a reason Santa asks for lists!

Plan meals sensibly

It’s a genuine joy to have a turkey with all the trimmings, but it’s costly and wasteful to throw away your leftovers. Instead of winging it with the turkey, use the wealth of recipes available online, as well as label advice, to get the portions just right. Any leftover turkey can be used in a delicious curry or casserole, which you could even freeze for future use if you need a bit of a detox first. 

Track your spending

If you have credit cards, set one aside specifically for your Christmas spend. That way, you can keep an eye on exactly where the money’s going. There are also several smartphone apps that help store and organise your spending - Expensify, for example, is a handy free app available from both the Apple App store and Google play that allows you to track designated expenses and even stores pictures of receipts.

Choose your financing wisely

When planning a Christmas splurge, many people turn to solutions like ‘Christmas Clubs’ to save ahead of time. However, since these don’t offer interest, it usually represents better value to save or invest your cash as normal. If you need a boost closer to Christmas, find a credit card or loan offering 0% purchase plans or interest free periods to spread payments.

Make use of offers

Cashback deals represent a great way to build small returns (usually between 0.5% and 2%) on your credit card spend, while certain reward schemes give goods and services that could be just the Christmas gift you needed. For supermarket shops, cards like the American Express Nectar Credit Card (representative 25% APR variable) can be a valuable boon if you’re hosting a big Christmas dinner. Of course, in order to really benefit from these you’ll need to pay the bill at the end of the month, otherwise interest payments will negate your gains. Usually, your card application will involve tests that can confirm that your limit corresponds with your spending power, keeping your budget under control.

This post  was brought to you by Eden Smith, a professional business analyst from London.

How to Make the Most of Your Home Contents Insurance

Home insurance cover is an essential purchase for anyone needing to protect their home and possessions from an array of damaging occurrences, including theft, fire, accidental damage and, in some cases, natural disasters. Unfortunately in a recession, many people have been obliged to seek ways to cut their outgoings and home contents insurance policies have been the first to go, unlike buildings insurance which is mandatory for any mortgaged home, as a lender’s condition. This course of action is obviously unwise, due to the risks of damaged possessions and the potential costs of replacement and happily various actions can be taken to keep policies as cost-effective as possible.

APanography: my homell home insurance cover policies are built and customized according to the customer’s specifications and circumstances. ‘Riskier’ customers will pay more for home contents insurance; for example, those who have previous claims histories, who have expensive possessions to insure, who live in certain postcode areas or near rivers with histories of flooding. Customers with a lower risk profile will include those with good credit histories, ‘safer’ postcodes, lower claim coverage amounts and low previous claim histories. Age, family, the condition of your home and those living at the premises will also be factors.

The first tip for getting the best home insurance cover premium is to shop around and the internet is the best place to start. These online supermarkets also tend to offer significant discounts of up to 30% for online purchases. By putting in key details into a price comparison site or supermarket, an immediate range of competitive policies will be returned for selection; according to best need and price. These sites are useful too for highlighting providers who will automatically exclude certain applicant groups (for example specialist insurances, or those for the over 50s, such as Saga). This saves consumers a great deal of time and can offer easy comparison of the best deal.

It is also possible to adjust the affecting factors that make up the resulting premium; for example, by choosing a higher excess amount, a lower overall coverage amount, or by de-selecting other criteria such as legal expenses insurance, hotel or accommodation cover in the case of house damage and other useful services. Even in a recession however, it’s very important for consumers not to cut corners when applying for home insurance cover, being adequately covered is imperative and all information given must be entirely accurate. Failure to do this may lead to automatic invalidation on a later claim, which can be very stressful and upsetting during a difficult period; if not even leading to further investigation and police fraud involvement in serious cases.

Weekend house panographyFor those with specialist items to insure, such as art collections, high value jewelery or specialist business related equipment, regular home insurance cover may not be appropriate and in this case specialist insurances are required. The provider will advise of this at application and may suggest their own departments for more specialist products. It is worth noting that in some cases, loyalty to one provider can pay off, for example some offer discounts for customers who have more than one insurance policy. Equally, some customers will find that regular insurers won’t cover homes with flood histories, near cliff sides, or in areas prone to natural disasters for home contents insurance and again specialist insurers may be recommended.

Once the insurance policy has been determined, paid for and set up, it is important to keep the contact numbers and policy details at hand in case of a claim. Keep receipts and records for key purchases. It is wise to inform your insurer of any significant new purchases during an annual policy period to ensure it is still covered within the home contents insurance provisions. Be prepared too for a visit from the insurance company in the case of a claim, as they will check the circumstances for any high value claims or those affecting properties. Also, ensure that you keep your property in good condition and adhere to any other terms and conditions in the home insurance cover policy document, as these will form part of the contract.

And of course, when the annual policy expires, it’s wise to not simply accept the renewal quote which is unlikely to be competitive. Take the time to shop around, review your circumstances for any changes and ensure you are still getting the right level of home insurance cover, at the right price.

This article was provided by moneysupermarket, the UK’s leading price comparison site. The moneysupemarket home insurance service features a wide range of companies to help UK home owners find the right cover for their home and family quickly and easily.

photo credit: EivindNitter
photo credit: lrargerich

Why Your Spending Vehicle May Leave You Vulnerable to Fraud

The following is a Guest Post By Odysseas Papadimitriou, founder of Card Hub, a marketplace for the best credit card deals and operator of the nation’s biggest gift card exchange

Locks, alarm systems, man’s best friend, even security cameras and gates—you know the best ways to protect your home from burglars. But do you really know how to protect your bank account? Many people think they do, but considering the myths and poor information circulating around this topic and the constant evolution of digital theft, what you think you know might not really be practically effective. So how do you truly protect yourself from such fiscal thievery?

Many people believe the answer to be use of a debit card. Debit cards, they believe, have better fraud protection capabilities than do credit cards and are thus safer spending vehicles. But, since the safety of your money is far too important to rely on hearsay, what say we test the veracity of this belief ourselves?

To do so, let’s consider what would happen if someone managed to access your account, either by physically stealing your card or by intercepting your account information online.

Credit Card

MasterCard credit cardIf a thief got hold of your credit card information, he could rack up some serious charges on your account. However, all credit card issuers provide fraud protection guarantees that ensure you will not be held liable for unauthorized charges made with your card. This feature is usually called a $0 Liability Guarantee, and information about it can usually be found on your credit card agreement. For example, the following was prominently displayed under the heading “Did you know” on a Capital One credit card application:
“If your credit card is ever lost or stolen, you’re covered by $0 Fraud Liability protection against unauthorized charges. That’s peace of mind you can count on!”

Therefore, you aren’t ultimately on the hook for any fraudulent charges made by whoever accessed your card. The exact process you go through when dealing with credit card fraud differs on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, credit card companies notice fraud before you do, thanks to software that analyzes spending patterns, and block fraudulent transactions proactively. In others, you have to report charges that you did not make, and in all cases, you should report your card as lost or stolen as soon as you notice.

Whatever the case may be, you won’t be required to pay for disputed charges until your credit card company confirms your claim is legitimate. This prevents collateral damage as a result of credit card fraud. For example, since you’re not responsible for the disputed charges, you aren’t at risk of running out of money to pay for your other monthly obligations because of disputed charges.

Debit Card

Like with a credit card, you aren’t liable for any unauthorized charges made on your debit account. Just consider the liability statement found on the fine print of a Bank of America application:
“The $0 Liability Guarantee covers fraudulent purchases and payments made by others using your Bank of America credit and debit cards. To be covered, report purchases made by others promptly, and don’t share personal or account information with anyone.”
This just goes to show that credit cards and debit cards provide the exact same protections against identity theft and fraudulent transactions. So, whether someone physically gets their hands on your card or steals your information digitally, you aren’t out any money…in the long term.

As you probably know, when a purchase is made with a debit card, money is removed from the checking account tied to this card instantaneously. And while debit cards also have protections that block fraudulent transactions proactively, some unauthorized purchases might slip through the cracks. Thus, while you’re guaranteed to get your money back, the very nature of a debit card actually makes fraud particularly difficult to deal with in some cases.

For instance, if you don’t notice that money had been withdrawn from your account before you mail checks to whomever you owe monthly payments, you’ll have a mess on your hands. You’ll get your money back from your debit card provider, sure, but you will also have to go through the hassle of sorting out bounced checks and possible credit score damage incurred as a result of them.

Conclusion

Thus, while credit cards and debit cards technically provide equal fraud protection, credit cards actually make unauthorized transactions easier to deal with. The bottom line is that, no matter what type of electronic spending vehicle you use, there’s always a chance you could fall victim to fraud. Luckily, while you’re unlikely to be able to prevent a determined and capable cyber thief from accessing your accounts, you will not lose money because of it. Your bank might, but that’s what insurance is for, isn’t it?

photo credit: Håkan Dahlström