The financial news you need to know with Sarah Pennells – December 6th 2017

Sarah Pennells is a personal finance journalist and the face behind We think she does a great job at explaining financial subjects in a very clear and accessible manner. You can find her column below where she writes about the latest financial news, and helps you get more from your money.

Don’t get caught out at Christmas!

Aah, Christmas shopping…there’s nothing so relaxing. OK, I’m joking! Christmas is meant to be a time for giving, but for fraudsters, it’s also a time for taking.

Make sure you don’t make it easy for fraudsters to steal your details by following these tips:

  1. Always check that a website is secure before you enter any personal details. Your web browser should either have the word ‘secure’ in green before the url address, or there will be a padlock symbol. Don’t enter any personal or financial information if it’s not secure
  2. Do not use the same password over and over again. It may not be realistic to have a separate password for each online account, but don’t rely on one or two as you’re making it too easy for fraudsters
  3. Don’t let sites store your card details. Lots of shopping websites let you store your credit card details so it’s quicker to check out. Personally, I don’t use this facility because it’s potentially vulnerable to hackers
  4. Be wary about flash sales on social media, such as Facebook. I’ve seen friends share one day sales supposedly from well known brand names, except they’re not. They’re sometimes from dodgy sites designed to harvest your personal information
  5. Don’t do online shopping via public wifi networks unless you know it’s secure. If you can, use your phone’s 3G or 4G network. You can boost security with a VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt information between your device and the server. There are free versions, but you may have to pay for this
  6. Consider a separate credit card for online transactions. You can sign up to a regular card (preferably with a low spending limit), or a prepaid credit card. But be aware that you don’t get consumer protection under Section 75 with a prepaid card, so you couldn’t get a refund from the card company if, for example, you order something and the retailer goes bust or the goods don’t arrive.

Bitcoin – how does it work?

Bitcoin, the online currency, has had a bit of a bumpy ride in the last week. At one time it was worth over $11,000 before tumbling by 20 per cent. But what exactly is Bitcoin and how does it work? Here’s my beginner’s guide to Bitcoin:

  • Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that’s generated when people ‘mine’ an algorithm
  • Only approximately 21 million Bitcoin are ever likely to be generated and seven million were released in the first two years
  • Bitcoin isn’t issued by banks or central governments, so if you don’t want to mine them yourself or join a mining syndicate you have to buy them from a Bitcoin trader
  • Bitcoin’s value has fluctuated dramatically. In February 2013 it was trading at $20. As I write this, one Bitcoin is worth over $9,400 (around £7,000), but it had reached $11,000 (over £8,000) the day before
  • You can only spend Bitcoin in a limited range of retailers at the moment, but this is likely to expand.

Who’s the better driver?

At risk of stoking gender car wars, some research 1 by an insurance company caught my eye. It compared the driving test pass rates of men and women and found that 51 per cent of men who took their test passed compared to 44 per cent of women. The bad news, for women, is that they end up spending more on driving lessons and repeat tests.

The good news is that, once they pass, young women are better drivers. Or, to be specific, they’re less likely to have an accident. Figures show that young men are more likely to be involved in a serious accident and their insurance claims are 46 per cent more expensive than women’s.

Frozen pipes? Watch out for your home insurance

If you’re off to see family and friends for an extended break over Christmas, make sure you check your home insurance before you go. What? Really? Well, yes… if you don’t know what your home insurance policy covers, you could have a nasty surprise if, for example, a water pipe bursts while you’re away.

Almost one in five claims on household insurance are the result of water damage from an internal water supply, rather than by water coming into the building from outside.

Over the last couple of years there’s been an increase in the number of insurance companies that impose a higher excess (which is the part of any claim payout that you don’t receive) if you make a claim as a result of a burst pipe or other leak.

Quite a few companies impose a low compulsory excess on buildings or contents insurance claims; as low as £50. However, the excess you have to pay if a pipe bursts may be many times higher. In some cases this can be up to £500.

SAVVY TIP: If you’re away for a few days over winter, your insurance policy may insist that you leave the central heating on a low or overnight setting. If you’re away for longer, you may be asked to turn it off and drain the system. Check with your insurer if you’re in doubt.


1 Research carried out by Admiral Insurance