The Financial News You Need To Know With Sarah Pennells – January 2015

Energy prices fall – perhaps

You can’t have missed the headlines about the plunge in the price of oil and, if you’re a driver, you’ll have noticed that petrol and diesel are cheaper.

But what about your energy bills? Well, so far only one of the big energy companies has reduced its prices. E.ON has dropped gas prices on its standard tariff by 3.5% (roughly £24 off the average bill). But, sheep-like, other companies may follow in the next few weeks!

SAVVY TIP: If you’re dreading your winter energy bills, check with your existing energy provider that you’re on their cheapest tariff. Read your meter as you may be paying for energy you don’t use and do the obvious stuff, like putting foil reflectors behind radiators, fitting draught excluders and insulating your loft.

Ten year mortgage for less than 3%?

If you’re worried about interest rates – and mortgage rates – rising, it might be a good time to switch to a fixed-rate deal. Fixed rate mortgages have been coming down over the last few months and several mortgage lenders are now offering loans that are fixed for ten years, charging less than 3%. You’ll typically have to pay around an arrangement or mortgage fee of around £1,000 and you’ll get the best rates if you have at least 40% of equity in your home.

But, if you have a smaller deposit/less equity, you can still get a ten-year deal charging less than 5%. You don’t have to fix for ten years as there are some competitive five year fixed rate mortgages too.

SAVVY TIP: You’ll get the best deals if you have an excellent credit rating. Lenders will also want to check how much you earn and what you spend your money on.

Retiring after April?

If you’re going to retire after April, you may qualify for free guidance from PensionWise. It’s an initiative set up by the government designed to help people decide what to do with their pensions when new ‘pensions freedom’ rules kick in.

You’ll be able to get the guidance face-to-face by Citizens Advice or over the phone by the Pensions Advisory Service. It won’t be the same as independent financial advice (which you have to pay for), but it should – hopefully – be enough to point you in the right direction.

6% on your savings?

I get lots of emails from people who are fed up with the paltry interest rates on their savings. There are dozens of accounts out there that pay 0.1% – or less – and even ‘best buy’ accounts only pay around 1.5% on an easy access basis.

If you pick the right regular savings account, where you can save up to – typically – £250 – £300 a month, you can earn up to 6% on your savings. You may need to take out a current account with the same provider.

Another way to boost the rate on your savings is to switch to a current account provider that pays a competitive in credit interest rate. You can get up to 5% (for the first 12 months). There’s normally a limit on how much you can have in the account (typically between £4,000 and £20,000).

Taxing times ahead!

January 31st is the deadline for filing your self-assessment tax return. If you’ve not yet filed yours, don’t leave it until the last minute!

It’s not only people who are self employed who have to fill in a tax return. If you’ve received income that’s not been taxed (perhaps from buying things to sell online or income from renting out a second property) or if you or your partner earn more than £50,000 and get child benefit, you’ll have to fill in a return.

Don’t panic if you haven’t yet started to fill yours in. It needn’t take long and there’s plenty of free information online on what to do. If you’ve never filed your tax return online, you have to register first to get an activation code, which can take up to ten days to arrive.

SAVVY TIP: Check your return before you send it to make sure you don’t miss out some obvious things. If you’ve filled in a tax return last year, get hold of a copy so you can compare it with this year’s. It’s a useful way of highlighting mistakes!

By the way, figures from HM Revenue and Customs show that men are more likely than women to file their tax returns late (I’m saying nothing!).