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

Fraud up 25%

A new report by the UK’s fraud prevention service shows that recorded fraud was up by 25% in 2014, with almost 277,000 frauds recorded, compared to 221,000 in 2013. CIFAS admits that the full extent of fraud isn’t known as not all of it is reported or.

Identity fraud is the most common type with over 40% of fraud being identity-related. CIFAS also found that fraudsters are increasingly targeting younger people. Fraud where younger adults (aged 21 to 30) were victims was up by over 50% between 2011 and 2013.

Having said that, the average age of an ID fraud victim is 46 and men are 1.7 times more likely to have their identity stolen than women.

Here are my top tips for reducing the risks of becoming a fraud victim:

  1. Be careful when you bank online or via your mobile. Don’t login to unsecured wifi hotspots from cafés or railway stations etc. Be particularly aware that your mobile may connect to wifi automatically unless you disable wifi in the settings.
  2. Be careful about the information you make available via social media. Social media is about sharing – but check the privacy settings on your Facebook or Twitter pages and be aware that they may be more public than you’d like.
  3. Check your bank and credit card statements to see if there are any unauthorized purchases (or simply mistakes).
  4. Check your credit report. This isn’t a plug for Noddle, it’s just a good way of making sure that no-one has tried to apply for credit in your name.

Pension changes from April 6th

It’s just over a week until the pension changes that take effect from April 6th (well, in reality it will be the 7th as the 6th is Easter Monday!). There’s been a lot written about the changes since they were announced in the Budget last year, but – understandably – many people still find them confusing. So here’s my bite-sized guide:

  • You can take money out of your pension if you are aged 55 or over after April 5th.
  • The people who are most likely to benefit are those who have a ‘pension pot’ type pension (ie one where you – and your employer if you have one – pay into a pension). If you have a final salary or other salary-related pension, you can only take money out of it, in most cases, if you’re in the private sector. You’ll have to take advice about this and transfer it first.

SAVVY TIP: In most cases, giving up the guaranteed income of a salary-related pension will be a bad move. But for some (such as those who are seriously ill and unlikely to live for long) it could be worth considering.

  • You can take out as much or as little as you like – but check with your own pension company because some may be more flexible than others.
  • Only the first 25% of anything you take out of your pension is tax free. You’ll have to pay tax on the rest. You could end up paying tax at 40% if you take out too much.
  • You’ll probably be taxed using the emergency code for the first payment. Unless your pension company already has your tax details, your first payment could have emergency coded tax deducted – which will be more than you need to pay.

SAVVY TIP: You’ll get the extra tax repaid when you take more money out of your pension, but if you take it all out in one go, you’ll have to reclaim the tax.

  • You can get free guidance about your pension options through the government’s Pension Wise initiative, by phone, face-to-face or online. You can make a phone appointment by ringing 0300 330 1001. If you prefer, you can get online information at Pensionwise.gov.uk

SAVVY TIP: If anyone rings you saying they’re from Pension Wise, they’re not! The way that Pension Wise will work is that you will have to ring them to make an appointment. They won’t ring you first.

Current account switching

Are you unhappy with your bank? Have you switched bank accounts? It’s estimated that 40% of us haven’t switched bank accounts, although switching rates are up since seven day switching was introduced. From this week one price comparison site (Gocompare.com) will let you switch current accounts using data from your own bank statements.

You have to be a customer of the big five current account providers (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, Nationwide or NatWest/RBS) to do this.

The idea is that you can download 12 months of your bank account data into a standardised format that can then be fed into the comparison sites. GoCompare is the first comparison site to offer this service, but others are likely to follow soon. Your bank statements will be encrypted and won’t be stored by the price comparison sites.

A box unticking exercise

Have you ever bought insurance without realising it because you didn’t untick a box on an application form? Insurance extras such as motor legal expenses insurance, are often sold through tick boxes. This week the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it planned to ban companies from selling insurance to people who don’t opt out from buying it.

SAVVY TIP: You have 14 days to cancel most insurance policies and get your money back. The 14 day cancellation period begins from when you get the policy documents or when the insurance starts, whichever is the latest.

Easter coming early?

Over half of parents would consider taking their children out of school before the end of term, in order to save money on the price of a holiday. The survey, by an online travel insurance provider, found that 54% of parents would take their children out of school before the Easter holidays.

SAVVY TIP: If you’re going away on a family holiday over the Easter break, check that your travel insurance will cover all of you (if you’re going with your extended family) and that it will insure your children if they’re travelling alone. Policies vary in their approach.