Tuesday, 21 June 2011

American Express

American express provide a large number of charge cards and credit cards around the world and many of their cards come with a range of additional benefits such as airmiles and cashback.

Who Are they

American Express are a large financial services organisation who can provide a truly world wide service for their customers. They are the worlds largest card payment transaction issue by purchaser volume, so you can rely on them 24/7 around the world.

What do they offer
  • Credit Cards
  • Spend and Earn Cards
  • Insurance

What do we think

A world class company with a great focus on global reach and excellent customer service.

Pros - reliable services, 24/7 world wide customer services

Cons - some stores do not accept American Express cards


Of course you know the AA for providing vehicle breakdown cover but they also provide a range of insurance products as well as a number of banking products and services including savings accounts and credit cards

Who Are they

Founded in 1905 the AA has been looking after motorists for a long time. They also now provide a range of products and services to meet a range of needs, all delivered by a number of partners they offer a competitive set of deals and an excellent level of customer service.

What do they offer

  • Breakdown Cover
  • Travel Insurance
  • Savings
  • Life Insurance
  • Credit Cards
  • Loans
  • Travel Currency Cards
  • Spend and Earn Cards
  • Private Medical Cover

What do we think

A trusted provider with a great focus on customer service and providing a range of products and services at competitive prices.

Pros - they offer products from a panel of suppliers so they often have great deals

Cons - as an indirect supplier you need to make sure the product you choose is right for you and your getting the best deal

Monday, 23 May 2011

Simple Guide to help you choose a Savings Account

Its a simple product but the choice of savings account can make a big difference to how your savings grow over time. Read this for some simple points to consider in selecting and opening a new savings account

"The choice of a top paying account can make a big difference to your savings "

Tax on Savings

First off think about the impact tax can have on your savings. Here is a link to a useful article which explains the impact for UK residents. Click here for a guide to Tax on Savings

For some people who pay higher levels of tax the impact of Tax on savings can become significant particulars when you consider this over a number of years. Given this there are a range of savings products which the financial services providers offer which can be attractive given their preferential tax status (often resulting in a zero or significantly lower tax impact)

"Consider tax efficient savings options"
Interest Rates

The most important aspect of savings accounts in the interest rate and this is often overlooked as something people don't understand fully.

Rather than explain this in a complex formula - which you can find on this link to a savings sample formula; lets just set out some key principals for you to consider. The higher an interest rate the faster your savings grow, any interest rate needs to be considered either before or after tax as per the first point above since this can make a big difference and finally consider all the deals you can find on the market as the cost to switch if often zero meaning if you want to be a saver getting the best return you need to review your savings account regulary and make sure your still getting a good deal.

Access to your money

One aspect you must consider in choosing a savings account is what type of access you require to your money.

This can impact your savings in a number of ways -

  • Term deposits - these often have a lock in period meaning in reality you should only select this type of savings product if you know you don't need access to your money for a specific period
  • Withdrawals penalties - some savings accounts come with restrictions like this which mean when you make a withdrawal you will incur a penalty, typically a period of lost interest which will impact the return on the savings account
  • Access restrictions - some savings accounts come with access restrictions, there are now a wide range of these in the market such as internet only e-savings accounts or postal accounts which require you to send written requests for funds.
  • Fixed Terms - these are often 1 / 3 / 5 year savings deals where your money is totally locked in for a fixed period (some offer your cash back with a significant penalty such as zero interest for early withdrawals)
  • Account Limits - some savings accounts have restrictions in place in terms of the minimum and maximum balance

Overall the choice of savings accounts means although they are a simple product the market is complex and like any financial product you need to consider your personal needs and make a decision based on these.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Top Tips for Choosing a New Credit Card

Changing your credit card is simple and can save you money

"Many people rarely consider changing credit cards but there are some great credit card providers who offer competitive rates and other benefits."

Here are some of the things to look out for when thinking about choosing a new credit card

Balance Transfers
Great for people who have an existing credit card balance; this can help to cut the cost

Make money from your credit card spending; some cards offer up to 1% of all spending as a credit back to your account. There are also some cards offering even higher cashback rates for spending at specific retailers.

Spending Limit
If you want a credit card to help you manage you spending make sure you look out for cards that allow you to taylor your spending limit; most providers allow you to reduce the limit on you credit card if you ask.

Loyalty Points
Similar to cashback this means you get rewarded for you spending in the form of points which can mean free flights or can be redeemed against a range of goods and services.

Purchase Protection
Typically provided for most things you buy on a credit card.

Fraud Protection
Often this will ensure you get a refund for any loss you incur as a result of any fraud related to your card

Identity Protection
Some credit cards are now offering this service which provides advice and guidance if you suffer from identity theft

Foreign transaction fees
Look around at different cards and you will see some big differences in the cost of using your card abroad; consider this if you do lots of travel.

Annual Fee
Some cards charge an annual free. This will often be because the card offers better rates or enhanced services such as cashback.

General fees and charges
Like many financial services credit cards have a number of fees and charges which can soon add up and you should check these out before making any decision

Y0u may also want to consider who is providing your credit card before you make any decision. You will typically find that there are a number of options for selecting a new credit card provider, you could choose for example to take a credit card from your bank where you have your current account, or alternatively you may choose to use a service where your credit card is provided by another firm such as a supermarket.

When selecting any credit card you may want to think about how simple or complex your needs are and specifically you may want to think about how you want to access and manage your card.

For example you may want to consider if you want an online credit card service which allows you to view you transactions and balances online; you may even want to pay off your current balance online. Alternatively you may be someone who really want to know they will get a good level of customer service with access to a telephone help desk, it all depends on what you need.

Finally you may want to consider the other tools the credit card comes with, some providers now offer free SMS alerts to remind you when your payment is due and to alert you when your near your credit limit. Other credit cards provide tools which allow you to gain some understanding of you spending by telling you how much your spending on your card against various types of spend.

As always you need to consider your needs, understand what the various credit card providers are offering and find the best deal for you

Switching Bank Accounts

Switching bank accounts is simple and easy; so read this and have a look around at the best deals for a new current account.

If you are like one on millions of people who have never switched bank accounts then you should reconsider as there has never been a more competitive market.

If you do think (like many people) that there is no value in switching and that all banks are the same you really need to look around and understand that the banks are all now competing heavily for you and that to win you over they are putting out some competitive deals.

From a vast range of current account offers such as 0% overdraft's and even cashback on your spending (not just credit cards but even on a debit card) the banks are pulling out all the stops to make their deals stand out.

Its also not just about the numbers you also need to consider the services your bank offers (such as SMS balance alerts which can help you manage your money) and the effectiveness of their customer service (often a good indicator is the number of complaints)

"Most banks now offer a switching service for anyone who wants to move their bank account, and in many cases all you need to do is provide some basic information and bank will do the rest."

There are a couple of things that banks offer to help you move you account and these all typically mean the process is quick and easy.

Regular payments - the new bank will often provide a service to ensure all you regular payments, such as utility bills, are moved over to you new account.

Sort term interest free overdraft - many banks now offer an interest free overdraft for a few months when you open a new current account; this means even if there is a slight overlap between when you bills starting coming out of the new account you will now incurred any charges and no payments will get rejected.

Dedicated welcome team - many people find moving their current account can be time consuming and banks now offer switching services to ensure all you administration is done for you and often just require a single form to start the process off.

Update service - as the process of switch banks can take some time most banks offer a regular update to ensure your fully aware of when the process starts and when the transfer is completed.

If you are thinking of switching to a new current account you may want to look at this independent account switching guide from BACS

We also offer some guides to the banks you may want to look at to help you choose the best bank for your needs.

Top Savings Tips

Simple savings tips to help you - 6 really easy steps to get you making the most of your savings.

1) Set up a regular deposit into a savings account.

2) Make use of you tax free savings allowance

3) Be clear in you savings priorities, know what you saving for and make a decision about how important that goal is relative to your other spending

4) Take a board view of you savings; do you pay of a mortgage or pay into a pension.

5) Understand that you income profile will change over time and that you savings plan needs to reflect this

6) Look at you costs and consider any quick wins such as consolidating borrowing on credit cards or reconsidering that gym membership or other discretionary spending