June 01, 2007

Most popular money news - May 2007

Fears for buy-to-let prospects, following another bank rate rise, and concerns for property prices in Spain were high on the agenda for This is Money readers in May. Economists have warned the Spanish property market is looking overvalued. We also revealed the story of one couple's experience of buying a Spainsh villa following a property investment seminar.

More than 810,000 readers came to This is Money in May, up 44% on a year ago, to read the latest financial news and to gather money tips and advice - with many posting their own tips. We were also chuffed to be named Financial Website of the Year - you should be too. The judges were also reading your comments and contributions.

Here's the top news and features for May...

1. Has your savings rate risen?
2. House prices 'are 65% too high'
3. Blow for bank charge reclaiming
4. Costa catastrophe
5. Special report: Saving for retirement
6. Angry ING savers pull £3bn
7. Interest rates hiked to 5.5%
8. Top funds for 2007
9. Halifax wins the fixed rate race
10. 'Real' anti-ageing cream sold out
11. The property pain in Spain
12. Taxman to swoop on buy-to-let
13. Lloyds told to pay full costs
14. Buy-to-let on landlord's salary
15. You'll never be able to afford a home
16. Savings rate war breaks out
17. Get-rich slow - the wealth secret
18. Remortgage to beat the rate rise
19. Nationwide scraps 25-year fix
20. Lloyds forces charges rebates
21. Home packs launch postponed
22. Midas share tips: New dogs, old tricks
23. BP boss quits over gay claims
24. Mega-mortgages 'turning us into slaves'
25. Warning over 100% buy-to-let
26. Taxman wants to raid homes and offices
27. Buy an Ikea flat pack home
28. Two more rate rises on cards 'by August'
29. Spanish property crash feared
30. Barclaycard to charge £20 fee

Here's the most popular guides in May...

1. Reclaim bank charges letter
2. Ten steps to reclaim credit card charges
3. A quick guide: reclaim bank charges
4. Best savings rates
5. Mortgage fees: How much are you owed?
6. Ten steps to reclaim unfair bank charges
7. Ten tips for buy-to-let
8. Bank charges calculator
9. Isas and other tax-free investing
10. Reclaim your PPI premiums

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

May 25, 2007

Child trust funds: An update on my selections

I have backed three different funds on my son's behalf via his child trust fund.

He's only two but I'm keen to plan ahead - he'll be keeping me in the lap of luxury in my dotage.

I was chuffed in the first year when the Witan Pacific fund delivered a 43% return and the F&C investment trust soared 38%.

This year's been less impressive. The F&C fund delivered a 9% profit in the year to April. A technical change on the Far East fund meant I was forced to sell and reinvest, so I opted for the Pacific Assets Trust, alas it only managed an 18% rise (compared with 43% the year before) and the F&C Global Smaller Companies fund which achieved a meagre 9% gain (51% the year before).

...Hang on, just listen to me. I'm moaning about an annual return of 18%. It's a pure reflection of how I, and many other investors, have become blase about the stock market's recent success. The UK's stock market's recent history ranks among its best years, with the FTSE 100 powering from 3250-ish points at the low in March 2003 (when US bombs began falling on Baghdad) to more than 6500 points today. Wise investors, including me, should stop taking that for granted.

To find out why I picked these funds, see my older posts...

> Child trust funds: where I invested mine
> A 40% return on a child trust fund

And don't miss this brilliant CTF guide - How to pick the best child trust fund

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

May 14, 2007

The car insurance price trick - part 2

A year ago I switched car insurance to a new name in insurance - Swiftcover. I found the deal on our car insurance finder and, at £390, it undercut every other provider and our previous insurer Tesco, which wanted nearly £500 to cover our ageing Honda Civic.

But as predicted on this blog (The car insurance price trick), great insurance deals never last.

Companies suck in thousands of new customers with market-leading deals and then let the price drift down the best buy tables.

They then rely on inertia, for customers to blindly renew their policy the following year. The profits then come rolling in on the second and third years.

To be fair Swiftcover's quote fell to £360 (and was second on the best buy table), however, it was handsomely undercut by Bell at £262.

I guess Bell won't be making much profit on this year's premiums and then next year I'll be comparing and potentially moving on.

The internet has blessed consumers with incredible new power - make sure you use it.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

May 09, 2007

How prices have changed over 25 years

With inflation so low - but rising - it's easy to forget how damaging rising prices can be on our standard of living.

What's more, your lifestyle and shopping habits have a big impact on how you are affected. Basically, if you love buying new gadgets, new (reasonably priced) cars and you like eating out or taking flights then you're quids in compared with 25 years ago. Duranduran_100x110

If you like to follow top-flight football, smoke, drink, or like going to the cinema, then you're out of pocket.

Our table shows the change in prices for a wide basket of goods and services over the past 25 years with perhaps the most unsurprising statistic that average wages have increased by 3.25 times while house prices have multiplied 8.5 times...

HOW PRICES HAVE CHANGED OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS

Don't miss these calculators...Piggybank1_100x110

>> The impact of inflation on your savings

>> Historic inflation calculator

It's also worth pointing out that the research arm of the Alliance Trust, an investment fund, has also been warning of a growing inflation gap in the past three years - inflation is racing away for pensioners and rising at a far slower pace for the under-30s. Read Alliance Trust's most recent report.

Tell us how inflation is affecting you in the comments box below.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

My experience of Maddie's resort in Praia de Luz, the Algarve

I need to break from the usual financial slant of posts on this blog. I'm sure you'll understand as I thing's it's important to give my views on this...

My family and I returned last week relaxed from a holiday at the sleepy end of Portugal’s Algarve. We were, however, stunned to wake on Friday morning, days after we returned, to hear news that a girl, three-year-old Madeleine McCann, had gone missing from the same complex, yards from where we stayed.

We picked the Ocean Club resort in Praia de Luz, a quiet village, because of its connections with Mark Warner Holidays. The company has a growing reputation among families for offering comprehensive childcare wrapped in packages with free sports activities, such as tennis and water sports. The balance of a family holiday with time to relax away from the kids is attractive to millions of Britons.

We had a great time, able to spend time together as a family while also having some time out. Sam, our two-year-old son, was well looked after while we lounged by the pool, or why I played tennis or sailed. My wife Andrea and I even made nightly jaunts to local restaurants, a rare treat for new parents.

Luz, as the locals call it, is a laid back resort with a mix of Portugese holidaymakers and locals and, in off-peak May, a smaller number of foreign tourists. A handful of restaurants and bars in the town have a balance of mainly British families and friendly locals. This is an area you would not associate with crime, let alone the abduction of a child.

The Ocean Club has several hubs. One is a 24-hour reception, the other two have swimming pools, restaurants and tennis courts. At their furthest point, these centres are 10 minutes walk apart. In between are Ocean Club apartments mixed with local homes.

The options for childcare were numerous, well organised and of a very high standard. A well-staffed nursery with a child-to-carer ratio that was often just two-to-one, took youngsters from 9.30 to 12.30 every day and from 2.30 to 5.30 in the afternoon.

These creche facilities were next to the poolside Tapas restaurant where Madeleine’s parents were eating when she disappeared.

Madeleine and the younger twins Amelie and Sean were sleeping at the McCanns’ apartment overlooking the swimming pool at the main hub of the resort. Around that pool was the Tapas bar which was in high demand every night. Most guests went to the buffet at the Ocean Club’s Millennium restaurant, a 10-minute walk away from the McCanns’ apartment. But eager guests would queue from 9am to book one of the limited number of tables at the Tapas bar, which served barbecued fish and meat dishes to order. Both restaurants were included in the price of the holiday.

The McCanns’ choice to leave their children at the flat and make regular checks is surprising given the alternatives. In their defence, they may have been expecting, as advertised in Mark Warner brochures, a ‘listening service’. Staff told us that the service had been discontinued because the apartments were too spread out. The resort, however, offered a baby-sitting service for 15 euros (£10) an hour, which was staffed by a member of the daytime nursery teams, or a ‘dining out club’. This involved parents dropping off children at the crèche where they would be supervised watching videos until they went to sleep. Parents would then return before 11.30 to scoop up their sleepy offspring.

I can imagine the McCanns’ dilemma. The ‘dining out club’ was more than a five-minute walk from where the McCanns stayed along cobbled streets or a winding pedestrian path through the apartments. It’s not far - it worked brilliantly for us on most nights - but it would have felt much further if you had to ferry thee children there and back (and hope they were still asleep after doing so). Plus parents were required to wait until children under two, which includes the McCanns’ twins, were asleep. We talked to parents who said this was enough to put them off the option.

The McCanns opted instead to eat 40-50m from their apartment, not much more than a pool’s width away. They hoped it would be just close enough to hear a crying baby but with bar music playing and restaurant hubbub, it wasn’t close enough to hear what happened to Madeleine that night.

I can't imagine what they're going through now. I, along with millions others, only hope they can find her soon and safe.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

May 02, 2007

Most popular money news in April

Millions of people are now demanding justice on unfair bank charges, rip-off credit card fees and unwarranted mortgage exit costs. That's reflected in a fresh surge of people to This is Money looking for help and guidance. Hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded our information on bank charges in the past year.

Fears for property prices at home and abroad, namely Spain, were also high on the agenda (don't miss our Homes Abroad channel). Nearly 810,000 visitors came to This is Money in April, up 42% on a year ago.

See below the top 25 most-read reports, including guides and other interactive pages. Below that list you'll find the most popular news stories and most-read City stories...

1. Ten steps to reclaim unfair bank charges
2. Bank charge letter templates
3. Reclaim bank charges letter
4. Ten steps to reclaim credit card charges
5. A quick guide: reclaim bank charges
6. Mortgage fees: How much are you owed?
7. Spanish property crash feared
8. Best cash Isas for 2007
9. Top funds for 2007
10. Property may slump next year
11. Interactive fuel bills map
12. Ten tips for buy-to-let
13. Experts say rates may hit 7.5%
14. Blow to inheritance tax loophole
15. Home seller pack chaos
16. Bank charges calculator
17. 'Real' anti-ageing cream sold out
18. Tax blow to younger pensioners
19. £7,000 car that cost £21,500
20. Rates to rise as inflation surges
21. Microsoft man to bid for Southampton FC
22. Mortgage that's 9 times salary
23. Six weeks until Hips are here
24. Fight the unfair bank charges
25. Home hunters snap up dollars


Top ten news stories

1. Spanish property crash feared
2. Property may slump next year
3. Experts say rates may hit 7.5%
4. Blow to inheritance tax loophole
5. Home seller pack chaos
6. 'Real' anti-ageing cream sold out
7. Tax blow to younger pensioners
8. £7,000 car that cost £21,500
9. Rates to rise as inflation surges
10. Microsoft man to bid for Southampton FC

Top ten City stories

1. Experts say rates may hit 7.5%
2. Rates to rise as inflation surges
3. Microsoft man to bid for Southampton FC
4. Ryanair's O'Leary touts £7 flights to US
5. Murphy's law on growth stocks
6. Peace at Easter for Virgin and Sky?
7. Branson in US air fare battle
8. Pound breaks $2 barrier
9. Pipex deal in jeopardy as BT pulls out
10. Barclays and ABN tie knot

Have your say on any of these stories on the Reader Comments on each one (more about Reader Comments) - or tell us which issues you want covered  by emailing me at  editor@thisismoney.co.uk

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

April 03, 2007

Top stories in March: the Budget, bank charges, stock market woes

It was a big month in the world of finance news - a Budget with a 2p income tax cut (albeit usual sleight-of-hand-with childless low earners left worse off) while a roller coaster stock market combined with the usual rush to invest in shares and savings accounts in tax-free Isas ahead of the 5 April tax deadline. The cherry on top was an announcement by the OFT on bank charges and growing interest in reclaiming mortgage fees (see a separate list of our top guides and tools below). Moneyss

This is Money attraced 897,000 visitors in March, up 40% on a year ago. Here are our top news stories and features for the month...

Our top guides and tools matched our most popular stories for traffic. Here they are...

  1. Bank charge letter templates
  2. A quick guide to reclaiming bank charges
  3. Mortgage fees guide: How much are you owed?
  4. Tables: Cash Mini Isa
  5. Interactive fuel bills map

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, thisismoney.co.uk

March 22, 2007

Gordon's Budget means grey skies ahead for Sunnie

Chancgordonpa_228x367ITV News were kind enough to invite me to be the money expert on their Budget bulletins yesterday. It was a very long day in around Birmingham, starting at Chancellor Court (get it?) at Birmingham University.

Watch the video

It was a real insight to be able to analyse the finances of dozens of people. The This is Money team and I were able to identify the losers in this Budget right away. Sunnie Sohal was a young woman working hard to buy her first flat. But Because she earns a relatively low wage, she will pay more income tax.

Before, nobody paid tax on around the first £5,000, then you paid 10% on the next £2,000ish. After that you paid 22% (and 40% above £38,000) Now, you still pay nothing on the first bit, but the 10% is gone. So you start paying a new slightly lower 22% but on more of your earnings.

Accountants Grant Thornton were kind enough to crunch the numbers. If you earn less £24,000 then you will now pay £56 a year more in tax. If you earn £15,000, it's £70. The lower the wage, the bigger the increase (down to the 0% threshold).

If you have a family, then you would have had a boost on tax credits. That doesn't help Sunnie who now has to wait even longer for her first home.

Andrew Oxlade, Editor
www.thisismoney.co.uk

PS - You can read all our Budget coverage by following these links.

>> Budget 2007 round up
>> Budget 2007: Key points at a glance

March 05, 2007

Sell Standard Life shares: Egg on Face?

Last summer, I told my dad he should sell his Standard Life shares.

Since then they have risen around 18%. They soared from around 240p up to a peak of 319.5p last week before the global stock market shake-out took them back down to 284p today.

There has inevitably been some rather gleeful squeals of delight in the comments on my original blog: Dad, sell your Standard Life shares...

"As Standard Life shares are performing better than the market and the average fund manager performs worse, it is indeed fortunate that parents never listen to their kids."

"It's very ironic if this blog is one of the top 20 for 2006, because following its advice would have proved very costly. (Hope you bought your Dad a very big & expensive Christmas present to say 'sorry')"

I'm the first to put my hand up when I've got it wrong. And yes, on the face of it, it doesn't look good. But bear with me while I restate my argument.

I never claimed to have some inside track on how Standard Life shares would perform. My point was that the majority of people receiving shares only take a passing interest in the stock market and individual shares - my dad included - and that they didn't have the interest/time to keep a close eye and make an informed decision. Standardlife

Shares are volatile (as if you need reminding follow the roller coaster of recent weeks). So my advice to the majority of 1.5m not experienced in share trading was to sell the Standard Life shares and put the money into a fund. Unit trusts, Oeics and investment trusts will invest your money in anything from 30 to 400 shares, spreading (and reducing) the risk.

My original blog urged readers to check out fund tips that we'd gathered from independent financial advisers. One of the recommendations was the Jupiter Emerging European Opportunities, a fund in which I invest. It has powered ahead more than 20% since last summer. The other funds tipped have all had decent performance - and taking far lower risks than holding a single stock.

So the moral of the story involves eggs, but not on my face... when investing, don't put all your eggs in one basket.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

>> This is Money's share school - www.thisismoney.co.uk/shareschool

>> This is Money's latest fund tips - www.thisismoney.co.uk/fundtips

>> All This is Money's news and advice about Standard Life shares - www.thisismoney.co.uk/standardlife

March 01, 2007

Top stories in February

With banks reporting bumper profits and thousands of people reclaiming charges, our readers were hungry for advice on the best way to do this (find out below). That, together with stock market wobbles, helped push This is Money's readership to an all-time high in February with 766,000 users visiting the site, up 55% on a year ago. Our bank charges advice was the biggest draw...

A quick guide to reclaiming bank charges www.thisismoney.co.uk/reclaimbankcharges www.thisismoney.co.uk/bankchargelettertemplates

...but a mish-mash of issues make up the top ten stories...

1. Britain's 10 worst scams
2. Where next for house prices?
3. Can the FTSE run continue?
4. Get your mortgage fees back
5. £35 for not using your plastic
6. ING Direct keeps rate at 4.75%
7. £36bn wiped off UK shares
8. Ten tips for buy-to-let
9. What can I do with buy-to-let?
10. My £23,000 bank fee victory

If there are issues you would like This is Money to follow - or you have a story for our sister titles Financial Mail on Sunday or Money Mail - then email me at editor@thisismoney.co.uk

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

February 07, 2007

The Russian share boom - which country is next?

Nearly five years ago, one of the City's new fund management stars told me this: 'Russia will be the one of the stock market winners over the next five years', or words to that effect.Moscowcathedral_100x110

That was the summer of 2002. Here are annual returns from the Russian stock market (in dollar terms)...
2002 - 38%
2003 - 58%
2004 - 4%
2005 - 83%
2006 - 71%

Tables for the top performing funds for British investors also reflect the boom - two of the top five unit trusts/Oeics over five years are those that invest in Russia and Eastern Europe - JP Morgan New Europe (+275%) and Credit Suisse European Frontiers (+ 271%). The top performer last year was Neptune Russia, returning 51.6% and Jupiter's Emerging European Opportunities fund, of which I am an investor, has had a terrfic run returning 189% in three years.

It's the same for investment trusts: JP Morgan Russian Securities (+459%) and the Eastern European Trust (+378%).

So who was this star manager?

John Chatfield-Roberts (pictured), who runs a handful of funds of funds for Jupiter. He doesn't need to worry about picking winning shares, but has to guess markets correctly and pick the right funds, reducing risk (and potential returns) by spreading investors' money around the world. His Jupiter Merlin fund has returned 82% over five years compared with an average 44% for the sector.Jcr

So where is he investing now?

Well, I get the feeling JCR is lacking confidence to make such a definitive call on the market again but these are his key thoughts on emerging markets...

>> 'There's been extreme growth in China - the three or four months have been phenomenal for the Chinese stock market. I think economic growth will continue but if I were committing new money, I would wait for a better entry point.' (His funds hold: First State Asia Pacific Leaders; Jupiter China)
>> 'Brazil is interesting. Some companies are growing at 15/20% a year but are generally cheaper than Russian shares. Interest rates are high - if they fall then it could help the economy and the stock market. I have 6% invested in Latin America at the moment - that's going up.' (His funds invest in Findlay Park Latin American fund)
>> 'We looked at India and thought it looked too expensive.'

As ever, remember that achieving high returns means taking high risks. Note thaRussiat JCR only invested a proportion of his funds in Eastern Europe despite his bullish stance. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

- Click on the graph right (from a report by Moscow's http://www.cefir.ru ) to see the ups and ups of Russian shares.

Useful links

>> Story reporting JCR's move into Eastern Europe (July 2002)

>> Special report: Risky Russia? (November 2006)

>> Neptune Russia is top fund of 2006 (December 2006)

>> Bank the emerging market gains (November 2006)

>> JCR's website and book - www.fundology.co.uk

January 15, 2007

Child trust funds: Where I invested mine

A quarter of parents have failed to invest child trust fund vouchers for their children in the past year. So the Government has this week launched a big push to remind them of the benefits. Kategerbeau_cropped_l

Channel Five's Kate Gerbeau (pictured top) was kind enough to invite me on to her 11.30 news programme today to talk about child trust funds and how to pick the best one.

I was also alongside Sheree Murphy (pictured below with her children), she of Emmerdale and 'I'm a Celebrity...' fame and also married to footballer Harry Kewell, who is being paraded by Revenue & Customs (who run CTFs) in Child Trust FuSheree_murphy_with_children_ruby_taylor_nd week.

Sheree grew up in an inner London council house and is keen to promote the benefit of CTFs to poorer families.

Here's the basics on child trust funds...

>> You have three choices:
- A savings account
- A 'stakeholder' account. Charges are limited to 1.5% a year and money is invested mainly in shares-based funds with a little bit in 'safer' investments such as bonds. More money is moved into the safer elements towards the end of the 18 years (it works similarly to a pension)
- A shares account. This is not a stakeholder so will probably have higher minimum investment levels but may have lower charges (especially on investment trusts). It's riskier than the other options as you may be able to pick more adventurous funds that deliver higher (or lower) returns.

>> What I did:
I have a son, aged two-and-a-half years old. Shares have beaten savings accounts over every 18-year period in the past four decades. In fact, you'd struggle to find any 18-year spell when deposit accounts came out on top. Past performance is only a guide (albeit a pretty good one) so I took the plunge and invested in two funds via F&C - the F&C Investment Trust and the Witan Pacfic trust.

The F&C Investemnt Trust spreads your money in shares around the world (but mainly in the UK) and has very low charges because it is so large. More on F&C Investment Trust.

I then wanted to spice up the portfolio. I believe stock markets of western economies may suffer in the next decade while tiger economies and the developing world step up the pace (read more on my view here and here).

The F&C trust has returned 52% over three years, with 21% of it coming in the past year (figures to November 2006). Witan Pacific has returned 52% over three years but only 4% last year (which was a mixed year for Far East markets).

Due to a change in management at Witan Pacific, it can no longer be held in a CTF so I was forced to sell and reinvest in other F&C funds. I opted for the Pacfic Assets trust and the F&C Global Smaller Companies trust, both of which have strong past performance.

>> What you should do:
I am happy to take on risk and monitor my CTFs every couple of months. For parents who are not interested in finance, the best bet is to probably pick a stakeholder that tracks a stock market index. Then you don't need to worry about changing managers affecting performance (it should mirror stock market performance). For parents who are uber-worried about risk then a savings account would be right for them. Either way, you should wade through all the info on this site at thisismoney.co.uk/ctf and check out this nice decision diagram from the Government...
http://www.childtrustfund.gov.uk/Documents/toolkit_leaflet/toolkit%20leaflet%20-%20low%20res.pdf

Happy investing.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

And a final anecdote, I met Jason Donovan who was also on the programme. It was interesting to hear the chit-chat between him and Sheree (both have appeared in 'I'm a Celebrity...' at different times) and their views on the latest 'celebrity' Big Brother series. My lips are sealed.

Previous blog: My 40% child trust fund return - year one

January 05, 2007

Sort out all your finances in eight steps

Sorting out your finances really doesn't need to be difficult. In fact you can learn everything you need to know by the end of this blog post.Dilbert

Scott Adams' famously (in the US) devised a nine-point plan for sorting out your money (he of the Dilbert cartoon fame pictured). In his 'Unified Theory of Everything Financial', a play on Einstein's Unified Theory of Everything, he uses just 129 words to say everything that needs to be said. It was originally published in 'Dilbert and the Way of the Weasels' in 2002 but you can read the nine-point plan on this Marketwatch blog.

For us Brits, it needs a tweak and it becomes an eight-point plan...

Step 1. Make a will (A guide to will writing - 10 tips for a perfect will)

Step 2. Pay off your credit cards (Guides and tips for clearing card debt)

Step 3. Get term life insurance if you have a family to support (Calculate the life insurance you need - Get a quote)

Step 4. Fund your company pension to the maximum (A guide to company pensions)

Step 5. Buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford it (Mortgage/house-buying guides - Compare mortgage deals)

Step 6. Put six months worth of outgoings in a tax-free Isa savings account. You can put up to £3,000 into an account each year. (See the web's best savings tables)

Step 7. Take whatever money is left over and invest 70% in a stock index tracking fund and 30% in a bond fund through any discount broker/fund supermarket and never touch it until retirement

Step 8. If any of this confuses you, or you have something special going on (retirement, college planning, tax issues), hire a fee-based financial planner, not one who charges a percentage of your portfolio

There you have it. I'm sure your family and friends who share a phobia of finance would be grateful to receive the Unified Theory of Everything Financial' so please pass it on.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

December 21, 2006

Most popular stories in 2006

It's been a great year for This is Money. The number of readers in 2006 was up 75% on 2005 and we now have 600,000 regular visitors.

We've compiled a list of the articles that were most in demand on the site, including news stories, features, guides and tip sheets.

Thanks for supporting This is Money this year. We hope to help even more people make money and save money next year, so help make a friend better off by telling them about the site and our top wealth-building links...

Best wishes and merry Christmas,

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

>> And don't miss... Most popular blogs of 2006

December 19, 2006

Most read posts from the Money Blog 2006

Reclaiming bank charges, getting the best savings rates, the Standard Life stock market float - all of these issues dominated the 2006 agenda for our readers. Check out the top 20 and don't forget to use the categories on the right to find the type of thing you're looking for, i.e. Money makers; Money savers; Credit card/loan tips; Consumer rage; etc.

1. Should you trust ICICI Bank?
2. Discounts on Christmas shoppingShopper_1 >>
3. Why UK shares might slump
4. Dad, sell your Standard Life shares
5. How big is YOUR Standard Life windfall?
6. Revenge on 0870 numbers
7. Pay off your mortgage in two years
8. Bank charges fight goes on
9. This is Money's most popular blogs - one year on
10. The best money-saving tip in the world
11. Immigration and house prices
12. Six of the best... weekend money savers
13. Barclays 10% account - why don't we recommend it?
14. First-class squirming from the First Direct boss
15. Doom watch: house price storm is brewing
16. How to get a bank charge refund
17. Standard life's new era of spin
18. Existing customer? Sorry, no TalkTalk
19. My £1,200 credit card profit
20. An alternative guide to premium bonds

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

And don't miss... Most popular This is Money news stories, tips and guides of 2006

December 18, 2006

A £110 cheque for taking a water meter

I had a free water meter fitted on our home three weeks ago (the delay was less than I feared).

At the weekend I received a cheque back from Sutton & East Surrey water for £111. It's a refund of four months of our bill. We then pay £17 a month which is based on our water usage.Bathplughole1_100x110

It's a pleasant surprise. The water calculator I used suggested my bill would fall from £330 a year to around £250 (based on three of us using average amounts). It looks like we'll be paying little more than £200 a year.

There's nothing better than a bumper cheque before Christmas but the better present will be if my monthly payments are correct. There's nothing worse than underpaying and being caught out with a larger demand later on. Just ask this reader or these gas customers.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Don't miss...

December 15, 2006

Time for another share crash?

With hype around dotcom shares at fever pitch, Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC business reporter, was given the newly created role of 'internet correspondent' six years ago.

Within months of the appointment, shares in the 'new economy' were tumbling... and they carried on tumbling (falling from March 2000 until March 2003)Dotcom_bust

Rory's new title quietly evaporated along with billions of pounds of investors' money.

Rory and the Beeb obviously can't be blamed for the crash but the appointment of such specialist roles - a similar danger warning to when cab drivers start giving share tips - should be seen as contributions to 'irrational exuberance', in the words of Alan Greenspan, and therefore cause for investor caution.

So it's interesting this week that with tech shares rallying (the UK's FTSE Techmark index is up nearly 35% in 2006), the BBC has announced that Rory Cellan-Jones is to have a new role as 'technology correspondent' looking at 'innovation and trends in all aspects of technology'.

Even the man himself, author of Dot.bomb: the Rise and Fall of Dot.com Britain (2003), warned earlier this year that irrational exuberance might be back.

You've been warned.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

The history...

> Dotcom survivors staging comeback (Feb 2003)

> A full history: The fall and rise of the Footsie (September 2005)

December 07, 2006

Tell us your broadband woes

As ever This is Money and our sister titles are keen to make sure our readers are being treated in the best possible way by UK companies. That's why we're asking for your thoughts and experiences of British broadband suppliers. Champagnel180706_100x110

With BT Vision, the TV-on-demand add-on to BT's broadband service, having only just launched, we're particularly keen to hear any feedback about that service. But please feel free to tell us of any other broadband problems.

And to say thank you, we'll be giving out six bottles of Champagne for the best emails. (Our usual competition rules apply).

To be in with a chance of winning Champagne, email me at editor@thisismoney.co.uk

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Don't miss our previous campaigning coverage on broadband:

> Ontel...

> TalkTalk...

And don't miss broadband advice in our special section... http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/broadband

December 04, 2006

Most popular stories in November

The popularity of our advice on bank charges continues to grow with more than 40,000 people reading our advice on reclaiming in October. This is Money has led the way on this issue, helping people unfairly hit with fees to claw them back from banks (read more about in our Bank Charges Campaign section). Now we are helping people who have been hit with unfair credit card fees.

Other developments on This is Money was our knew Consumer Advice section, home to advice on Cutting Household Bills, Money-Saving Ideas and Caring Consumer (the other sections show you how to be a good consumer - this shows you how to also be a conscientious consumer).

And once again, more people are getting the message that This is Money is THE place for the best finance news and advice on money, with the site visited nearly 1.3 million times in November compared with one million a year ago.

Here's the top 50 stories for the month...

1. Ten steps to reclaim bank fees
2. House price crash warning
3. Q&A: Norwich Union windfalls
4. 50 ways to save money
5. Putins new secret weapon
6. Boost for tax-free saving
7. We don't love Spain any more
8. Pensions boost for millions
9. Interest rates rise to 5%
10. Fight the unfair bank charges
11. Fresh boost for Isa savers
12. First Direct to end free banking
13. Banks slow to pass on rate rise
14. Banks in foreign currency rip-off (TiM exclusive)
15. Blow to ING Direct savers
16. Isa special report
17. End the Isa savings freeze
18. Fifty years of Premium Bonds
19. Women who face debt forever
20. Advice for Farepak customers
21. Ten tips for buy-to-let
22. Will your bank charge you fees?
23. Top shareholder perks
24. Tony Hetherington investigates
25. The five-times salary mortgage
26. Nationwide in charges warning
27. Has ING Direct lost its edge?
28. Pay off your mortgage early
29. Council tax bills set to double
30. Farepak fatcats exposed
31. Inheritance tax
32. COMMENT: Optimists are winning the housing game
33. Fresh hope for Farepak victims
34. Nationwide in amazing U-turn
35. Special report: Free banking
36. Rate rise will trouble millions
37. Small-cap share tips
38. The cheapest way to buy shares
39. Debt doomsday is coming
40. Orphan asset windfalls hope
41. PC World fails repairs test
42. Sick gym member forced to pay
43. You'll never beat poker robots
44. BMW launches greenest car
45. Save by selling property online
46. Unearthing the hidden gems
47. Tips: How to get a pay rise
48. Guide: Buy-to-let mortgages guide
49. Guide: Improve your credit rating
50. Farepak families get Xmas rescue fund

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

December 01, 2006

Discounts on Christmas shopping

Once you've read this, don't forget to give your friends an early Christmas present by sending on the link!... http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/discounts

This is Money is all about helping you make more money and spend less. So what better than codes for all the latest online shopping discounts in the run-up to Christmas...

http://www.selfridges.com/index.cfm?page=1222 - 20% off at Selfridges up until 3 December

http://www.dorothyperkins.co.uk - use code DPMN29 for free delivery and 15% off anything

http://www.oasis-stores.com - use code GLAMOUR06 for 20% off anything

http://www.usc.co.uk - use code SDM20 for 20% off anything till Sunday

http://www.missselfridge.co.uk - use code MSGL15 for 15% off anything

http://www.faith.co.uk - use code 150906 for 15% off till 2nd December

http://www.urbanoutfitters.co.uk - use code URBAN1 to get £10 off if you spend £50

http://www.asos.co.uk - use code HSBC182116 to get 15% off

http://www.warehouse.co.uk - use code MCY291006 to get 20% off till 30th December

http://www.next.co.uk - free p&p if you use code K8004

http://www.powderrooms.com - use code 4E5KT for 20% off

http://www.hannahzakari.com - use code hzhb10 for 10% off

http://www.hqhair.com - use code BEAUTYBIBLE for 10% off

Also, bear in mind Boots' triple points offer from 1st December until Wednesday 5th December. It's equivalent to 12% off - Boots.co.uk

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Some more offers - for wine lovers, by Richard Browning This is Money

Virgin Wine has a half-price offer that gets you 12 bottles of decent plonk delivered to your door for around £4 a bottle plus £6 p+p.

http://www.virginwines.com/main/rules.jsp?CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198674431025&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=9852723697399723&aff=virgin&bmUID=1163146284349

Or if you join the wine club you get it even cheaper:

http://www.virginwines.com/main/rules.jsp?CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198674431088&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=9852723697675297&aff=virgin&bmUID=1163146284246

I should add that the one time I used Virgin Wine just about everything they could have messed up, they did. But they apologised and offered a money-off voucher for next time. So may be worth a try.

At least the Virgin sale kicks Thresher's hateful 3 for 2 offer - that forces customers to buy three bottles at a time because a single bottle is so exhorbitant - several miles into touch.

And Thresher's much-publicised 40% discount offer is also of dubious value because the wines at Thresher's are massively overpriced in the first place - unless of course you're duped into buying three bottles. (The 40% offer requires you to pay the full price). 40% off £6.99 for a bottle of wine is still £4.20.

Read more about Thresher's offer here:

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/investing-and-markets/article.html?in_article_id=415253&in_page_id=3&ito=1453

The Co-op is always a good bet for tracking down good wine, and their special offers often have reasonable enough bottles for £2.99.

They've also won awards for their own-brand wines:

http://www.co-op.co.uk/foodretail/news_article.php?news_ID=363

But sorry folks, the best prices are still across the Channel.

If you're going to Calais, print off the vouchers for 10% of at supermarket Auchan:

http://www.auchancalais.com/listevouchers.asp

And check out the wine prices (you need to scroll along to find the Alcools, vin page):

http://www.auchandirect.fr/

Sainsbury's Calais has some 50%-off offers

http://sainsburyscalais.co.uk/

Convenient but pricey is Carrefour at Cite de L'Europe. There's some offer coupons on their site:

http://cite-europe.carrefour.fr/

Intermarche is usually great value for wine and open Sunday mornings throughout the year but they don't show prices yet on the website.

http://www.intermarche-calais.com/

ED is stupidly good value in my experience - though the stores can get overcrowded - and has put its catalogue online:

http://www.paruvendu.fr/html/adserver/campagnes/ed.htm

Majestic pays your ferry fare if you spend £300

http://www.majestic.co.uk/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/StoreCatalogDisplay?storeId=10001&catalogId=10051&langId=-1

The Eastenders booze warehouse never shuts

http://www.eastenders-calais.com/

Finally, check out Day Tripper for a round-up of offers and vouchers

http://www.day-tripper.net/x-xmasshopping.html

Or stop drinking:

http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/

And don't forget the websites that aggregate the vouchers

Says Nick of Sendmediscounts.co.uk: 'Shops sometimes give out coupon codes which if the user enters them, usually in a promotional code box at the checkout stage of the buying process, will reduce the sale by the amount the coupon is valid for. For example "10% off a spend of £100 or more".

'Many shops, such as John Lewis, Currys and Comet offer these, which are basically the digital version of the supermarket coupons.

'I operate a site that lists the latest codes given to us by the merchants themselves, called Sendmediscounts.co.uk. In the interests of partiality there are other similar sites around as well, such as hotukdeals, and UKFrenzy.'

Try them here:

http://www.sendmediscounts.co.uk/

http://www.hotukdeals.com/vouchers-static

http://www.ukfrenzy.co.uk/

November 28, 2006

Sky's new caring side

Lots of companies are paying lip service to reducing carbon emissions; I assumed few were delivering.

But last week, I was amazed by the lengths BSkyB were going to. I appeared onPriusl060905_100x110 Channel Five News talking about why its costing parents £180,000 to bring up a child and giving tips to help meet the cost

Five News is made by Sky. They were good enough to provide a cab to get me to the studio in Osterly, a distant part of south-west London unaccessible by public transport.

And the cab? It was an eco-friendly Toyota Prius.

Who would of guessed - Rupert Murdoch, enemy of the liberal left blazing a trail as an industry eco-warrior.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

>> Don't miss our new Caring Consumer section

>> Read all our stories on the Toyota Prius

>> Read all our stories and charting tools for BSkyB

November 15, 2006

Why the rich get richer

A friend of mine who works in the City has just received a substantial pay rise... he's not alone. Apparently, the average rise this year is 21%. And the bonuses will keep on raining down on the Square Mile's highest fliers in the run up to Christmas. Read moreSmall_caps

It has been argued that these pay rises are justified. London's financial district, after all, has been the driving force behind one of the longest periods of sustained economic growth in the UK for decades. Foreign firms are clamouring to list on the London Stock Exchange. The result has been a corporate bonanza for investment banks and brokers.

However, the City's bonus boom is just one of a growing number of indicators that point to a worrying trend in Western economies: the rich are getting richer and the poor are not. The trend is most pronounced in the US. The American organisation, United for a Fair Economy, say the ratio of chief executive pay to average worker pay in the US went from 42:1 in 1980 to 107:1 in 1991 and 411:1 in 2005.

Here's why... as economic globalisation (the reduction of trading tarriffs) has gathered pace, the world economy has prospered. In theory, we all get richer.

However, some people feel the benefit more than others. Globalisation means that nations do more business and therefore there's more wealth, but that wealth is being redistributed.

A clothes manufacturer in the north of England struggles to compete with one in China which pays its workers far less. If the firm goes bust, those workers lose out if they can't reinvent themselves in a UK industry that is benefitting from globalisation (such as an investment bank that cashes in when that Chinese clothes manufacturer floats on the London stock market).Corus_steel_worker1_1

The danger is that as millions of lower paid workers in western economies suffer, they will rise up against any government backing globalisation and vote for stronger tariffs (it's already happening in the US with Democrats wooing protectionists). That would then hold back globalisation and hurt all economies.

The solution: clever and progressive taxes are needed to help the wealth at the top filter through to the workers at the bottom. Everyone wins.

I may suggest a small-scale distribution experiment with my friend in the City. He can afford it.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

P.S. The Undercover Economist is a great authority on this stuff. I'd recommend reading his book. And don't miss...

>> TABLES: Best paid UK jobs

>> TOP TEN: Excuses for low pay

>> EDITOR'S BLOG: 'My £8,000 salary'

>> EDITOR'S BLOG: 'Why boom may turn to bust'

>> Do City workers earn their keep?

November 06, 2006

Most popular stories in October

Thanks again for coming to see us in October. The site was visited nearly 1.3m times in the month, and it looks like it was the articles that gave you the quickest money-making and money-saving advice that were most popular.

It's also worth noting the renewed demand for stories about buy-to-let - a possible sign of growing confidence in the property market. The month was peppered with stories about returning demand in London (pictured).

Here's the top 40...

1. Ten steps to reclaim bank fees
2. 50 ways to save money...
3. Rise of buy-to-let millionaires
4. Five facts about Premium BondsViewl091105_100x110
5. How to get a building society windfall
6. Advice for Farepak customers
7. Massive hacker attack on Britain
8. Economy faces climate calamity
9. Fight the unfair bank charges
10. Numbers up for 0870 rip-off
11. Ten tips for buy-to-let
12. The top 10 property hotspots
13. Xmas hamper club goes bust
14. Who's best for fuel prices?
15. Shares seminar investigation: We join the fortune hunters
16. Britain's unluckiest Bonds holder
17. 7.5m bank on home as pension
18. The Yes Car nightmare
19. Reform threat to pensions
20. Outrage at Xmas club bosses
21. Shake the tree for the next windfall
22. The dwindling balance transfer trick
23. Ask an Expert: 'Can we divorce to avoid IHT?'
24. Bono's red card to AidsBonopa080705_100x110
25. Share tips from Midas
26. Share pusher picks wrong victim
27. Midas: Tell Sid its time to buy again
28. You'll never beat poker robots
29. Improve your credit rating
30. House price timebomb in South-East
31. World Gaming goes bust
32. The middle-class debt crisis
33. Who's best for saving?
34. How to sidestep the IHT traps
35. Get a will to beat IHT
36. Midas: Two basic rules worth heeding
37. Vodafone fury at Carphone poaching
38. Threat to 27,000 bank accounts
39. Five step guide to energy saving
40. Tony Hetherington investigates

>> Most popular blogs of the year

>> Most popular stories in August

>> Most popular stories in July

>> Most popular stories in June

>> Most popular stories in May

>> Most popular stories in April

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

October 27, 2006

This is Money: Financial Website of the Year

So you're not the only ones who like This is Money. Your favourite money site received some wider recognition last night when we were named Financial Website of the Year in awards organised by the main industry body for the insurance, pensions and investment industry (the ABI - Association of British Insurers).

TiM fought of opposition from one of the world's biggest websites, BBC News, to grab the gong. We were chuffed - we're a small dedicated editorial team backed by a small dedicated support team of designers and technical experts and the like so it's great for everyone for have their hardwork recognised.Thisismoneyl271005_60x60

The judges aren't the only ones who appreciate the site.  More importantly, TiM is visited more than a million times a month by you, the British public. So why do people keep coming back?

>> ...to read the incisive advice and investigations produced by a small but dedicated team of journalists. For me, The best ones are where we save you from getting ripped off or where we actually help win justice for you. Here's some of my recent favourites...

>> ...to read the best breaking money news and City and markets news. Our own reporters are backed up the authoritative and campaigning journalism of the City, consumer and personal finance newsdesks of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard. Tony Hetherington's investigative work highlights campaigning journalism at its best - thisismoney.co.uk/columnists - and check out Financial Mail's tireless work at holding to account the likes of insurer Standard Life, fat-cat building society bosses and the Government on post offices.

>> ... to get the best, balanced advice. This is Money wants to give you the full picture. We give you the simple steps to make more money, spend less and to get a fair deal. For instance, our 10 steps to reclaiming bank charges can help you fight for justice if you have been unfairly charged. But we also like to put you in the full picture on money issues and produced analysis of why experts claim the bank charge reclaim phenomenon will end free banking. You should always now the full facts.

>> ... for the best money-saving tools, calculators and tables. Our savings rates tables are a great example. They are the best rates tables on the web, with savings expert Sylvia Morris telling you THE best accounts every day. The tables are completely independent - we refuse to accept any payment for inclusion with Sylvia only stripping out accounts that have catches - thisismoney.co.uk/bestsavingsrates

+++

This is just a quick flavour of what we do so feel free to dig deeper. Thanks for reading the site and playing your part in holding the financial services industry to account.

I'd also like to know what else you think we should be covering, so feel free to drop me a line at editor@thisismoney.co.uk

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is MoneyAndrewoxlade1_100x110_1 (look at cheesy me >>)

>> This is Money sccops top award (2004)

>> Online publishers: Best website of the year (2003)

>> Three awards for This is Money (2001)

October 24, 2006

Immigration and house prices

Early last year we were being warned that house prices had reached dangerous levels and were set for a correction. In fact, surveys from the main lenders showed a decline may have begun with price in March 2005 falling at their fastest rate in a decade,, according to Nationwide.

So here we are - 18 months on and prices are racing ahead especially in London...

>> Rics say house prices rising at fast rate in four years
>> Nationwide says house prices rise £35 a day
>> Rightmove says house prices rise £2,200 a week in London

...And there's the clue - London.

Most economists have been saying for years that house prices are dangerously overpriced. When compared with average wages, they are at record levels. It's particularly difficult for first-time buyers: prices were 3.9 times more than average wages back in 1989 shortly before the last property crash; they are now five times more than the novice buyer's typical salary. Londonskylinepa160805_100x110_2

So why haven't prices fallen. It's becoming obvious, given the sharp pick-up in London house prices this year, that the unprecedented influx of Eastern Europeans (600,000 in two years) is impacting in two ways. They are increasing demand for homes to rent, particularly in the capital; and secondly, they have unwittingly helped keep UK interest rates artificially low. The influx of cheap labour has kept average UK wages low, which has pinned back inflation, which has allowed the Bank of England to keep rates low.

So today's news that Home Secretary John Reid is expected to curb immigration of Bulgarians and Romanians (with both countries joining the EU next year) to 8,000 workers with certain skills is interesting.

Immigration policy doesn't just have a social impact - it can even affect the price of your home.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

>> www.thisismoney.co.uk/houseprices

>> How to post a comment

October 20, 2006

The loss of a financial pioneer

This is Money would like to add its condolences following the loss of a financial services pioneer. Richard Duvall has died after a short battle with cancer.

He was the driving force behind the creation of Egg, which helped shake up the financial services industry and was one of the main 0% credit card pioneers.

More radically and more recently Richard set up Zopa bank. Zopa lets people be the bank - it puts people who want to lend money in touch with people who want to borrow. This makes it possible to beat High Street bank rates on certain size loans. Read more about Richard's life and work on Zopa's blog.

Richard's family have set up a page to ask for donations to fight pancreatic cancer rather than flowers. Our thoughts are with them.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

October 17, 2006

This is Money's most popular blog posts

It's exactly a year since we launched the Money Blog. We're delighted with the response with hundreds of thousands of visits since last October.

We thought you might be interested to know which have been the most popular posts. Bear in mind that the older the post, the longer it has had to gather traffic. And also, some of these posts get more links from busy bits of the site, such as the market report, boosting their popularity... although if you insist, I'm happy to accept my 'UK shares' post was genuinely the best :)

1. Why UK shares might slump

2. How big is YOUR Standard Life windfall?

3. Dad - sell your Standard Life shares

4. Revenge on 0870 numbers

5. My £1,200 credit card profit

6. Pay off your mortgage in two years

7. The best money-saving tip in the world

8. Standard Life's new era of spin

9. Something nasty in the Radio Times

10. How to get a bank charge refund

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

October 16, 2006

Find a credit card without hurting your credit file

Every time you apply for a credit card, there's a danger it might impact on your credit rating and your ability to borrow.

So if you're the sort of person who likes to tinker around with credit card search and compare tools, and go through and apply, then you should take note. A full applicCapitaloneation, successful or not, is logged with the credit agencies and can count against any future applications for credit.

Initial searches with comparison tools have no impact.

The problem is that lenders use your history of applications to highlight any abnormal borrowing behaviour. Multiple applications in a short period can hint that someone is in desperate need of credit, or that their details are being used for fraud.

We were concerned about this, that's why we're now the first online financial publisher to have a tool that means you can avoid applying for cards that might affect your credit rating.

>> Find out more at www.thisismoney.co.uk/creditcardfinder

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

Don't miss... Online comparisons 'may hit credit scores'

October 14, 2006

Are parking fines fair?

Like any good citizen, I aim to stay within the limits of the law. However, I recently strayed the wrong side of the tracks.

With grievous intent, I parked my car with the wheels slightly on the curb for a total of two-and-a-half minutes outside my house on a quiet side-street on the fringes of South London/Surrey while I loaded my two-year-old son (on his birthday) into the car with all the associated paraphernalia.

Trafficwarden1_100x110

It was honestly the first time I had done it in a year of living there (I had a lot of bags) and I left enough space for a double buggy to be able to fit past. However, a friendly traffic warden (NOT the one picutred) sneaked up (on a scooter) and slapped a ticket on it within that two-minute window.

I accept that I broke the law (although the warden accepted that he probably should have shown leniency and recommended I appeal as he'd put a note in his book for it to be quashed - it wasn't). But my real gripe is the level of the punishment.

For parking on a curb for two minutes where no-one is inconvenienced Croydon Council hits you with an £80 fine (£40 if you pay quickly). Alternatively, speed down the road or jump a red light, both potentially lethal, and the minimum fine is just £60.

It makes sense to use fines to make people understand the impact their actions have on others - I don't think £80 is a fair penalty for an action that endangers or inconveniences nobody.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

October 10, 2006

A car hire sting

Forgive my two-week absence from the blog - I've been on holiday in Spain... which leads me on to my consumer rage blog post read the consumer rage archive...

Here's the trick - you use a web car hire finder tool to get the best deal (I used travelsupermarket.com) and go for the lowest quote. You pick up the car and get told they have filled the car with fuel. You have to pay for for the fuel and return the car with the tank empty. The scam is that the charge is €60 (£45) when you could fill up at a local petrol station for just €30 (£23).

I guess that these finder tools have made the car hire market much more competitive - so competitive, in fact, that some of the best deals are probably loss-leading offers. The companies (ours was a local Alicante outfit called Diesel) probably offer these deals so that they can then make their profits on things like petrol. We paid £108 for 10 days hire of a Nissan Micra (I thought I was getting one of those snazzy new four-door SmartCars).

So the tip... use web car hire comparison tools with caution, not all costs are included in the summary.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk,

Other useful stuff

> The cheapest way to spend abroad

> Latest tourist rates tables

> Cheapest travel insurance

> How to survive holiday horrors

September 13, 2006

The water meter rush

This summer's water shortage and the increasing trend for consumers to have more social awareness is spurring more of us to apply for water meters.

The basic rule is that if you are in a household with three people or fewer and use an average amount of water, you'd probably be better off with a meter than paying the standard charges to your water company. You can do the maths yourselves with our water meter calculator.

However, the problem is that the rush for meters has caused a delay. Sutton & East Surrey water, our local board, has passed our request to their contractor - but there's a delay of at least two to three months.

If you want to switch to a meter and benefit from the winter deluge (if it arrives) filling your water butts, then don't delay in ordering.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

Don't miss...

>> Can a water meter cut costs?

>> 10 ways to shrink water bills

September 11, 2006

Sascha on the telly

We're keen to get our consumer message across to as many people as possible. That's why we're always delighted to give our insight to a wider audience on national TV. The latest was our banking expert Sascha Hutchinson. Sasha_100x110

She went on the ITV Evening News at 6.30pm to talk about a study from Experian which showed the difference in credit-worthiness of people across the UK.

- Read the story

- Read Sascha's credit checking advice

- Watch the newsclip

If you like watching money-related videos on your broadband connection, you might also want to check out these...

>> Sort our your home with TV guru

>> How to be economic with money

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

P.S. You can check your credit history on This is Money with our free 30-day trial. You need to hand over credit card details and then remember to call up and cancel within the 30 days to avoid any payment. It's easy - I did it. Go to www.thisismoney.co.uk/creditcheck

September 01, 2006

My '£600' saving on fuel bills

I've finally taken the plunge on my fuel bills. I have been handing over ever-increasing lumps of cash each month to EDF Energy, which bought the former London electricity monopoly Seeboard.

Gashobpa250105_100x110_1

Our yearly bills are roughly £2,000 a year. Global gas price boom or not - that's a disgrace. I used our switch & save calculator and found that Atlantic was the cheapest and will now cost me around £1,400 a year.

The danger with switching is that you may move to a company that is yet to hike its prices. However, as we pointed out back in July, Scottish & Southern Energy which owns Atlantic has promised not to raise bills until next year. It's also been consistently cheaper than most of its rivals in recent years. See here... www.thisismoney.co.uk/fuelbillsadvice

Bookmark our Money Savers section and we'll keep you up to date with the best advice on gas bills. I'll also let you know exactly how much I save.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

And don't miss...

>> Terrified by her gas supplier

>> Fuel supplier's blunders can ruin lives

Most popular stories in August

A surprise hike in interest rates dominated the news agenda in August with our advice articles on how it beat it dotted through the top 40. Fuel bills remained a hot topic with Powergen becoming the latest supplier to raise prices.

There was also still huge interest in our advice on claiming back bank charges. The debate moved on this month with HSBC saying it may end free banking. Experts say that that 'good' bank customers across the board have been subsidised by fees applied to 'bad' customers. With thousands of people reclaiming fees, free banking may come to an end for all. We're interested in what you think. Have your say in these polls (and see top polls for August below)...

>> Is it fair to allow customers to reclaim bank fees?

>> Experts are warning that free banking may end. Who is to blame?

We'll be analysing both sides of the argument in the next few days.

It's also worth pointing out that we are compiling our best tips in the Guides sections of the site. So check out our Mortgage tips or our Credit card tips

Once again, it was another great month with more than 1.1m visits from people looking for advice on how to improve their financial lot. If you missed them during the month, here is the best stuff. The top 40 most popular stories...

1. Has your savings rates risen?
2. Ten steps to reclaim bank fees
3. Best paid jobs revealed
4. Rate rise shock for borrowers
5. Is it worth switching now?
6. 50 ways to save money...
7. Dell exploding laptops alert
8. Reclaim bank charges letter
9. Fight the unfair bank charges (from March)
10. Hunt is on for Bonds winners
11. Britain's most reliable new car
12. The half-price wine rip-off
13. The never-ending mortgage
14. Free banking will be axed
15. Risk to 3m HSBC web accounts
16. Mergers mean a windfall and tax
17. The dwindling balance transfer trick
18. Get free banking before its axed
19. Fundwatch: Whittaker's top share tips
20. £30,000 income for first home
21. Hundreds hit by holiday scam
22. Hold tight as Isa rates plunge
23. Ten tips for buy-to-let
24. Rate rise threat to house market
25. Air chaos: Latest advice
26. Where next for rates?
27. Has your mortgage rate changed?
28. National Savings raises rates
29. Special round-up: Standard Life's float
30. You'll never beat poker robots (November 2005)
31. Caught by the seven-year rule
32. Five ways to beat the rate rise
33. BT cuts off broadband firm
34. Bankruptcies hit new record
35. How to be economic with money (plus video exclusive)
36. Midas: Dull but a nice little earner
37. How to stamp out junk mail

38. Q&A: The interest-only timebomb
39. Dell exploding laptops recall
40. Could you go solar powered?

Top polls for August

1. Where will the UK base rate be at the end of 2006?
2. Would you swap a pay rise for shorter hours or more holiday?

3. Have you thought about moving abroad?
4. Are supermarket wine 'special offers' a rip-off?
5. Are banks lending irresponsibly?

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money,

August 30, 2006

Tell us what videos you want

We've been really impressed by the number of you interested in our first unique video footage. We met the 'Undercover Economist' Tim Harford, whose TV show is being screened on Friday nights, and asked him for tips for This is Money readers. Yours truely helped with a quick bit of filming.

So following that, we have lots of ideas on other free 'vodcasts' we want to offer you on the site. However, we'd really like to know exactly what you want. Feel free to post your suggestions below - or email me at editor@thisismoney.co.uk

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

August 25, 2006

Cancel Sky TV and save £21 a month

Flatscreentvl180706_100x110If, like me, you never watch the 400+ channels of rubbish offered by Sky, cancel your subscription. I was paying £21 a month for more than two years (plus an additional £40 charge when we moved house).

Fortunately, a colleague here at thisismoney pointed out that you can cancel the contract and the subscription and move on to Freesat, keeping the Sky satellite receiver. You still get 120 channels, including all the terrestial channels plus the likes of Sky News, CNN and extra Beeb channels, which is more than the 34 you get on Freeview. You also get FilmFour on both, as of last Sunday.

You might get the impression from Sky that you might need to buy a £20 Freesat card for this to work. Not true. Just write them a letter, giving 30 days notice (you can do this in the 11th month of your 12-month contract). The service automatically switches over on your existing viewing card.

So get writing now (I couldn't get through on the phone)...

Sky Subscribers Services, PO Box 43, Livingston, West Lothian EH54

Don't forget to check out our digital TV finder tool at www.thisismoney.co.uk/bills

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

>> Blog: 'The cost of moving house - broadband, phones and all that jazz'

-----

August 23, 2006

A holiday tip

It's been a while since my last blog post. I've been away in the West Country enjoying the delights of Longleat Safari Park, staying at Burcott Watermill (pictured) near Wells. I would highly recommend both to families, especially the mill. They even do a free baby-listening service while we nipped to the pub over the road. Bliss!

Burcott

And the money-saving tip... use Tesco Clubcard vouchers to pay for your Longleat entry - a £19 passport ticket costs only £4.75 with vouchers. Then, if you feel bad for lining Tesco's pockets, balance it out with a visit to one of Somerset's many Farmers' Markets. The one in Wells is pretty good.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Useful links

50 ways to cheaper holidays

Supermarket watch - www.thisismoney.co.uk/supermarketwatch

August 18, 2006

Changes to This is Money

We are constantly striving to make This is Money better, improving our campaigning journalism, our news, our advice and the ease with which you can find all of that.

The latest change today is to split the coverage that was previously in our News section. From now on, you will find in-depth news and analysis of the City, company results and the stock market in our Companies & Markets section. This will also contain the Power Portfolio and our amazing array of stock market data. So for shareholders, we have all the information you need in one area.

Meanwhile the News section will carry the big money stories of the day, including consumer news and personal finance news. It will also carry the big City stories that have implications for your day-to-day lives. It will continue to carry our in-depth Special Reports section and Columnists section.

We have also launched a dedicated Investing channel. This will have advice for all, whether you are a first-time saver or want more detailed advice on anything from share dealing to funds tips or guides to cheapest way to invest. Bookmark www.thisismoney.co.uk/invest

I hope you like the change. Feel free to feed back your thoughts on this blog. Thanks.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, www.thisismoney.co.uk

August 15, 2006

Tell us your thoughts on wine offers

We've been chatting for a while in the This is Money newsroom about how we can expose whether supermarket offers on wine a really good value.

In an interview this week, Jean-Manuel Spriet, chief executive of drinks giant Pernod Ricard UK, has claimed that some wines reduced from £7.99 to £3.99 are really worth that - i.e. only £3.99.Redwinest040805_100x110 Read the story.

I've been monitoring some of these wines by keeping emailed wine offers from some supermarkets. Feel free to add your own research by reporting any wines that you have seen repeatedly included in offers.

I have one email from Tesco in January - Rosemount Traditional 2000 was half price in January. Strangely, it's half price again.

Either post your comments on the story or make your observations below (we won't use your email and we don't need a URL website address). You can also email me at editor@thisismoney.co.uk

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, www.thisismoney.co.uk

Other stuff...

www.thisismoney.co.uk/supermarketwatch

August 08, 2006

Free advice... on everything

There's a new boom: economists who offer to solve problems - any sort of problem. In fact, anything so long as it has nothing to do with markets, shares and, er, economics.

Steven Levitt has led the way in the US. His book Freakonomics claims to solve patterns and problems with the power of logic and theory.

His most widely known theory has been that the dramatic improvement in crime Trust_me_im_an_economist_003s_1rates in America in the late Nineties was down to the legalisation of abortion following the Roe vs Wade case in 1979. His theory is that stopping thousands of babies being born to poverty and hardship from 1979 onwards meant there were simpler fewer criminals around 20 years later.

Britain's answer to Levitt is Tim Harford, AKA The Undercover Economist. Later this month, Tim (pictured solving problems during filming in a Watford shopping centre) will star in his own TV series on BBC2 called 'Trust me, I'm an economist'.

He will help victims on the programme to be better shoppers, improve their working life and even how to win in love, using the power of economic theory.

Anway, I'm going to meet Tim this week and I want him to answer your off-the-wall questions. So if you've got anything, drop me an email at editor@thisismoney.co.uk or post your question below (we won't use your email and you can ignore 'URL' if you don't have a website).

So your questions should be aimed at finding solutions to the bizarre things that occur to you:

- How can I increase my chances of winning the lottery?

- How can I get a pay rise?

- What's the solution to making trains run on time?

...you know the sort of thing.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

P.S. If you've got a more traditional personal finance query then you might like to try our panel of experts at www.thisismoney.co.uk/experts

August 07, 2006

Bank fees: where's my justice?

I have to confess to being slightly erratic in paying off my credit cards each month.

Over the past two years I had forgotten to make a payment on my Morgan Stanley twice. The first time I apologised and they refunded all of the £20 penalty charge. The second time I apologised and they handed back half of the £20 fee. Last month was three strikes and you're out - the full £20 charge.

However, as all avid readers of This is Money will know, the OFT has ruled that bank charges (with hints that the ruling includes credit cards) of more than £12 are illegal.

A big chunk of credit card companies have already agreed to abide by the ruling and cut charges. Read more. Morgan Stanley said it was 'reviewing' its stance but the call centre staff say charges already applied will not be refunded. I'll be closing my account.

Our credit card expert Michael Clarke has been preparing to name-and-shame those companies refusing to back down. Lenders... you've been warned.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor www.thisismoney.co.uk

* If you need help picking the right credit card, see Mike's top card selections at www.thisismoney.co.uk/bestcards

August 03, 2006

Your favourite stories in June

Standard Life is due to float on the stock market next week, with windfalls for millions of members (including my Dad). Understandably, the big financial theme of the moment is, should I sell my Standard Life shares?

Our top 40 chart of the most popular stories in June should go some way to answering that for you...

Don't forget that the best way to keep up with the Standard Life float is to bookmark our special round-up - www.thisismoney.co.uk/standardlife

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, www.thisismoney.co.uk

Other useful links

About This is Money

How This is Money can help you

Tell us what you think about the site - how to post a comment

August 02, 2006

Most popular stories in July

Another bumper month for Standard Life stories. The company floated on the stock market in early July so millions of members have been busy collecting information on whether they should hold or sell their shares. Where better to start than This is Money?

The other top stories were as you would expect - corking reports from our team on how to reclaim bank charges and the whole debacle over the home information packs (HIPS) for home sellers.

The surprise entry at number four was a great yarn from the Evening Standard's City desk about Everton - the story was picked up by a whole bunch of football sites with most of the traffic coming from www.toffeeweb.com - great to see new people coming to the site and with more than 1m visits last month, more people are getting the money-saving/money-making message.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is MoneyRomlly 

P.S. The most interesting part of my day?... I did a quick interview with the charming Romilly Weeks (pictured) from ITN for ITV Nightly News about the Rolling Stones dodging nearly £100m in tax. I think it's a damned cheek. Tell me what you think on reader comments on the story.

Don't miss...

Top stories in June

Top stories in May

Top stories in April

Top stories in February

Top stories in February

August 01, 2006

How drinking Coke can save the world

If you drink Coca-Cola, shop at Wal-Mart's Asda, like a Budweiser, shave with a Gillette (owned by Procter & Gamble) or spend with American Express, then you've helped save the world.

Warren Buffett (pictured), the world's greatest ever investor and the world's second  richest man, has just given away £24bn to the world's richest man via the Bill Gates charitable foundation. Buffett, 75, has handed over this voluntary and pre-emptive inheritance tax as he doesn't believe the world should give a head start to 'members of the lucky sperm club'. He wants to create an even playing field of opportunity while also helping the developed world.

But the point here is that Buffett has spent his live investing in safe, sturdy companies with steady earnings growth - companies like Burger King, Gillette and Coke. For example, he owns 8% of Coca-Cola.Warrenbuffettap010705_100x110

You can find out what else his company owns on the charmingly basic Berkshire Hathaway website.

The company also owns an eclectic handful of companies outright: Fruit of the Loom and MidAmerican, which owns Northern Electric and Yorkshire Electric utility companies in the UK.

So if you use those products, you've indirectly been donating to charity. Have a shave, slip on your Fruits of the Loom t-shirt, sup a Bud bought in Asda on your Amex and feel good about yourself.

Capitalism, eh. Isn't it crazy?

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, www.thisismoney.co.uk

Don't miss...

Buffett lunch autcion raises £340,000

Buffett's £24bn giveaway

Message Boards: 'Warren Buffett and inheritance tax'

July 31, 2006

The falling price of my old house

You may remember my disbelief when I found out the two-bedroom house in Battersea, next to Clapham Junction, we sold last summer for £250,000 had been put back on the market at £350,000 eight months later and with no obvious improvements.

I'm now enjoying watching sanity return. The agent has been changed (now its Foxtons) and the price has been cut - to £315,000. It's amazing what people (selling property) will try and get away with. That said, you've got to admire the chutzpah and after all, an offer of even £300,000 would represent a £40,000 profit after stamp duty.

Good luck to 'em. I'm not bitter.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Useful links

Previous blog - A 40% property profit in eight months?

Latest news on house prices - www.thisismoney.co.uk/houseprices

July 23, 2006

Dad, sell your Standard Life shares

My dad has been asking me whether he should sell or hold his Standard Life shares.

The insurer is due to float on the stock market on 10 July. You can keep up to speed with the latest in our special round-up.

The latest advice from the experts is mixed. Some think that investors would be wiser to sell their shares and back other, better value insurance companies. Read advice from independent financial advisers. Standardlifepa251005_100x110

The point is a more simple one. As I said to my dad, why would any small investor, who pays only a passing interest to the stock market, directly hold shares?

I understand the importance of investing in equities - they have easily been the best-performing asset in the past hundred years. However, how can individual investors ever hope to beat the professionals by holding individual stocks? Star fund managers dedicate their working lives to hunting out the cheapest shares and are normally backed up by teams of analysts. The top-performing UK fund in 2005, for example, returned 37% against a 20% rise in the FTSE 100. (Read more). Funds can also give you access to potentially high returns on foreign markets and the risks are spread with a very broad portfolio, typically anything from 40 shares up to 800.

So the advice to my dad - sell up your Standard Life shares and put the money into a fund. But don't take my word for it - speak to an independent financial adviser, who will be more than happy to earn the lucrative commission from recommending funds to you. You can cut the cost of fund investing (and cut out the cost of an IFA) by using a fund supermarket or discount broker - only do this if you're sure you don't need advice. This is Money has some fund tips from IFAs at www.thisismoney.co.uk/fundtips and our Fundwatch column is a great starting point - www.thisismoney.co.uk/tips

But I don't want to be a total killjoy - I know picking stock market winners is a buzz. So if you're one of the gamblers willing to go up against the City's finest then This is Money's financial data can help... www.thisismoney.co.uk/marketdata

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

P.S. Our New Issues centre has the latest on the Standard Life IPO... www.thisismoney.co.uk/newissues

Or this link takes you direct to Standard Life's listing...http://investing.thisismoney.co.uk/cgi-bin/digitalcorporate/thisismoney/security.cgi?username=&ac=&csi=186960

And don't forget to bookmark... www.thisismoney.co.uk/standardlife

July 17, 2006

Cashback credit cards: Earn money for shopping

Credit card company Morgan Stanley have been kind enough to send me a cheque for £77 for no other reason than for using my credit card. Money for nothing - you can't knock it.

Morgan Stanley's cashback scheme gives 1% on the first £2,000 you spend and then 0.5% on the rest. (I put a lot of home improvements on my card hence the £77 - tragically, I'm not a high-roller).

I can't recommend enough that if you have a credit card just for convenience and clear the balance each month, you should do it with a cashback card.

The goalposts have recently shifted and there are better cards than mine.

Egg pays 1% on spending up to £20,000. But if you're a big spender, check out the Amex Platinum card. It pays 0.5% up to £3,000 and then 1% up to £7,500 and then 2%.

You can tap your average monthly spend into our credit card calculator and it will tell you which card company will send you the fattest cheque.

There's something satisfying in earning money for shopping.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

June 01, 2006

Most popular stories of the month

As you'd expect, the stock market roller-coaster of the past three weeks has got a lot of people spooked with lots of demand for our investment and markets stories. A warning that star fund manager Anthony Bolton thinks the boom is over caused particular concern (No.3) - check out all the reader comments on the stock market stories.

We only launched reader comments two months ago and it's great to see so many of you posting your views. Find out more about reader comments.

Here's our top 15 stories from May for your enjoyment...

1. Has the bull run out of steam?

2. Amazon's Microsoft choice hits Google

3. Shares boom is over, says guru

4. Ten steps to reclaim bank fees

5. New Windows could be blocked

6. Beatles lose Apple court battle

7. Chip and Pin scam is spreading

8. Premium Bond prizes are cut

9. Britain's worst telecoms firms

10. Bond wins £1m prize in weeks

11. The buy-to-let 'cardinal sin'

12. Under 46? Work to age 66

13. Pension-pay link to be restored

14. Spring house prices up £4,000

15. Star manager's top share tips

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

May 29, 2006

More 0% credit card confusion

Banks and building societies seem to be escalating the war on shrewd consumers who regularly switch credit cards to exploit 0% deals. They have a new weapon.

I have just received back a reply from Logo_ybs Yorkshire Building Society. I applied as it had one of the best combos of interest-free credit (for six months) and cashback (up to 1% on spending). However, the pre-filled application form they sent back entirely ignores the 0% credit and the cashback scheme - no mention at all.

The customer service people at Co-op, the 'customer led, ethically guided bank' that runs the card for Yorkshire, say they have raised the issue with senior management as the special offers are not even written on the covering letter, leaving applicants confused.

The official line is that apparently it's a legal requirement under the new rules to only show the standard APR. Tosh - there's no requirement to strike special offers out of the wording on contract. If that is the case then Sainsbury's would be breaking the law as I've just had an application for them with the 12-month 0% offer written into the small-print. See the best 0% deals with our credit card finder.

Cynically, you could argue that not mentioning the 0% deal will mean a sharp fall-off of 'rate tarts' at the application stage. That should ensure Yorkshire and YBS filter out shrewd switchers and get the less astute consumers that are more profitable for them.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Useful links

- Do your own homework on the best credit cards

- Let us do the homework on credit cards for you

- Read stories and the latest advice and tips on credit cards and loans

- HOW TO POST A COMMENT

May 26, 2006

The car insurance price trick

I think I've worked out the car insurance industry (industry experts feel free to put me right)...

An insurer offers loss-leading rates for a short spell, sucks in a huge amount of new customers and then hikes the rate when the policy comes up for renewal.

For example, Tesco Personal Finance, a relative new-comer to car insurance charged us a bit over £400 last year on our Honda Civic - the cheapest quote available. This year, it's crept up to nearly £500.

A quick search on the insurance deal finder gave me dozens of cheaper quotes, the lowest was with Swiftcover at £340 which crept up to nearly £390 once I'd put in all the details in on their site (the aggregator tools don't always gather enough info to give the exact premium - and sometimes there's add-ons you might want to pay for).

My colleague  Simon Lambert also found Swiftcover was cheapest for his Fiat Punto.

Time for a little wager - what's the chances that Swiftcover isn't the cheapest next year?

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

Useful links

>>
Our advice on getting the cheapest car insurance

>> Your advice on getting the cheapest car insurance

May 22, 2006

A 40% return on a child trust fund

My little boy has just had his first statement from his child trust fund. He's doing very nicely: his £850-ish investment (including £250 from the Government) has been turned into around £1,220 in a year. At that rate he's going to be quids in by 18. I only hope he's keen to look after his old dad.

We backed the F&C Investment Trust and the Witan Pacific Trust (also offered through the F&C CTF scheme). They are not stakeholder schemes but they are cheap. The F&C trust is the oldest of them all - it spreads money around world stock markets and the charges are tiny compared to most funds. Most of the stakeholder schemes appeared to merely track the market (which isn't such a bad thing) but with the extortionate charge of 1.5% a year. You should never pay more than 0.5% for a tracker.

We picked the Witan Pacific fund as a safety precaution against the slump in European shares that I'm expecting - read the 15-year shares slump.

The performance had been tasty on both funds - my baby's statement showed the F&C fund up 38% in 12 months and the Witan fund sitting on a 43% return. At that rate, his £50 a month would grow to £640,000 by the time he's 18. Do the sums with our long-term savings calculator.

Alas, the turmoil of the stock market in recent days is a stark reminder of how the good times never last. The experts say to expect returns of more like 7% a year.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Useful links

Don't miss our special round-up of everything you need to know about child trust funds at www.thisismoney.co.uk/ctf

A guide to investment funds and index trackers

May 12, 2006

Avoid the property slump: move to the coast

My favourite theory at the moment is the gloomy prediction that the impact of Britain's post-War baby boom will send the UK stock market and house prices into a decade-long decline starting 2007/08.

Essentially the idea is that economic growth will slow and even go into reverse as the expansion of non-earning pensioners swamp a smaller pool of high-earning middle-age workers. According to the theory, it was the trigger for the 15-year economic decline in Japan (1990-2005). Read more about the theory in my previous blog.

However, HS Dent, the American financial author and consultant who came up with the detail on the theory, says there are various silver-lined edges to the gloom: invest in shares the Far East and other emerging markets, for example. Bournemouthpa051005_100x110

But there's something you can do closer to home: buy a house by the sea. 

The theory is that house prices in coastal 'retirement' areas should continue to power ahead thanks to demand from the boom in pensioners.

That's why this story today about top 10 retirement hotspots is so fascinating. It looks like the sensible money is on the likes of Christchurch in Dorset or Rother in East Sussex.

I'll be closely watching those property hotspot surveys in years to come.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Useful links

Blog: Why UK shares and house prices will slump

How to invest in the Far East

Taking a risk on emerging markets

How does the pension change affect you?

An extra blog post from me today...

There was a little extra fizz of excitement for me today. ITN, makers of ITV News, invited me to a park in central London to see how today's ruling on pensions would affect a cross-section of people.

We spoke to a 21-year-old student called Sam. Today's ruling could have a major impact for him because now in 2050 the age for claiming state pensions will rise from 65 to 68. So he will probably have to keep on working when some of his older mates get to put their feet up.

We explained that the State pension still wouldn't add up to much and dished out a bit of basic advice: he needs to clear his student debts first and then set up a pension - preferably a work scheme where the company contributes. You can get all this sort of advice on our pensions section... www.thisismoney.co.uk/retirement

But the interesting thing was the sums we did - the change is hugely significant for today's young people. If we carried on with the existing scheme, the £135 weekly pension would rise to £362 in 40 years. But with the new link to earnings rather than inflation, it would grow to £950 a week.

It highlights the huge difference this ruling makes. However, with the on-going retirement of our baby-boomers, I just can't see how it's going to be paid for by moving the state pension age by three years, nearly half a century away. All budding economists - feel free to have your say.

BTW - The ITV News piece is on the 6.30 bulletin.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

May 11, 2006

This is Money's award winners

Some of the team here at This is Money are nursing slighty sore heads today after an awards ceremony to recognise the great and the good.

Our own leading writers cleared up in most prestigious category. Jeff Prestridge (pictured), personal finance editor of Financial Mail on Sunday, our sister title, won Headline Money Journalist of the Year, with Tony Hazell, editor of the Daily Mail's Money Mail, as runner-up.

To get a flavour of Jeff's campaigning work, you just need to see his reporting on Jeff_prestridge building society bosses - www.thisismoney.co.uk/mutualwatch or his latest column.

Tony was also named Trade Columnist of the Year for his musings in Financial Adviser magazine. You can see his Money Mail column at www.thisismoney.co.uk/columnists

Money Mail's new recruit and my fellow blogger, James Coney, was named Rising Star of the Year with our very own Mike Clarke as a runner-up.

Financial Mail's Stephen Womack was General Insurance Writer of the Year. You can see some of his reports at www.thisismoney.co.uk/insurance

Sylvia Morris, who tirelessly writes for Money Mail on savings and also produces This is Money's brilliant and independent savings tables, won Freelance Journalist of the Year.

And the list goes on. Tony Hetherington, Financial Mail's investigator, won Consumer Journalist of the Year for his fearless column. I love the fact we have Tony's column online as it really sticks in the throats of people he has exposed - it becomes a permanent public record that serves as a warning to others. See the full archive at www.thisismoney.co.uk/columnists

I'm sure you'll join me in offering your congratulations.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

>> About This is Money

May 08, 2006

My farm delivery experience

It's a month since I began using a farm delivery service.
We've had tasty artichokes from a co-operative in Spain, sweet tomatoes from Sicily and carrots from Kent.

The service, with www.farmaround.co.uk, has been reliable, cheaper than organic fruit and veg in supermarkets and it tastes better (although I think it may be some sort of low-level psychological suggestion).Carrots

We're really pleased that we signed up. The only slight downer has been in the size of some of the veg. We were delivered the largest red cabbage that has ever existed. There's no way this thing could have been organic. It means I'm now one of the world's leading authorities on red cabbage cuisine and I'm planning to buy the URL www.redcabbage.com

The other point is that the fruit and veg seem cheap but the groceries are less so. That said, sometimes the quality is in a whole different league: you can buy fine ingredients that can't even be found on the shelves of the supermarkets.

So you can get olive oil in Tesco for £5.48. For £5.50 at Farmaround, you can get Organic 'Oleficio Ranieri' produced by the Ranieri family near Cita di Castello in the Umbrian hills. It won the 2004 Premio Qualita Italia and Premio Qualita Umbria. For the sake of 2p, reciting that will sound great at dinner parties.

I've also noticed lots of friends signing up to these sorts of services. Riverford and Abel and Cole also win plaudits from my pals. If you have a view, make a comment below (we don't need a URL and we won't use your email for anything).

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Don't miss...
Holding supermarkets to account.. www.thisismoney.co.uk/supermarketwatch
Holding big business to account... www.thisismoney.co.uk/message

May 06, 2006

Day trips: 2 for the price of 1

My nearly two-year-old son introduced me to the trauma of the 'terrible twos tantrums' earlier this week on a bank holiday trip to London Zoo. Even this big handsome tiger failed to impress him...Tiger

While the zoo is ridiculously expensive, the good news was that at least I used the money-saving mantra to get a better deal. i.e. if you're on a day-out always remember to check out the www.2for1entry.co.uk deals offered by Network Rail.

Remember: you should never pay full price for anything.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

May 02, 2006

Most popular stories in April

Yet again, the team at This is Money was chuffed that so many people came to us for advice and tips on making more money and spending less. The site was visited 1.2m times in April, up from 750,000 a year ago.

It seems you're all very concerned about ID theft (keep up to speed with the latest scams in our ID fraud section) but the real demand was for information on StandaStandardlifehouse_1rd Life's stock market float. And where better to come than This is Money. Our sister papers have done a tireless job, covering the big issues at Europe's largest mutual insurer (HQ pictured right) - and persistently holding its bosses to account. Financial Mail has been particularly efficient in looking out for the interests of members.

That's why we created a destination for all our Standard Life coverage... www.thisismoney.co.uk/standardlife

It means you can quickly and easily keep up with the latest Standard Life developments and even ask for advice from our experts - or from each other.

And don't forget to give your views on our SL blog, courtesy of Financial Mail's Richard Dyson.

Anyway, here's a list of the most popular reports in April...

1. I was an identity thief

2. Standard life to put £4bn in windfall

3. Broadband price wars

4. Standard's free shares myth - this one's from October!

5. Windfall for Standard Life savers - and this one!!

6. New Isas for new tax year

7. Apple reveals iPod price cut ahead

8. Will you get a windfall?

9. 15-month 0% card is back

10. Special report: Pensions A-Day is here

As always, let me know what you want us to investigate on your behalf. Email me at editor@thisismoney.co.uk or add your comments below (how to post a comment).

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

April 30, 2006

I need to beat the gas price rise

We got our gas bill this weekend. Our £19 a month direct debit has let us slip £210 behind - so Seeboard Energy are kindly upping our DD to £80 a month... which is nice.

I know there have been lots of gas price rises (see these stories) but £80 a month. We're not even excessive users.Gashobl011204_100x110

I know what I need to do - switch and save. This is Money has a switching service. It suggests switching to npower will save me £240 a year. I'll let you know how it pans out.

After the last wave of price hikes, we wanted to be sure there was enough clarity on pricing to be able to make a fair comparison with these sorts of tools - read Adrian Lowery's report, Is it still worth switching?

Anyway, I'm off to down the thermostat and put on a jumper. What's happened to summer?

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Other stuff...

From the Mail on Sunday - Gas prices set to plummet?

Ofgem: Save on British Gas

How This is Money works

April 27, 2006

How much is your neighbour's house worth?

With so many new property websites listing house prices sales in your area (they get the information from the Land Registry), they are having to work harder to offer something better than the rest.

A new one I found earlier this month, www.ourproperty.co.uk, seems to be a little better on functionality and, as I discovered today, emails you each month to tell you of houses that have sold within 500m of your house - and for how much.

I'm not obsessed by house prices (honest) by I'm a little sensitive about valuations at the moment - read this post.

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money Editor

Useful links

Don't miss the latest advice in our mortgage and homes section

April 26, 2006

The high cost of cycling

Img_bikerangettypeI thought cycling was supposed to be the great cheap travel alternative.

I took my foldaway Brompton in for its first annual service this week. The cost? - £80 to give it the once-over, stick on a new chain and sprocket and put on a new back tyre and inner tube.

Wouldn't I be better off buying one of those cheapy bikes off the internet for £50 each year?

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money.co.uk

Useful links

On yer bike - for half price!

Less taxing commute on a bicycle

BLOG: Cheaper cycling - avoid Halfords

April 14, 2006

A 40% property profit in 8 months?

We moved house last summer. Now I thought the market had been pretty benign since then, maybe with a slight pick up in the last couple of months. (see www.thisismoney.co.uk/houseprices ).

So you might imagine I was a little surprised to see our old two-bedroom railway cottage at Clapham Junction up for sale at £350,000. We sold it for £250,000 last August.

Now two-bed houses go for around £350-400k in that area. But our house was boundaried by a busy road and 11 lines of track of Europe's busiest railway station - hence we'd had to drop the price from our original asking level of £290,000 (and the stamp duty threshold of £250k pretty much rules out sales between £250k and £270k - read more at www.thisismoney.co.uk/stampduty )

Anyway, the property market is more transparent than it used to be. Would-be buyers can now easily look up last year's sale price on one of the many house price websites that use data from the Land Registry. However, these sites don't seem to have blanket coverage. I've noticed on several occasions sales that don't come up - including ours last year. Buyers relying on these sites as definitive need to be careful.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to hope we haven't missed out on £100k. (Sob).

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

April 11, 2006

Cheapest home phone for a low user

I have a confession: I've been a lazy consumer. I have had my home phone on BT's Option 2 package for two years - free calls in the evening and weekend for £17 a month. Our monthly bill still seemed to somehow creep up to £25 a month.

There's far cheaper deals out there only I hadn't got round to taking them. Then a friendly salesman in Tesco persuaded me of a 'great deal'. I pay line rental of £11 a month to BT and then pay for my calls at a cheaper rate through Tesco Telecoms - a flat 2.5p for each evening and weekend call.

There's no contract or notice period required so I've switched over to tPhonel100406_100x110 his until I can sort myself out with the best deal. And at least the Tesco salesman has helped remind me I need to take action.

And what is the best deal? We're quite low phone users - one or two calls a day. On that basis, our phone deal finder suggests Primus is cheapest with no monthly charge for evening and weekend calls followed by Alpha Plus. Both require me to keep the BT line at £11 a month.

Before taking the plunge, I need to investigate the options for Voip - phone calls via your home broadband connection. Most of these now work without needing to go via your PC.

I'll let you know how I get on. Please put your home phone tips below. There was also some good advice in our Deals message board last month on combined TV/broadband/phone deals.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Useful links

Cut your phone bill by £180

Tesco's free web phone service

Ofcom to regulate free web phone services

How to post a comment

April 05, 2006

The 0% impact from credit card fees

So the Office of Fair Trading is getting tough on fees. Apart from exceptional circumstances - where there are 'special business reasons' - you should no longer have to pay more than £12 on late fees on credit cards, store cards, current accounts and even mortgages.

It's a striking move from the OFT. The downside is that banks always aim to protect their profits and will probably find another area to charge you and I.

In terms of credit cards, I fear this could pressure more providers into pulling their 0% deals.

I've been doing some bits with ITV News today - see the bulletins at 12.30 and 6.30. And for more views on today's decision, I'm also doing some more analysis for the 10.30 Nightly News.

Cheers,

Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Useful links

Our credit card finder can help find the best 0% deals.

April 04, 2006

I want to be a conscientious consumer

I not only want to be a good consumer by always hunting out the best deals, I want to be a good consumer by doing the right thing.

I have just spent two weeks sunning myself in Spain. I wanted to pay an optional  'green tax' with BA, only I couldn't find the option when I was booking the flights. Instead I will go direct to do this with www.climatecare.org - I apparently need to pay £5 to make amends for the CO2 my journey created. I was expecting far worse.

Refreshed from my holiday I'm now determined to do the right thing on food shopping. I've lazily slipped into regular visits to our local giant Tesco - it has helped wipe out nearly all our local shops. Instead I'm going to try a farm delivery service. A box of organic fruit and vegetables (sourced from local farmers where possible) will be delivered to my door once a week.

The benefits are:Fruitveg

* Producers get a better deal.

* The food is organic, so my insides are better, the land benefits and there's no CO2-creating industrial processes for pesticides, etc.

* The food is seasonal and sourced locally - so produces very few food miles in shipping it to me.

* My vegetable box is refilled each week - so no packaging or plastic bags. (Our reporter Simon Lambert has strong views on this).

I've opted for farmaround.co.uk which seems to be pretty cheap - I'll get a veg box for £7 and fruit for £5, plus £1 for delivery.

Rival sites include organicdelivery.co.uk, abel-cole.co.uk, riverford.co.uk, organics-4u.co.uk and freshfood.co.uk. It's hard to make direct comparisons on price as box sizes may vary. However, info on ethical commitments are pretty clear on all the sites. Have a browse and tell me what you think. I'll let you know how I get on with farmaround.co.uk

Also let me know any other ideas you might have about being a conscientious consumer. (How to post a comment)

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

Useful links

* If you want to fightback against Tesco, Asda et al, don't miss our brilliant round-up at www.thisismoney.co.uk/supermarketwatch

* See more about how This is Money is holding big business to account and how we can help you in my editor's message at www.thisismoney.co.uk/message

Top stories of the month

Once again, even more of you came to This is Money last month for our news, advice and top money tips.

The website was visited 1.3 million times in March. It's a great buzz for us as a team of journalists (unfortunately not so much for me as I was on holiday for half the month) but it is also great news for UK consumers - we want to help as many people as possible to make more money and pay out less, so the more people who visit the site, the better - (find out more about how we can help).

You can also see how we can help through the most popular reports. In hot demand was our Isa Centre (everything you need to know about picking the right Isa fund or savings account) and our broadband special report (tips on paying less for broadband).Browngordon

As the list below shows, Gordon Brown's Budget was a big draw but our varied reports also showed whether it really is worth switching fuel bills, how to beat Paypal, which building societies offer windfall payments and what we can expect next from the stock market.

Our best stuff is showcased in our newsletter. We'll also donate 25p to Guide Dogs for the Blind for each person who signs up so to help yourself and somebody else, sign up now.

1. Special report: How does the Budget 2006 affect you?

2. The Budget at a glance

3. Is switching still worth it?

4. Paypal is no friend to us

5. Beware the five-year flop

6. Gas guzzlers must pay more

7. Loophole aids carpetbaggers' comeback

8. Five insurance stings to watch

9. Clampdown on buy-to-let

10. House prices jump in mini boom

If there's anything else you want us to cover, add your comments below.

Thanks.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

March 10, 2006

Most popular stories in February

It's fun being part of a website that is growing fast and, in the process, helping more and more people.

This is Money was visited more than a million times in February - the second month in a row we've reached that level of popularity. That means we're showing even more of you how to make more money and spend less - the whole reason for this site.

Here's the top stories from February bought to you by the best money team on the web:

1. New Barclays account pays 10%

2. New warning on lottery peril

3. When 'cheap' broadband is dear

4. Isa special report

5. Halifax 'last straw' for suicide dad

6. Ten steps to your first home

7. Ten steps to beating fraudsters

8. Free broadband in two years

9. French target Brits abroad

10. The paperclip property ladder

Other popular stuff included our independent best savings rates - cash Isas and our fuel bills finder - you might want to check out this bills advice piece first.

Remember to get your friends money saving and money making. Get them to sign up to our free weekly newsletter. www.thisismoney.co.uk/newslettersignup

And don't miss... How This is Money will make you richer

Cheers.

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money Editor

March 03, 2006

How to pay less tax

Apparently four out of five of us pay too much tax. As an average, it's around £155 for each of us.Oxlade1itv

I nipped down to ITN to film a little piece for Chris Choi and the ITV Lunchtime news. We talked to five people about their finances and sure enough, four of them were paying too much.

Now there are some complicated areas of tax where the supeOxlade12itvr-rich take advantage. For you and me, there are some quick simple things you can do to make sure you are taking advantage of tax breaks - and not paying money to the Revenue that you shouldn't be. Start with these five points:

1. Savings and investments. Take advantage of your Isa allowance each year. See the Isa Centre and compare best Isa savings accounts. And if you're a pensioner and not an earner, then fill in the right forms to get your tax back - now is the time to claim it back.

2. Tax credits. If you have children and have a household income of less than £58,000, you are probably entitled to child tax credits and maybe working family tax credits. Read more. You may also be able to take advantage of childcare vouchers through your work (a type of tax break).

3. Pensions. If you're not paying into a pension, then change your wasteful ways. Basic-rate taxpayers get a 22% tax break from the Government (higher-rate bods get a 40% boost). See more in our pensions guides.

4. Check your tax code. Millions of us are on the wrong code - this one is a double-edged sword as you may be paying too little in tax. However, the Revenue will catch up with you eventually so best to get it sorted.

5. Inheritance tax.  With house prices surging, many more families face paying 40% tax on estates - it applies on anything above £275,000. There are steps you can take. And the best starting point is to write a will - see our Will Writing section.

To add to all this, don't forget there's lots of other ways of spending less money and making more of it.... This is Money can help.

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money Editor

Related stuff...

The last time myself and Chris Choi gave some tax advice

How to post a comment

March 01, 2006

Making money from farms

To deal with my countryside cravings, the family and I spent a couple of days on a sheep and cattle farm in Dorset last week - Cardsmill Farm near Lyme Regis.

I doubt the nice family  that own it are making big bucks from the day job - they sell their meat to Tesco - but they have a nice little earner in renting out most of the farmhouses and several other properties to holidaymakers. It was a lovely stay - but what they should be doing is organic farming with a shop.

There's a growing demand from urbanites and surburbanites such as myself for all things natural - (e.g. booming organic milk sales, home-delivery organic fruit & veg, etc).

So despite the reported doom and gloom for UK farmers - pressure on EU hand-outs and increasing competition from the dirt-cheap developing world - I believe there's a Francefarmst010405_100x110 stunning opportunity for UK farmers to carve out a niche... organic farms, working farm holidays and genuine farm shops (i.e. selling their own wares not those jars of relabelled jams). 

If you fancy a slice of the action, This is Money's business finder can help...

Broomley's Children Farm, which I pointed out before is still available but I've got my eye on a chicken farm in Spain.

Happy farm shopping!

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money Editor

February 25, 2006

My mortgage exit fee fiasco

Nationwide, my mortgage lender, has generally been good to me. The UK's largest building society, however, has joined the growing band of lenders charging borrowers 'exit fees'.

What's worse is that when we moved house and remortgaged with Nationwide six months ago, they tried to charge us a £90 exit fee for moving from one Nationwide mortgage to another Nationwide mortgage. When I pointed out to my branch that this was a mite unfair, they agreed - and today we finally received the money back from our solicitor.

The point of this tip? ...always contest fees (especially mortgage exit fees) as you quite often don't have to pay. My case was pretty clear cut but we know of other less straight forward examples where lenders have returned the money.

My colleague Richard Dyson has written some interesting stuff on mortgage fees. Don't miss...

BLOG: Woolwich wobbles over unfair fee

BLOG: A warning to Woolwich mortgage customers

SPECIAL ROUND-UP: A&L's extra mortgage fees

Please let us know if you hear of any rises or introduction of mortgage exit fees.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

February 20, 2006

So we're all skint... not if you use TiM

I did a quick interview today for the ITV Evening news as part of consumer champion role at This is Money (see the unflattering screengrab pictured right). They were focusing on today's above-inflation council tax rise and how households are being squeezed on all fronts - fuel bill hikes, rising mortgage costs, rising petrol costOxlade_100x110s.

Apparently the ITV Nightly news is taking a slightly different tack with some emphasis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that households are actually better off than they were a decade ago. I find that hard to believe.

Some back-of-a-matchbox sums I did earlier show how we're feeling the pinch:

Council tax up from £697 to £1,263 in five years.

Average mortgage repayments up from £385 to £662.

Average car running costs up from £3,000 to £3,300.

Average fuel bills up from £530 to £950.

Average water bills up from £230 to £280.

Plus we're nearly all shelling out for broadband and mobile phones that we maybe didn't have a few years ago.

So we're basically paying out more than 50% more - up from around £750 a month to around £1,150.

Admittedly the major cost is mortgages - so if you haven't moved house then you're not feeling the full pain.

Whatever your circumstances, don't dwell on it - the chances are that you can cut your outgoings. Read more about This is Money's money-saving/money-making mantra. Then read the advice and try the finders to see if you can save money:

The 10 best money-saving tips

50 ways to spend less

Mortgage advice and tips

Mortgage finder

Household bills (gas, electricity, phones, broadband and more)

Guides to buying and selling cars

Calculator: True cost of running a car

Cheaper car loan finder

Our chums at Money Mail are attempting to save thousands on their spending (see Money Misers blog archive). See if you can beat them and save more. There's a prize of a bundle of financial books for the first person emailing me to show they have saved more than £500 on their annual bills. (Put 'I saved £500' in the email subject and include full details).

Good luck! 

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

February 18, 2006

£50 for nothing?

Barclays is offering to give you £50 if it doesn't beat your exising home insurance premiums. Then it will also match your exisiting quote.

Barclays isn't known for its altruism so obviously there's catches. You need to be squeaky clean - no insurance claims for two years, for instance.

The quote for my modest pad south of Croydon was £336 or £28 a month, considerably more than the £21 a month we pay Nationwide.  Nevertheless, I could save money on the Barclays deal BUT, being a savvy finance chap, I've stuck with the mantra that personal finance journalists have been emphasising for decades - SHOP AROUND!

Our Insuresupermarket finder on the site shows I could be paying £170 with Homedirect, £197 with Halifax or £216 with Zurich. I'll make sure I go through the whole process and on to their sites - you need to double-check there aren't any variations in conditions. 

I'll let you know how I get on.

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money

February 07, 2006

Can trains boost house prices?

I'm revelling in the news that the Gatwick Express is to effectively be replaced by a stopping Southern Trains service from Brighton to London Victoria - so more trains for commuters. Here's the news.Gatwickexpress

Not only will it mean I may be less likely to get a faceful of armpit every morn ing but (and sorry to be so small-minded) but won't this also have an impact on house prices?

Improving transport links have the single biggest impact on area desirability and therefore property values. Discuss.

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money

Useful links

Latest house price news

Try the house price quiz

(How to post a comment)

February 02, 2006

Silverlink train rage

Part of my train journey to work (from Clapham Junction to Kensington Olympia in London) was so packed today that there were two scuffles and one woman passed out in just one carriage alone. It's not unusual.

There is a money-related issue here - at what point can rail passengers take tTrainhe moral high ground and refuse to pay for tickets because they are not receiving a service?

When consumers fail to get what they've paid for (i.e. a seat on a train - or at least a place to stand), consumers can use their ultimate veto and take their custom to a cheaper or better service - an option This is Money strives to promote (read our consumer fightback mantra). The only option for a commuter is to drive to work or quit.

It's not legal but once you've complained as much as you can are you morally right to withhold payment to train firms (Silverlink in my case)?

-  Andrew Oxlade, This is Money

Useful links

How fair are train fares?

£1 fare signals rail revolution

January 25, 2006

Dud online deliveries

Ocado simply doesn't work for me. In theory, you order your Waitrose shopping online (which seems to take longer than doing it yourself anyway) and then it turns up a day or two later at an allotted time. Spend more than £75 and they deliver for free.Ocado060705_100x110

I first tried it a couple of months ago but most of the order was missing. I then had to call up and wait 10 days for a refund. It kind of defeats the object of reducing the stress of shopping.

Several hundred spam emails later I decided to give it a go. My wife tells me the shopping didn't arrive until 8.15am this morning rather than in the promised 7am-8am slot (although the driver called to warn us) - and the smoked salmon (it was an occasional treat!) was missing.

My £3.99 is apparently being recharged to my card. That doesn't help with the lonely ingredient in my cream cheese sandwiches. Thanks Ocado.

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money

Useful links

Ocado delivers its breakthrough profit

Online grocers deliver the goods ...apparently

How to post a comment - tell all about your online shopping woes

January 17, 2006

Property to beat shares...

...according to people who make money from the property market.

Its January and UCB Loans, the buy-to-let arm of Nationwide, could already win the 2006 award for most irritating press release.

The company's stunning research reveals that most mortgage brokers, yes mortgage brokers, believe that property will deliver better returns than shares over the next five years.

I would imagine, these mortgage brokers may have a slight interest in talking up the property market. What do you think?

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor

How to post a comment

January 15, 2006

More fears for 0% card switching

There's worrying news for those of us who make a profit from switching around money on 0% credit card deals (see how I do it in my archive) - Tesco is thinking of rejecting applications from serial switchers. Read more.

Nobody admits to doing this at the moment. However, evidence is growing that card companies are growing wise to us playing them at their own game.

I have several thousand pounds-worth of debt with M&S &more. I wanted to lump on more debt at 0% this week but they would only offer me 6.9%. That's never happened before with other card companies. Once you are on 0%, they will normally allow more debt.

There's also sorts of other tricks - the industry is fighting back with 2% balance transfers, annual fees (name and shame...MBNA) and lots more. But don't worry. Our credit card expert Mike Clarke shows how you can still beat the system. Read his stories in our credit card & loans section or send him an email at credit@thisismoney.co.uk

- Andrew Oxlade, This is Money Editor

Useful links

The Tesco rate tart story

Put a credit card question to our experts

How to post a comment

January 06, 2006

Pay off your mortgage in two years

...or so the BBC would have you believe. That unlikely promise was from a new BBC2 series last night. Essentially, an hour of television told the eager couple to spend less money and earn more money. This ain't brain surgery.

Money expert Graham Hooper told last night's overspending couple that all they needed was focus. An £80,000 lottery win would have been handy. In the end, they scraped together £14,000, leaving them more than £65,000 to find.

I'm all for working out ways to clear your mortgage early but come on, let's be sensible. Here's some suggestions:

GUIDE: Pay off your mortgage early

GUIDE: Offset mortgages

NEWS: Rush to pay off the mortgage

ASK AN EXPERT: Free from the mortgage chains

If you want to know more but want to be spared the rest of the series, the Beeb have kindly sent us a copy of the accompanying book. The first person to comment and express an interest can have it.

But there was no reprieve from misleading telly last night. On Channel 4, Amanda Lamb (pictureAmandalambl060106_100x110d) was telling us the exact rise in house prices we can expect across European countries in the next 10 years. See the report here. In all her wisdom as an ex-model and estate agent, Lamb presented her predictions (which it turned out were actually from accountants PwC and apparently based on economic growth and rental returns).

The top three in reverse order were Portugal, Poland and, er, Romania. Apparently the country's average house price is set to soar from £17,000 to £70,380 in the next 10 years.

In fact, there were exact returns for each country. What tosh. There are far too many factors that could sway the market between now and 2015. Plus, having just enjoyed the longest house price boom in history (certain countries such as Germany excluded) surely European countries won't see this repeated?

Friday's money tip: Beware of ex-model, estate agents bearing property advice.

Here's some stuff you should read on European house prices...

Spain tops European house price league (March 2005)

Spain tops property league (September 2004)

And don't miss...

Payout for Spanish land-grab victims

300,000 Brits move to Spain - see how to join them

You can live the foreign property dream

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor

How to post a comment

January 02, 2006

My 59% return in 2005

Last week's stats on top-performing funds spurred me today to check on how my own modest holdings had fared in 2005.

My colleagues in the office will confirm how smug I was this time last year after backing the Jupiter Emerging European Opportunities fund in 2004. It had another good year and is one of only two funds to make the top 20 two years running.

So it's time for me to be smug again - the return in 2005 was 59% after returning 45% in 2004 and 45% the year before that. It also backs Russian energy firms and so is therefore feeling the benefit of the current gas price war with the Ukraine that has pushed up the share prices of those firms. But the story of Eastern European funds is not just about Russia's vast gas reserves, there's also the benefit of European Union expansion.

However, the rally might not last - past performance should not be used as an indicator of future returns. I had high hopes that the US stock market would return to rude health in 2005 (it was a very strong performer in the Nineties) so I backed the Legal & General US index tracker (a low-charging fund that aims to mirror the market). It managed to muster a 18% gain in 2005. That would be brilliant in a normal year but even Britain's own FTSE 100, which has historically lagged American shares in the past few decades, managed a 20% profit.

You can't win 'em all.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor

(How to post a comment)

December 29, 2005

Why UK shares might slump

So the number-crunchers have delivered the charts on the top-performing funds of 2005.

After languishing for more than a decade, commentators are talking up the latest recovery in Japan, insisting it's not yet another 'dead-cat bounce'. Tokyo's Nikkei has rallied 41% in the second-half of the year, the biggest half-year gain since the American occupation was offiicially ended in 1952. The yearly gain is likely to be 43%, nearly beating a 44% gain in 1984.

That's why the Melchior Japan Opportunities was able to deliver the best performance for a UK-based fund in 2005 - a return of 81%.

Japanese shares were in a decade-long decline due to a spiral of falling prices. The country was locked in deflation which meant companies couldn't hike their prices or, therefore, their profits. However, recent figures showed year-on-year prices rising again for the first time in more than two years.

This is all great news for the Japanese - but it could mean bad news for the UK and Western Europe.

I wrote a story several years ago where a US financial expert, Harry S Dent, had exactly mapped Japan's decline against the changes in its demographics. The theory was that its ageing population was several decades ahead of economies in Europe and the US but that a recovery would begin in the second half of the 'Noughties'. He also suggested booming UK and US stock markets would go into reverse as our populations reached the same point as Japan's a decade earlier.

It's all gloomy stuff - but the good news is that the theory has failed in one or two areas. In the late Nineties he was predicting the US economy would power ahead unabated in the 'Roaring 2000s' (the title of his book). I called him two years ago in Texas, post the dotcom slump, for an explanation. The company didn't want to talk.

I presume he's now crowing about the sustained pick-up in Japan (he's certainly got a special report out called 'What happened on the way to the roaring 2000s'). It's all interesting stuff but comes with a simple warning - beware of soothsayers.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor

P.S. Here's the original story - Last of the big spenders?

(How to post a comment)

December 22, 2005

Where next for property and shares?

We've had a lot of 2006 predictions passing over the This is Money newsdesk in the last few days - house prices up, house prices down, blah de blah.

Many of them seem to be plucked out of thin air. Nevertheless, we think you should be in the know on these things so our property man Simon Lambert will give a round-up of these predictions over the Christmas period - pointing out the reliable house price surveys from the duds. Keep checking out Mortgages & Homes.

The stock market predictions are just as interesting. Most amusingly, is the fact that nearly every year in recent years, the average of the predictions from the City's finest is nearly always for a 7% rise (it was higher post-dotcom boom days). Funnily enough, 7% is also the guideline long-term return for the stock market set out by the City regulator. It seems this forecasting lark is easier than it looks.

Keep an eye out for Mike Clarke's 2006 stock market round-up on Investing & Markets.

And for reference, check out some of our stock market prediction archive here...

FTSE to rise 7% in 2004

Brokers predict 2003 rally

- Andrew Oxlade

December 10, 2005

Cheap Christmas turkeys

I've just ordered my Christmas turkey.

A quick bit of internet research revealed only Tesco and Waitrose have their fresh turkey prices published - there was nothing from M&S, Asda, Sainsbury's or Morrisons.

From what I found, Tesco beats Waitrose on a basic turkey - £3.28 per kg vs £3.59 per kg

And on the rest:

Free range - £4.48 vs £5.59

Organic - £5.99 vs £8.49

Crown - £5.39 vs £7.49

I was after a crown and thought I at least ought to see what my local butcher, who is trying to compete with a giant Tesco (see Supermarket watch to read about the backlash), might be able to offer. But at a more expensive £7.69, I plumped for Waitrose which was cheaper and is hot on animal welfare.

However, if you really want to save more, your best bet is to go for a frozen turkey. Again, not all the stores have prices available online, but I did manage to establish that Asda was cheaper than Tesco - £1.48 vs £1.57 a kilo on a whole turkey or £3.74 vs £4.17 on a crown. Note that the Tesco frozen turkey was on a temporary half-price offer.

For more Christmas money-saving tips see our special Christmas Money section and especially our Money Savers Advent Calendar.

- Andrew Oxlade

December 08, 2005

More tips on credit card profits

Robert in a blog from the other day asked about high credit limits on credit cards. He wants to earn interest from credit card borrowings by taking 0% money and either putting it in a savings account. (How to get a refund on bank charges).

Robert, if you are struggling with finding a high credit limit it may be down to two reasons - that you have not borrowed much previously so therefore have no track record of proving you are a reasonable borrower (although I'm sure you are) or it may be that you are playing down your household income.

I have previously been given a limit of 40% of my salary by Citibank - the best so far - but Abbey, Halifax and others have all offered me around 10%-20%.

But a word of warning: Don't take on more debt than you can manage even it is to make money on borrowing (here's how I did it). Do the sums on our calculators at www.thisismoney.co.uk/calculators and then try our credit card finder at www.thisismoney.co.uk/cardfinder.

Our partner Uswitch will offer a choice of the best cards on the market - and taking the card through This is Money helps us to keep on writing more of our entirely independent and advice-packed stories - and it helps avoid the need for the site to take intrusive or annoying adverts.

Regards the other comment about Egg (you ask how to take money from an Egg card and put it into a savings account). I'm not sure whether Egg still allow you to switch a balance in that way - that Money Mail story was from a year ago (the Card-trick king). But lots of banks do a similar thing. They send you a cheque for the credit card. You can write the cheque to yourself, ensuring its for 0% credit with no fees, and pay it into a savings account.

Alternatively you can switch all your day-to-day spenidng on to a 0% card that gives cashback on spending - it means you can then build up savings on the side and take advantage that way. Tell our card finder that you want cashback and it will find a 0% card for you...
www.thisismoney.co.uk/cardfinder

- Andrew Oxlade

December 06, 2005

How to get a bank charge refund

Having moved house in September, my financial balancing is a little wobbly at the moment. It's the usual drill - spruce up the garden, lick of paint for the lounge, refurb the bathroom etc, etc.

Unfortunately this DIY assault on my finances led to a one-day dip in excess of my overdraft limit, leading to a £25 overdraft charge.

Tuesday's money-saving tip: Plea, beg, suck up, do what ever it takes. If you ask nicely enough, banks (First Direct in my case) tend to give the money back. If they don't give you the benefit of the doubt, vote with your feet and find a new account.

I've also had to do this several times before on £25 late credit card payments (thanks Abbey and Citibank) - an occupational hazard of making money from credit cards.

- Andrew Oxlade

P.S. Also see - Richard Dyson's exclusive blogs on ducking mortgage exit fees.

December 03, 2005

Making This is Money even better

Myself and the team at This is Money have always strived to make the site the best there is for money news and advice. Now we're trying even harder.

This week, a group of our users were kind enough to come in and give their opinions on the site. It was fascinating to hear where we're getting it right and where we're getting it wrong. We're going to do lots more of these sessions. (It pays at least £30, if you're interested) and then make some changes.

Some of the comments from the first one included how much they loved our savings stuff - especially Sascha's investigation of ICICI bank's top interest rate - and Tony Hetherington's scam investigations.

It was also quite startling the number of people who didn't realise the range of money-saving tools This is Money has to offer. Check them out in our Money Shop.

What I want to hear now is if there's anything else you love or hate about the website. Post your comments below (ignoring the URL box as usual) and we promise not to ever use or pass on your email address.

- Andrew Oxlade

November 29, 2005

How to win endowment compensation

I met up with an old friend at the weekend. It struck me how the endowment nightmare is not restricted to an older generation. She's my age - 32 - and was sold an endowment as recently as 1998 and is still trying to sort out the mess. I guessed most of the endowment mis-selling was done, dusted and exposed by the late Nineties.

Anyway, she asked what she should do. The answer: simply write a basic letter of complaint to the endowment provider. Some people have been using endowment compensation companies. Don't touch with them a barge pole. Insurers treated all endowment complaints the same but if you use a middleman they will charge you anything from 15% to 40% of any payout - potentially thousands of pounds. And some will charge you upfront - see here.

There's everything you need to know in our special section - www.thisismoney.co.uk/endowments

You should also read the experience of This is Money's Simon Moon. He had very little information from the sale of the policy and still managed to win the full £2,400 from Norwich Union to cover his mortgage shortfall. How I got my money

- Andrew Oxlade

N.B. How to post a comment

November 18, 2005

Where's my Christmas bonus?

I worked at a fresh pasta factory as one of my first jobs. The mind-sucking boredom of dropping pasta into a plastic box was eased only by the exceptional festive generosity of my Italian bosses.

With reassuring predictability, each Christmas Eve we lined up and received a bottle of nothing but the finest Asti Spumante. It was a nice drop.

So come on UK plc - what's happened to the Christian ethos of giving and sharing:

Our Christmas bonus poll shows only two out of ten of us can expect the boss to slip something extra into our stocking this year.

- Andrew Oxlade

P.S. Here's my Christmas money Tip: buy a frozen turkey rather than a fresh one. See a whole load of other tips in our fab new Christmas section - www.thisismoney.co.uk/xmas

P.P.S. If you were miffed about your xmas bonus then here's some more bad news - you've missed the best day to ask for a pay rise - unless you read This is Money every day and then you would have seen it ;)

(How to post a comment)

November 14, 2005

Save money: Live with granny

Monday's money-saving tip: Move in with your parents (and your grandparents).

A new survey out today from Economic Lifestyle (i'd never heard of them either) suggested 800,000 people now live in '3G households' - where three generations live together.

I went on the ITV lunchtime news as a pundit on the sofa. Both myself and fellow expert Gordon Lishman (Biog: Lishman), Age Concern director-general, agreed that it was a two-way thing - pensioners have lots of money tied up in their homes but lower average incomes than a few years ago while young couples are struggling to get on the property ladder (House prices to blame on both fronts). Hence why so many are moving in together.

The benefits are that you share all the bills and council tax, plus pensioners get to keep their state pensions and even things like the winter fuel payment. The downside is you might fall out.

One of the alternatives for pensioners if they want to keep their home is equity release. These plans are generally bad value (it's nearly always cheaper to sell up and downsize) and have attracted critcism. (Money Mail: Fears over equity release)

Gordon was telling me in the cab after the TV appearance that Age Concern's commercial arm is going to offer equity release through a third partner (Northern Rock), sold only giving the very best advice, of course.

I'd be interested in hearing opinions on it...

- Andrew Oxlade

A guide to equity release

P.S. I was on the sofa with Nick Owen (Biog: Nick) and Nina Hossain (Biog: Nina). They were really both very nice (I have vowed to expose snooty presenters). Actually I used to work with Nick's wife Brenda in regional newspapers who's also very nice. (I love name-dropping).

November 13, 2005

Farm shops: the new goldrush

I'm taking my little boy to a 'working farm' today - Bockett's Farm near Leatherhead in Surrey. It's around £5.40 and £4.95 for kids.

Given it must also be making money as a 'working farm', surely it's a gold mine?

And with more demand for produce from farm shops, this should become a booming niche in a declining industry.

Sunday's money-making tip: Find a working farm on This is Money's global business finder. (You can also find it in the centre box on Small Business).

- Andrew Oxlade

November 10, 2005

My £1,200 credit card profit

I, like thousands of wise consumers, have borrowed on 0% credit cards and put the money into an Isa to earn the interest. It makes me a bit of a money geek but there's something satisfying about making money for nothing from banks.

I started doing this around four years ago, shifting around £6,000 - it wavers depending on the state of my finances.

I get the money at 0% and put it into an Isa paying around 5%. I make £300 a year or £25 a month - over the years the profits have built up, although I have been stung by the odd late charge. Tip: Apologise for late payment and say it won't happen again. Three out of four times banks have refunded for me.

I'm due for another card shift. Halifax is offering one of the longest interest-free period at 12 months but it's only good for spending as there is a 2% charge on balance transfers - a common trick these days. I have been there and done that with Halifax before.

HSBC announced yesterday that it was extending its catch-free 0% offer, giving me another nine months. I might give that a try.

You can compare the best 0% deals with our card finder. The small amount This is Money makes from each referral means we can keep offering all this great, free and independent advice.

You should also check out this great advice...

Credit cards with stealth charges

Balance transfer fees on the rise

Watch out for this...

Nationwide scraps 0% balance transfers

Credit cards fall out of fashion

And see how this guy does it properly and makes £300 a month...

The card-trick king

- Andrew Oxlade

November 08, 2005

Why M&S is the new Tesco

So M&S continues to bounce back (read the report). I had a sock shopping experience today that confirms to me that M&S is back on the right track.

I forgot my socks this morning (I cycle in) so made a quick dash to the large store in Kensington High Steet. I bought seven 'fresh feet' pairs for the price of five - £10. See here.

To me that's good value. From memory, the last time I went in Tesco it was still cheaper, working out to around a pound a pair. The point here though is that M&S has grasped the marketing tricks that Tesco uses to make us all spend more than we intend to. i.e. I went to M&S to buy one pair of socks and came out with seven. Genius.

- Andrew Oxlade

Useful links

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Welcome to the Money Blog

November 05, 2005

A cheap way to see fireworks...

...is to live on a hill.

Tonight I'll be watching a series of displays across the Surrey Hills from my garden. And I won't pay a bean! (I'll give to the community in other more effective ways, of course)

Hope you all have a fun night. Don't forget this advice from our insurance expert Adrian Lowery... Pet hates on Bonfire Night

- Andrew Oxlade

How to post a comment

November 04, 2005

How to beat rising debt

So we've already seen repossessions on the rise and now we've got bankruptcies at an all-time high.

Liz Phillips' report should help if your home is at threat... Find your way out of a debt crisis - while our brilliant debt guides can help with your wider credit and debt problems.

You can also see my ramblings about dealing with debt in a TV slot I did on BBC Breakfast. (It's a bit old). See the advice and watch the video. Feel free to be rude about my on-screen manner.

- Andrew Oxlade

P.S. TV people feedback - Bill (Bill biog) and Sian (Sian biog) were a bit serious (although they did seem very pressured) but Kate Sanderson was an absolute star (very chatty in the 'green room'). She's since gone to Five. That said, there appears to be a growing Bill Turnbill appreciation club.

How to post a comment

November 03, 2005

Cheaper cycling

Is it just me, or is Halfords hellish?

In my experience, shop staff are surly, unhelpful teenagers - and the whole emphasis seems to be on cars when all the demand these days is for bikes.

The upstairs of the Guildford branch (the bikes are seemingly always crammed in the loft) was packed on Sunday. As if on my usual work journey, I had to jostle with fellow cyclists. Only this time it was for a place in front of the cycle helmet section.

It was all too much - I went home and bought one from a nice friendly online retailer. CycleXpress sold me the Bell Avanti helmet for £22 - that's £10 cheaper than in Halfords and delivered in 48 hours. Bliss!

So okay, today's money-saving tip may be a bit obvious - online is cheaper than offline - so instead check out this money-saving gem - On yer bike for half-price.

- Andrew Oxlade

How to post a comment

November 01, 2005

My credit history blemish

I move around £7,000 of debt on 0% credit cards. M&S Money is my present victim. They deserve it (read more). They have given me 0% for five months with no transfer charges.

I'm one of the thousands of people using the money to earn interest in an Isa. It earns me about £25 a month (I think). The Isas, which I've had for more than two years, happen to also be with M&S. (Best Isa rates)

Anyway, I did a credit check today to make sure I'm going to be okay to shift the money on okay and came across a slight problem.

Our chums at Equifax told me I had a healthy score of 492. The scale runs from from -299 = very poor to 475+ = excellent. However, I have a "danger" warning because of my "very poor" electoral register section. Apparently, because I've moved three times in the past five years (most recently in September) this would be "negative" in some lenders eyes.

I can start by ensuring I'm on the Electoral Roll and ensure I've moved all credit cards over from my old address - beyond that, I could find my days of credit card switching coming to an abrupt halt. I'm all ears to solutions.

- Andrew Oxlade

How to post a comment

October 28, 2005

Paying for your money abroad

I can't help thinking HSBC's marketing department must have a fine sense of irony.

One of our colleagues here at This is Money was telling me this week that he feels he has been fleeced for withdrawing money from the bank's overseas cash machines.

The £2.50 for each withdrawal and the loaded exchange rate*, although difficult to justify, are par for the course. But also, because the withdrawals took him into unauthorised overdraft territory, he was charged £20 for every day he stayed overdrawn. He was not able to view his account balance on the ATMs.

Which then begs the question, why were the withdrawals authorised? Why with its global reach can HSBC not refuse withdrawals when funds are not available, as it would in the UK?

The only thing that's 'global' about HSBC is its multinational presence and its investment banking business - as far as the travelling customer is concerned, it makes no difference whatsoever. Its service is put to shame by Nationwide: a domestic building society whose current account offers free overseas ATM use AND an unloaded exchange rate.

And when you consider HSBC's awful record of branch closure at home - it will have closed one every week by the end of this year - it's not doing too well on the other prong of its ad slogan: 'The World's Local Bank'? Do we look stupid?

Check these out:

Cards you can't afford on holiday

The best cards to go away with

The Nationwide FlexAccount debit card is almost certainly worth looking at if you're a frequent traveller. But the credit card may not be entirely right for your needs - although again it compares favourably with others on overseas charges. The figures in this link for Nationwide cashback are based on spending £200 a month and clearing your balance.

- Andrew Oxlade

P.S. See our two-second guide to posting a comment

*Effectively, with many banks, a commission charge is factored into the exchange rate you get on foreign ATM withdrawals or credit card payments, which you only see when you get your statements through. The rate is often worse than that you would get at a decent UK forex bureaux like M&S or Travelex.

October 26, 2005

The reasons for repossessions

So repossessions are soaring. Let's get this in context. Yes, a rise as sharp as this is very worrying. But on the upside, we're a long way from the appalling sitation of the early Nineties.

At the peak, nearly 75,000 homes were repossessed in a year. This year, the figure is likely to be around 10,000. Furthermore, the long-term average is 30,000 a year.

And the spark for the recent rise - it seems likely the interest rate hikes of 2003 are only now taking full effect.

What is more worrying is that there are now far more people with personal loans secured against their homes. That, together with lenders' willingness to bend the rules when dishing out large mortgages, has left UK borrowers in a delicate position.

I had the pleasure of explaining these issues in an interview with the charming Shiulie Ghosh from ITN this afternoon. You should hopefully see the finished result on ITV's 10.30 news tonight. Let me know what you think. (Quick guide to posting a comment).

And if you're struggling with your own debts, check out our brilliant guides to managing your borrowing.

- Andrew Oxlade

October 24, 2005

Lost loyalty at M&S

For those who might have missed it, Debenhams is in hot water again for sending store cards to customers who might not want them. Read the story.

M&S was exposed doing this sort of thing by Financial Mail on Sunday and This is Money more than two years ago. They were switching store card holders on to credit cards.

Now I may be wrong on this but M&S doesn't seem to have any sort of loyalty card any more. It also strikes me that people who opt for the company's newish &More credit card may assume they can use it as a store card.

Last year, a charming shop assistant and a 10% discount persuaded me to take an &More card. I immediately switched a credit card balance to the 0% balance transfer offer.

I was buying something a few weeks later in M&S and thought I'd use the card merely to earn points (not pay). The shop assistant swiped the card for payment. The result: I end up paying interest on the amount I spent (you have to pay off the 0% credit BEFORE the more expensive borrowing - a popular catch used by credit card companies).

I should have asked first and should have been aware of how the card worked, but I can't help thinking there may be more people out there making purchases on their M&S 'store card' by accident.

- Andrew Oxlade

October 20, 2005

National Trust or English Heritage?

I'm planning to visit a National Trust property tomorrow (I'm off work!) and want to get my money's worth from my NT membership - maybe something in Surrey or Hampshire (yet to decide).

My buddies tell me I'm old before my time. I also have membership of RSPB and Kew Gardens. But my thought is this...

The National Trust is £42.60 a year for joint membership (with direct debt payment). Life joint membership is £1,102.

I'm mulling over a change. English Heritage charges £62 a year or £980 for life.

I've got two questions:

1. In your experience, which one offers the best value for money?

And 2. Surely this means one of these two expects their members to die younger? The maths is bugging me. Which one is it?

- Andrew Oxlade

October 19, 2005

Have your say on broadband

Thanks for the comments below and the kind messages. And Dave, thanks for your feedback on starting salaries. At £1.10 a week, it looks like you beat me hands down.

I just wanted to update you with my broadband situation. We were briefly connected at the weekend but now the log-in says it does not recognise the log-in details.

I tried calling Wanadoo but there's a limit to how much of that music from their advert that you can take when hanging on the line.

Don't forget to have your say on our broadband polls...

Tell is if you know of a decent service. Or vote in our polls:

Best broadband service

Worst broadband service

- Andrew Oxlade

October 18, 2005

My £8,000 salary

There were more tales of woe yesterday about the ludicrously low wages of local newspaper reporters. A report in The Guardian suggested some hacks were starting on as little as £10,000.

£10,000? They were lucky. Even taking inflation into account (inflation calculator), the £8,000 I started on as a trainee reporter nearly 10 years ago must take first prize for low wage of the year. Let me know if you can beat it by posting a comment.

Today's money making tip: don't go into journalism.

- Andrew Oxlade

October 17, 2005

Sipps and house prices

I met today with one of the high-fliers from the world of buy-to-let. Lee Grandin, aged 34, runs Landlord Mortgages, the 'UK's largest specialist buy-to-let broker'.

While most people in the mortgage game are talking up the forthcoming changes to Sipps in the so-called A-Day revolution (Archive search: 'Sipps'), Grandin is going against the grain.

Upmarket lender Savills says Sipps will pump £6bn into the property market. Grandin says it will barely have an impact on house prices because buy-to-let investors prefer to borrow heavily on properties to ratchet gains higher. The Sipps rules make this tricky. He also says investors would face a captial gains tax bill for selling a property if they try and put it in a Sipp.

We'll see who is right come post-A-Day (1 April 2006).

By the way, Landlord Mortgages is also due to publish the latest figures on profits from property and the early signs are that it won't be good news. You can read it first before anywhere else in the next few days on our special section www.thisismoney.co.uk/buytolet.

- Andrew Oxlade

October 16, 2005

Bitter about beer prices

I was out last night celebrating news of my promotion from deputy editor to editor (thought I'd bluntly drop that one in). Something occurred to me - my tipple was Adnams bitter. At only £1.80 a pint in my local, it's a bargain.

What also occurs to me is why bitter produced by niche brewers is so much cheaper than mass-produced lager churned out by conglomerates? Surely, their costs are much lower? I would love to hear any suggestions for this disparity.

In the meantime, today's Sunday money tip is thus - drink bitter not lager.

- Andrew Oxlade

October 14, 2005

Poor broadband service

Wanadoo - I'm still not connected five weeks on, although they're claiming now that I was connected on the 10th and it may be a 'modem' problem. Read the history. They're still sticking to the line of it takes "20 working days" to connect despite its highly publicised promises to do it within 10. I can feel a letter to the Office of Fair Trading and Trading Standards coming on.

I have to confess, though, given the amount of broadband complaint emails This is Money has been receiving - especially in relation to OneTel (www.thisismoney.co.uk/onetel) - I think there's a much wider industry problem. These firms are so desperate to take on customers in the great broadband gold rush that they don't have the customer service people in place to cope with the demand.

Tell is if you know of a decent service. Or vote in our polls:

Best broadband service

Worst broadband service

- Andrew Oxlade

October 10, 2005

Wanadoo woes

So my tale of Wanadoo woe goes on (see Moving House post below) - 34 days after moving we still have no broadband connection. Rude Paul at the call centre told me the other day that I would only reimbursed for anything more than 20 working days (at 60p a day). They originally told me 10 days (not working days) - and then today, a stock reply email from Wanadoo, sparked by my complaint, confirms exactly what I was told before...

Remember, if you've just registered, or
requested a change of address it can take upto 10 days for your
telephone line to be enabled.

That's right - "10 days", not "10 working days". And I had to pay a £25 charge for this total incompetence. Give me strength.

- Andrew Oxlade

October 07, 2005

Moving house and all that jazz

I moved house exactly a month ago today from bustling Clapham Junction (South-West London) for the leafiness of Surrey. We're still picking up the personal finance pieces. With all the usually stresses involved, it's amazing how some utility companies take glee in making life even harder.

And we're not talking your usual suspects here - BT was a joy to do business with. There was no charge for giving us a new phone line (I remember in the Nineties when they used to charge me - a poor sutdent - £70 for this switch-flicking task) and we had a dialling tone from day one.

The gas and electricity firms moved over smoothly enough - the first minor glitch was Sky. They insisted on charging us £40. When I ummed and arred, the man at Sky immediately warned me that to cancel and then go for reconnection on a free deal would constitute a criminal offence. A little taken aback I reminded him that Sky wasn't the only non-terrestial TV provider. Blumin' cheek.

But the real problem was our broadband provider Wanadoo. As we're locked in to a 12-month contract, we had little choice but to stick with them. The cost for this was £25 despite it being a flick of a switch at an exchange.

We were first told 20 days, then 10. We waited... and waited... and called after two weeks. "Sorry Mr Oxlade, we forgot to put that through".

So we started again....more than a month on, there's still no connection. A rather unhelpful Paul from Wanadoo told me today that it would be connected by 10 October. We made the first request on 6 September. He now says that the promise was within 20 working days, and based on his calculations, we will only receive four days of compensation at 60p a day - barely enough to cover the numerous calls to Wanadoo.

This is Money is keen to hold broadband providers to account. See our OneTel coverage at www.thisismoney.co.uk/onetel. And let me know if you've had problems with other broadband firms.

- Andrew Oxlade

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