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Archive for the ‘debt’ Category

Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul
If you find yourself taking out new loans to pay back existing loans at expensive rates of interest because your credit rating is not as good as it once was, it may be time to stop and get help.

Don’t ignore calls & letters
When the letters asking for missed repayments start to arrive, they often fall thick and fast. You can often tell what they are before you open them, you may even leave the letter in the envelope.

However what you don’t know is you can get help to stop these letters and help negotiating with creditors to make repayments affordable. The number of times we hear the story of how a person has kicked themselves for waiting so long before getting help, and if they’d known how straightforward it was they would have acted ages ago.

The other side to this is the amount of money that is wasted on penalty fees – millions! If we all seeked help sooner rather than later we’d the banks would be really miserable as they miss out on all of your hard earned cash.

Don’t trade your way out of debt
We’ve all had a call asking for money we haven’t got and most of us have told them what they want to hear knowing full well that the money isn’t there to pay them or thinking the money will be there once you get paid, a deal comes off and other types of windfall.

The reality is that it’s really difficult to catch-up and it may be worth seeking help before too long.

Don’t go into denial
With debt you can find yourself in a dark place where you can convince yourself and possibly others that all is OK, whist deep inside knowing full well that all is not OK, and it’s actually things are getting progressively worse.

You do not need to suffer – this I promise you. There are people out there who can help – here’s a list.

Don’t be afraid to talk to a real person
The Internet is great. What would we do without it? You would not have found this site for a start. But don’t be fooled. For many subjects the internet can be less useful than you think. The last time I checked out my ailments on Google I was in serious trouble as the big ‘C’ was a real possibility. As you’ve guessed, I am alive and kicking.

The same is true of debt. You can’t find out which path you should take to get out of debt just by going online. You can find out about some of the options but you won’t know which one is really best for you, and you won’t know which one your creditors are likely to agree to unless you talk to a real person with the experience necessary to look at you and your finances, to work how you are going to beat debt with the least money and in the shortest time. Here’s a link to real people you’d want to talk to.

And finally, don’t believe everyone that calls himself or herself an expert
The UK is full of commercial debt advice organisations that get paid if you start solutions like commercial debt management plans and IVA’s, or take out a consolidation loan.

The first thing to point out is there are free debt management plans available so don’t start one that doesn’t involve every penny going to your creditors.

Secondly, there is nothing wrong with IVA’s and re-mortgaging as a way of getting out of debt if they are used in the right circumstances.

This is why we’ve made this list of debt charities we would talk to if we were you. They only offer free debt management and only offer IVA and loans if they’re right for you.

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Last week I looked at how proactive (or not) mobile phone providers are about keeping customers on the most cost-efficient tariffs.

I promised that I would be back this week to bring you tips and tricks on getting the best deal for yourself in the absence of any help from your mobile phone company. I also asked the five main network providers – 3 Mobile, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone – to share their tips.

My tips for getting the best tariff and saving money:

  • Work out exactly how many minutes and texts you actually use each month. Look back at your last three bills and find out how much you’ve been using. If you are signed up to a deal where you receive a large amount of inclusive minutes and texts each month but you only use a fraction of them – or not getting enough –  then it’s time to act.
  • Make a note in your diary so that you know when your contract expires. You can usually begin shopping around and negotiating up to two months from the end of it.
  • Check out comparison sites such as BillMonitor, uSwitch, moneysupermarket and OneCompare. These sites will find you the best contracts for your specific needs.
  • Ofcom has a useful leaflet on getting the best deal. And before you switch to a new network, you can check the coverage in your area by visiting the Ofcom site and using the coverage maps provided.
  • If you’re unsure about signing up over the phone, ask for the information to be posted to you.
  • Switching to online billing can help you save money.
  • Don’t settle for the packages you see online or in mobile phone shops. Ring a service provider and haggle prices down or deal up.
  • Be prepared to say you want to close your account and switch to another network. This seems to be the key to being offered the ‘secret’ deals which are not usually advertised but are brought out as incentives to keep customers who threaten to quit. Of course you may really want to quit.
  • Whether you’re threatening to quit or really making the switch, ask your provider for your Porting Authorisation Code (PAC) code – the number you need to switch networks and keep your existing number. The mere mention of it should spark some action.
  • Switching to a new network should be painless because mobile providers are obliged to switch your old number over to your new network within five days and many do it much quicker. In the meantime, you’ll get a temporary number so that you’re not left without a phone.
  • Once you have switched networks, don’t forget to follow-up on any refunds due from your old provider. Check final balances carefully because some phone providers will not make an automatic refund if the account is in credit – something which is more likely if you pay by direct debit. Some companies, such as Orange, send customers a cheque automatically. T-Mobile refunds the balance automatically, but only if it is more than £20. If it’s less than this, customers must call a number to request the money. Vodafone customers must also call to request a refund.

What to avoid

Cashback – If you’re tied into a cashback system then you’re certainly not guaranteed to be better off. For instance, your mobile provider may offer you a deal of £15 a month, but in order to claim it you will have to pay £30 a month up-front and then send off your bills at the end of your contract to get the refund. Last year consumer campaigners Which? called for a ban of cashback deals after receiving hundreds of complaints from mobile phone customers who failed to receive their money. Ofcom – which was also flooded with complaints – has now introduced regulations but you might want to avoid cashback deals altogether.

Insurance – Most mobile providers will try and sell you insurance, but if even if they offer you a policy which is free for the first couple of months, the chances are that you will forget to cancel it and end up paying much more than you need to for the rest of the year. For instance, £6 a month may not seem a lot but it adds up to £108 over an 18-month contract. Worse still, you may also find that the policy you’re offered is full of exclusions and is no use whatsoever if you do need to make a claim. Accidental damage or losing your phone – the very things you’re most likely to claim for – are often not covered by rip-off phone insurance. It’s also worth checking whether your phone is already covered – often through household insurance or your credit card. Again, read the small print so you know what exclusions there are. If you break or lose your phone a lot then shop around for insurance on CompareTheMarket.com or try TalkCover.co.uk. You may find it’s much cheaper to insure several phones at the same time.

Freebies – It’s hard to ignore the lure of a free gift and these are increasingly popular and desirable. From GHD hair straighteners to a Wii or laptop, some providers will stop at nothing to entice you onto a certain tariff or contract. But will you really use the tariff you’re signing up to? According to research carried out by moneysupermarket.com in 2009, we waste over £250-worth of mobile allowance each year – more than 1,600 wasted minutes and over 1,800 wasted texts per person. So the extra cash you pay for the tariff you’re not using could have bought you the ‘free’ gift anyway.

What the big five mobile providers say:

3 Mobile:

  • Know what you need from your phone – if you use email a lot, then make sure you’ve got an inclusive plan that includes free email. If the internet is your thing, then make sure you’ve got enough of a data allowance to fit your usage patterns – especially if you are on a smartphone and use all the different applications and programmes available. When we introduced The One Plan, the idea behind it was to offer the vast majority of customers all the data, texts and calls they would need every month at one simple price point – so there were no complicated bills with add-ons and access packages.
  • Pick the right network – if you do more than just make calls and send texts (ie browse the internet, use social media or want to stay in touch with emails etc) make sure you’re on a 3G phone with a strong 3G network. Always use the coverage checker facility on the network you are considering to check you will have reception in the areas you use your phone the most.
  • Don’t fall for ‘unlimited’ deals – there’s always a limit and make sure you look at what it is. We’re a firm believer in offering complete transparency – using the words ‘unlimited’ or ‘fair use policy applies’ as little as possible. Our first step in this direction was the launch of the One Plan (see below for more information).
  • Do your research – not all tariffs are the same and, especially when taking on a long contract, it’s worth looking at what you’ll be getting and paying for each month. And check that the phone you are being offered does do the things you want it to do.

02:

  • Don’t always think price. Think ‘what is the best value I get as a customer?’
  • Do I get an early upgrade? Do I get value back?
  • What extra experiences do I receive?
  • Have I got a good signal where I am?
  • What’s the Customer Service like?

Orange:

  • Customers should look at what’s included in their talkplan allowance compared to their actual usage in any given month. It could be that overall customers are better taking a higher level talkplan which gives them more inclusive minutes, text, browsing and therefore helps to save money on their total bill spend. Customers could benefit from adding an additional bundle which offers a cheaper rate than if they just paid the standard rates. For example, for minutes, texts, mobile internet browsing, roaming, IDD and MMS.
  • Also, make sure to check what extra benefits the operators offer you as deals like Orange Wednesdays and Magic numbers offer enhanced value.

T-Mobile:

  • Work out what you want from your mobile contract – is a great phone the most important thing? Or are you looking for flexibility? Think about how you are going to use your phone – is it for texts, phone calls, internet or all of the above? You can do that yourself or talk to our expert advisors in store or on the phone and let them help you to find a great plan to suit you.
  • We’ve made it much simpler for our customers with easy to understand and great value pay monthly plans and we’ve made sure that even our contracts are flexible. Our customers get a flexible booster included in their plan which they can change every month to suit how they want to use their phone. They can choose from unlimited texts, unlimited internet on their phone, international calling, roaming, unlimited calls to other T-Mobile customers or unlimited calls to landlines.

Vodafone:

  • If you already have a phone, a SIM only plan might suit.  This allows you the flexibility to take a contract as short as just one month.
  • Some devices are sold exclusively by networks.  For example, Vodafone is the only network to offer the HTC Legend.  It’s worth checking this out, if you want a particular phone.
  • Consider customer service as part of your choice – Vodafone offers a variety of ways to get in touch – on the phone, on email, through our forums or on Twitter – @VodafoneUK.
  • Finally, Vodafone offers great deals through its Twitter service – @VodafoneUKdeals.  Get in contact with them if you want to find out what’s hot at the moment.

Have your say…. have you suffered a mobile phone rip-off?

Please leave your comments below…

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In the wake of Borders recent announcement it’s folding up shop, those holding gift cards from the bookstore chain may have cause for concern. While the second-largest bookseller says it’s presently honoring gift cards, shoppers are well advised to use up their balances before it’s too late. We faced a similar situation when Blockbuster and Circuit City filed for bankruptcy and are likely to do so again. To ensure consumers don’t get left in the lurch, here are a five lessons we’ve learned from these experiences.

1. Move Fast
Store liquidations usually begin rapidly — this Friday for Borders — so it’s often best to use up gift cards online, rather than wait until you have time to visit a retail store. Borders liquidation website says all 399 remaining stores will close by September, but they may start writing the final chapter on your local store much earlier.

2. Research the Bankruptcy Status
Borders was refused bankruptcy, meaning they had no choice but to liquidate. Other retailers, however, filed for bankruptcy and turned things around. Sometimes a company that’s filed for Chapter 11 is allowed by the bankruptcy court to honor its gift cards. California, however, specifically requires merchants in bankruptcy compensate gift card holders.

3. Consider the Company’s Stability
If you hear tales of other merchants threatening to close shop, research their financial stability via such sites as BBB.com and Forbes Risk List. (Stores considered at-risk by Forbes presently include Rite Aid and Zales.) Also, ScripSmart.com regularly updates its list of “Gift Cards to Avoid.”

4. Use It or Sell It
If you’ve received a gift card for a merchant you wouldn’t frequent, don’t wait until a store goes out of business. You can exchange gift cards for cash right now on such sites as GiftCardGranny.com and receive up to 95 percent of the card’s value in cash.

5. Use a Credit Card
If you’re concerned about a retailer’s financial stability but still want to buy a gift card, do so using a credit instead of a debit card. You can then ask the card issuer to withhold payment until you’re sure of the merchant’s status.

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Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc.. She is available for in-studio, satelite or skype interviews. As a nationally recognized media source, Andrea has been featured on NBC Today Show, FOX & Friends, MSNBC, ShopSmart Magazine, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. To view recent interviews or for more savings tips visit AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

For all media inquiries, please contact Andrea Woroch at 970-672-6085 or email andrea@kinoliinc.com.

Feel free to share “Gift Card Advice as Borders Closes the Book on Business” with your audience.

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We are always being reminded how important it is to make a will. If we shuffle off this mortal coil without one then ‘intestate‘ law means our worldly goods go to our next of kin.

But this may not be what you want. For instance, if you live with a partner but are not married, then without a will everything goes to your parents or perhaps a sibling. This could mean your partner loses their home if your folks want their share. In the worst case scenario, if no relatives can be found, it goes to the State. Eugh.

What a shame then that the latest rip-off involves some companies that provide private will-writing services.

Anyone can set up as a will-writer
I was surprised to learn that no legal standing or even qualifications are needed for someone to offer to draw up a will for you. You can even draw one up for yourself and it will be valid providing it has been correctly dated and witnessed.

Personally, I wouldn’t do this as it’s not worth the risk of getting it wrong. Also, for a will to function properly the appointed executors must be granted powers and a certain amount of ‘what if’ planning is usually required, along with the tricky issue of inheritance tax.

One probate expert I spoke to said he would “only ever get a will drawn up by a solicitor, accountant or an independent financial adviser, who should ideally be a member of STEP(the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) or be a chartered tax adviser.”

The rip-offs
So how are these private will companies ripping people off? Last night’s Panoramaprogramme looked at Willmakers of Distinction, based in Lincoln, which stole hundreds of thousands of pounds from its beneficiaries including a hospice for the dying which relies on charitable donations. Two men, David Nash, the firm’s founder, and Nicholas Butcher, a previously struck-off solicitor whom he employed, were sentenced last month to three and a half years in prison for their fraud and theft. Neil Hollingsworth of Lincolnshire Police told the BBC: “A lot of the times, probably 90% of those cases, the beneficiaries didn’t know they were beneficiaries and so they weren’t asking questions. I guess they probably thought they’d got the perfect crime.”

Panorama also found firms bumping up costs or hiding them in contract fine print. In one case, a gentleman was suddenly presented with a bill charging a percentage of his late wife’s estate amounting to £2,500 because he thought probate was included but was in fact extra.

From my own research, it seems far more common for these companies to simply charge enormous and unnecessary fees up-front. For instance, a simple will should cost around £100. But some will companies offer add-on products. They may offer a ‘lifetime service’ on your wills for any re-writing for an extra amount – I have seen figures of £850 for this, but they could be higher. They may also offer a service for your executors, again at considerable expense.

Firstly, the charge is unwarranted. Unless you change your mind about the will (and even then there are cheaper ways to alter it), the main reason that you might need it re-written is if you got married or divorced. Even then it should not cost £850, unless you end up being married more than Joan Collins. Executors are also unlikely to need £850 worth of help. More to the point, will the company even exist when you pass away? If it has shut down or gone bankrupt then the £850 or any services you paid for will not be available.

What’s being done?
Not nearly enough. In June this year, the Office of Fair Trading gave the green light to many of these companies when it signed-off a new code of practice drawn up by the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW). Although the new code means IPW members will have to pass an entrance exam, complete ongoing professional training and give customers a seven-day cooling-off period, the voluntary membership is relatively meaningless. If an IPW member decides to leave the body or even if they are thrown out, they can still carry on writing wills.

The Society of Will Writers is another purely voluntary trade body with a code of practice. It regulates individuals not firms, but don’t assume that dealing with a member of these trade bodies means you get a better service, expertise or more protection. This is only something you can rely on with regulated experts such as solicitors, accountants or financial advisers. These professionals also have industry indemnity schemes for client protection.

In Scotland, around the time that the OFT was rubber-stamping the new IPW code, Scottish politicians were calling for the compulsory regulation of non-lawyer will-writers.

What you can do
Law Society research reveals that at least one third of UK adults do not have a will. You can:

Have your say…. have you been charged a lot of money for drawing up a will? Are you a solicitor, accountant or IFA with concerns? Are you a private will writer? Please share your views and experiences – leave your comments below…..

 

If you have been ripped off, have a complaint about a company or product or just need to know your rights, then contact me: consumerchampion@hotmail.co.uk

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Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul
If you find yourself taking out new loans to pay back existing loans at expensive rates of interest because your credit rating is not as good as it once was, it may be time to stop and get help.

Don’t ignore calls & letters
When the letters asking for missed repayments start to arrive, they often fall thick and fast. You can often tell what they are before you open them, you may even leave the letter in the envelope.

However what you don’t know is you can get help to stop these letters and help negotiating with creditors to make repayments affordable. The number of times we hear the story of how a person has kicked themselves for waiting so long before getting help, and if they’d known how straightforward it was they would have acted ages ago.

The other side to this is the amount of money that is wasted on penalty fees – millions! If we all seeked help sooner rather than later we’d the banks would be really miserable as they miss out on all of your hard earned cash.

Don’t trade your way out of debt
We’ve all had a call asking for money we haven’t got and most of us have told them what they want to hear knowing full well that the money isn’t there to pay them or thinking the money will be there once you get paid, a deal comes off and other types of windfall.

The reality is that it’s really difficult to catch-up and it may be worth seeking help before too long.

Don’t go into denial
With debt you can find yourself in a dark place where you can convince yourself and possibly others that all is OK, whist deep inside knowing full well that all is not OK, and it’s actually things are getting progressively worse.

You do not need to suffer – this I promise you. There are people out there who can help – here’s a list.

Don’t be afraid to talk to a real person
The Internet is great. What would we do without it? You would not have found this site for a start. But don’t be fooled. For many subjects the internet can be less useful than you think. The last time I checked out my ailments on Google I was in serious trouble as the big ‘C’ was a real possibility. As you’ve guessed, I am alive and kicking.

The same is true of debt. You can’t find out which path you should take to get out of debt just by going online. You can find out about some of the options but you won’t know which one is really best for you, and you won’t know which one your creditors are likely to agree to unless you talk to a real person with the experience necessary to look at you and your finances, to work how you are going to beat debt with the least money and in the shortest time. Here’s a link to real people you’d want to talk to.

And finally, don’t believe everyone that calls himself or herself an expert
The UK is full of commercial debt advice organisations that get paid if you start solutions like commercial debt management plans and IVA’s, or take out a consolidation loan.

The first thing to point out is there are free debt management plans available so don’t start one that doesn’t involve every penny going to your creditors.

Secondly, there is nothing wrong with IVA’s and re-mortgaging as a way of getting out of debt if they are used in the right circumstances.

This is why we’ve made this list of debt charities we would talk to if we were you. They only offer free debt management and only offer IVA and loans if they’re right for you.

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Woke up to the fact that your money is working against you and not for you? Put the kettle on and take a deep breath.

In order to get out of debt, you need to ensure you know exactly who you owe (have any debts been passed on to collection agencies?) and how much you owe them. You also need to find out the rate of interest you are being charged by them on this debt. This will be a figure on your credit card statement or loan agreement, if it’s shown as a monthly percentage simply multiply by 12 to get your annual percentage rate (APR). Credit cards can charge anything from 0% (for a time!) to a whopping 34.9% interest on your debts.

When you know who you owe, and how much, prioritise them. Mortgage / Rent and Council Tax / taxes are the most important. You need to ensure you have a roof over your head, and falling behind on tax payments can land you in court or prison. Prioritise the rest by their percentage rates – you need to work on clearing those with the highest percentages first, whilst meeting minimum payments on all the rest (to ensure your credit file isn’t damaged).

Also, take a look at what exactly you are spending your money on. Keep a spending diary for a month and write down everything – cups of coffee, lunches, magazines, everything. Even when you pop to the shop to grab a missing ingredient, add up the totals. If you find yourself wasting money at lunchtimes, make pack lunches. Spend money on newspapers? Read them online for free instead. Analyse everything.

Take a look at all the Direct Debits and Standing Orders you have coming out of your bank account. Do you still need them all? Should you have cancelled any? Can you cut back on any, such as Sky or gym membership for the time being?

Once you’ve started looking at how you handle your money, and worked out where you can start cutting back and saving, you’ll be well on the way to clearing your debt. It may be a long struggle and take a long time, but it doesn’t have to be a miserable process. If you find yourself missing takeaways, take the time to learn how to make similar dishes yourself. Missing magazines? Subscribe instead and save yourself money. Continue shopping around for everything and let your money work for you.

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Debt advice – 5 important steps

Source:www.moneystand.co.uk

It’s time for some more debt tips! If you’re at the stage when you know you have to face up to your debt but still find the idea a bit daunting, here’s my FIVE most important Steps:

Step One:

There has to be a lightening strike when you are honest with yourself as to exactly how much trouble you are in. Sit down take a deep breath and open all the bills that are stashed away unopened because you have never dared. Write down a list and work out exactly what you owe and to whom. Read that list and cry, grieve, if you need to, and then decide that you are going to sort it.

Step Two:

Set two is tell you loved ones exactly what a mess you are in. They may be angry, shocked or disapointed to start but they will give you the emotional support you need. Once you’ve told your loved ones you will feel better – a problem shared is a problem halved as they say. Your freinds and family won’t just give you emotional support, they’ll also encorage you and help you in other ways – you just have to ask for their support.

Step Three:

Cut up the plastic and stop spending. I don’t care how hard it is or how much you ‘need’ to buy something – this is about tough love here. No excuses. Start riding your bike to work, walk the kids to school, make lunch before you leave the house, use up your tinned food and freezer food that’s just lying around instead of getting more groceries, change your mobile phone plan, anything you haven’t used for a year – put it on ebay, cancel your gym membership and get fit the old fashioned way – there are no excuses here. You CAN stop spending and you CAN make changes right now to reduce your monthly, weekly and daily budget. It’s the only way things will get better, trust me.

Step Four:

Ring a not for debt advice charity, debt advice line, or debt agency – just make sure it’s free to call first. They will not take a fee but will help you go through the options of how to go forward they will contact your creditors and will help you with a budget suitable for you circumstances. Be cautious if they sound like they are trying to sell you a debt solution – make it clear you are calling for a free intial chat about your options and are calling multiple services to get the best advice and will have to discuss it with your family/partner/friends before you choose what road to go down. When you speak to them do not feel embarrassed – they speak to thousands of people around the UK who are having some money problems.

Step Five:

Remember you are not the only person in this situation. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and now you have taken the first steps your life will seem allot easier with a weight lifted from your shoulders. Take a moment to yourself to congratulate yourself that you’re on your way. Positivity and will power is key to changing your financial situation.

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