Price War Fuels Pre-Christmas Retail Growth

There is one clear winner in the current war on the high street, consumers. As retailers, in particular supermarkets, battle for market supremacy, a price war has resulted in huge savings for consumers. This has driven the strongest UK retail sales growth in more than 25 years, as consumers have headed out in droves to pick up their Christmas shopping.

This early discount has encouraged many consumers to bring their Christmas shopping forward as they have looked to bag some of the bargains on offer. The Confederation of British Industry has released data which has shown 71% of businesses have revealed higher volumes in the 2 weeks up to December 11th than that time in the previous year, the highest percentage increase they have seen since 1988.

“The strongest sales growth for a quarter of a century is a big boost for retailers as they head towards the climax of the crucial pre-Christmas trading period,” said Barry Williams, Asda’s chief merchandising officer for food and Chairman of the Confederation of British Industry survey. “Black Friday price-cuts, embraced more widely by more UK retailers than ever, and discounting played an important part in helping sales, encouraging more customers into stores and online to buy more widely.”.

Things look positive for retailers in the coming months too, “The recent fall in the price of oil means more purchasing power for consumers,” said Colin Bermingham, an economist at BNP Paribas. “With inflation now falling below wage growth, real incomes are finally improving in the UK. The labour market data released this week show the wage growth is picking up, especially in the private sector. This bodes well for retail sales growth in the months ahead.”

Yet is it coming at a cost? Retailers are being forced to reduce their prices in order to keep up with their online competition as well as rivals on the high street. As consumers are becoming increasingly savvy and price conscience, retailers have been jostling to provide the lowest prices to retain market share. Supermarkets in particular have had to react in an attempt to fight the competitor from Lidl and Aldi. It will be intriguing to see who buckles under this increased competition.

Who needs public liability insurance?

Public liability insurance is primarily aimed at businesses. It protects businesses, its employees and customers against injury and accident. Not all businesses are legally required to take out public liability insurance, but in most cases it makes sense to have some form of public liability insurance in place, especially if your business sees people going in and out on a regular basis.

The insurance will cover you against any lawsuits due to accident or injury. In the UK, so-called high-risk businesses are required to obtain public liability insurance. These include sporting facilities, such as gyms or riding stables, or businesses where many customers may be at risk, such as shopping centres or bars.

As with any kind of insurance, there are many types of public liability insurance packages on offer. Before shopping around, it is important to understand what risks your business may encounter and which of these should be covered by the insurance.

It is not possible or cost-effective to buy insurance coverage for every feasible eventuality. Therefore, it makes more sense to buy a policy that covers only what you need. By assessing your exact needs, you can also better shop for, not only the best coverage, but best premiums as well. If you are in a high-risk business, it may make financial sense to seek out the advice of an insurance broker.

What does public liability insurance cover?

Coverage varies from policy to policy; however, generally public liability insurance covers businesses against accidents in the workplace. For example, if you own a florist and a customer slips, falls and breaks a leg, your public liability insurance would cover the customer’s medical bills and any legal costs associated with the accident.

Of course, the exact amount of coverage and the excess you may have to pay will vary from policy to policy. For example, some high-risk businesses, such as those operating riding stables, will have exclusions in their policies. That is why, in many cases, customers are asked to sign waivers in case of injury.

However, many customers going to gyms and other public areas may want to see proof that a business has public liability insurance. If it does, it should have policies displayed in a public place.

How are premiums calculated?

Every insurance company has their own premium formula, but most will consider similar factors when quoting rates for public liability insurance. Insurers will assess the risk level of your business; is it low, medium or high risk for injury? How many people visit your business on a daily business? Is it a risky business? Historically, how many people have been injured at your place of business? The answers to these questions will directly impact on your insurance premiums.

As with any insurance policy, premiums will also be influenced by excesses and coverage amounts. Generally speaking, high excesses will lead to lower premiums. You should also talk to you insurance company about how you can lower your premiums. This might involve making your public area or activities safer in order to avoid potential injuries.

What to look for in a current account?

Most people will have a current or checking account at a bank or building society. A current account is usually used to deposit your pay check and pay bills. Although this sounds simple enough, financial institutions are vying for your money, and there are many different current accounts and features to choose from.

It pays to look and compare current accounts on offer and find the ones with the features that best suit your needs. Some of the best benefits and most competitive rates are offered by non-traditional banks, such as those with no branches. By not incurring the cost of establishing branches, they can offer more interesting features to customers.

Do current accounts pay interest?

There are some current accounts that pay interest and others that do not. However, generally speaking, current accounts do not pay interest, as banks would rather you opened a separate savings account as well. Having said that, some banks will pay a low level of interest on current accounts, although usually only on savings over a specific balance. Because of this, it does not really make sense to look specifically for current accounts that pay interest. Instead, you should be looking for current accounts that have no or few fees and open a savings or investment account too.

What features do current accounts have?

Characteristics of current accounts vary greatly from institution to institution. This means that it pays to do some research to find the services that best suit your needs. Look at the fees for current accounts, as most banks will offer current accounts with no fees as long as you maintain a certain balance or deposit a certain amount of cash each month. If you are young and are just starting to work, it may make sense to find a bank that only requires a low balance for a fee-free current account.

Overdrafts are another feature that many current accounts have. Some banks will automatically offer you an overdraft, while others will require you to apply. Check also how overdraft costs are assessed by the bank – this can be an interest rate, a usage fee or so forth. If you are going to use the overdraft feature of the current account on a regular basis, you do not want an account that charges by usage, for example.

As many people now use e-banking and phone banking, this may be a feature you want on your current account. Not all banks offer e-banking or phone banking, while some will require a certain number of e-banking transactions per month if you want to use the feature free of charge.

Some banks are getting more creative and offering some interesting features to attract new customers. These include text alerts of any activity on your account, cash back on utility bills, 0 per cent interest in overdrafts for those switching banks and cash back for those that switch. It really does pay to do some market research.

What to consider before taking out a loan

Loans are a great way for people buy something they cannot afford right away. Although loans are convenient, it is important that you understand how they work so you can get the one that best suits your budget and needs.

People take out loans for a range of purchases. Some are tailored specifically for certain purchases, such as car loans or home improvement loans. The money from such specific loans must be used for the purpose they are intended. This means, for example, that you cannot use a car loan to buy a boat. However, the most flexible type of loan is the personal loan, where money can be used for any purpose – a trip, a new TV, medical treatment, jewellery, or anything else you are interested in purchasing.

Loans today are available from a whole range of financial and non-financial institutions. Banks and building societies are the obvious ones, but there are also now specialised lenders that provide loans for cars, boats and houses etc. Many retailers also offer specific loans to allow you to purchase items such as electronics, furniture, kitchen goods and more. These are known as ‘financing’, but are loans nonetheless.

However, in this difficult economic environment, you should seriously consider whether taking out a loan makes financial sense or not. First, take stock of your financial standing – simply look at your income and your monthly expenses – and see how much you can afford to pay per month. If you feel that you cannot re-pay a loan, then consider saving up the money instead.

What are the different types of loans?

Generally speaking, there are two types of consumer loans: secured and unsecured. Secured loans tend to have lower interest rates than unsecured loans. This is because secured loans require collateral, which means you must put up an asset such as your home, your car, investments or any other valuable item you may own.

If you are unable to repay a secured loan, the lender will take possession of your collateral. Secured loans are, in many cases, the only option for those who do not have a good credit rating. Because of the collateral, lenders see secured loans as low risk.

Unsecured loans, on the other hand, are based on your credit rating, so are not available to everyone, especially young people who may have no credit history. Lenders will use your credit history and credit standing to see if you qualify for an unsecured loan. Unsecured loans tend to be more expensive because the lender has no recourse to an asset if you are unable to repay the loan. They can of course take you to court, but this can be an arduous process that does not guarantee success.

Do I qualify for a loan?

Generally, lenders will look at your credit history and compile a credit report before issuing a loan. This will involve looking at your income, how long you have been in your current job and any outstanding debts you may have. If you are young and do not have a long financial history, it may make sense to try to obtain a loan from your main bank. They are more likely to lend to you than an institution that does not know you.

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What is life insurance?

Many people think of taking out life insurance when they get married or have children. This is because, at these junctures in life, they start thinking of other people and how they may be adversely affected if they pass away. Life insurance is a financial tool by which you can ensure a sum of money is paid to those surviving you.

Life insurance policies have evolved since starting out as simple monthly premiums that resulted in a lump sum being paid out to the beneficiary upon the death of the policy holder. There is now a huge range of policies that pay out in different ways. It is important to educate yourself on the various types of life insurance policies to find the one that best suits your financial needs.

What are the different types of life insurance policies available?

Although there are different permutations of life insurance, there are generally two types of policy: whole and term. Whole life insurance is the more traditional, where a pre-agreed lump sum is paid out upon the death of the policy holder. Generally speaking, this type of policy carries higher insurance premiums, especially if taken out when the policy holder is older.

Term life insurance policies, on the other hand, have a pre-set term and only pay out in the event of death of the policy holder during the term. The policy does not accrue any value and does not pay-out once the policy term has been reached. These policies generally have terms of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 years. Many young people take out term life insurance if they have just bought a house or started a family so that they are protected if there is a sudden death in the family.

There are also different types of contracts within these two life insurance options. Generally, they can be grouped into two categories: protection and investment. Protection policies, as the term suggested, pay out a lump sum upon death as long as insurance premiums are paid regularly during the term of the policy.

Investment contracts work more like investment vehicles, with the premiums invested in the financial markets. These types of contracts do not pay out a pre-agreed lump sum, but pay-out on an investment value basis, i.e. returns made on the premiums, which are invested by the insurance company.

Why buy life insurance?

There are many reasons why people buy life insurance. However, most new home buyers should be aware that mortgage companies or banks will require them to take out life insurance to cover the mortgage. Many people also use life insurance policies as a way of leaving money for loved ones. Spouses and children or other relatives can be named as beneficiaries of life insurance policies. It can also be seen as a way to get peace of mind and provide for family members in the event of a sudden death.

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What is an ISA?

An ISA or Individual Savings Account is a financial product specific to the UK. ISAs were introduced in 1999 to offer UK residents a way to save and grow their savings in a tax exempt manner. The ISAs replaced the previous Personal Equity Plans (PEPs).

What makes ISAs special is that any money contributed can grow free of capital gains tax. It is considered a savings and investment instrument, but is technically not a pension. Consumers have the option to keep their money in an ISA in cash or invest in financial instruments, such as shares, up to an annual limit. Today, there are over 15.4 million ISA accounts, with 78 per cent of these being cash only.

ISAs are available in two formats: cash and stocks/shares. Savers can open one of each ISA and contribute to both on an annual basis, up to the government set limit. The cash ISA is a good option for those savings for a specific purchase or for short-term savers, as the money can is fairly easily withdrawn. The stocks/shares ISA should be seen as a more long-term savings plan because money invested in the shares of listed companies is not readily accessible as cash.

Are there limits to how much I can contribute to an ISA?

Because ISAs benefit from preferential tax treatment, there are limits to how much can be contributed to an ISA on an annual basis. These limits change from year to year, so it is important to check first what the annual limit is before contributing to an ISA account. There are limits for both cash contributions and shares. For example, for 2011-2012 , the cash limit is £5,340 and share limit £10,680.

Junior ISAs

In 2011, the UK government launched the Junior ISA account. The Junior ISA accounts, aimed at children under the age of 18, have an annual limit of £3,600. However, children will not have access to the account until they are 18. Once they reach that age, they can withdraw from the Junior ISA account or convert it into a standard ISA. It is important to note that children are only eligible to open a Junior ISA account if they do not have a Child Trust Fund account.

Where can I open an ISA?

ISA accounts can be opened at any official ISA manager. A full list of ISA managers can be found on the Financial Services Authority (FSA) website: Basically, ISAs are available from a range of financial institutions, including banks, stock brokers and building societies. There are now also retailers that offer ISAs.

ISA managers should offer a range of accounts, although not all will offer both cash and stock/shares ISAs. This means that you should shop around to find the manager that best suits your needs and the ISA you are looking for.

Information about ISAs

Information about new shares ISA

What is a credit card?

A credit card is the most common form of consumer loan in the financial market today. This surprises many people, but by carrying a balance on your credit card you are in fact borrowing money for a fee, i.e. the interest rate. This is the same as a loan; however, credit cards, although convenient, are considered to be the most expensive type of consumer loan as they charge very high interest rates on balances.

Why use a credit card?

Most people have at least one credit card, while some have many more. They have largely simplified life by allowing consumers to buy items without having to have the cash on hand. Today, most shops, restaurants, hotels and businesses accept credit cards, making it a convenient way to pay for services. It also means that consumers don’t have to carry so much cash.

Credit cards also allow you to buy things that you may not be able to afford right away. By carrying a balance on your credit card, you can pay off purchases over time. Credit cards are also accepted all over the world, which means that there is less need for cash when travelling.

Many credit card companies also offer all kinds of points and mileage programmes. This means that you can earn points with your favourite airline for travel or points to redeem for goods and services.

How to get a credit card?

Credit cards are now issued by a range of financial institutions, not just banks. Credit unions, building societies, airlines and even department stores all offer them to consumers. Most will require you to submit an application form before a credit check is performed to check that you qualify. Usually this process takes a few weeks or less. Credit card companies will also set your credit limit in accordance to your earnings and credit rating – the better your credit rating, the higher your credit card limit will be set.

Some tips for using credit cards

Credit cards have become so convenient, and in many cases so easy to obtain, that many people have two or three or more. However, with this easy credit, many consumers get into trouble, spending more than they can really afford. To avoid this, it is better limit the number of cards and pay off balances as soon as possible.

Although credit cards are convenient, they are also considered to be one of the most expensive forms of consumer credit. As a consumer, you pay a price for the convenience of using the card with a higher than average interest rate.

Credit card fraud is also rampant, so you should always take care when using your card. Make sure you check your statements every month and query any unknown charges right away. When using credit cards overseas, it is always a good idea to keep your card with you when paying for services.

What does home insurance cover?

Most home owners, if they have a mortgage, will be required by the lending institution to buy some type of home insurance to cover their home and mortgage payments. However, even if your lending institution does not require home insurance, it makes sense to take it anyway. It will protect one of the largest purchases you will make during your life time.

What is home insurance?

There are many types of home insurance but, basically, it will insure your home against various circumstances. This usually includes weather-related incidents, such as flooding, hail and earthquakes that may damage your home. However, some insurance policies may exclude specific natural disasters, especially if you live in an area that is prone to flooding, for example. Then you may need to find specialised flood insurance or take your own measures to protect your home.

Other incidents covered by home insurance include theft, vandalism, fire and so forth. Many events that may damage your home or property will be covered; however, most policies will have some exclusions, so it is important to know what these are.

There may also be so-called liability insurance in the coverage, which would include accidents that may damage the home or people in the home. However, most liability coverage will have maximums and excesses, so it is important to understand what these are. You should also know that standard insurance contracts will not cover special items in your home. These include, for example, expensive jewellery, antique furniture, and stamp and coin collections. To insure such valuable items, you will probably have to seek out additional contents insurance and pay a separate premium for it.

As with any insurance policy, there are excesses to home insurance. This means that you will have to pay a certain amount out of pocket before the insurance company pays out on a claim. As a rule of thumb, the higher the excess, the lower the premiums.

Is it possible to lower home insurance premiums?

There are many ways insurance premiums are calculated. However, most insurance companies will have a standard formula that shows them the risk of a claim, depending on where your home is located. This will assess the risk for theft, vandalism and natural disasters, for example. There is very little you can do to change the risk profile of your home.

However, there are simple measures you can take to help lower your home insurance premiums. For example, installing a home alarm or surveillance system will increase the security of your home and decrease the likeliness of a break in. Other measures could include installing smoke alarms or sprinkler systems, lowering the possibility of fire damage. Also, it is possible to work together with your insurer and get advice on how you could reduce your premiums. Most insurers will be happy to help.

No claims bonuses also play an important role in premium levels. If you do not make any claims on your home insurance policy in a year, you will generate a no claims bonus. This will continue and accrue for every additional year you make no claims. So, before making a small claim on your home insurance policy, decide on whether it makes sense to sacrifice your no claims bonus.

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What are savings accounts?

A bank or building society in general will offer two types of accounts to customers: checking (or current) accounts and savings accounts. A checking account is generally used to deposit pay checks, create standing orders and pay bills. In contrast, as the name suggests, a savings account is an account where you can save money. These accounts generally pay interest on your balance, but do not allow you to pay bills or write cheques. It is a tool for saving money.

Why open a savings account?

Many institutions nowadays will not pay any interest on balances in your checking account, which means if you want to earn interest on a large cash balance you will need to open a savings account.

If you are employed and are earning money, it is always wise to set a percentage of your wages aside each month and save. This can easily be done with a savings account. Many bank savings accounts can now be linked directly to checking accounts, meaning you can easily transfer money from one to the other. It may also be easier to have a standing transfer set-up, whereby a fixed amount is always put away each month. This way, you can quickly watch your savings grow!

For some, it may be a good idea to do a bit of financial planning. Look at your monthly income and expenses and see how much money you have left over. Saving a high percentage of this so-called ‘disposable income’ is a good way to plan for the future. A savings account will also help you see how much you have saved. Maybe save for a special purchase, such as buying a home, going on a vacation or buying a car.

Are there different types of savings accounts?

Generally yes, but these will depend greatly on the bank or financial institution. Some banks may offer savings accounts with interest thresholds. For example, for certain amounts, you earn a certain level of interest. If you exceed those amounts, you can earn higher rates of interest. This should motivate you to save more. Some banks will also have restrictions of minimum levels on savings accounts before they start earning interest, so make sure you are always above this threshold.

In many cases, other non-bank institutions may offer more competitive rates on savings. For example, building societies or postal savings accounts may offer specific savings products, which may not be quite as flexible as bank savings accounts, but can earn higher rates of interest. These accounts may have restrictions, for example, on how much you can withdraw at one time, a minimum account level, and how often you can withdraw money. Some will levy penalties, so make sure you understand and know the restrictions on the account.

Another specific type of savings account is Certificates of Deposit (CoD) or ISAs. These are special savings accounts that either have balance and/or time limits. These types of accounts, because of their restrictions, generally carry much higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts.

Tips on managing your credit report

A credit report in basic terms is something that rates your creditworthiness. Credit reports are generally used by people who want to take out a loan, such as a mortgage, car loan or personal loan, or get a credit card. The lending institutions, whether it’s a bank, building society or credit card company, will look at your credit report to see what your credit history is like before they decide whether or not to lend you any money or issue a credit card to you.

What does a credit report cover?

There are many types of credit reports; some more detailed than others. In fact, it always makes sense to know what your credit report looks like before deciding whether or not to make a large purchase, such as a home. This is because your creditworthiness will determine not only whether you can obtain a loan, it will also influence the cost of your loan. If you have a good credit rating, the bank will be willing to lend you money and offer you more competitive rates because you are considered to be less of a risk.

In the UK, credit reference agencies provide credit reports to banks and financial institutions. Under UK law, these agencies must provide consumers with a credit report under the Data Protection Act. For a small fee, anyone can get hold of a copy of their basic credit report. The will cover details such as date of birth, earnings and residential addresses for the last six years.

A more detailed report will show earnings, loans, court judgments, bankruptcies, house repossessions and any defaults on loans. Such a report can be obtained for a price from agencies. In this day and age where there is a lot of fraud, it makes sense to get your credit report and make sure it is accurate. If it isn’t accurate, make sure you contact the Financial Services Authority Consumer Help centre.

Who uses a credit report?

Credit reports are used by banks and financial institutions to asses a potential borrower. This will happen if you apply for a mortgage, a personal loan, a credit card or a car loan. Most banks will do their own due diligence but will start out by getting a borrower’s credit report. They will use this report to assess borrowers and create a credit score.

If you are borrowing from your own bank or financial institution, they will use the history you have with the bank as part of the credit rating. They will look at income deposited in the account, withdrawals, bounced checks and overdrafts. The bank will also look at repayments of old loans to see if you were ever delinquent.

The bank will also take a look at your income and your expenses. All these factors are used to create the credit rating. According to the level of your score, you will be accepted or denied a loan.

How to choose a car insurance company

Under UK law, every driver needs to purchase car insurance. However, the legal requirement on insurance only covers a minimal or basic amount, third party damage. This means that the insurance will cover damage to a third party, but not damage to yourself or your vehicle. Because of this, it is often a good idea to look for additional coverage for you, your vehicle and your passengers.

Isn’t all car insurance the same?

No, not all car insurance is the same. In fact, car insurance is one of those areas where it pays to do research and compare prices to get the best coverage for the best price. However, it is important to compare exact coverage details. This process has been significantly simplified with the invention of the internet, as many websites now allow buyers to compare policies easily.

Consumers should keep in mind that you get what you pay for when it comes to car insurance. Make sure you look at certain factors, such as the limits of your insurance for example, as there may be a maximum amount paid out per accident or claim or the level of deductible or excess. These and other factors will affect the price of your insurance.

What types of car insurance are there?

As with many insurance policies, car insurance comes with different coverage and prices. The most important things to understand are the three general categories of car insurance: third party, fire and theft and comprehensive.

The minimum amount of car insurance required by law is third party, but for most drivers this is not enough coverage; many add other features, such as fire and theft. These two together are probably the minimum amount of coverage most people want, as it still does not cover your vehicle in event of an accident.

As the name suggests, comprehensive coverage covers more than just third party and fire and theft. It covers your vehicle, as well as a third party’s vehicle, in the event of an accident, and also for fire and theft. Although comprehensive insurance is usually the most expensive, it does offer the best peace of mind. However, comprehensive car insurance coverage can be made affordable by several factors, such as a high deductible or excess.

What are deductibles or excesses?

In many cases, car insurance is not only differentiated by the coverage. The cost of the insurance will also depend on the level of the deductible or excess. As a rule of thumb, a higher deductible can significantly save you money on insurance premiums. A deductible refers to the amount you have to pay out of your own pocket, before the insurance coverage kicks in.

If you have a high deductible, it means that the insurance company will not compensate you on small damages. Some insurance companies will also offer customers voluntary excess, which means you can increase the amount you pay out of your pocket even further, significantly reducing insurance premiums.

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How to choose a broadband provider

If you’re looking to install internet at your home or business, you need to start thinking about which internet service provider to go with. Although there are several types of services to choose from, broadband provides the fastest speeds and is the most popular type. However, even within broadband services there are numerous types to choose from, so it’s important to find the deal that best suits your budget and your needs.

What will you use your internet for?

The first thing you need to do is to figure out what you want to use your internet for. Is it primarily to check emails, surf the net, download movies or music, or upload movies and photos? Alternately, you may be running a web business or using internet phone services. Working out what you will use your internet for will help you understand how much speed and usage you will need.

Uploading and downloading movies and photos, as well as using video-conferencing such as Skype, uses a lot of bandwidth and memory. If that is what you want to do, you should look at broadband packages that offer unlimited usage. This is because exceeding your monthly usage limit can be very expensive. For not so heavy internet users, a lower speed and less memory will suffice.

What are some of the characteristic of broadband services?

Once you have decided what type of broadband service you require, it is important to compare the broadband packages companies are offering. There are many different deals and different pricing levels, so it is important to understand exactly what you are being offered and what you will be paying.

Since it is important to compare apples and apples, take a look at a few basic characteristics of different broadband services. Speed is usually described in megabytes (Mb), and the faster the speed, that faster web pages will load; this will also affect upload and download times as well as the price.

The second characteristic to look for is the usage limit. This refers to the amount of data you can transfer per month – both uploads and downloads. This is important if you are watching movies online or downloading a lot of data. If this is the case, an unlimited usage limit is probably the best option. However, unlimited broadband packages are more expensive, so if you’re only using your internet for emails and surfing, you do not need so much data.

Bundled broadband packages

Nowadays, many broadband providers are offering bundled packages. These deals can include home phone lines, broadband internet and digital TV services. For many, it will make sense to find the most competitive bundled packages. These will not only save money, but also simplify process by only having to deal with one service provider. In many cases they also require only one installation.

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