4 months’ free TV and films

free tv uk

Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTV… Sign up to them all to reap the unique benefits of each and you might not be able to pay for your mortgage!

Meet your freebie Sensei

Our miserly thrifty reporter ‘in the field,’ John Davidson, Product Manager at Money Dashboard, has been doing everything he can to avoid paying / pay as little as possible for the max return of quality streaming entertainment; and because he’s a magnanimous fellow too, he wants to share his pearls of wisdom with the discerning public. 

This blog post isn’t so much about choosing a product and sticking with it; it’s about paying the least possible for max. amount of viewing pleasure!

It is probably worth saying at this point that this is made up entirely of John’s opinions and suggestions and does not necessarily reflect those of Money Dashboard.

TV for £1 or less

Before you go on, or in case you can’t be bothered, it’s highly noteworthy that, for the next month, NowTV are offering you the chance to try out their Entertainment (Tv) service for just £1; their library includes stuff like Game of Thrones and True Detective. Think how much Game of Thrones you can eat in a month! <Homer>mmmmm, Game of thrones</Homer>

Free trials

This is key. 

Some providers require you to input your bank details even if they aren’t going to take payment in the first month – but they will take payment in subsequent months if you don’t cancel in time. If you’re trying anything on a free trial, make sure to set a highly visible alert or calendar reminder to yourself for a few days before it expires, so you can ensure you cancel it before you start getting charged (assuming you don’t want to continue using the service!)

The process for the top providers are detailed below. Let’s go.

Sign up to Blinkbox

That’s it. Don’t rent anything. They’ve got your email address now, and it’s in their interests to make you become a customer. There’s a good chance they’ll start sending you offers – movies for just a £1 on a certain day – 25% off your next purchase etc.

It’s a nice surprise when you receive it, and Blinkbox has a wealth of up to date movies that far surpasses any of the other streaming services I’m going to go into, so you’ll never not be in a position where you can’t find a movie to watch, if you want to take them up on their offer to do it on the cheap.

Obviously, if you do find something, and you’re signed up to another service as well, check that you can’t already see it via your existing provider as part of the subscription fee you’re already paying.

Sign up to Amazon Prime on a month’s free trial

Amazon Prime, in the writer’s opinion, has a comparatively poor selection of movies and shows, so much so that the month-long free trial was sufficient for me to see all the movies available (that I hadn’t already seen) that I wanted to see + one season of a decent show I knew I couldn’t get elsewhere (Bosch.)

After that, I was more than happy to pull the plug on my subscription and move on. Of course, it may be the perfect service for you, with the free shipping aspect, but it definitely wouldn’t be able to satisfy my viewing entertainment appetites every month!

When choosing what to watch in the month, try and choose movies and shows you won’t be able to get on your upcoming free trials with Netflix and NowTV (it’s easy enough to scan their libraries without actually signing up.

You’ve just seen a bunch of films (and premium TV shows) for free 🙂

Sign up to NowTV* Movies on a month’s free trial

*It’s important to note that NowTV is divided into two separate services; NowTV movies for films, and NowTV Entertainment for shows/’boxsets’.

At the time of blogging, I can get a month’s free trial with NowTV movies, but not with NowTV Entertainment. However, I was delighted recently when I received an offer to try out NowTV Entertainment for just a £1 for first month, (after which, crucially, I can cancel), in an email from Vouchercloud.

Top tip: Sign up to Vouchercloud and get alerted to such offers in their emails! We don’t have an affiliation with them, I just think they’re cool!

NowTV Movies has a far more extensive range than Amazon Prime – again, through the month, go for movies you know aren’t available on Netflix.

You’ve just seen a bunch of films for free, two months in a row 🙂

Sign up to Netflix on a month’s free trial

Ok, you’ve got the hang of it now, only you now might want to optimise what you want based on what isn’t available on Blinkbox.
Bongo. You’ve just had three months of entertainment for free!

What now?

Now it’s up to you to decide whether any of those services merit the subscription charge every month.

Bear in mind, those companies still having your email address is a plus. What they want more than anything, is to make you theirs, so look out for offers and incentives to sign up properly for any of these services.

1. Pause your accounts

When you’re going on holiday, the selection has got a bit stale etc. If you cancel your account with Netflix, you can pick it up again, with all the watching history, ratings etc. at any point up to 10 months later. NowTV Movies also make it easy for you to cancel, but come back at a later date.

Basically, you never want to be paying for more than one streaming service subscription at once, and these services make it easy for you to flit between them every couple of months, watching one service’s new additions, whilst the other service builds up a decent stock of new stuff in their library.

2. TV for the long haul

Having done all the free trials, I predominantly use Netflix, but then when I find the selection has got a bit stale, pause it for a month or so, whilst switching NowTV on for a couple. After a couple of months Netflix’s library has built up nicely again.

Blinkbox is a cherry on the top for the whole thing, providing the odd ‘treat’ film, ideally discounted with one of the special offers they’ll be sending you to desperately try to get you to use their service!

3. Set up a spend tracker

What kind of post would this be without a plug for Money Dashboard? To be fair, I feel like the Spend Tracker tool in our free personal finance manager and budget tool is the best way to keep track of spending on things like online TV and entertainment. Set up a spend tracker using our new Money Dashboard app to keep track of anything you spend on say downloading movies, committing to monthly subscriptions or going to the cinema to keep your TV watching in line with your budget. 

About the author

Your correspondent in penny-pinching getting value for money, John Davidson, is a keen money saver and long time Money Dashboard user. He recently attended a comedy stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was named Sexiest Guy at The Fringe 2015. Described by colleagues as short and sassy, he often tells the team about the latest deals he’s getting and money back on things. 

John Davidson

What is the cost of love?

cost of being in a relationship

The love of your life may be costing you money. Mike Hall explains…

It’s all in the numbers

Are you a cheap date, or are you high maintenance? While most people seem to believe that being in a relationship saves money, statistics published by Confused.com and TotallyMoney.com seem to indicate that the reverse is true.

The Confused.com research reached the surprising conclusion that being single saves you £2,340 a year, even though only 16% of people in a relationship believe they spend less than they would if they were single.

Household costs

It’s obviously cheaper to split bills like rent, mortgage or energy between two. While two people may make twice as many calls, or spend twice as much time on the Internet, the line rental costs are halved and that makes it cheaper between two. However, a couple living together might choose to live in a nicer place, or may choose a more expensive media and entertainment package from their provider.

The research shows those in a relationship will spend £538 each on household costs, while a single person will only spend £421.
However, it’s not all about splitting costs. Those surveyed that are in a relationship do not necessarily live together, and those that are single do not necessarily live alone.

All kinds of costs

Really, there isn’t any aspect of your personal finances where people don’t spend more in a relationship. Per month, someone in a relationship spends on average £117 more on household costs, £52 more on food and household essentials, £21 more on travel, and £5 more on hobbies and socialising.

Giving gifts

The only time it pays off financially to be in a relationship is when it comes to giving gifts, with 43% saving money by giving gifts as a couple and splitting the cost. On the other hand, 19% of single people believe they are better off because they don’t have to buy gifts for a partner.

Savings being in a relationship

  1. Single room for holidays
  2. Bulk savings on food
  3. Couples living together can split the cost of rent and living costs
  4. Council tax discount
  5. Sharing a car
  6. Giving one gift from both people on special occasions

Costs of being in a relationship

  1. Date nights
  2. Birthday or anniversary gifts for your partner
  3. “Nesting” – new furnishings and home decoration
  4. The wedding
  5. Raising children (!)

Gender roles

According to TotallyMoney’s research, 52% of men think they spend more in a relationship, verses only 39% of women who feel that way. This disparity may be to do with traditional gender roles, as men expect or are expected to pay for drinks, meals and other costs on a romantic evening out. However, things do seem to be changing. While 68% of men aged 35-44 think they spend more in a relationship, only 49% of men aged 24-35 agree with them.

Track your budget

If you have recently gone from being single to in a relationship, or vice versa, you can see what changes it has on your spending habits with Money Dashboard.

Changes can easily be seen when all your transactions are categorised and compared in colourful graphs and charts. If you’ve been using Money Dashboard for personal finance management already, it stores your historic data, so you can go back to your last change in status. If you’re a new user, it can go back to the last three months of transactions for most financial providers.

About the author

Mike Hall is a media and marketing professional, specialising in video production and content marketing. From Edinburgh, Scotland, Mike now lives in Glasgow. He has experience is short film production, podacasting and Internet radio, as well as having worked with SMEs in the technology industry, and private clients as a web designer, and an IT and marketing consultant.

mike hall glasgow

Do I have the ‘Right to Buy’ a house?

right to buy

Mike Hall investigates ‘Right to Buy’ for Money Dashboard…

The Government’s ‘Right to Buy’ scheme is designed to make it easier for those living in homes provided by the local council or a housing association to buy the home they live in. Tenants in England, Wales or Northern Ireland who have stayed in their home over five years may qualify for large discounts on the purchase of their home.

However, this still leaves a large number of potential home owners without assistance. Those in private rented accommodation or living with their parents, for example, are not eligible. Do we all have a “right to buy” our homes?

Is it OK to just rent?

Not everyone who is able to buy a home ends up better off. Running a household can be expensive and there is no guarantee it will be profitable. The property market if difficult to predict, and if the value falls, you could end up owing more than your house is worth. So even if you sold it, you would still owe money to your lender.

However, if the value increases, you may be able to capitalise on this when you’re able to move into a larger home, or give yourself a lump sum pay out if your circumstances change and you have to move out.

Advantages of Renting

  1. Renting is a temporary commitment. Most rental agreements last for at least six months, but after that you are free to move if you have changed your mind or changed circumstances. Buying is much more permanent, and changing your mind after only a few months could incur heavy costs.
  2. A renter is not liable for upkeep and maintenance of the property. Plumbing, electrical and boiler fees, etc. are a home owner’s responsibility.
  3. While rent may increase periodically, as a tenant you are not at risk of losing out due to falling property values.

Advantages of Buying

  1. While mortgage payments tend to involve paying a lot of interest, each payment takes you closer to owning the property, so when you move out you will be able to sell it on.
  2. Rented properties often come with strict rules about what kind of decorating and renovating you are allowed to do. In some rented homes, you will be stuck with furniture and wall paint you did not choose. If you own a home, you have much more freedom to personalise your space, including major renovations as permissible by your planning regulations.
  3. Buying your first home is often described as getting on the “property ladder”. If your income increases, or you have paid of a significant amount of your mortgage already, you may be able to move into a bigger home and your new mortgage will pay off your old one.

Costs to Consider

As well as the deposit, and the monthly mortgage repayment, there are other costs to budget for when buying a home:

  • Solicitor’s fee and other legal costs
  • Cost of house survey (ignoring this could lead to large repair bills later on) 
  • Stamp Duty Land Tax (or in Scotland, Land and Buildings Transaction Tax)
  • Utility bills (gas, electric, broadband) if you’re not already paying them
  • Removal costs or van hire
  • Furniture and lighting

Help to Buy (in Scotland)

An alternative to Right to Buy available in Scotland is the Help to Buy scheme. The scheme is open to a larger pool of first time buyers. The Scottish Government will provide an interest-free loan of up to 20% of the purchase price from some newly built properties. Other similar schemes with slightly different qualifying criteria are known as the New Supply Shared Equity and Open Market Shared Equity.

Shared Ownership

Another option for those struggling to afford the cost of buying home is a Shared Ownership scheme. These schemes are available to first time buyers, and former property owners who can no longer manage the costs. It allows you to buy between 25% and 75% of a property, making the total purchase price more reachable. This option is especially suited to over 55s or people with long term disabilities. Those that participate in the scheme will be given the option to buy the rest of their home at a later date.

How to Save Money to Buy Your Home

Whether there are Government schemes available to help you buy your home or not, it’s important to save up enough to cover your deposit and additional fees. Money Dashboard is a personal finance management tool that allows you to monitor your bank accounts and transactions to make sure you regularly save an amount you can afford until you reach your savings goal.

About the author

Mike Hall is a media and marketing professional, specialising in video production and content marketing. From Edinburgh, Scotland, Mike now lives in Glasgow. He has experience is short film production, podacasting and Internet radio, as well as having worked with SMEs in the technology industry, and private clients as a web designer, and an IT and marketing consultant.

mike hall glasgow

ISAs are changing: Are they still worthwhile?

ISA Account Changes 2015

On 18 March 2015, George Osbourne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced the Government’s proposals for changes in the way ISAs operate as part of the annual UK Budget statement. While the changes are designed to support small businesses and first time house buyers, a reduction in ISA interest rates has left those considering their saving plan wondering if ISAs are still a worthwhile savings option.

This week Money Dashboard user and Digital maven, Mike Hall, breaks down the ISA and what the new changes could mean for you…

What is an ISA?

An Individual Savings Account is a type of bank account, often referred to as a “wrapper”, available to over 16s in the UK. The main advantage of an ISA is that up to a certain annual limit, known as an allowance, the Government will not charge any tax on interest received from your investment. There are two main types of ISA: cash ISAs, and stocks and shares ISAs.

Changes as of April 2015

From the 6th April, the ISA allowance will increase from £15,000 to £15,240. This means you’re able to invest up to £15,240 over the course of the financial year (up to 5th April 2016) and you won’t have to pay tax on the savings. Invest any more, and you’ll pay tax on the amount over the allowance. If you invest less than this amount, your allowance won’t be carried over to the next year, but you will get a new allowance for 2016.

Changes planned for Summer 2015

The new rules on ISAs allow you to invest in securities (not just shares) in small and medium sized enterprises, and listed bonds issued by co-operatives and community benefit societies, provided they are listed on a recognised stock exchange. This means you have more options when it comes to investing your money in stocks and shares ISAs. This is especially useful if you are picky about which organisations you finance for ethical reasons, or know a small business you’d like to support.

Changes planned for Autumn 2015

Later in the year we’ll see the introduction of the “fully flexible ISA”, explained more fully below. There is no date available yet for when this type of ISA will be launched, as the Government is planning to consult with representatives from the financial industry to plan the details.

Changes planned for April 2016

As of 6th April 2016, there will be no tax to pay on the first £1000 of interest earned from non-ISA savings accounts. This effectively defeats the benefit of ISA investment, as other savings accounts are likely to pay higher interest rates, and you won’t be paying tax either way.

Disappointing Interest Rates on cash ISAs

The interest rates offered on an instant access cash ISA are around 1.5% (variable), which is significantly lower than that a regular savings account, which is around 6% (fixed). Although with a regular savings account you will pay 20% tax on any interest, the net (after tax) rate is still 2.5%, which is higher that a cash ISA, meaning you’re likely to receive higher interest paying into a regular savings account than a cash ISA.

Fully Flexible ISAs

Currently, any investment into an ISA counts towards your annual allowance, regardless of withdrawals. So if you deposit £100, withdraw £100, then deposit £100 again, you will have used up £200 of your allowance, despite only having £100 in the account. With a fully flexible ISA, you can withdraw and deposit as much as you like, the allowance will apply to the balance deposited in your account over the end of the tax year. This will only apply to cash ISAs, however, not stocks and shares ISAs.

Stocks and Shares ISAs

Given the low interest rates on cash ISAs, stocks and shares ISAs may be a better investment for savers. Investing in stock markets is risky, there is a chance you will lose your money, but there is also a chance you will yield more profit than cash ISAs or other savings options. If you decide to buy stocks and shares to put in an ISA account, it’s sensible to make use of an investment management service to ensure you are investing wisely.

Help to Buy ISAs

With a Help to Buy ISA, the Government will add 25% to the amount you pay in, provided the money is used to buy your first property. You can pay in a maximum of £200 per month, meaning you will receive a maximum of £50 a month support from taxpayers. You can only have one Help to Buy ISA per person, but if you are saving with a partner you can have one each, doubling your total allowance and the bonus you receive. The Government bonus can’t be withdrawn from your account, and will only activate when your investment is used to buy a home (or a mortgage for a home) worth less than £450,000 in London or less than £250,000 anywhere else in the UK.

If you are saving towards buying a home, or have any other financial goals, Money Dashboard’s free personal finance software is a great way to track your saving progress, and identify ways to save money in your monthly spending.

About the author

Mike Hall is a media and marketing professional, specialising in video production and content marketing. From Edinburgh, Scotland, Mike now lives in Glasgow. He has experience is short film production, podacasting and Internet radio, as well as having worked with SMEs in the technology industry, and private clients as a web designer, and an IT and marketing consultant.

mike hall glasgow

Spotlight on: Crowdfunding

28025098 m

Whether it’s finding investment for a budding business idea, the perfect wedding day or even a life-size monument to Robocop in Detroit (yes that actually happened), crowdfunding can be a great way to source extra money for a project. However, with so many websites available, picking the right one can feel like a bit of a minefield.

Fear not though, help is at hand. Although crowdfunding sites may seem similar, there are some key differences between them that we’ve listed here. Before you dive in, make sure you have a handle on your finances by signing up for our free budget planner. This will give you a clearer idea of your incomings and outgoings, which is vital information before you start investing in anything.

Kickstarter

One of the most well-known crowdfunding websites around, Kickstarter claims to have raised over $1 billion since it was founded in April 2009. The site can only be used to fund creative projects, i.e something that has a clear goal, will eventually be completed, and will end having produced something. So if you’re looking to write a book, or produce an album or art project, Kickstarter may be the way to make it happen. If you’re successful in raising your target amount, Kickstarter will take 5% of the total funds raised, 3% and 20p per pledge in payment processing fees, as well as VAT on the total of all the fees paid. With so many charges, it is definitely worth factoring these fees into your target amount from the beginning.

Crowdcube

Crowdcube funds all manner of businesses from a host of different industries. To sign up for funding, Crowdcube has a strict vetting process whereby users must submit a business plan, financial forecasts for the next three years, and a video pitch explaining their investment proposal. Each pitch will go live for 60 days before it expires. Like Kickstarter, the site has a complex pricing structure: if you are successful, Crowdcube will take 5% of the total funds raised, as well as a hefty £1,750 (+VAT) in execution fees.

Seedrs

Seedrs is a website designed for entrepreneurs to get seed funding. Pretty much anyone can start a campaign by answering some questions about their business plan, which will be assessed in line with the website’s criteria. But don’t be put off by this – one project on Seedrs recently raised £250,000 in investment towards a musical version of Happy Days, which toured the UK earlier this year.

Indiegogo

Indiegogo was designed with the aim of simplifying crowdfunding. There are no criteria for the projects you can start and it’s free to sign up, create, and contribute to a campaign. The site also offers two funding plans: flexible and fixed. Unlike most crowdfunding sites, flexible funding means that even if you don’t reach your goal, you get to keep what you’ve raised, and you simply pay a higher percentage of the total to Indiegogo.

Crowdfunder

Crowdfunder prides itself on supporting projects that can benefit communities and not just the project owner themselves. Projects must also have a clear goal and tangible rewards, and fit into one of the site’s nine categories. To apply to start a project, all Crowdfunder ask is that you have a good idea, five tangible rewards, a video explaining your project and of course, what any good investment plan needs: passion.

Posted by Money Dashboard

  

The best Easter egg hunts in the UK

Easter Egg hunt

 

As the weather improves, Easter offers the first big opportunity for a family outing. But where are the best places to hunt Easter eggs this year?

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Chatsworth House is one of the jewels of the Peak District, boasting a historic house, an impressive art collection and 105 acres of sprawling gardens filled with treasures. And all of this is put to good use at Easter.

From the 12th – 27th of April, visitors can hunt decorated eggs in the extravagant interior, and golden eggs across the garden. On Easter Weekend, the Easter Bunny arrives, bringing face painting and an Easter egg trail to the farmyard and adventure playground.

Culzean Castle, Ayrshire

If it’s sunny this Easter, there will be no finer place to visit than this stunning 18th Century castle on the Scottish coast. As well as the castle, gardens, adventure playground and nearby beach, Culzean Castle is one of many National Trust and National Trust for Scotland properties partnered with Cadbury to provide a Cadbury Eggsplorer adventure. Kids follow tailored clues and answer questions to find their own personal (chocolaty) prize.

If you’re not near Culzean, you can find your nearest National Trust/Cadbury egg hunt here.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh

If you’re more Lindt than Cadbury, grab an Activity Pack at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to follow clues, learn about the flora and fauna across the site, and win an indulgent chocolate bunny.

Brighton Chicken Run, East Sussex

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? You’ll find out if you visit Hove Park on the 13th of April. The Chicken Run is a 5km fun run for adults, and a 500m dash for children. Everyone must dress up in a chicken costume (provided) and everyone who finishes gets a chocolate egg to replenish their energy reserves.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

The ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough will play host to another esteemed guest over Easter: Peppa Pig. The porcine pal of many a youngster will be visiting on the 20th and 21st of April to celebrate ’10 years of muddy puddles’. If you have no idea what we’re talking about, you may prefer to visit on the 18th or 19th of April to participate in the Blenheim Palace Easter Egg Hunt, which invites children to solve clues around the Pleasure Garden to win prizes.

The Peter Rabbit Egg Hunt 2014, The Lake District

Few hunts match the scale, scope or wholesome fun of this county-wide search for Peter’s bounty, which promises exercise, fresh air, map reading and big prizes.

To participate, simply visit the Peter Rabbit Egg Hunt website and donate at least £2 to Water Aid. When the hunt begins on April 16th, participants can use the Google Map provided to try and find one of 50 limited edition ceramic eggs hidden around the Lake District. As soon as eggs are reported found, they disappear from the map.

Lucky egg-hunters can keep their loot, and also have the chance to win big prizes: including a trip to see the Peter Rabbit Garden at the Chelsea Flower show, and a luxury stay in the Lakes. If you’re not lucky enough to win, you can always plan your own luxury trips, using our free Money Dashboard budgeting software to help you map out the costs.

 

 

Posted by Marc Murphy, Marketing Manager at Money Dashboard.

 

 

Renters rights: a simple guide

Renting Social

 

Renting a property doesn’t just mean paying for a roof over your head – it comes with a certain amount of basic rights.

Knowing your home

You have the right to know who your landlord is (it should be on your contract), to see an Energy Performance Certificate for the property, and for appliances and furniture to have a gas safety certificate and be fire resistant. If your landlord doesn’t provide this information within 21 days of requesting it, they are liable for a fine.

There are also legal requirements for your tenancy agreement – if you’re concerned about any clauses, you can challenge them.

Control of your property

If your rented property is your only or principal home, you have the right to live there without being disturbed. Landlords cannot enter whenever they want, or allow others to do so. Anyone trying to do so is breaking harassment laws.

Repairs

According to The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, landlords are required to maintain the structure of the property, including the roof, guttering, walls, windows and doors; plus the gas, electricity, water and heating supply.

Tenants have responsibility for basic maintenance and cleanliness, for example, changing a fuse, unblocking the sink and changing lightbulbs. You will also have to pay for damage you, or your guests, cause.

Rent

When you move into a property, you will agree the exact amount of rent and when it should be paid by. It’s your responsibility to pay on time, and you will also be liable for all bills and council tax unless it is agreed otherwise when you move in.

If you’re a fixed-term tenant, the landlord can’t increase the rent unless you agree to it. If you believe a rent increase is unreasonable, you can sometimes take the matter to a rent tribunal. Once a fixed term ends, however, landlords may apply a rent increase.

Ending a tenancy

A tenancy can be ended at any time by mutual agreement with the landlord. Otherwise, renters may only leave a contract if it is month to month, if the contract contains a break clause, or if the landlord agrees that someone can take over your tenancy. You cannot simply abandon a property, the landlord will have the legal right to charge you until the end of your agreement.

At the other end of the spectrum, a landlord cannot evict you without a court order. To obtain this, the landlord has to supply you with written notice (which can range from two weeks to two months), and you will be given the chance to explain to the court why you should not be evicted.

Common causes for eviction are property redevelopment, repossession, and non-payment or delayed payment of rent. You can use our secure online finance software to track your accounts, and make sure you never miss a payment.

Deposit protection

All deposits for tenancies starting after 6 April 2007 must be protected by a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme. That’s an independent fund which either holds or guarantees your money until both landlord and tenant are in agreement over how much (if any) is owed for repairs, cleaning or rent arrears after a tenancy ends.

 

Posted by Marc Murphy, Marketing Manager at Money Dashboard.

 

Savers hunt for best stocks & shares ISA returns

cashisa versus SandS returns chart

ISA deadline day – 5th April – is fast approaching and, with interest rates desperately failing to keep pace with inflation since 2008, there is speculation that many people will be shunning cash ISAs in search of the highest returns they can find from a stocks and shares ISA.

The average interest rate on cash ISAs stood at a meagre 1.18% at the start of March 2014, according to Bank of England figures. That’s well below inflation, which has been riding high above the Bank’s target of 2% for much of the last five years, meaning savers have effectively seen the value of their hard-earned money fall in real terms.

Nick Hungerford, founder and CEO of online investment manager Nutmeg, believes we’re about to see a significant swing from cash ISAs to stocks and shares ISAs.

“At this time of year, with the 5th April ISA deadline firmly in view, we normally see a bombardment of special rate deals for £5,760 cash ISAs from the high street banks. Such deals have failed to emerge. With interest rates so low, it’s very difficult for the banks to offer good rates to savers. What’s more, stocks and shares ISAs are no longer perceived as complicated and only preserved for the super-rich. I predict many people will switch from cash to the higher £11,520 allowance of stocks and shares ISAs during this ISA season – and the benefits they’ll experience will keep them there.”

So where does that leave anyone looking to find the best returns from an ISA, or exploring investment ISAs for the first time? There are plenty of ‘do-it-yourself’ platforms out there where you buy access to them and have the opportunity to invest in one or more of the funds they recommend. But how do you know what funds or individual shares will perform best? Just picking from a short list of suggested funds, or buying into particular stocks and shares someone has suggested to you, can put you on very dangerous ground, says Hungerford.

“Having all your eggs in one basket like that is incredibly risky. Intelligent investing means spreading and managing your risk by making sure your money is in a wide range of different investment types – shares, bonds, commodities, and so on – across many geographies and industry sectors. That way, when financial markets go down, you can reduce the impact of any losses, and when there are gains, your money is spread in order to take advantage of more areas enjoying good returns.”

Getting a complete, diversified portfolio like that, fully managed by an investment team, is not something that comes easily unless you have a lot of money to invest. Or is it? Recent regulatory changes in the investment industry have led to the emergence of companies like Nutmeg who can offer this kind of high-end service at low cost by taking advantage of the efficiencies and powerful tooling that digital technology gives you.

“It’s been changing for a while now,” continues Hungerford, “especially in the US, where the investment industry is, in many ways, more advanced than in the UK. It’s a digital industry these days. The era of face-to-face relationships is dying out because it costs money to maintain those stately Mayfair offices and take big clients out on expensive golf days. That has to be paid for and it’s the investor, the customer, the stocks and shares ISA holder, who ends up paying for it in inflated fees and sneaky charges.”

“At Nutmeg, we build, constantly monitor and fully manage ISA portfolios for our customers that are tailored to their goals and financial profile. That kind of service, traditionally only available to those with many thousands of pounds, is now accessible to the majority. You can start an ISA portfolio with us for just £1,000 – plus, £50 monthly contributions for accounts less than £5,000.”

The crucial question remains, however: What kind of returns can you get from having a diversified portfolio?

Nutmeg portfolio 6 returns in 2013 v competitors

 

“Our medium-risk portfolio delivered returns of 14.5% in 2013, after fees,” says Hungerford. “Our high-risk profile fared even better, up 20.6% over those 12 months. Our low-risk portfolio was also incredibly strong when compared to the kind of interest rates you can get on a cash ISA, returning 7.8% last year.”

Given that interest rates have remained so low for so long – in fact, the five-year stagnation we’re currently experiencing is unprecedented since the post-war recovery period of the 1940s and 1950s – it’s no surprise that the British public may finally be feeling the pinch as the cost of living far outstrips their capacity to save. That was perhaps the driving force behind the Government’s recent announcement that they’ll be revamping ISAs from 1st July, giving people more flexibility to switch between cash and stocks and shares ISAs, and increasing the total annual allowance to £15,000.

 

Risk warning

The views and opinions expressed herein are for informational purposes only. They are subject to change without notice, and do not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation or individual needs of any particular person. They are not personal recommendations and should not be regarded as solicitations or offers to buy or sell any of the securities or instruments mentioned. The views are based on public information that Nutmeg considers reliable but does not represent that the information contained herein is accurate or complete.

With investment comes risk. The price and value of investments mentioned and income arising from them may fluctuate and you may get back less than you invest. A movement in exchange rates may have a separate effect, unfavourable as well as favourable, on the gain or loss otherwise experienced on the investment concerned. Past performance is not an indicator of future results, and future returns are not guaranteed. We acknowledge an individual’s tax situation is unique and tax legislation may be subject to change in the future.

A stocks and shares ISA may not be right for everyone and tax rules may change in the future. If you are unsure if an ISA is the right choice for you, please seek independent financial advice.

Nutmeg past performance simulated, based on real market transactions implemented across all individual customer portfolios to a single portfolio for each risk level. Past performance is not an indicator of future results, and future returns are not guaranteed.

 

Battling the bedroom tax: everything you need to know

home

There’s a lot being said about the bedroom tax, but what does it mean, and do you have to pay it?

What is the bedroom tax?

The ‘bedroom tax’ is a nickname that Labour applied to the housing benefit changes made by the current government in April 2013.

The government factsheet on the changes explains that they affect all working-age people living in social housing, and judges whether they have more space than they need.

The news rules allow one bedroom per:

  • Adult couple (married or unmarried)
  • Adult aged 16 or over
  • Two children of the same sex aged under 16
  • Two children under 10
  • Other child (other than a foster child or child whose main home is elsewhere)

What will does it cost?

If you’re assessed as having more rooms than you need, your housing benefits will be reduced by 14% for one spare room, or 25% for two or more.

The government say that council tenants will lose an average of £14 a week, and housing association tenants will lose around £16 per week.

Are there any exceptions?

Following a legal challenge, extra allowances have been made for:

  • Children who can’t share because of a disability or medical condition
  • A carer (or team of carers) providing overnight care
  • A foster carer between placements, or a newly approved foster carer

So if you fit these criteria, you can challenge the benefits reduction.

What about legal loopholes?

There is one, although it’s in the process of being closed.

An error in the legislation means that tenants who have lived in the same home continuously since 1996, and have claimed benefits for the duration of that period, may be exempt from the bedroom tax and can have any subsequent benefits refunded. Some estimates place the number of people affected at 40,000, while others suggest it is as many as one in 25 housing benefit claimants.

How can you appeal decisions?

To claim based on the above loophole, you can fill in this template letter, created by housing consultant Joe Halewood, and send it to your landlord.

If you were affected by the bedroom tax, you only have one month from receipt of the letter detailing the decision on your case. If you are within this limit, you will need to reply detailing your case against it – using an argument from the lists above. Carers UK have provided useful template letters to help.

You can also appeal a decision, or apply for changes to your benefits via the government’s Housing Benefit microsite. If you can show that the changes have put you in an untenable position financially, you may be eligible for reconsideration.

Before applying, it’s essential to have a clear view of your finances so that you have a strong argument. Our free Money Dashboard finance software can collate all of your account data in one secure space, so you can see exactly how much you’re receiving and where it goes.

 

Posted by Marc Murphy, Marketing Manager at Money Dashboard.

 

How the budget will affect your finances

Young Couple

The 2014 Budget speech has been delivered, with chancellor George Osborne declaring: “If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you.” But what exactly does that mean for your bank balance?

Tax

As many predicted, the personal allowance on income tax will be raised to £10,500. That means those earning under £100,000 will pay no tax on the first £10,500 from April 2015, up from £10,000 for 2013/14. For basic rate taxpayers, that will amount to additional savings of £100 per year.

Unsurprisingly, those with higher incomes received a boost too. The threshold for the 40% tax rate was raised to £41,865, and will rise another 1% to £42,285 next year. Earners above the threshold will see savings of £83 this year, and £84 next year.

Savings

The budget surprised most commentators with the scale and scope of the changes made to savings, beginning with the abolition of the 10p starting rate for income from savings below £2,790.

Individual Savings Accounts (ISA) also got an overhaul. Cash and stocks ISAs were merged to make flexible ISAs and simplify savings. And the annual tax-free ISA limit will be increased to £15,000 per person per year from 1 July. Currently cash ISAs limit savers to £5,760 per year, and stocks ISAs are limited to £11,520.

So if cash ISA savers took advantage of the increase and invested the full amount in an account with 1.5% interest, that will amount to £138.60 interest per year. Although if you were already earning that in a savings account, you’d just save the £27.72 in tax: but every little helps.

Pensions

To encourage more cash to flow into pensions, pensioners will no longer be required to purchase an annuity once their defined contribution pension scheme matures. That means instead of having to buy into the plans, which pay a set amount each year, they can choose to take the money and invest it as they see fit.

The budget also took the tax burden away from accessing pension funds early. The punitive 55% tax has been removed, with withdrawals now taxed at the marginal rate (usually 20%). On a £10,000 withdrawal, that would mean a £3,500 saving.

The government is also creating a new ‘pensioner bond’ available to anyone over 65. These will be limited to £10,000 per person and offer interest rates of between 2.8% and 4%.

Living costs

Certain costs of living were also addressed:

  • The fuel duty rise for September has been cancelled, and instead the price will be frozen
  • The unpopular alcohol duty escalator has been scrapped, and duty will now rise with inflation, except for cider, whisky and other spirits (which have had their cuties frozen), and beer duty, which was again cut by 1p per pint
  • Following the news that bingo halls have been closing across the country, bingo duty has been halved to 10%
  • The tobacco duty escalator will, however, continue to push duty up by 2% plus inflation, and has been extended to the next parliament

As with all big changes, exactly how it will impact you will depend on your spending and saving habits. You can keep track of your changing fortunes using Money Dashboard’s free money management software, safe in the knowledge that you’ll never have to pay a penny for it.

 

Posted by Marc Murphy, Marketing Manager at Money Dashboard.