Almost two-thirds of remortgage customers in January switched deals to take advantage of the new lower mortgage rates that are currently on offer, according to research from LMS.

The company surveyed customers opting to remortgage at the start of the year and found that almost one in five (19%) homeowners increased the size of their loan by more than £10,000 to free up capital to pay off other debts or spend elsewhere.

Releasing equity in their home meant that 19% were able to fund home improvements, while over one in ten said they would use the extra capital to consolidate their debts.  This is 2% more than the number who did this in December, highlighting that families are still feeling the pinch post-Christmas. A small number of homeowners also said they planned to use the money to help their children onto the property ladder.

Four in ten customers were motivated to remortgage by the potential cash savings on offer and the opportunity to reduce their monthly mortgage repayment..

More than eighty per cent of borrowers switched lenders, while just 2% were incentivised by their existing lender to stay with them, a sign that lenders could be doing more to keep current customers.

Almost half of customers consulted with an independent mortgage adviser or broker – a marked improvement since December when only 37% did this – to highlight the value that advisers and brokers have in sourcing the best rates available to customers.

This week a new index was launched that tracks historic returns of major peer-to-peer providers Zopa, RateSetter and Funding Circle.

The latest data reveals that peer-to-peer investors have enjoyed an average rate of 5.09% over the last 12 months and an impressive consistent level of return ranging between 4.5% and 6.2% over the previous nine years.

Compare these numbers with the rock bottom rates on offer from bank and building society deposit accounts and despite concerns at a lack of a 100% watertight FSCS type guarantee, month by month more savers are dipping their toes into the P2P waters.

A quick look at the range of rates advertised on RateSetter on Monday showed 4.2% for 1 year, 5.8% for 3 years and 6.6% for 5 years – a far cry from the best buy fixed rate savings bond equivalents of just 1.75% for 1 year, 2.5% for 3 years and 3.03% for 5 years.

In each of these three deposit terms the very best traditional savings bonds are delivering less than half the return on offer from the fastest growing UK P2P provider.

The new index was welcomed by the key players in the alternative investment field at the unveiling on Monday, with Giles Andrews of Zopa saying that he expected the index to become a useful and impartial tool in measuring returns in the future and that it would help increase transparency in the industry.

Similarly Rhydian Lewis of RateSetter referred to the Index as ‘another building block in the emergence of peer-to-peer as a proper asset class’.

“Transparency is absolutely crucial. It’s our skin in the game, and will ensure we maintain the trust of our customers for the long term” were the words of Samir Desai from Funding Circle.

With the difference between alternative and traditional returns showing no signs of narrowing and the P2P industry now lifting the bonnet for all to take a look inside, the case for alternative lending has just got that little bit stronger.

A new survey from The Share Centre found that for those who do not know the ISA limits, nearly a third (30%) under estimate the ISA allowance and one in seven (16%) wrongly over-estimate the limits.

Despite this confusion, appetite for tax free investment is high, with over a third (34%) saying they plan to invest the full amount into their investment ISA allowance this year.

Investors also have clear views on what they think the ISA allowance should be. Nearly half (46%) think the ISA allowance should be as much as an individual wants, with investors thinking that they already pay enough tax. Only a fifth (21%) agree that the ISA limits should be set at the current £15,000. The majority (75%) say that the ISA limits, set by the government, should be above the current amount.

A spokesman for The Share Centre, said: “The research shows that following the Chancellor’s Budget last year, many investors are yet to realise that they can shelter £15,000 from the tax man in an ISA.

“It is important savers look to make the most of ISA investing in light of the tax benefits, along with the added draw of being safeguarded from Capital Gains Tax. Savvy investors should look to make the most of the tax-free allowance each year and invest before the start of the new tax year on 5th April 2015.”

From 19th February RBS and NatWest customers will be the first of any UK‐based bank to be able to log in to their mobile banking app using only their finger print.

Using Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor, RBS and NatWest customers who have an iPhone 5S, iPhone6 and iPhone 6 plus will be able to access their mobile banking app within seconds.

The technology recognises the customer’s unique finger print, meaning they don’t have to remember a tricky passcode ‐ making it easier and more convenient to access their finances.

RBS and NatWest have introduced Touch ID following feedback from their customers, who took to the banks’ online community forum ‘Ideas Bank’ to ask for this latest technology in their mobile banking app.

More and more of RBS and NatWest’s customers are using digital technology to bank.

Nearly 50% of the banks’ 15m customers actively use online banking, with over 3m customers using the mobile app every week. RBS and NatWest have 1.8m active iPhone users, of which 880k use an iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus.

NatWest and RBS’ busiest branch is the mobile app itself ‐ over 167,000 customers use it between 7am and 8am on their commute to work every day.

A spokesman for NatWest said: “There has been a revolution in banking, as more and more of our customers are using digital technology to bank with us. Adding Touch ID to our mobile banking app makes it even easier and more convenient for customers to manage their finances on the move and directly responds to their requests.

 

This week Post Office Money unveiled a new Online ISA which gives customers the option to spread their annual cash ISA allowance across more than one product, including a choice of variable and fixed rates.

Post Office Money said they are looking to remove unnecessary restrictions and to give the customer more flexibility and control over their tax free savings.

This latest product enables savers to consolidate all their ISAs, spreading or splitting their savings across various rates in one tax-free account.

The Online ISA was launched yesterday (16th February) and is available to customers to save up to £15k per annum without paying any tax on the interest earned..

Accounts within this Online ISA include an Easy Access ISA paying 1.50% AER and Fixed Rate ISA Bonds for a one and two year term, paying 1.55% AER and 1.95% AER respectively.

A spokesman for Post Office Money, said. “Whether customers simply want a fixed or variable rate, the ability to open multiple cash ISA products in the same tax year, or the ability to manage their cash ISA savings online or all of the above – the new Post Office Money Online ISA is definitely one to consider.”

Card giant Barclaycard has just announced the launch of a new credit card offering 0% on transferred balances for a record term of three years.

The card sits top of the best buy tables but comes with a one off balance transfer fee of 2.99% of the sum transferred.

Personal finance expert Andrew Hagger said: “this move puts the pressure on rivals Halifax, Tesco Bank, MBNA, HSBC and Sainsbury’s to keep their deals competitive”

He added:”If you are financially disciplined, there are some good savings to be made, but the potential financial costs of these cards can be high if they aren’t managed properly.”

“The problem, and something the card providers rely on, is that many people fall off the 0% wagon mid-term and end up incurring significant interest charges.”

“If you are accepted for one of these products, make sure you don’t exceed your limit or miss a monthly payment as the lenders use this as a handy get out clause to terminate the introductory promotional deal on the spot.”

Households in the UK took on an average of £395 of additional consumer debt in 2014, new analysis by The Money Charity shows – the biggest growth in any year since 2004.

Average consumer credit debt stood at £6,322 in December, up from £5,938 at the end of 2013. In 2013, the average increase was just £50 – but as the recovery continues, consumers are rediscovering their appetite for credit cards, overdrafts, and personal loans.

Total lending, including mortgages, grew by £1,081 in the year, the most since 2008. At the height of the property boom this was growing by over £4,000 per household per year.

In total, people in the UK owed £1.466 trillion at the end of December, of which nearly nine tenths was mortgage debt.

Other highlights include:

  •  57% of credit card balances are bearing interest – the lowest proportion ever.
  • The average household owes £2,287 in credit card debt.
  •  The average first-time buyer deposit was 119% of the average salary.

Michelle Highman, Chief Executive of The Money Charity, said: “As we get stuck in to a new year, the news that the average household increased its consumer credit debt by nearly £400 last year will prompt many to think about their finances.

“There’s no better time to start taking control of your money and making a plan – and the best way to start is to make a budget with a tool like our free Budget Builder. If you can do that, you can start making your money work for you and achieve your goals!

“But if things are already too much, pick up the phone to StepChange or one of the other free debt advice charities who will be able to help you properly assess your options.”

The government has announced that sale of the controversial Pensioner Fixed Rate Savings Bonds is to be extended by an extra three months.

George Osborne said he would extend the application deadline until mid-May, because of the overwhelming demand for the high interest bonds. Over 600,000 over-65s have bought them since they were launched in mid January.

The chancellor said that encouraging savers was fundamental to the UK’s economic recovery; and that the over 65’s bonds were “the most successful savings product this country has ever seen”.

With rates of 2.8% for a 1 year Bond and 4% payable for three years the bonds offer returns way better than anything currently available from banks and building societies and many are not surprised about the level of take up.

However, some experts were quick to criticise the move, feeling that that the scheme’s extension was little more than pre election stunt to try to win over wealthy pensioners.

New analysis  from travel money business Centtrip reveals that sterling is now worth around 13.8% more against the Euro than it was this time in 2013, and it estimates this could save the nation around £2.7 billion this year on the value of spending money on holiday and business trips to the EU.

The report issued by Centtrip, which has the first prepaid Mastercard offering 14 currencies on a single card at ‘spread free’ exchange rates, reveals the nation spends around £19.56 billion a year whilst abroad on trips to the EU.  It says if the valuation of sterling against the Euro remains the same this year when compared to two years ago, we could spend £2.7 billion less in 2015 and have more or less the same spending power we did in 2013.

In total we make around 42.5 million trips to the European Union every year.  Centtrip’s analysis reveals that around 73% of the trips we take abroad are to the EU, and of the £34.9 billion we spend abroad, 56% of this is in the EU.

Brian Jamieson, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Centtrip said: “Sterling’s strength against the Euro is great news for UK consumers and businesses alike when they visit the EU.  However, we estimate that on average, people pay around £11.9 in FX ‘spreads’ on their spending money per trip whilst abroad.  People need to pay more attention to the ‘charges’ they incur every time they spend or buy something abroad.”

Superfast broadband speeds can now be accessed by almost eight in 10  households says Ofcom, and yet confusion reigns over which providers offer fibre services, where these are available and the benefits of fibre, according to new research from uSwitch.

The Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme, alongside industry investment, has made superfast services widely available, but figures show that only around a quarter of UK consumers are using fibre broadband.

uSwitch’s research suggests consumers with standard broadband are confused about what is available to them, as less than a third think they can get superfast speeds at home and more than four in 10 have no idea if it is available in their area.

Rural broadband users – who typically suffer most from sluggish speeds – are far more likely to be clued up regarding availability of fibre broadband. Just 28% of rural users had no idea whether superfast broadband was available in their local area, compared to 44% in urban and 52% in suburban areas.

A spokesman for uSwitch said: “As the majority of us become heavy or moderate internet users, we expect even more from our internet connections. With 42% of households regularly using three or more gadgets on Wi-Fi at once, there’s never been a greater need for faster speeds in UK homes.

“Despite significant investment in superfast broadband, this research shows awareness – over whether you can get fibre broadband, and who offers it – is still one of the biggest barriers to enjoying superfast speeds. Many people are willing to spend extra each month for faster internet, but don’t know whether or not it is available in their area.

“Consumers who are interested in superfast broadband should do their research to make sure they are considering all available providers. Using tools such as a postcode checker will allow you to see which providers offer fibre in your area and what speeds you can receive before you commit.