Archive | Top Tips

Top VI Tips to Save Money on Mobile Phone Insurance

Earlier this week I wrote about the hard lessons learned by an Irish Times reader when it came to buying and renewing insurance on their mobile phone, Hard lesson learned on the pointlessness of paying for mobile phone insurance.

Inspired by that story, here are the ValueIreland Top VI Tips on saving money on mobile phone insurance.

  1. Don’t buy mobile phone insurance

  2. When buying a mobile phone in a shop, don’t buy the mobile phone insurance they offer you there and then

  3. If you think you do need mobile phone insurance, their just look after your phone better

  4. Don’t buy the mobile phone insurance that might come with your contract with your mobile network

  5. If you’ve damaged, lost, broken, or dropped your phone in the toilet before, then maybe don’t buy an expensive phone

  6. Don’t buy mobile phone insurance as part of an add on on your home, or other, insurance policies

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Top Twitter Tips for Grocery Shopping

Back in early April, Margaret E. Ward (@MargaretEWard) put out the call on Twitter for some tips on what to do, or not do, when out grocery shopping. I believe she was going onto the Tubridy radio show (@TubridyTweets) to talk about such things. 

I thought it might be worthwhile to bring together the best of those Twitter tips forwarded on to Margaret at that time.

  • Use Pigsback.com grocery coupons – Oh I think the coupons on Pigsback.com are fantastic (get link), I got discount of my sun dishwasher tablets yesterday & super milk, they’re fab (@AineOFarrell)
  • Beware of % extra free deals – Watch out for 50% extra free nonsense. Price per kilo is best guide, less room for entrapment (JoyceHickey)
  • Bring a calculator – bring a calculator when shopping…seriously, 3 special offers of same product but varied quantities, had to work out cheap one (@MitchellNicola)
  • Keep an eye on special offers – This ValueIreland page might help #groceryshopping > list of supermarket grocery special offers updated each week (put in actual link) (@ValueIreland)
  • But beware of offers too good to be true – it’s an obvious one but don’t be blinded by special offers. Always check the unit cost of the item (€x per kg). (@lecraic)
  • Ignore multi-packs – Only buy what you need – ignore multibuys. (Except for books where gluttony is encouraged. Books are groceries, right?) (@jenny_heller)
  • Buy non-perishables in bulk – look out for worthwhile deals on your household standards and stock up your freezer/pantry/etc. (@zenbuffy)
  • Know the science of supermarket pricing – The best value deals are on products you consume at a fixed rate. Beware of expandable consumption (@conalhenry)
  • Make a shopping list – Make a list before you go – stick to it, avoid supermarket’s ploys – fresh bread, fast music and POS temptations! (@Clodaghdc)
  • Save time and help others – Save time by helping the person in front unload their trolley so they can pack. Especially if they have a kid (@JoyceHickey)
  • Don’t go shopping when hungry – make sure to eat before you go grocery shopping!! (@jenblogsbooks)
  • Leave the kids at home – Another tip don’t take your kids shopping with you if you can avoid it as they can’t avoid temptation & want junk (@SimonPRepublic)
  • Shop alone – top tip is don’t shop with your partner or toddler! Quieter & I can stick to my list then, done in 10 minutes (@PaulMWatson)
  • Shop in only one store – shop in one supermarket, so you know where everything is: that way you are less likely to impulse buy. (@mswolfie)
  • Shop online – It stops you putting all those unnecessary extras into your trolley. #outofsightisoutofmind (@taunyagrogan)
  • Do a “main” shop, not lots of “mini” shops – don’t go for a few bits and pieces, you always end up spending more (@Avoidanceman)
  • Shop late in the day – go shopping close to closing time, they always have specials on (@Avoidanceman)
  • Walk to the shops – if possible, shop local, shop daily, walk to shop – spend less. ps the walking to bit is important ….. arm ache of heavy bags, minimises excess buying. 🙂 (@talentcoop)
  • Shop local – I shop in local butchers and get deals buying a few items at once, ends up cheaper than supermarket, meat and service is better too (@IrelandGuide)
  • Only bring the money that you’ll need – Bring out only the cash to cover your shopping list (@Sinabhfuil)
  • Delegation – get someone else to do it (the shopping that is) (@siobhwithafada)

I think I’m in agreement with most of those tips – though maybe not the one that suggests shopping in only one store. With our retail grocery market the way it is at the moment (mostly non-competitive), it is important to keep an eye out on the special offers available across the different stores each time you go shopping. They vary widely across stores, so if you have the ability to shop across different stores, you’ll possibly save more.

What do you think? Do you agree with these? Do you have any other tips or tricks that you use when you’re doing your grocery shopping?

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A top tip on making and receiving calls with your bank

Earlier this week, I posted some tips on what to do if you think you might be the target of a financial phishing scam. One tip there, to call your banks customer service line, reminded me of another tip I follow particularly myself.

Do you ever receive calls from your bank or your credit card company, or any other financial institution?

If they ask you first to prove that you are who they think you are, do you provide the information they ask for? Your address, your date of birth, your mothers maiden name?

Now, you’ve given them all the details necessary to prove who you are, but did you check that they are who they said they are? How can you be sure if it was the financial institution they said it was?

What if you’d lost your wallet or your phone recently? Would there be enough information there to allow someone find out which bank you dealt with?

I may be a little more paranoid than most when it comes to these things, if any of the financial institutions I ever deal with calls me, I’ll get a name and number, and I’ll call them back on their customer service line.

That way, at least I can be sure of who I’m talking to.

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How (not) to complain – some good tips from HBR

It’s a little while ago, but I loved these tips from the Harvard Business Review on how not to complain. In the past, I’ve published Top Tips on How to Complain – available here.

In the HBR article, while highlighting some live examples on how people publicly complained inappropriately, they also give some decent tips to be aware of if we ever need to make a complaint:

Frame your argument. At first, don’t attack, explain. There may have been an honest mistake or misunderstanding. Don’t put the seller’s representative on the defensive prematurely.

Propose a resolution. It helps the seller resolve your problem if they understand what they might do to satisfy you. For example, do you want a defective product fixed or do you want your money back?

Show respect. Chances are the seller is honestly trying to help you. Convey trust in the seller and you’re more likely get a quick resolution and build an enduring relationship.

Keep your cool. If you don’t, a seller’s representative may reasonably decide to hang up on you, or at least will be less inclined to help you.

Escalate if necessary. There is only so much that most salespeople are authorized to do. If a seller’s front-line representative cannot give you satisfaction, go over the representative’s head.

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Tips for Cheaper Home Insurance

From our original ValueIreland.com Tips pages, here are some top tips which should help you get cheaper home insurance compared to what you’re paying at the moment. These tips are items that you should consider when either renewing your insurance policy (every year) or when purchasing new insurance for your new home purchase.
  • Shop Around – As with all other purchases that you make, shop around. There are numerous insurance companies providing home insurance on the Irish market. You should take the time to contact most, if not all of them, to get a quote. Provided you have no tie in to your mortgage lender, you can go directly to an insurance company or via an insurance broker.
  • Someone you can trust – You should always go with a reputable and established company. There’s no point in taking risks. Check if they have industry accreditation. If necessary, ask around amongst colleagues and friends to see if they’ve heard of a particular company. And remember, no matter how good a website is, the company should have a call centre, sales staff, and a proper postal address for their office – if none of these exist, be careful.
  • Multiple policies with same company – Some companies provide discounts if you hold more than one insurance policy with them. So if you already have car or life insurance with a single company, ask for a quote for your home insurance, and ask if they can offer you any discount seeing as you’re providing them with all of your insurance business.
  • Special Offers – Always keep an eye out for special offers that may be offered at various times by different insurance companies. For example, look out for money back guarantees such as “If you find a cheaper deal elsewhere, we’ll refund the difference”. This can assure you that you’re not being stung. Another promotion may be something like “one month’s insurance free if you pay monthly by direct debit”. These can give good value.
  • Only buy cover you need – As with car insurance, only buy the cover you need. Make sure that you need all the cover that you are getting. There is no point paying for cover of the shed or garage contents if you do not have a shed or garage. Asking for this cover to be removed should reduce your premium.
  • Have your policy to hand – When ringing around looking for quotes, have your existing policy with you so you can answer the relevant questions, and ask important questions of your own. If you’re sure your existing policy meets your requirements, use this as the basis for requesting a quotation from a potential new insurer.
  • Check the small print – Remember, sometimes just because an insurance company has sold you a policy this does not mean you’re eligible to claim on it. If you have any concerns, get them to confirm to you that you are covered in particular situations – in writing if possible.
  • No Claims Discount – Ensure that the insurance company knows if you have not claimed on your home insurance in the past. As with car insurance, no claims discounts increase with time. This could save you up to 20-30% after five years without a claim.
  • Payment Options – If you are able, it is an idea to pay your full insurance premium in one lump sum rather than through monthly repayments. This can save you money as some companies may charge you a rate of interest for the privilege of paying monthly, on top of your premium.
  • Security Benefits – Remember that having security systems fitted (security locks and alarms) will have the effect of decreasing your premium. It is also possible that if there is a local Neighbourhood Watch scheme, by joining it, you could cut up to 10-15% off your premium also.
  • Larger Excess – You could bring down your premium costs by volunteering to pay more of an excess towards the cost of each claim. Only do this if you can afford to do so however.
Other points to remember that may increase your premium costs –
  • Bear in mind that not all security discounts mentioned above will necessarily be offered by an insurer. If you live in what they consider to be a really high-risk area, it may be a requirement for you to have security systems fitted and be part of a neighbourhood watch scheme just to get any insurance at all, let alone a discount.
  • Cover for portable items to be included on your home insurance can increase your premium. For example, a bicycle or a laptop computer if included on your home insurance policy is likely to increase your premium.
  • If you wish to cover your jewellery on your home insurance policy, it may actually be worth an amount over the limit for individual items. It is also portable, as above, and may then add further to your premium.
  • Do you live in an area that is liable to flooding? With flooding becoming more prevalent in Ireland (particularly Dublin) over the past number of years, your insurance company may be keeping this in mind when quoting you higher home insurance premiums.
  • Do you carry out a business from your home? Does this involve having valuable equipment in the home for the purpose of carrying out that business? This is likely to increase your premium. You could investigate insuring such equipment separately, as a business expense, rather than on your home insurance.
  • Be careful also about ‘absence clauses’ Many of the companies have quite specific time limits on how long the premises can be ‘un-occupied’ and quite interesting rules about what ‘un-occupied’ actually means. They alter the terms for this regularly, I found that from one renewal to another they had halved the unoccupied period.
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How to identify a clocked car

A little later than I intended, here is our Value Ireland Top Tips on how you might be able to identify if a second hand car that you might be thinking of buying might be clocked.

Back in July, the NCA prosecuted 3 garages for the “misleading commercial practice” of car clocking – the practice of reducing, or winding back, the number of miles on a cars odometer to make it seem like its more valuable than it is.

No figures are available for Ireland, that I can find, but it’s estimated that in the UK, 1 in 3 second hand cars sold may be clocked.

When buying a second hand car, particularly privately, you should be extremely wary of what you are buying, and should have the car checked out thoroughly before purchasing. If it’s a private sale, once you drive away after handing over your money, you have no comeback under consumer legislation if you subsequently find something amiss.

Here are some suggestions of things that you can look out for when you’re buying a second hand car with a mind to trying to clock a clocked car:

  • First things first – you can never be 100% sure that a car is or isn’t clocked. All of the tips below are items to watch out for and questions to be asked in order to satisfy yourself that you’ve found out everything possible about the car you’re thinking of buying. Do all these checks before buying, not after, as you may have no recourse once you’ve purchased the car.
  • Check for Internal Wear and Tear – If the car has relatively low mileage but the interior and exterior of the car has a significant amount of wear and tear, then the car may have been clocked, or just very poorly looked after. Either way, this is something to be wary of.
  • What is the wear and tear on the drivers seat in particular look like? Does it look well worn? This can also be a sign of heavy mileage. Does this stack up with the mileage on the clock?
  • Check the pedal rubbers, steering wheel and gear knob of the car you’re thinking of buying – if they appear brand new to you, yet the car is relatively old, this should give you cause to investigate further.
  • Check for External Wear and Tear – Check for lots of chips and/or tar marks on the bonnet of the car – this can be a sign of significant mileage. Has the car been resprayed to cover over these kinds of issues?
  • Check the mileage – and the actual numbers on the odometer (mileometer) – Do the numbers line up perfectly correctly, or are they out of order? This may be a sign that the car has been clocked. Are there fingerprints or scratch marks inside the plastic – does it look like it’s been removed and badly reinstated?
  • Average mileage for petrol cars is estimated to be about 10,000 per year, while diesels can be around 15,000. For the age of car you’re looking at, and the mileage displayed, do the numbers add up (within an acceptable margin of error – 10% to 20% maybe)? There may be valid reasons for any differences, but any suspicion should lead to more questions.
  • Some garages may provide a disclaimer (written or verbal) saying that the mileage cannot be confirmed. This may be legitimate if they’re selling from a trade-in or for other reasons, but that too should raise your suspicion.
  • Get the dealer to confirm the mileage in writing so that you may have recourse in case of problems. If you’re buying on the basis of this confirmation from a dealer, and it turns out to be false, you will have proof for your “misleading commercial practice”.
  • You should find out the history of the car – get the full service history. This should detail the mileage intervals at which services were carried out. If you’re not provided a service history, or if there’s a delay and one shows up suddenly, or if the car is relatively old but the service history documents are newer/cleaner with less wear and tear, you should at least be a little suspicious and try to find out more.
  • Are past NCT certificates available for the car? Ask for them and check the odometer readings on these certificates to verify that the mileage on the odometer is what you might expect to see for a car of the age you’re looking at.
  • Reputable Dealer – If the dealer is a member of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry then he or she should be able to confirm the figures, or at least stand by the figures presented.
  • Use the Internet – Check the car checking websites to see if you can find any extra information on the car. These sites will charge a fee, but if you’re really keen on a particular car, this could be one of the last checks that you could do on the car. Some sites that could assist here might be:
  • If you’re importing a car from the UK, there are similar sites that can provide a history of the car you’re looking into. Some sites that can provide this background check service are:
  • Get the car physically checked by a professional – If you’re very keen on a particular car, you could have the car independently assessed by someone like the AA. They have an AutoCheck service where they’ll run a series of checks on a used car. Obviously this will cost you, but if you’re down to a buy/don’t buy decision on a car, it could be worth the money to reassure yourself.
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Top Tips for Cheaper Car Insurance

One of our more popular pages on ValueIreland.com was our Top Tips on getting cheaper car insurance. Associated with this was a write up on my own experience in shopping around for car insurance when my policy was up for renewal.

Here are a few tips for you to follow next time you’re renewing your own car insurance.

Don’t automatically renew with the same insurance company. Consumer inertia is something all rip off merchants depend on. Insurers are supposed to provide renewal quotes a certain amount of time before the policy expires so that policyholders can shop around for competitive quotes. Use this time wisely.

Shop around, getting quotes from at least three different companies and brokers. There are no more than 10-15 insurance companies operating in Ireland at any one time – it’s not going to be overly time consuming to get a quote from them all.

Don’t be afraid to use the internet. We’re told that costs are lower from companies operating on the internet – particularly those with only an internet presence. Beware of the small print here more than usual. At least check all the sites before buying in case any of them have any special offers. Check out the offers carefully to make sure you’re getting the insurance you actually need.

Check your annual mileage. Insurers assume you drive a certain number of miles per year. Check what their assumption is, and if it’s less, tell them.

Extra drivers on your policy? If they are not necessary all the time, it can be cheaper to only insure extra drivers when they will actually use the car.

Increasing your excess can reduce your premiums in the UK. Ask your Irish insurance broker or company when requesting a quote if this is possible.

Do you really need fully comprehensive? This is the most expensive type of car insurance available. It is normally recommended that brand new cars be covered by comprehensive insurance – but as always, you should consider your needs fully.

Fitting immobilisers and alarms, and using a garage, can reduce premiums. Those living in larger cities will normally have a loading imposed. Some companies will also impose a loading if the car is not kept in a garage at night.

Do you belong to a professional body? For example are you a member of the Institution of Engineers, the Law Society or Chartered Accountants? It may be worthwhile to call your professional organisation to see if they have arranged any special offers with an insurance provider. This could also be true for any other types of organisations such as Unions or other affinity groups.

Check your policy and make sure you are not paying for features you don’t need. For example, many policies automatically add on and charge extra for overseas cover. Or some policies may provide breakdown cover as part of the policy – is this necessary if you are already a member of the AA?

Premium payments up front, or spread over the year? Paying over the year may incur extra costs of financing so paying up front would save you such extra costs. Or alternatively, many drivers cannot afford to pay the entire premium at once and elect to pay in installments. Sometimes it can be cheaper to borrow the money from a bank or credit union as some companies have been known to charge finance charges of up to 20% on the installments.

Don’t Lie. Telling a couple of little white lies on when looking for a quotation might seem like a good idea at the time and save you a few quid, but if it ever comes to making a claim, such a decision could come back to haunt you and cost you more in the long run.

Penalty Points. Some companies will acually provide a discount if you have 0 or 2 penalty points on your licence. Check this out when getting your quotation – as per the tip above, it’s not something you should hide.

Buy more than one policy. If you find a company that has the car insurance that suits you at a price that you like, ask them about discounts if you were to give them your home, travel or health insurance business also. Don’t buy these other policies on impulse though, just for the discount – make sure those other policies give you the value and coverage you need.

Two Car Family. Slightly similar to the tip above, you may get a discount if your quotation covers both cars in your family, rather than just your own.

Changing your car? If you’re thinking about changing your car, it could be useful to bear in mind the potential insurance costs of any new car you’re going to buy. Generally a smaller engined car, more in the “family” size range, free from any modifications, will cost you less in insurance costs.

Brokers vs Direct – A ValueIreland.com reader sent us this tip where they received a quote from an insurance broker for an insurance policy with a particular insurance company. Our reader rang the company directly and got a quote for the same policy going direct rather than via the broker, and found that they could get the policy at a significant discount than from the broker. Something to check out if you normally use a broker.

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Top Tips for Cheaper Travel Insurance

Shop Around – As with all other purchases that you make, shop around. There are numerous insurance companies providing travel insurance on the Irish market. You should take the time to contact most, if not all of them, to get a quote.

Someone you can trust – You should always go with a reputable and established company. There’s no point in taking risks. Check if they have industry accreditation. If necessary, ask around amongst colleagues and friends to see if they’ve heard of a particular company. And remember, no matter how good a website is, the company should have a call centre, sales staff, and a proper postal address for their office – if none of these exist, be careful.

Contact Information – Following from the point above, make sure you have all contact information necessary for your insurance company if you have any problems abroad. Ensure you have numbers that can be dialled from your destination as some free-phone numbers may not work outside of Ireland.

Policy Details – Ensure that you’re familiar with the details of the policy you’re thinking of buying – does it include cover for cancellations, delays, lost luggage? What cover does it provide with regards to medical coverage? Is this sufficient considering your destination? Will you be paid up-front or will you be reimbursed later after you yourself have incurred the expense? Are you comfortable with the cover you’ve just purchased?

Don’t Lie – By truthful and up-front with whatever it is you’re planning to do when you’re on your holiday – if you’re thinking of maybe doing any ‘extreme sports’ highlighted by travel insurance companies (skiing, parachuting etc.) but may or may not, mention is so that you’re covered should you decided to do so, just in case. Be honest also when it comes to pre-existing medical insurance.

Multiple policies with same company – Some companies provide discounts if you hold more than one insurance policy with them. So if you already have car, home or life insurance with a single company, ask for a quote for your travel insurance if they provide such cover, and ask if they can offer you any discount seeing as you’re providing them with all of your insurance business.

Less than obvious Insurers – When shopping around, you should keep an eye out for companies you may not expect providing Travel Insurance – for example, the AA, or the VHI. You may also find that when purchasing your holiday tickets online, that the company selling you the travel may offer Travel Insurance as well.

Internet Travel Insurance Suppliers – Now, more than ever, the choice of Travel Insurance suppliers on the internet is vast. Googling on “travel insurance”, restricting your search to Ireland only provides at least 5 internet-only travel insurance providers.

Special Offers – Always keep an eye out for special offers that may be offered at various times by different insurance companies. For example, look out for money back guarantees such as “If you find a cheaper deal elsewhere, we’ll refund the difference”. This can assure you that you’re not being stung. Another promotion may be something like “one month’s insurance free if you pay monthly by direct debit”. These can give good value.

Single or Multi Trip Insurance – Always consider your actual needs when buying travel insurance. You may be tempted by what seems like good value on Multi Trip travel insurance policies, but you should consider whether or not you’ll actually need this.

Sharp Sales Practices – A newly observed sales tactic by a small number of travel agents is to tell customers they will not make a holiday booking unless they have proof of insurance. This is not the case, as you can purchase any holiday package, and travel anywhere you like without purchasing insurance. If you do so, it a risk of your own making, but perfectly legal to do so.

Have your policy to hand – When ringing around looking for quotes and you are renewing your policy, have your existing policy with you so you can answer the relevant questions, and ask important questions of your own. If you’re sure your existing policy meets your requirements, use this as the basis for requesting a quotation from a potential new insurer.

Check the small print – Remember, sometimes just because an insurance company has sold you a policy this does not mean you’re eligible to claim on it. If you have any concerns, get them to confirm to you that you are covered in particular situations – in writing if possible.

Timeliness – Arrange for your travel insurance at least a month before leaving if possible. Confirm before you actually leave that your cover is in place, and that your premium payment has actually been received.

Documentation – Ensure that you bring your all relevant travel insurance documentation with you on your holiday. Keep it with your other important documentation such as your passport and travel tickets – items you’re going to make sure you look after.

Excess – Firstly, make sure you are aware if there is any excess on the policy you’re thinking of buying – ensure that you’re happy with this amount. To reduce the price of the premium, you could volunteer to pay more of an excess towards the cost of each claim. Only do this if you can afford to do so however.

Do you actually need travel insurance – As with all insurance, it’s your choice to purchase or not. In some cases, such as travelling within the European Economic Area (including EC countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), you are entitled to reciprocal state-provided health services by taking with you a form called E111, available from all Post Offices. You must get the form completed before you leave. This may be sufficient for your needs. Click here for more information.

Brokers vs Direct – A ValueIreland.com reader sent us this tip where they received a quote from an insurance broker for an insurance policy with a particular insurance company. Our reader rang the company directly and got a quote for the same policy going direct rather than via the broker, and found that they could get the policy at a significant discount than from the broker. Something to check out if you normally use a broker.

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Testing out a website that you’re not sure of – some top tips

Earlier this week I wrote a post, Websites you can trust – what to watch out for?, about things to check out on a new website before dealing with them, and particularly before handing over any personal details.

While there were a lot of don’ts in the tips, there are a couple of things you could do if you’re still not 100% sure, but you’re keen on making a purchase from a website.

Here are a couple of things you could do – but remember, you’re taking a risk one way or the other – to reduce your potential exposure. It’s your call in the end.

If you’ve checked out all the suggestions I provided in my original post, but you’re still going to proceed, here are a few things you can do until you make sure the site is fully legitimate.

1.    Use different a e-mail addresses

You could set up a new free e-mail address to use with this website. Using this new e-mail address on only this site will make it easier to identify if they’ve sold your e-mail to other companies if you suddenly start getting spam.

2.    Provide the minimum amount of information

When completing forms where they’re gathering information, only fill in those with the red * which normally is the minimum they require. There’s no need to fill in any details that aren’t compulsory.

3.    Make sure your password is unique and different

Just in case you’re someone who uses the same password everywhere, when signing up to a site you’re not fully sure of, make sure you use a different password here. Just in case.

But of course, you should really change your passwords to make sure they’re different everywhere.

4.    Use a special credit card

My top tips above suggest that you have a special credit card to use when shopping online. This should have a low limit so that if it is compromised, that you’re only exposing yourself to a small loss (though your card provider should cover you anyway).

5.    Make only a small purchase in the beginning

If the company is unfamiliar or you’re still a little unsure, you could begin your relationship with them by submitting a small purchase to confirm that they can be trusted. If everything goes well, you get your product, and you’re happy with the service and security, then you could look at bigger orders.

6.    Give false details

Say you’re being asked for details that you know are unnecessary, but you can’t continue without providing it, make something up to fill the blanks and progress. If the information is stored on your profile and you eventually come to trust the site, you can always go in and update it later – but if it’s really unnecessary, then there’s no need.

I said in my original post that if there is ever any doubt in your mind, then stop and just cancel your actions. If you’re going ahead with the steps above on the basis of checking things out, remember that you’re taking a risk and just in case, be prepared for the consequences.

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Plastic fantastic? Being smart when using your credit cards

Irish News of the World

Sunday May 31st, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Plastic fantastic? Being smart when using your credit cards

Do you remember the advertising for your “flexible friend”? That was how Access (now Mastercard) credit cards were advertised in the 1980’s. Credit cards are fantastic in making it easy to spend our money – ore more particularly other peoples money – they can also be a severe danger to our personal financial health if we let our use of them get out of control.

The Central Bank said that in February new spending on credit cards was only €766m which was the lowest in 3 years. However, year-on-year spending still increased, but by only 3.3% – a value that was normally about 10%.

On the other hand, MABS (the Money Advice and Budgeting Service) said that consumer debt in Ireland is a growing problem. They have reported that already this year, more than half of those calling their advice lines where having problems with repaying credit card debt, as well as personal loans and overdrafts. This was a 25% jump in just 12 months.

So, playing your cards right by following the top tips below will mean that you can get all the benefits with none of the troubles when using your credit card.

Don’t break the rules

The key thing to remember about using a credit card is that any time you use your card outside the basic rules of your credit agreement you’re going to be charged extra by your provider.

If you go over your credit card limit, you’ll be charged between €6.25 and €12.70 each time.

Make sure you pay your bills on time or else you’ll be hit with the late payment charges that can range from €6.35 to €15.24.

And if you make a payment and it bounces (you don’t have enough cash in your bank account to pay the credit card debt), then you’ll be charged an “unpaid item fee” ranging from €3 to €19.05.

It’s worth remembering that if you end up in difficulties, these charges could end up being charged to you each month until you get things under control again.

Looking after your flexible friend

There are some simple things that you can do to make sure you don’t get hit with any of these fees – in a worst case scenario fees that could cost you over €500 per year.

The first simplest trick is to pay your bill by direct debit. This will mean that you’re always going to get your payment in to the credit card company on time.

To make sure that you always have enough money to pay your bill, you could avail of the text message service provided by some banks that lets you know when you bank balance drops to a certain level.

Lack of interest

Obviously the best way to save yourself cash on credit card interest is to make sure you pay your credit card bill in full when it’s due ever month.

If you can’t, then the next best thing is to be on the credit card with the lowest interest rate. The AIB Click card has the best rate in the market at the moment at 8.5%. This compares to the worst in the market of 17.9% on the Ulster Bank Classic card.

Wherever possible you should avoid withdrawing cash from your credit card. Interest on cash advances is anything from 5% to 7% higher, with the highest rate being the AIB Platinum card charging 23.4%.

And that doesn’t include the 1.5% that each credit card provider will charge you on each cash amount that you withdraw. Which they’ll charge you interest on as well.

Minimum Repayments

Unless you’re “snowballing” your debts which I wrote about in the past, you should never just restrict yourself to paying the minimum repayments on your credit card.

Martin Lewis, the UK Money Saving Expert, has a minimum repayments calculator on his website to show just how long you’ll be stuck in debt if do.

As an example, say you have €5000 on your credit card at 14.5% with a 2% (or €10) minimum repayment amount. If you only pay the minimum amount, it would take you 28 years and over €6000 in interest to clear the debt.

If you pay the minimum amount in the first month – about €100 – but then pay that amount every month, rather than the 2% minimum, you could save yourself nearly €3000 in interest.

Pay per use

Of course, one of the most frustrating aspects of using a credit card in Ireland these days is that it actually costs us to use one. The most infamous companies credit card surcharges are found when buying tickets for travel.

One trick that does work to avoid these surcharges is to buy vouchers from the same companies, and then using the vouchers to pay for your travel tickets – this works particularly well on the Ryanair website.

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