James Walker: Nasty surprises lurk in your bank statement

Check for unfamiliar debits from your account
Check for unfamiliar debits from your account
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Before you start with spring cleaning your finances (see article opposite), it’s a good idea to tackle one of the jobs many of us dread: going through the bank statements.

If you’re worried you’ve seriously overspent or are in denial about your overstretched budget, ignoring the problem will only make it worse.

So grit your teeth and set aside 15 minutes. You might even end up with more cash. Here’s how:

 Take a look at your direct debits and standing orders. You can get a list from your bank or find them through your online banking. Recognise everything? Huge numbers of people are paying for old insurance policies, charity donations, magazine subscriptions and more. Cancel anything you don’t need.

 Lots of Resolver users have been caught out by free trial scams. One of the most common is for moisturiser or other beauty products (usually from the US). The scams work by sending you small samples as part of the “trial” then sending you the products themselves when the free period ends. They then hit you with (often huge) charges. Dispute this through your bank and ask them to recall the money and block further payments. You’ll need to email the firm and ask them for an address and postal method to return the goods.

 The same goes for digital subscriptions. Many people are forking out for duplicate “cloud” internet storage services, music or film streaming sites and “premium” delivery services from retailers. Ask yourself how often you use the services and if they’re value for money.

 Take a detailed look at your transactions for the past few months. But then skim back a year. Some businesses use a form of debit called a “continuous payment authority” to take money off your debit or credit card. If you haven’t agreed to this, make a complaint. Banks have to cancel these payments as soon as you tell them to – you don’t need to go to the other company (unless you do have a contract with them).

 Don’t recognise a debit? Make a complaint. Some old insurance policies might still be lurking in your regular payments and it’s not always obvious what they are. Look at the name of the recipient firm and even if it isn’t clear who it is, type it in to a search and see what comes up. If you’re still not finding the firm name, check that all your other regular payments are being made and cancel it with your bank.

Remember, Resolver.co.uk can help you make a complaint about anything from bank refunds to dodgy retailers.

James Walker is the founder of online complaint resolution service Resolver.co.uk