Martin Lewis: Resolutions, but on your financial health

If you're still on a big six standard tariff you're missing out on savings of up to �300. Picture: John Devlin
If you're still on a big six standard tariff you're missing out on savings of up to �300. Picture: John Devlin
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Most resolutions hardly outlast the Christmas turkey leftovers. Yet forget willpower, forget determination, I’ve designed these resolutions for action. Do them now and the impact will last all year long. Best thing is to put aside a couple of hours to blitz through them all – it could save you thousands.

This year I resolve to…

… shop & save for next Christmas NOW. Pre-Christmas is the most expensive time to buy, January sales the cheapest. If you can, buy now to save next Christmas. Plus if the cost of Christmas was crippling, instead of borrowing to repay interest later, put a twelfth of the cost aside each month, in a savings account and let them pay you interest (see point 9).

l Claim marriage tax allowance

You could get up to £1,150. If you’re married or in a civil partnership, the www.gov.uk/marriage-allowance lets non-tax payers who are married to basic-20 per cent tax payers transfer 10 per cent of their personal allowance (the amount you can earn tax-free/tax year) to them. This year that’s £250, but as you can go far back as 2015/2016 tax year it could mean up to £1,150 back. Over a million are missing out, so it’s worth checking out and claiming.

l Check if I can slash £1,000s off the year’s mortgage repayments.

Mortgage rates are near all-time lows. So everyone check right now if you’re on the best deal. Use www.mse.me/mortgagebestbuy or MoneyFacts.co.uk to find your cheapest rate. Then if it looks like you can save, use a mortgage broker who’ll be able to home in on which mortgage lenders are most likely to accept you.

l Sort a power of attorney

One in three over-65s die with dementia, and many lose their faculties earlier from strokes, accidents, and more, too. Without a power of attorney to get access to your funds, even to pay for treatment, family would need to make a hard, slow and costly attempt to apply in court. Sort one now (I have at 47), and don’t worry it only kicks into effect if you lose your faculties. If you can do it yourself at www.gov.uk/power-of-attorney or use a solicitor if you’ve complex affairs.

l Take five minutes to save £300 a year on energy bills.

Depressingly over 50 per cent of the UK is still on a big-six standard tariff, paying the price cap amount of £1,178/year (for someone on typical use – use more or less and your bill goes up or down). Yet just because it’s a ‘fair’ price, doesn’t make it a good one. It only takes five minutes to put your details into a comparison site and find your cheapest – most big firms cheapest deals are only available this way, not by going direct. If you use my www.mse.me/CheapEnergyClub you also get cashback, or if not use an www.Ofgem.com approved site. And when you get your results, if you want a name you know or one with a good service record, just scroll down until you find it. You’ll still likely save large.

l Finally ditch my crap bank account and earn up to £175.

If you didn’t switch in 2019 and don’t regularly sing your bank’s praises you’re missing out. As it’s the start of a brand new year, many banks have a new marketing budget, and they’re willing to pay you cold hard cash to get you to switch them. Switch to www.hsbc.co.uk’s Advance account and you’ll get £175 cash bonus, or www.firstdirect.com is now giving a £100 bonus (up from £50), and many also get a 0 per cent £250 overdraft. With both accounts there are minimum pay-ins and criteria you need to meet so do your reading before applying. Plus you get access to a 2.75 per cent regular saver.

l Cut credit card interest by £100s or £1,000s this year.

The easiest way to reduce credit card debt is by shifting debt to a 0 per cent balance transfer card – this is where you get a new card(s) that repays debts on existing cards for you, so you owe it instead, but at a far lower cost, for a small fee.

Of course acceptance is the challenge for most. That’s now easier to find out as many cards have eligibility checkers which give your chances pre-application. Or you can see most top cards together in one place via comparison tools, such as the one on my site at www.mse.me/balancetransfer.

l Urgently check all direct debits, standing orders & recurring payment.

Millions wrongly let cash drip from their bank accounts for things they don’t really want. Take five minutes to scan through yours online or via statements if not and cancel any payments you no longer use (check you’re out of contract just in case). Tweet me what horrors you find @martinslewis.

l Check my savings to see if I’m being ripped off.

Savings rates are dismal and dire, many have money whether in normal savings or cash ISAs at just 0.1 per cent or less – so check yours. The very minimum you should be getting is 1.41 per cent, as that’s the best paying easy access account, which is at www.shawbrook.co.uk meaning you can move money in or out whenever you want. You can earn more if you’re willing to lock money away, full help at www.mse.me/topsavings.

l Start a Lifetime ISA (LISA) to help buy your first home.

If you missed out on the Help To Buy ISA which closed in November, there’s still hope. The LISA is the prime place to save for anyone (aged 18-39) who’s never owned a home. Save in one, then use the money for a deposit and the state adds 25 per cent on top, up to a possible £32,000. Full help, FAQs and best buys in www.mse.me/lifetimeISAs.

l Watch the Martin Lewis Money Show.

A free extra resolution for you, and a free plug for me – how’s that for win-win. My show’s back on air on STV soon. I’ll be blasting through how to slash your bills – you can’t afford to miss it.

Martin Lewis is the founder and chair of MoneySavingExpert.com. To join the 13 million people who get his free Money Tips weekly email, go to www.moneysavingexpert.com/latesttip