UK Household Debt in Figures as of 2017

UK Household Debt in Figures as of 2017

The latest official government statistics indicate that UK household debt has increased by 7% since 2012 with consumer credit and student loans being the worst hit. The 7% increase has been adjusted for inflation. Back in 2012, the total UK household debt stood at £1.52 trillion. The debt has increased to £1.63 trillion as of March 2017.

The Bank of England and Student Loan Company statistics for individual household debt segments show that mortgage loans increased from £1.2 trillion to £1.33 trillion from 2012 to 2017. Student debt increased from £46.9 billion to £100.5 billion while consumer credit increased from £159.6 billion to £197.3 billion during the same period. Although the UK government plans to reduce its yearly deficit going forward every year until 2025, UK households are headed in the opposite direction. The household debt and GDP ratio is set to heat the peak as was the case before the financial crash.

The wage growth has grown by a mere 0.7% when adjusted for inflation minus bonuses over the same period. This growth figure clearly shows that UK consumers have turned to loans to buy essentials. Incredibly low interest rates have managed to keep mortgage loan costs down. However, this is a cause of concern since a small increase in interest rates may pose serious financial challenges to many borrowers given the current debt climate.

Borrowing on second mortgages and credit cards has increased drastically making things worse. Most UK households have increased their debt uptake twofold by getting into arrears on monthly bills such as council tax. Let’s take a close look at unsecured credit, car finance, mortgages, student debt and arrears.

Unsecured credit

UK consumer credit levels have increased by 19% since 2012. The consumer credit levels currently are the same as those experienced back in September 2010. Unsecured consumer debt was at 45% of the total household income in 2007. In the years following the economic recession, UK households were forced to deal with bad credit habits which resulted in a decline in borrowing and an increase in savings. Unsecured debt levels were at 35% of the total household income in 2012, but since then, UK households have failed to clear store and credit card bills. Charges on those cards have increased unsecured credit debt drastically. According to the Office of Budget Responsibility, unsecured household debt in the UK is set to hit 47% of the total household income by 2021. In the past year (July 2016 to July 2017), the debt has increased from £192bn to £201.5bn when adjusted for inflation (a 4.9% increase).

Car Finance

The latest statistics show that auto finance dealers issued more than £30 billion as new credit in 2016 alone. These types of loans have become increasingly popular because they are cheaper than regular car loans. Borrowers can also make lower monthly repayments. In fact, this type of car finance currently controls 86% of the new car finance market. Over a million cars are being bought in Britain using auto finance dealer loans. The main cause for concern is this form of lending isn’t highly regulated which poses serious risks in the future.

Mortgages

The Mortgage debt levels have increased by 2% since 2012. This household debt segment isn’t as marked as the others although there are concerns of borrower risks if the Bank of England raises rates in the near future. The UK government has done a lot to revive the mortgage industry such as giving subsidies to 1st time home buyers. Some critics argue that this has encouraged unhealthy borrowing, i.e., people who wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage normally getting easy access. Furthermore, over 40% of all mortgage borrowers in the UK today haven’t been forced to deal with an interest rate hike which makes repayment obligations harder triggering cutbacks on spending and foreclosures in worst case scenarios. Considering there is a looming Bank of England interest rate hike by the end of 2017, the mortgage industry is set for tough times ahead.

Student debt

Student debt levels in the UK have surpassed other forms of debt. Since 2012, the student debt levels have doubled to £100.5 billion. This is raising concerns on how UK students should be funded considering the recent hike in fees to £9,250 this year. Furthermore, the slow growth in wages coupled with increasing taxes is bound to make it hard for UK graduates to meet their student debt obligations.

Arrears

Utility bill arrears are usually an indication of financial distress. Council tax arrears in the UK have increased by 12% between 2012 and 2017. UK households have arrears on water bills, power bills and gas bills. A continuation of this trend could make it impossible for UK households to enjoy basic services.

International perspective

UK households are the 2nd most indebted among the G8 nations. The UK also has a large trade deficit and a government spending shortfall. This can only make the looming debt crisis worse if drastic action isn’t taken.

Tips on Household Budget Planning

Tips on Household Budget Planning

Maintaining a household budget is very important. However, it takes more than a budget to manage your finances accordingly. Let’s face it! Most budgets don’t work. The reason behind this is simple. Most budgets concentrate on typical monthly spending ignoring other small but significant expenditures like daily coffee, weekly shopping, annual holiday, etc.

Here’s a great budgeting guide to help you manage every single penny, but first things first.

Why should you budget?

The main reason for budgeting is to ensure you don’t spend more than you earn. You need to determine the amount of money you can afford to spend every month to be able to move ahead financially. Budgeting also helps you find out where your money has been going which is the first step to adjusting your spending habits/priorities.

Typical budgets fail because they underestimate the real expenditure missing costs that have a significant effect. Using broad categories when preparing a budget makes it easy to miss those small expenditures that can add up to large amounts of money every year. For instance, most people usually indicate fuel and service costs when preparing car budget sections. Very few people remember to include insurance, breakdown, and new tyre costs.

Effective household budget planning

Step 1: Gather your latest payslips and find out how much you earn

To create a manageable household budget, you need to know how much you make first. Most people earn less than they think (after tax and other deductions) which creates avenues for overspending. To avoid this, take your payslips for the last three months and establish how much money is deposited into your bank account after all applicable deductions.

Step 2: Gather all your credit card and bank statements

Before you draw up your household budget, it’s also important to get your bank/credit card statements for the last three months. This statements list all direct debits, standing orders and many other expenditures giving you an accurate picture of your spending habits. This step will help you find out how much you spend on every category such as food. Don’t forget to consider every possible expense. You can follow the paper trail to find out your actual expenditure.

Step 3: Determine your income/expenditure patterns

Once you determine how much you make and how much you spend, it’s easy to determine the correct status of your finances. At this stage, it’s extremely important, to be honest with yourself. If you spend more than you earn, you need to take drastic measures to avoid getting into a debt spiral if you are not in one already.

Step 4: Start saving painlessly

If you are spending more than you earn, you need to start cutting back on unnecessary expenses to build your savings account. This should be done painlessly otherwise it won’t work. It’s not advisable to make drastic lifestyle changes. You can start by looking at possible savings on energy bills and credit cards and then move to other saving avenues like childcare. In simple terms, don’t focus on the obvious. There are many ways to save painlessly if you look carefully.

Step 5: Draft a new budget incorporating expected savings

The reason why most initial household budgets don’t serve people well is because they don’t highlight the real income and expenses. After going through step 1 to 3, this should no longer be a problem. Incorporate the new income, expenses and expected savings.

Cutting back

If you need to cut back on your spending, focus on starting small. You can also do less every month and consider selling things you don’t really need until you start living within your means. You should also focus on cutting back on things like magazines, chocolate, cigarettes, alcohol, movies, etc. that aren’t needs.

Important household budgeting facts/tips

1. Self-discipline is key: You can prepare the best budget in the world, however, if you don’t stick to it, you won’t get far.

2. Focus on affordability: To get back on track with your finances, you must focus on the most affordable way of doing something as opposed to the cheapest way. A cheap item can still be too expensive for you, so it’s important to focus on how much you have and then plan your spending around that.

3. Set up different accounts: To budget effectively, it’s important to categorise expenses. Ideally, you need different accounts for different expenses, i.e., a mortgage account, big purchases account, holiday account and a savings/emergency account to avoid missing expenses. Your main bank account should be separate from your bills account. However, pay attention to the charges and open accounts with minimal to no charges.

4. Set up standing orders: To make your budgeting process seamless, it’s important to have standing orders to feed your different accounts. Most people overspend when they see they have a lot of money in their main account when this isn’t the case in reality.

Household budget planning is easy when you have an accurate picture of your income and expenses. Some discipline is also important as well as a seamless/painless process. Luckily, you have all the information you need now to budget successfully going forward. Don’t forget to use budgeting tools/technology to your advantage.

Smart Meters - Are They Worth the Hassle?

Smart Meters – Are They Worth the Hassle?

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are electronic devices which track as well as record electricity consumption in customer’s homes. Electric utility companies in the UK have been replacing old meters (analog meters) which require manual reading with new high-tech smart meters. The meters capture electricity consumption information automatically and then transmit this information back to electric companies. Some of their most notable benefits of smart meters are; speed and accuracy. Smart meters eliminate the need to estimate monthly electricity bills. Furthermore, there is no need for the power company to send staff to conduct home visits to take meter readings. Smart meters are expected to save homeowners money as well as reduce carbon emissions. The UK government plans to roll out smart meters this year in a 4-million pilot project. But is it worth it?

Is it worth fitting a smart meter?

According to a Public Accounts Committee report on smart meters published recently, the £11.7 billion smart meter scheme will cost every household at least £350 to install yet the same report projects a household savings of £23 per year in reduced fuel costs. What’s more interesting is the savings is dependent on a number of factors such as changed behaviour since the meters are expected to offer useful information on reducing energy costs. Households which don’t use this information prudently may not enjoy any savings.

On the other hand, energy companies have guaranteed savings of approximately £9 billion per year from getting accurate meter readings. Consumer savings aren’t guaranteed by any means. According to many industry experts such as consumer policy expert, Zoe McLeod, UK households which have already taken steps to reduce energy consumption, i.e., households which have switched to energy efficient appliances won’t enjoy significant benefits.

It’s worth noting that similar poorly executed smart meter schemes introduced in countries like Australia and the Netherlands have been rejected because they proved to be a waste of money. In Australia for instance, the Australian Energy Regulator findings showing that Australian households would endure a £61 to £149 increase in their yearly bill between years 2011 and 2015 to cater for smart meter costs sparked public outrage.

A survey carried out by British Gas also paints a negative picture. Out of 700 customers who already have smart meters, 25% expressed concerns about effectiveness after using the meters for a year. Consumer groups have also expressed concerns about the smart meter scheme with some of them (consumer group like, ”WHICH”) calling for the scheme to be stopped.

Other concerns include privacy. The DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change) can’t guarantee the privacy of UK households which install the meters. Under current plans, UK household energy data is pulsed electronically to utility companies on an hourly basis. There are privacy concerns if third parties have access to this information which highlights daily habits, shows when there is no one in a household, etc.

There are concerns that UK households may start receiving energy offers like those received in Japan after the implementation of a similar scheme. Will UK households be receiving offers from utility companies making use of their commercial data? such as offers to get more energy efficient appliances. What are the regulations regarding the use or sale of energy consumption data?

Also, will it be easy to switch suppliers? According to WHICH energy campaigner, Jenny Driscoll, there is evidence that households may find it difficult to switch energy suppliers after installing smart meters. This information has been acquired from the early smart meter roll-out phase. If such concerns have a basis, it will obviously be unacceptable to many.

Also, there is no mechanism currently for capping energy bills if the cost of the scheme spirals out of control. There should be protections in place according to the Public Accounts Committee to protect consumers since they are expected to shoulder the £11.7 billion smart meter installation cost. There is also need to make smart meter complaints public. Currently, all the public knows is that complaints are registered with Ofgem. No complaints data has been published yet.

Verdict

Although smart meters are set to offer advantages to electricity companies in the UK, electricity users and the environment, there are obvious shortfalls like cost. UK electricity consumers must make an expensive long-term commitment under the smart meter scheme. Public perception is also an issue. There are issues around privacy and restrictions. UK households with smart meters have already expressed issues on flexibility. Smart meter issues have also been kept a secret. Before all the current smart meter concerns are addressed, including policy issues and smart meter reading verification, it may not be a good idea to fit a smart meter in your home.

 

5 Important Tips to Keep You Safe From Fraud

5 Important Tips to Keep You Safe From Fraud

Cybercrime incidences have increased drastically over the past decade. According to the Financial Fraud Action UK, online fraud incidences have increased by 53% over the past year alone. The latest statics show that someone is scammed online, in the UK, every 15 seconds. Most of these cases are affecting credit and debit card users who divulge their personal/bank details online making it easier for scammers to use this information in cases of data breaches. Short term loan borrowers like payday loan borrowers have also been victims of online fraud in the UK since such loans are acquired online.

There are a few quick steps you can take to avoid being part of this shocking statistic. One, you must trust your gut feeling when selecting offers or submitting personal information online. If an offer seems dodgy or too good to be true, it probably is. Two, you should never open unsolicited emails. Lastly, keep your pin/s and passwords secret/safe. Never divulge pin/password information online. Here’s a more in-depth discussion avoiding fraudsters.

Create ”perfect” passwords

You can’t afford to use regular words or obvious number combinations as passwords today. Hackers can ”break” such passwords. You should never use obvious words as passwords, i.e. your middle name, children’s names, etc. as name passwords are the easiest to crack. The ”perfect” password today consists of; random words that are unrelated to your life. The password should also have many digits preferably six or more that are random but easy for you to remember. Stay away from birth dates. Your ”perfect” password should also include symbols such as $, #, %, etc. Ideally, the symbols should be inserted randomly between the numbers and letters/words that make up your password. Lastly, use both capital and small letters. A great example of a perfect password would be You1r7Kin9gSh88ip05$$!! You can use password testing tools to analyse the strength of your password.

Maintain unmatched social media safety/privacy

Social media has made it easy to acquire a person’s personal information without their consent. If you don’t set the appropriate security/privacy setting on all your social media accounts, you don’t have control over who views your personal information such as; your real names, date of birth, personal address, etc. which can be used to hack your online accounts. Don’t add people you don’t know to your social media profiles or disclose too much personal information on social media. Disclosing your pet’s name for instance can make your online accounts vulnerable if you have used your pet’s name as a security question.

Maintain unmatched email safety

Anyone can send you an email provided they know your email address. Considering emails are used to send viruses/malicious software, you should never open unsolicited emails as well as unknown attachments or click on links whose source can’t be verified. You should also be wary of emails sent from sources you assume to know, i.e., your bank. Many people have fallen for spear phishing in the UK where fraudsters send automated emails appearing to originate from people/institutions you know such as your bank/credit card company. If you open and click on links on such emails by mistake, change applicable passwords immediately. You should also pay attention to the email safety information your bank sends to you as well as familiarise yourself with the official email address of your bank/credit card company.

Invest in a good anti-virus software

You can save yourself from all the trouble of keeping up-to-date with the latest online scams by investing in the best anti-virus software you can get. A good anti-virus will offer you all kinds of protection online giving you a stress-free experience. Never use free anti-virus software if you use your computer to do online banking transactions among other online transactions involving sensitive personal information. Free anti-virus software offers basic protection which isn’t enough to detect and deal with threats effectively.

Don’t forget to protect your phone

You should also invest in a good Smartphone anti-virus. Smartphones have substituted personal computers and laptops. Many people make payments and submit sensitive personal information over their phones. To avoid exposing yourself to fraudsters, make sure you Smartphone has an anti-virus. You should also restrict the data/information you share with websites. It’s also advisable to disable features such as autofill and unsolicited notifications. You should also avoid performing sensitive transactions over your Smartphone. Lastly, make sure your phone has a strong password/passcode. Your personal information should not be at risk if you lose your phone.

Facebook Planning to Crackdown on Deceptive Payday Loan Advertisers among Other ''deceptive'' Advertisers

Facebook is Planning to Crackdown on Deceptive Payday Loan Advertisers

The hunt for payday loan advertisers isn’t over. After Google’s May 2016 announcement that they were going to ban payday loan ads that met certain criteria, Facebook has decided to do the same.

Facebook has announced that it is going to trace and punish advertisers who bypass its review policies, particularly those advertisers who encourage Facebook users to click on ”phony” links. Facebook intends to use AI and human review processes to get rid of ads which create ”disruptive or negative experiences” for its users. The social media giant has already banned thousands of advertisers guilty of the practice popularly referred to as ”cloaking”.

This financially-motivated marketing technique has seen many bad actors disguise the actual destination of their ads or post links as well as the real URL content taking users to unrelated pages. These actors then generate income from views or clicks with affiliate deals. What’s more is; these unrelated pages host shocking content or scams.

Facebook cloaking is easy. A simple search on Google reveals countless tutorials on how to do it. Cloakers have been getting away with this unethical practice by showing Facebook’s approval team one ad and another totally different ad to the audience that clicks on the ad. Facebook’s new AI and human review processes will help it get rid of this malpractice that usually leaves its users shortchanged in most cases.

According to a blog post co-written by Rob Leathern, Facebook’s product director alongside software engineer, Bobbie Chang, ”we can now observe differences in the kind of content offered to people using apps compared to Facebook’s internal systems. In the recent past, these new efforts have allowed us to take down thousands of offenders misleading Facebook users.”

Facebook has also been on the record threatening to remove all Facebook pages found to be engaging in cloaking. The company has also initiated collaborative efforts with other companies in the industry to discover new and more effective ways of finding and punishing bad actors. These efforts come in the midst of a spam content and fake news crackdown within its walls.

There are also ongoing efforts to make the global digital ecosystem more transparent. Many global tech leaders are also focusing on improving digital experiences for their users. The largest marketing spenders in the world such as P&G and Unilever have also been calling for tech giants to tackle ad fraud.

What motivates cloaking?

There is a clear link between cloaking and making money from clicks as well as page views originating from Facebook ads. Facebook is at the forefront of this problem given the social media site has over 2 billion active users every month which accounts for 42% of the total monthly social media visits globally.

Similar actions

Google had to deal with a similar problem being the biggest search engine in the world. Google’s efforts were, however, more targeted, i.e., the search engine giant was focused on getting rid of payday loan ads which featured high-interest rates (36%+ APR) as well as tight repayment periods (i.e., 60 days from date of issue).

Starting 13th June 2016, Google banned all payday loan ads meeting these criteria. This was a follow-up for a similar ban that saw Google disable approximately 780 million ads back in 2015 for reasons such as counterfeiting, phishing, and obscenity. Google has been hunting for ”questionable” service/product ads for a while now. After getting rid of porn ads, the search engine giant turned its attention to payday loan ads and other high-interest financial product/service ads.

Google has been on a mission to protect its users from harmful or deceptive ads according to David Graff, Director of Global Product Policy at Google. The search engine has already terminated 1,300 advertiser accounts guilty of cloaking. Like Facebook, the search engine’s actions were motivated by external pressure (from consumer privacy and protection groups).

In 2016, Google banned 1.7 billion ”bad ads” for a number of offenses. This included 68 million ads featuring unapproved pharmaceuticals, 80 million ads deemed to be misleading or shocking to users as well as 5 million payday loan ads.

Facebook stopped showing payday loan ads back in 2015. Advertisers have however become smarter using tactics like cloaking which have forced the social media giant back to the drawing board. Any payday loan advertisers among other deceptive advertisers on Facebook today have their days numbered. The new AI and human review process are effective enough to deal with cloaking once and for all.

How Do Calendar Events Affect Our Spending

Our new infographic is here, and reveals some major home truths about the country’s spending! Do you ever feel pressure to overspend on big calendar events such as Mother’s/Father’s Day, Easter or Christmas? You might not be alone, with over half of Brits going over their intended budget! #OccasionalSpending

How Do Calendar Events Affect Our Spending
How Do Calendar Events Affect Our Spending
How Falls in Real Wages Could Increase Demand for Payday Loans

How Falls in Real Wages Could Increase Demand for Payday Loans

People use payday loans as a means to tide them over to their next pay cheque in a wide range of situations. For example, they may rely on this type of credit if they are short of money to cover expenses such as rent or mortgage payments and food costs, or if they encounter unexpected expenses like car or property repair bills.

More people may be turning to these short-term loans as the pressures on consumers’ finances continue to rise.

Official statistics

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, when adjusted for inflation regular pay dropped by 0.5 per cent year-on-year in the three months to May. This came after a fall of 0.6 per cent in real pay in the three months to April and a 0.4 per cent year-on-year decrease over the three months before that.

Rising levels of inflation and stagnating wages mean many households now have less, if any, money to spare each month. Inflation hit 2.9 per cent in June, which was up from 2.7 per cent the previous month and was considerably above the Bank of England’s target of two per cent.

With the prices of goods and services increasing relative to pay, more people may struggle to balance their budgets and this could result in an increase in applications for payday loans in the UK.

Public sector workers under strain

Workers in the public sector may be among those who are especially likely to need short term loans. There has been a lot of attention on public sector pay restrictions over recent weeks, with the government under pressure to lift pay limits first imposed in 2011-12. Since a two-year pay freeze starting in 2011-12, rises have been limited to one per cent.

According to an analysis conducted by the Trades Union Congress, firefighters, nurses and border guards may all see their real wages decline by more than £2,500 over the next three years if the pay restrictions remain in place. Meanwhile, the National Union of Teachers suggested that teacher pay has dropped by around 15 per cent in real terms since 2010.

Decreases in inflation adjusted earnings like this could make people more likely to approach payday lenders seeking short-term loans.

Could a payday loan be the right option for you?

Regardless of the sector you work in, if you’re short of money, you might be considering taking out a payday loan. Whether you need cash to cover a particular expense such as a bill or you simply need some extra money to help you meet your general living costs, these loans could offer a solution. One of the benefits of these products is the fact that they can be easy and quick to access, even if you have a bad credit history. If your application is approved, you may be able to receive the money the same day.

However, it’s important to realise that these financial agreements are only suitable if you want to borrow small sums of money. If you’re applying for a loan through Swift Money, you can request up to £1,000. If you require a larger sum than this, you will have to consider other options, for example taking out a personal loan. Also, bear in mind that payday loans tend to have higher interest rates than alternatives such as personal loans and the repayment terms are shorter.

Before you sign up to one of these products, make sure you have shopped around to find the best payday loans on the market. It’s also important that you’re confident you can meet the repayment terms set by the lender.

Sources: 

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jul/12/uk-pay-squeeze-real-wages-tuc-unemployment-ons-figures
https://www.tuc.org.uk/economic-issues/government-must-act-after-three-months-falling-real-wages-says-tuc
https://www.teachers.org.uk/news-events/press-releases-england/public-sector-pay
https://swiftmoney.com/
https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/payday-loans-what-you-need-to-know
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40259392

What Happens After the Child Support Agency (CSA) Closes its Doors?

What Happens After the Child Support Agency (CSA) Closes its Doors?

The CSA is set to be replaced by CMS (Child Maintenance Service) in a process expected to take until 2018. A number of changes have taken place. For instance, you can no longer claim child maintenance via CSA. All child maintenance claims must be made through the CMS instead going forward. Cases involving child maintenance i.e. if you receive child maintenance via the CSA currently, your case will be terminated before 2018 when the CMS replaces the CSA fully. In such an instance, you must apply via the CMS to continue receiving payments.

You are supposed to receive two letters from the CSA notifying you that your case is being closed. The first letter is sent 6 months before a CSA case is closed. The second letter is sent a month before the case closes. You should act immediately i.e. when you get your first letter.

If you haven’t received a letter yet, don’t worry. The CSA is still in the process of closing cases, a process expected to last until 2018.

Delays

There may be a delay of 6 or more weeks on child maintenance payments during the transition. The delay is expected even in cases where you act fast and/or ask the CMS to expedite your case. The reason for this delay is simple i.e. the CMS recalculates and begins administering child maintenance after closing CSA cases which can take up to 6 weeks.

The CMS difference

You will be required to pay £20 as an application fee to utilise the service. There are however exceptions to this. For instance, you don’t need to pay this fee if you are under 18 years or if you have been a victim of domestic violence.

The charge is applicable for catering for expenses related to CMS checks on the income of your child/children’s other parent with the HMRC. You also get maintenance calculations, a payment schedule as well as information on arranging payments. The fee also gives you online access to your child maintenance account, an annual review of the income of your child’s/children’s other parent and lastly a collections service if you aren’t receiving payments (an extra charge may be applicable for this).

Collection charges are applicable if the CMS steps in to collect money on your behalf. The paying parent must pay 20% above the child maintenance amount. The receiving parent also gets 96% of the child maintenance amount. If the paying parent sends money directly to the other parent, no collection charge is incurred.

Arrears

If you have arrears with the CSA, they will still stand and be enforceable with the CMS. The same applies in cases of family-based arrangements or if you still owe the arrears even if your child is an adult now. It’s also worth noting that the CMS is expected to be much better than the CSA at collecting arrears.