Signing up to an annual direct debit payment plan from your energy supplier is supposed to help prevent bill shock as your payments are spread equally throughout the year. But it might not work like that...
Protect your cash from an interest rate rise
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Rate rise forecasts have been pushed back time and time again. There was a time when it looked like a rise was likely some time in 2011 but 2011 has now been and gone and still the base rate remains at 0.5%.
A few economists think we could see the first rise in 2012 while others say 2013 is more probable. A handful of pundits think we'll be enjoying low interest rates until 2015.
But it pays to err on the side of caution and be ready for a rise when it happens...
Fix your mortgage
Borrowers on variable or tracker rate mortgages have been enjoying lower payments ever since the base rate started dropping back in 2009.
However, once you've enjoyed low monthly payments for so long it's easy to get carried away and start thinking rates will always be low.
So, have a think about whether you could still afford your mortgage if rates started to rise. If it would be a struggle it might be wise to lock into a fixed rate deal now, so that you can be sure of future repayments.
As rates are more likely to rise from, say, 2014 onwards rather than in the next two years, it's probably better to opt for a five-year fix rather than a two-year deal.
To check out the best mortgages at the moment, be sure to have a go on the lovemoney.com mortgage tool, which will help you compare deals from all across the market.
Overpay on your mortgage
Another good way to get ready for a rate rise is to overpay on your mortgage. For example, if you're paying 2% calculate what your repayments would be if the rate increased to 3% and start overpaying the extra.
This strategy is good for two reasons. Firstly, you'll be used to making the higher payment so when rates rise you won't suffer from "rate shock". Secondly, by overpaying on your mortgage you'll pay it off quicker and pay less interest overall.
However, before you start overpaying you'll need to check with your mortgage lender if it's permitted. Some will charge you early redemption charges, while others will limit how much you can overpay each month.
Some mortgage holders on variable deals won't have the option to switch to a fixed rate due to a lack of equity in their home which will mean they're not eligible for the best deals. In other circumstances remortgaging will be expensive due to the upfront fees involved.
However, there is another way homeowners can protect themselves from rate rises: insurance. MarketGuard's Rate Guard product works a bit like a fixed-rate mortgage, capping your payments so that if interest rates shoot up, the policy starts paying out automatically.
However, like all insurance you're paying for something that may never happen. And it's not cheap either. Protecting a £150,000 mortgage for two years, with an 0.5% excess (meaning the insurance only kicks in when rates have risen by more than 0.5%) would cost you £30.82 a month or £782.68 a year.
Pay down debts
If you've got credit cards or other debts then now's the time to try and pay them off. While credit card and personal loan rates haven't decreased as much as the base rate has, you can bet your bottom dollar that credit card companies would use a rising base rate as an excuse to whack up APRs.
So, use any spare cash you have to pay off as many of your debts as possible. Switching an existing credit card balance to a 0% balance transfer card will help you pay off debts quicker as 100% of your payments will go towards paying off the capital rather than on interest payments.
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Upping your savings can be seen as a type of "self-insurance", as if rates rise you'll have some cash in place to use for the higher payments. And if rates don't rise, then you'll still have the money.
It's important to make sure you're getting the best rate possible on your savings. Generally, if rates are low it's not a good time to lock into a long-term fixed rate savings plan. This is because if rates do rise then savings rates should generally improve and you could miss out on a better return on your cash because your money is tied up.
Instead savers should look for the best possible easy access deal or a short-term fixed deal. At the moment these include Nationwide's My Save Online Plus Issue 4 which pays 3.12% and offers easy access and Allied Irish Bank's one-year bond at 3.40%.
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If it wasn't for the power of the people that own the banks which are just a few families who do not appear on the richlists and who like to stay on top at all costs, we would not be in this situation. House prices are being kept artificially high so we owe all our disposible income to the banks. Immigration is kept high as demand for houses will stay high and the prices will stay high. The bank of England is not owned by the government but by the bank of england nominee ltd, the share holders of which are secret. If we want to lend money to someone we have to have it in the first place. Some big clearing banks just make a journal entry without having the cash as such backed up by gold and you get a load of money in your account and owe them that plus interest. I could go on. Still think we are in this together?
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