Australian Business Activity Drops to Low Levels

News that Australian business activity has dropped to its lowest levels since the global financial crisis has been the topic of concern from figures released for October. The drop in activity is as a consequence of the slow-down in the mining sector, a major feature of the country’s resource-dependent economy. This is according to a business conditions index created by NAB. The index tracks employment, profitability, goods orders and other indicators. It dropped two points to reach minus five between October and September, which is its lowest level since May 2009.

The decline was a result of government cuts on spending and the high Aussie dollar which has made the value of local products less competitive. A NAB spokesman said the local economy had faltered in the last quarter, and used it to explain the sequence of rate cuts issued by the RBA throughout 2012 but alluding to the fact that the government had been unable to shield the economy from a seemingly inevitable slow down.

Australian Business Activity Drops to Low Levels

The property market has been giving mixed signals while all other growth for the year has been modest. Consumer focus has shied away from accumulating more credit debt and has been focused on creating a savings account with sustainability, as a buffer against future financial crises. The overall sentiment from the consumer market has been labelled as defensive and conservative as households have had to deal with a number of rate increases over the course of the year. At the same time, shopping for saving products online can still prove profitable, even in spite of the RBA’s most recent rate cut.

NAB’s business confidence index saw it drop to minus one, even though rates had been cut earlier in October. This has brought the national cash rate down to 3.25%, one rate cut away from the 3% it reached after the global financial crisis. The government’s attempts at “rebalancing” have included a 150 basis point reduction to encourage local growth in spite of global economic instability. The rate cuts were intended to stimulate manufacturing, housing and retail, some of the weaker sectors of the economy.

Local retail has been a weak performer, showing sporadic signs of improvement, but also generally battling under the competitive markets that are dominated by weaker currencies.

One RBA official noted that i could take sectors like the property market a while to pick up momentum. The NAB index revealed that capital spend also fell to its lowest level since August 2009. NAB’s projection for the $1.4-trillion Australian economy is that it will grow by 2.3% which is in line with previous forecasts mad by the bank but less than the 3% forecasted by the central bank and the government.

It appears as though the government’s rate cuts have had a small influence on business leaders as they try to rebound after the effects of the strong currency have impacted on exports and promoted locals to start shopping overseas in order to find lower prices.

Despite the low rates the business climate has become much tougher and more difficult to navigate through. One analyst commented that the changes in the technology world, uncertainty and global competition were catalysts for the strong local currency.

A steep drop in commodity prices also took its toll on the economy in the middle of the year. This resulted in the workforce being stripped down and the unemployment rate inching upwards. Once comprising one third of the Aussie export market, coal and iron ore ending up being the most affected by the drop in demand for metals, especially stainless steel by the Chinese. The mining and construction sectors are both in the midst of near all-time lows, which is having a marked impact on affordability for the average business and household.

Investing in home improvement

The need to improve the home comes about for many reasons; whether you require something as simple as giving your living room a fresh lick of paint or as expensive as replacing several items of furniture. Whatever it is, the expense is always going to be there and expenditure can easily escalate, so any opportunities to save will gladly be taken.

There are some other home improvements, however, that act more as investments and will save you money in the long-term. Something like insulating the home will ensure that you have to spend less on heating, as the walls will block any drafts and putting tap on windows and door frames will have the same effect.

Purchasing quality furniture

Furniture is one of the most expensive commodities in the home, but if you decide to withhold on paying for quality furniture, you’re going to find that it won’t last as long. Therefore, the best practice is pay for quality and then you will generally be able to hold onto it for longer; this means that you won’t have to continue to fork out time after time because the “wood” has diminished.

Investing in home improvement

Getting hold of solid oak furniture is often the best option, whether it is a set of bedside tables or a nice big dining room table. To ensure that they last as long as possible, make sure to look after them through polishing and waxing every so often, as a lack of maintenance will see them diminish.

Insulating the home

Home insulation is vital, especially in the colder months and it is also essential if you plan to spend less on heating. Getting the correct insulation will enable you to save nearly $200 on heating bills and potentially more if you get the top thickness.

The walls are the best places to get your home insulated, but also look to do the same in the loft, as heat rises and will escape through the roof. Doors and windows should not be forgotten either.

Renewable energy

The popularity of solar panels has risen through the roof and has become a thoroughly efficient way of heating both your home and water. The expense can be initially high, but some areas will have grants to help you afford them, and, they will also help you once more to save money in the long-term.

Wind power is also up-and-coming and can be installed in a few different ways around the home, most commonly in the garden. Heat pumps are also good sources of energy to heat water and bring your bills down at the same time.

Top 3 Festive Uses for Short Term Car Insurance

As the Christmas season approaches, there are some surprisingly useful ways to take advantage of the benefits of temporary car cover.

First and foremost – this time of year is notorious for drink driving – with so many parties and events, it’s easy for people to have one or two drinks too many and assume that they are still under the legal limit.  One way to ensure the risk of accidents is minimised, is to make use of one day insurance products – it’s easy for plans to change and this way designated drivers can ensure they have cover on the car they need to be driving.  

Top 3 Festive Uses for Short Term Car Insurance

Another common use of short term insurance is for help when moving house – short term van insurance can also be a big help here.  Many people end up moving just before Christmas – what with mortgage approval processes and a slow market currently meaning that the buying process can take many weeks – sometimes a completion date in December is impossible to avoid.  Many people who are renovating and redecorating also use this approach and need to use a van to ensure furniture can be moved and disposed of as required!

Top 3 Festive Uses for Short Term Car Insurance

Finally, for some people – a new car is the ultimate Christmas gift – and one day cover is a great solution to ensure you’re covered when driving your new wheels off the forecourt. 

Living on the minimum wage

Earlier this month calls for a new living wage to be introduced were made by numerous public figures.

Thought up by the Living Wage Foundation charity, the move will form part of the Labour Party’s manifesto for the next general election and is designed to help millions of low earning people out of poverty.

Under the proposals, the living wage would be £8.55 an hour in London and £7.45 in the rest of the UK.

However, it is not a scheme which is legally enforceable like the national minimum wage – which currently stands at £6.19 per hour for people aged over 21.

So with this in mind, there are millions of people out there earning minimal amounts and struggling to make ends meet.

Indeed, the bottom ten per cent of adult workers earn an average of just £7.04 per hour, while 40 per cent of part-time employees get paid £7.19 or less.

Living on the minimum wage
Let’s do some maths. A person earning £6.19 per hour over a 35-hour week will earn £11,265.80.

Not a lot is it? And it is significantly lower than the £14,400 which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) says is the bare minimum a person can live on.

Last year, Yahoo blogger Felicity Hannah decided to do an experiment in which she and her husband tried to live on the then minimum wage of £6.08 per hour.

“I was a bit apprehensive about how much of our minimum wage income would need to be earmarked for bills, which include the cost of our home's gas and electricity, broadband, TV package, TV licence and council tax plus water rates,” she wrote.

“Add to this our personal bills, including our mobiles, gym memberships and my car loan, and our bills come to an average of £609 a month.

“That means our bills come to around £152.25 a week, leaving just under £60 for day-to-day spending. Add on our weekly child benefit of £20.30, and we had a total disposable income of around £80.”

In order to get through the tough times, she took a frugal approach to buying items.

This included swapping branded food products for ones produced by the supermarkets themselves. They also had to cut back on buying meats, meaning that Mrs Hannah’s husband has to go veggie for a week.

They also had to find a new and cheaper way of commuting to and from work. This included her husband cycling to work rather than driving.

But the thing with Ms Hannah’s experiment is that she didn’t have any debts to service.

While she had bills to pay, she wasn’t having to manage the burden of credit cards and loans each month.
Indeed, many people earning minimum wage are merely surviving rather than thriving.

The only people who can really manage comfortably on the national minimum wage are people who are living at home with their parents and thus have limited outgoings.

For those who are looking to fly the nest and buy a property in their own right, living on the minimum wage can be a source of great frustration because not only will they be unable to borrow enough to buy a home at the prices asked today, they will also find it virtually impossible to save a deposit.

However, there are some luxuries which everyone can enjoy from time to time, even if they are only earning minimum amounts. If you are savvy you can find a wide number of special offers and discount codes on the internet.

These will include buy-one-get-one-free offers on meals to discounts on day to day items such as nappies.

4 Ways To Not Run Out Of Money While Retired

To many of us the thought of having to depend solely on Social Security at any time during retirement is a nightmare. It takes quite a bit of planning to make sure your retirement savings will last throughout your golden years. Here are four strategies that may help you along the path firmer financial footing during retirement.

Save More Now

The first step is an obvious one, save more. Well, now that it is in print it can magically happen, right? Let's sit down and look at this one. First off, this is money saved above and beyond your pension or retirement fund and you need to start before retirement. Where is the money supposed to come from? Many people think that saving for retirement has to be done in large chunks. If you don't put $50 into your savings account you have wasted your effort, right? Approach saving extra cash as a nickel and dime ordeal. Even a single George Washington a week adds up. Slowly, but it will add up. Commit to putting $5 into an account every week. Once you see that saving that amount does not impact your life, raise it to $7.50. Go up another $2.50 a week until you reach the maximum amount you feel comfortable with.

4 Ways To Not Run Out Of Money While Retired

Downsize Your Budget

Plan to spend less after retirement. This can take many forms. Look at you largest asset, your home. Will the mortgage be paid off prior to retirement? If not, can you refi and shorten the length of the loan? If you have already retired, why not sell your home and look for a smaller home or rent. Renting will allow you to avoid the costs of home maintenance. If you sell, you could pay off your vehicles and credit cards plus stuff your savings accounts. Besides selling your home, there are dozens of ways to spend less. A few examples are that you are going to need new clothes less often and you can set a budget for gifts and limit who you send them to. A simple look around your home and through your checkbook can often show you ways to spend less.

Make Your Hobby a Money-Maker

It may sound preposterous, but you will probably get bored during retirement. Many of us have hobbies, but even those get old after a time. Why not find a way to make money? No reason to consider a full time job. Look at your hobbies. Is there a marketable product there? Even a part-time retail job can add a couple of thousand dollars to your income, break up the monotony, and let you stretch your savings. Most Social Security recipients can make $900 a month without affecting their monthly stipend. After age 70 there is no limit on income. Those figures are subject to change, but hold true as of 10-10-12.

Monitor Your Assets

Lastly, you will need to monitor your assets on a regular basis. The stock market is always volatile, so make sure your investments remain diversified enough to withstand those fluctuations. Depending solely on bonds may seem like a sound strategy, but the interest earned on these investments will rarely outstrip inflation over the long term. Another component to monitor is whether you are spending capital faster than can be sustained over the long term. If you are depleting your reserves, it is time to tighten the belt at home.

Retirement should not be a time of worry and penny pinching. By being frugal and and making sensible financial decisions, you can enjoy a reasonable lifestyle throughout your golden years. Additionally, please consider long term care insurance prior to retirement.

Top 20 Ways to Save Money in 2013

If your New Year's resolution is to save money then you're in luck. Here are 19 money-saving tips to help you ring in the New Year with a fat savings account.

1) Make a Shopping List

Don’t go to the grocery store without a list. Once you get there, don’t buy anything that isn’t on your list. Resist the urge to make impulse purchases and check to make sure that sale prices are really a good deal.

2) Make Homemade Foods

Bread making is a dying art, but t really isn’t difficult. Homemade bread is also cheaper, healthier and tastes better than store bought. This can be expanded to jams, jellies and other foods that are typically bought premade.

Top 20 Ways to Save Money in 2013

3) Drink More Water

Aside from the health benefits, drinking water can also save you money. Sodas, coffee and other high-priced drinks can really add up over time, especially if you drink them every day.

4) Cook at Home

Make your own lunches and dinners and save eating out for special occasions. Not only will this save you money, it will probably make you healthier to boot, which will save you even more money on medical care resulting from a bad diet.

5) Plant a Garden

Not only will you get the freshest of produce, you will save money over the inferior grocery store product that has often been shipped for thousands of miles and picked before it was fully ripe. Plus, many find gardening therapeutic, allowing them to relax and slow down.

6) Shop in Season

Buy holiday items after the holidays. Most fresh foods are less expensive when they are readily available. By planning ahead for seasonal purchases, you can save a lot during the year.

7) Do It Yourself

Don’t pay someone else for tasks that you can do yourself. Many home repairs aren’t that hard to complete and a trip to the hardware store is usually cheaper than hiring it out, even if you may have to buy an inexpensive tool or two.

8) Mend Old Clothes

Instead of throwing out clothing that has a little wear, do some repair instead. Virtually anyone can do simple sewing, from replacing a missing button to sewing on a patch. Don’t buy new clothes when your old ones still have a lot of life left.

9) Pay Off Your Debt

Save Money

According to the Federal Reserve, an average American family carries more than $15,000 worth of debt. Paying unnecessary interest on credit cards and other debt is a big money drainer. Pay more than the minimum and get those cards paid off. It will cost a little more in the near term, but overall it will save you money.

10) Get a Lower Credit Card Rate

Call your credit card company and ask for a lower rate. Many will lower rates just for the asking, especially with the high competition today. If they won’t comply, look into the possibility of transferring your balance to a lower rate card.

11) Refinance Your Mortgage

If you haven’t done this yet, it’s time to start doing some checking. See what banks and mortgage companies have to offer and compare this against your present payments to see if you can save a bit of money each month.

12) Look for a Cheaper Place to Live

If you have way too much house for your needs, consider downsizing. A smaller home or apartment will save you money on rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, maintenance and even time. If you are taking care of more home than you need, downsizing can allow you to redirect your resources.

13) Buy Less Gas

Make fewer trips in your car by consolidating your errands. Try to carpool with other workers in your neighborhood. Take the bus, a bike or even walk when it is possible to do so.

14) Turn Off Lights

Reduce your electric bill by turning off lights and electronics when they aren’t needed. Switch to energy efficient bulbs and appliance. Even unplugging chargers and other devices when not in use can save you significant money over the course of a year.

15) Sell Excess Stuff

If you have a garage, basement or attic full of stuff you don’t use anymore, try selling it. You can have a garage sale or sell it online. Turn your old junk into cash and you can put the money into your savings.

16) Divide Wants and Needs

Society tells us we need the biggest and fastest and latest and newest of everything. Learn to separate needs from wants. Don’t buy anything on impulse. Wait a few days, maybe as long as a month. If you still need it, then it probably isn’t an impulse buy.

17) Use Money Making Apps

Save Money in 2013

If you're like most families your cell phone bill is one of your biggest monthly expenses. However, you can earn back some of that cash by tapping into money-saving and money-making apps, like TaskRabbit, KickStart and Swagbucks.

18) Borrow Books and Movies

Most libraries now have an extensive collection of movies on DVD, in addition to their obvious storehouse of books. Borrowing a movie from the library is much cheaper than renting. You can also get music CDs and a host of other entertainment options, all at no cost.

19) Host a Party

When you want to get together with friends, invite them over instead of going out with them. These get-togethers don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, the really highlight to the evening is not food or drink but good companionship.

20) Buy Used

From cars to clothes to electronics, there are many opportunities to find gently used items that others don’t want, never really needed in the first place or simply couldn’t afford. Use their impulse buying to your advantage.

6 Secrets To Building A Big Enough Pension Fund

Most of us want to stop work and retire at some point in the future, the problem of course is having enough money!

The financial crisis has not made retiring, when we are still healthy enough to enjoy it, any easier. So we thought we'd let you into our six secrets of building a big enough pension to retire on.

1) State Pension

The State Pension is all too often ridiculed, but whilst you wouldn't want to live on it alone, it's a great foundation to build on.

The basic State Pension is currently just over £100 per week, which works out to be roughly £5,300 per year. Not much you might say, but remember that's index linked and will rise in line with inflation, earnings or 2.5% each year, whichever is higher.

Pension Fund

Look at it this way, to get the same, inflation proofed income, from your own pension fund, you would need about £150,000; it doesn't sound so shabby now does it?

Until the flat rate State Pension comes in you should make sure that you're National Insurance record is up to date, you will only qualify for the basic State Pension if you have paid enough NI, you can check your record by visiting the government’s State Pension Calculator.

2) 'Free' money - part one

There is plenty of 'free' money to help you build up your pension; the first example of this is tax relief. If you are a basic rate tax payer, every £80 you pay in will be topped up by £20; that's immediate 'growth' of 20%!

Yes, we know you are only getting tax back that you have already paid, but there is no other way of doing this and high rate tax payers can claim back an extra 20%, meaning that every £100 contribution only costs £60

3) 'Free' money - part two

Many employers run work place pensions; however the take up rate is often poor. The 'deal' is usually pretty simple, if the employee pays in then so does the employer, often matching your contributions. When most people can't afford to put enough money away themselves, most people really can’t afford to turn down this 'free' money from their employer.

4) Take more risk

We admit this doesn't work for everyone, but if you have a long time before you plan to retire, 20 years plus, we'd strongly suggest that you consider taking more risk with your pension investments, especially if you are making monthly contributions.

Many people get understandably concerned about stock market crashes and therefore take too little risk with their pension investments, preferring safer investments, such as cash, which will ultimately get eroded by inflation. If you have enough time to ride out the roller coaster ride of the stock market, consider investing with a bias towards stocks and shares, the converse is of course true, the less time you have the more risk averse you should be.

5) Start early

Everyone has a target income in retirement, this means that a target capital sum needs to be built up over the course of a working life; starting early, even with relatively small contributions, will help. Remember, the first contribution you make to a pension will work the hardest, even if you can't pay in enough to hit your target immediately, something is better than nothing, start early and top up as you go, you won't regret it!

6) Monitor performance and charges

It might sound obvious, but the more your pension grows and the less you are charged, the larger your pension fund will be. Regularly check how your selected investments are performing, be ruthless and ditch poorly performing funds.

When it comes to charges, cheaper isn't always better, but getting value for money is crucial, check that you are happy with the performance of your pension and what you are paying for it, again be ruthless, if you are being charged over the odds for mediocre performance then move, your future retirement income is at stake

Next steps

Building up enough money to retire is far from easy, to start with there are many competing calls on any spare income you have, getting the right pension and choosing the right investments, only add to the complication.

Following our six secrets will help, but they will only take you so far, afterwards it's down to you.

Top Tips for Contractors on How to Save Money

A contractor has to assume a wide range of costs, including insurance, materials, payroll, tools, and equipment. In this situation, any sort of cost reduction is the equivalent of having more money in the bank. A successful contractor must be constantly on the lookout for new ways to reduce costs.
Here are some proven money-saving tips for contractors:

1) Set Up A Limited Company

It can simplify tax reporting, banking, and insurance, as well as reducing your taxes. There are chartered accountants that can help set up the company and handle the VAT, Corporation Tax, VAT Flat Rate, and NIC at the same time.

2) Hire a Chartered Accountant

Have a professional chartered accountant take care of your books. Improper management of books can increase your tax bill and get you into trouble with the HMRC. Paying a professional upfront is always cheaper than hiring one to clean up your mess.

Save Money

3) Hire Professionals Online

Use online services such as www.elance.com to find professionals, such as writers, editors and web designers. The services you’ll find online are just as good as those you can find in your community, and they are often cheaper.

4) Hire a Virtual Assistant

A virtual personal assistant will cost a fraction of what a traditional secretary will, and they are just as professional. Online services, such as www.Odesk.com and www.elance.com, can help you find the right one for you.

5) Digitise Records

Keep all of your records on computer to eliminate the costs of paper. Simply eliminating paper and ink can save a contractor £20-£50 a month. To avoid data loss, make sure that you take advantage of a backup service such as Google Drive or iDrive. 

6) Get Rid Of Your Fax Line

You’ll eliminate the second phone bill and save on ink and paper costs. Remember, you can always plug your fax machine into the phone line if you really need to fax. 

7) Get Rid Of Your Landline

If you do most of your business on your mobile phone, there’s no need to pay for a permanent phone line for your business. 

8) Take Advantage Of Free Services 

Free banking with no charges and no minimum balance requirements is the perfect example. If your bank doesn’t offer it, ask for it or move to a bank that does.

9) Home Office

If possible, operate from a home office and eliminate the cost of renting a shop or office. This can eliminate an extra rental payment and save you several hundred pounds a month. If you need a place to meet clients, you can always go to a coffee shop.

There are hundreds of ways that contractors can save money if they just use their imagination. Every time you perform a task, think about it and ask if there is a cheaper way to do it. 

Guide to Funding Your Own Care

Failing to qualify for council or NHS continuing care funding is not the end of the world. Despite what some people think, it is still possible to fund your own care. 

Don’t Rely on Savings

The worst method of funding care is to rely solely upon your savings. Many people exhaust their savings in an attempt to fund care. Therefore, the most important, and the hardest, step to take is to not use your savings to cover the cost of care. 

Investments

Fortunately there are excellent alternative forms of funding available. The first step is to take a look at all of your assets, including investments. In many cases, selling investments such as stocks may be a better strategy. Another alternative is to get rid of assets that you no longer use, such as your car or additional property. The proceeds from the sale of these assets can be easily used to fund care.

Guide to Funding Your Own Care

Use Your Home to Fund the Care 

Another step is to see if you can use the equity in your home to fund your own care. There are some schemes that allow a person to use their homes equity to cover the cost of care.
  • The first of these schemes is called a lifetime mortgage. In this scheme, a loan based on the value of the home is issued. In exchange for the loan, the homeowner signs an agreement to turn the home over to the lender when he or she dies or moves out. The lender then tries to recover the funds lent by selling the home. To take advantage of a lifetime mortgage, a person will need to have no mortgage or a small mortgage on the home.
  • The second option is a home reversion scheme, whereby the home is sold to a home reversion company. The company lets the owner live in the home, but takes possession when he or she dies or moves out.
There are some disadvantages to both of these plans. You will not be able to leave the home to your family, nor will you be able to sell or rent it if you have to move to a care home. However, both plans provide a regular income that can be used to cover the costs of care.

The amount received from these schemes is determined by the value of the home and the amount of equity withdrawn. If the value is limited or the home is heavily mortgaged, the amount earned might not be sufficient to cover the cost of care.

Attendance Allowance & Other Benefits 

There are some other sources of funding for care that you can take advantage of. If somebody in your home needs care and is over 65, the Depart of Work Pensions offers Attendance Allowance. This is not means tested, so it is available to those that don’t qualify for NHS or council funding. Instead, it takes the form of a £51.85 or £77.45 a week allowance. The rate depends on whether night care is needed or not.
Other benefits and payments from charities and Benevolent Societies are also available. Check with your council to see what else is available in your area. 

Beirut — Put Expat Finances to the Test

When you’re planning to move abroad, the capital city is the first place you are likely to consider.  Due to the number of opportunities they offer, this is especially the case if work is the reason for your move. 

If you’re planning to move to Lebanon, however, you should find a bank in Lebanon that will provide you with good personal banking services, as you may require expert advice on how to manage your money while you’re out there. A report has found that Beirut has moved up nine places to become the 67th most expensive city in the world to live in for expats. 

Beirut — Put Expat Finances to the Test
The main reason is the cost of housing. Expats normally want apartments of 60 to 80 squared meters, which rarely cost less than $1,000 per month to rent, but the supply of rentable apartments in Beirut is limited. Rent continues to rise as Lebanese landowners renovate apartments or only build luxury five-star apartments. The apartments available tend to be large, expensive and aimed at wealthy people.

The price of food in Beirut is also much higher than in other parts of Lebanon. Groceries, for instance, are as much as three times cheaper outside of the capital.

Another problem is the poor public transportation system in Beirut, which has increased the need to use private transport. However, the cost of petrol is high and the rationing of electricity isn’t helping, to the extent that some people and businesses are hiring private generators to cover their needs. 

Unfortunately, inflation is on the rise in Lebanon, having climbed in the first 10 months of 2012. According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), prices increased by 11.1% between October 2011 and October 2012. The cost of food and drinks rose by 1.2% in October.  

The good news is that not all costs increased. Important costs such as fuel, electricity (which are among the highest in the world in Lebanon) and water fell — if only slightly —by 0.1% and transportation ones did so by 1.3%.

Of course, problems with inflation make life as difficult for the Lebanese as for the expats. The speed of these increases in inflation means Lebanon’s own people are saving less and less — if at all. A Lebanese Ministry of Finance survey found that more than 55% of the Lebanese population can’t afford to save money and that more than 63% have problems providing for food and necessities.

In times of economic strife, households normally budget. The survey found, however, that 50% of Lebanon’s citizens don’t budget their household income or expenditures. Fifty per cent had no exact knowledge of how much they spend each week. Rather more, over 70% didn’t know exactly how much their weekly income was. 

So if you’re heading to Lebanon, and in particular if you’re heading to Beirut, do some sound financial planning before you go there. Things get hectic in the run-up to a move, of course, so you should also consult one of the banks in Beirut, like HSBC, for financial advice too.

The Private and Public Health Debate Continues

As consumers are finding themselves under more financial pressure to fund their private health insurance they are resorting to unscrupulous measures to protect themselves from gap payments and red tape enforced by their insurers. And even though the market is becoming more competitive one of the country’s insurers seems to be getting consistently poor reviews from clients.

A private survey has found that one in five people making use of the public health system already has private cover. According to IPSOS a further one in ten people who have been to a public hospital have private cover but do not use it. Another 10% of patients in public hospitals used their private insurance to cover their treatments and occupied places that may have been required by needier patients.

One in four people did not declare that they had private health insurance in order to avoid gap payments. According to the government gap payments excluded by health insurance companies or Medicare cost members $629-million in the year to June. 

Health Debate
Gap payments are also being increased because an increasing number of doctors charge higher rates than Medicare’s schedule of fees allows for and it also appears to be influencing the way people use their insurance. On average the out of pocket expense for a hospital stay is $294 but orthopaedics can cost as much as $334 and plastic surgery can go up to $362. Doctors motivate their reasons for charging higher rates by saying that the Medicare rates are not sufficient.

With the impending loss in the 30% rebate many families have had to start looking at ways to compare health insurance policies, in order to make sure they are getting the value they are paying for.

According to the government-led Private Health Insurance Administration Council people between the ages of 30 and 65 are getting significantly less value for their cover than people between the ages of 65 and 69. The 65 to 69 year old age group is traditionally the group with the highest number of claims. $478-million was paid out in hospital rebates for the 30 to 34 year old age group, compared to the $2.1-billion paid to people between the ages of 65 and 69. Forty to 44 year olds only received $432-million.

Some of the problems faced by people with private health insurance include restrictions and exclusions and poor communications and they are complaints that health insurer NIB appears to be getting a lot of. The country’s fifth largest insurance company received twice as many complaints (165) as its next competitor (HBF with 87). NIB currently has 7.5% of the market share, but 40 disputes were filed with the Ombudsman, compared with only 12 for HBF.

Even though the company is the country’s fifth largest insurer it can usually be found fourth on the list of complaints. The majority of its complaints involve exclusions and restriction, verbal information and waiting periods for pre-existing conditions. In response the company said that there was room for improvement in its customer service and would be addressing it through the appointment of a Chief Customer Service Officer. With over 900,000 customers it needs to retain the banks says it is adopting a country-wide customer-oriented campaign.

Because of the company’s focus on providing affordable packages they often are restricted by waiting periods or exclusions. Mark Fitzgibbon said the challenge for the company was communicating that not all packages were fully inclusive and that people were getting what they were paying for. NUB has also come under criticism of late from medical practitioners because of its rules and policies.

According to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman the three biggest topics of concern for consumers during 2011-2012 were verbal communication (or the lack thereof), exclusions and restrictions and waiting periods

How to save money on my car insurance

Owning a car, especially in this day and age, can be an expensive privilege. You have to spend more and more on fuel even though you’re buying the same amount, car tax seems to be more expensive than ever, while the cost of insurance can be hard to cope with for some motorists. While saving money on tax and petrol can be hard, it’s possible to reduce your spending on car insurance without it coming at the expense of the level of cover your receive. Here are a few tips on how to do so:

save money on car insurance

•    If you’re a younger driver who’s likely to spend more on a monthly premium, take a Pass Plus Course. This is a test that, if passed, acts a certificate proving that you’re safe when on the road, which will in turn reduce your insurance costs.

•    Drive a smaller, less powerful but more efficient car. Trading downwards can not only make it cheaper for you to drive, but it also means you’ll pay less for insurance. The reason for that is insurers recognise that smaller vehicles are less likely to be involved in accidents and are favoured by careful drivers.

•    Shop around. Before deciding, visiting a price comparison website can help you get quotes from multiple insurers quickly and efficiently.

•    Drive sensibly. By avoiding accidents for a number of years, you will probably be given a discount by your current insurer in the form of a no claims bonus. This could see you being given a discount over 10% or so depending on how long you’ve gone without needing to claim.

How do charitable credit cards compare?

A charitable credit cards works similarly to a normal credit card. You apply in the same way and spend in the same way. 

You can even go to a comparison site like Totally Money to compare and choose the best card for you. The difference is that when you spend money or pay off a balance, that the card provider will donate money to whichever worthy cause you’ve decided when applying.

You can choose from many well-known charities; such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, RSPB and many others. It is a much simpler way to donate; there are no forms to fill in or cheques to sign every month. 

However, there are a few differences to look out for. 


How do charitable credit cards compare?
How do charitable credit cards compare?
How do charitable credit cards compare?

Due to the nature of charity credit cards, the provider will naturally find a way to keep its profits up, so they tend to have a higher interest rate or APR. This isn’t a problem if you usually pay your balances in full, but could easily mount up if not.

Generally you can transfer an existing balance onto one of these cards, but the providers will not normally donate on transfers or cash withdrawals. 

Restricstions

There tends not to be many restrictions other than those set on traditional credit cards, so if you’ve struggled to get credit in the past, you may similarly struggle with a charity credit card. 

Also, although these types of cards are beneficial to the charity, the high interest rates are not necessarily the best choice if you forget or tend to not pay off what you spend each month. 

These credit cards have their obvious benefits, and are a good choice if filling in another form fills you with dread, but you do need to read the small print, compare, and ensure you pay off larger balances as soon as you can.

Increasing personal finances when off work injured

Being injured can be a painful in a number of ways. As well as the physical pain, there’s the fact that you can only do so much in terms of exercise, chores and leisure activities, while it may result in you having to take time off work. One of the biggest impacts any serious injury can have on you is the financial loss, especially if you can’t work because of it. Not working means no income, but if your family relies on you to provide for them, what can you do to cut down costs?

Increasing personal finances when off work injured

Your employer is legally required to give you a few weeks’ sick pay depending on how long you’ve been in your job. While that money can last for a while, there are other costs to take into account such as medical bills which can eat into your finances, but there is something you could try to make everything a little easier to pay for. Making a personal injury claim for compensation against the person or organisation at fault for your injury is a good option.

One of the best things is to achieve justice as well as get the appropriate amount of compensation. Even if you lose, you won’t have to pay them a single penny in legal fees, so you have nothing to lose. A successful claim may help to recover any lost income as well as pay for those costly medical bills, leaving you free to recuperate.

Government make funding available for small business lending scheme

The government has recently issued a new announcement regarding small and medium businesses that will make borrowing more accessible.

RBS and Lloyds were two of the first banks to offer this new scheme, which works by the government underwriting the loan from the bank. 

Up until this announcement the government has done very little to alleviate the pressure on SMEs in the UK.

small business lending scheme

SMEs have struggled to pay bills and keep their doors open, which has meant they have attempted other methods to cut costs such as finding cheaper business electricity from Make It Cheaper, a company who help other companies to save money.

Now that these loans are available, it may seem like more doors are open to small and medium sized businesses. Although a loan of between £250,000 and £25 million with a deferment on the capital for up to two years may seem like it could solve a lot of problems in their companies, the reality could be different. For some businesses it could be exactly what they’re looking for, especially if they’ve exhausted the other available options.

The flip side of these loans is that after two years, the capital on these potentially huge loans will need to be repaid. If business doesn’t improve in the way a company had hoped they could be worse off than before they took out the loan.

small business

There are other options before going to the big banks for help – the very ones who many believe put their companies in trouble in the first place.

Other options have become available too; since the announcements from the government and banks, other banks seem to be jumping on the bandwagon too, offering loans from £1,000 plus to any size of business.

So although things may have been hard on businesses recently, this may be a turning point, the government have reached out, and finally other banks and companies are able to make a real difference too.

Basic economic Fire Safety Equipment and Principles for Companies

Fire kills in minutes, smoke kills in seconds, and lack of adequate fire safety equipment and training in the workplace makes people more than twice as likely to be killed by either fire or smoke.

As a company it is vital that you install all the proper fire-fighting and warning equipment and train your staff so everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire.

Any business that employs staff or allows access to members of the public is required by law to have suitable fire extinguishers on the premises.

Remember that all fire-fighting equipment needs to be checked regularly, in some cases by the fire department, and should always be kept in plain sight and in an easy to access area.

Fire Safety Equipment

Fire drills should be carried out on a regular basis throughout the year as a reminder, and whenever a new employee starts work. These ensure that everyone in the building knows where the meeting point is in the event of an evacuation.

Practicing also helps keep a lid on panic if and when the real thing occurs. If people are used to the drill they will most likely follow procedure calmly thinking this is just another practice. By the time most people realise it is a real fire they will already be out of harm’s way.

Appoint a fire safety monitor or director to be in charge of ensuring evacuation procedures run smoothly and checks are made in toilets or other hidden areas, and that anyone with a disability has the help they need to get out in time.

Provide plenty of additional training to this person or persons on top of the regular fire safety drills.

Some of the Weirdest Taxes Ever Levied In History

The idea and practice of tax is considered to a central component of the modern relationship between the modern citizen and their governments in the developed world.

From the Magna Cart and the first rumblings of Western parliamentary democracy to the cries of “no tax without representation” that heralded the beginning of the American war of independence, issues of taxation have been at the forefront of some of the most important events in our collective history.

Some of the Weirdest Taxes Ever Levied In History
And while some of us think that the very concept of taxation is unjust and barmy to this day, there are instances in history of some mind-bendingly strange taxes being levied on the people of the world.

A look back at some of these should not only provide with us with an interesting look at one of the more underappreciated historical drivers, but should also reinforce just how far we have come as a species in reigning back the unfettered power of kings and spiritual leaders.

So next time you find yourself grumbling about your tax bills, just spare a thought for the poor suckers that had to pay for the following...

The Roman Urine Tax

If you find the idea of taxing urine strange, just stop for a moment to consider the basic idea that underlines it: that in the time of the Romans, urine was a valuable enough commodity to be bought and sold!

Under the emperors Nero and Vespasian the poor citizens of Rome had to pay a tax for the honour of urinating into a pot, and then paying a second tax for the pot to be emptied into a big cesspool so the ammonia that it contained could be used to tan leather and wash clothes.

The English Hat Tax

This was a rather inventive, and stupid, variant of a tax on wealth that operated in England from 1784 to 1811. The logic at work here is that rich people would have more hats and would be more likely to replace worn and damaged hats quicker than your average Joe. During this time you even had to have a special permit to sell hats.

The English/Russian Beard Tax

You could be taxed in England for having a beard both in the time of Henry VIII and that of his daughter Elizabeth I, although the latter stipulated that the beard could be grown for two weeks before becoming taxable...which is obviously completely unworkable as every beard grows at different speeds!

Peter I of Russia just thought that beards weren’t smart enough for his population to be rocking and decided to make some money out of it.

The American Candy Tax

It seems strange for the land of candy, and John Candy of course, to introduce a tax on sugary and unhealthy treats, but that is exactly what the US state of Illinois did in 2009.

The problem came with the rather bizarre classification that was used for the tax. If a sweet foodstuff contains sugar or needs to be refrigerated it is by law not considered to be candy and therefore not subject to the tax. This means that a chocolate covered carrot could be deemed to be candy while a chocolate covered flapjack would not, and that of the two varieties of Milky Way sold in the states, one was candy and the other was not.

This is only a sample of some the strange ways in which our rulers have charged us for the pleasure of doing, having and buying things. I would definitely need to get some tax return help if I had to factor in my beard or collection of hats when thinking about tax.

Just be thankful that don’t all have to collect and wash our clothes in urine anymore I guess!
Anyone else got any good examples of historically ridiculous taxes?  

Personal Loans Drop, Consumer Confidence Increases

The month of August saw the value of personal loans fall by 3.3% compared to figures from July this year, as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with personal finance dropping from $7.47-billion in July to $7.22-billion. Commercial loans also saw a dip of 5.2%, from $29.089-billion to $27.59-billion for the same period while lease finance also decreased by 5.1% as all sectors remain cautious in light of factors like the strength of the dollar and global economic uncertainty.

Personal Loans Drop, Consumer Confidence Increases

According to the new Financial Wellness Index conducted by ING Direct, households are most concerned about their long term investment prospects when it comes to financial stability. More than half, 55%, of those who participated in the survey do not have assets beyond their own home, and many of them have very little equity in their properties, a figure that is 8% higher than what was reported in the previous Financial Wellness Index.

On another level there was some light at the end of the tunnel as consumer confidence reached a two year high for five of the six indicators that were included in the survey and optimists believe it could be a sign of reactivation in the markets. What also emerged from the results was that savings have reached their highest levels since the first quarter of 2010 and the average account amounts to $9735.

As consumers have been working on clearing their debt the wellness index also revealed that 93% of those surveyed were in a better position to afford their home loans and 88% had improved their credit card debt situation. Significantly credit card debt also dropped to its lowest level since the first quarter of 2010, with the average balance sitting at $1470.

Sentiments on home also improved significantly with 47% of respondents saying they were ahead on their bond repayments. Income level satisfaction also increased by 10% from the second quarter to reach 83% while 66% said their income still did not stretch far enough to cover their expenses, which is a 4% improvement compared to the figures released for the second quarter. With this improving situation underway, some experts predict consumers might soon return to taking out personal loans – only with a more mature attitude toward them.

Despite news about consumers holding back and the worsening economic ripple effect of European debt, eBay reports an increase to its profit margins in response to the growing demand for online shopping. EBay’s profits for the third quarter saw a 2% increase, to $583.89-million as mobile shopping and online transactions continue to rise in popularity. The mobile market continues to impress analysts as consumers take full advantage of the opportunity to shop anywhere, any time.

EBay claims its business model is supportive of companies of all sizes, in a mobile environment that is changing on a continual basis. Revenue for the third quarter saw a year on year increase of 15%, to reach $3.33-billion. PayPal, eBay’s online payment partner also saw a healthy increase in business and profitability, enjoying a 14% increase in the number of active accounts and a revenue stream increase of 23% over the last 12 months.

In keeping with the times of mobile change, eBay revamped its website to give users a more engaging and interactive online experience while doing their shopping. The website now features personal shopping suggestions, targeted at the user’s likes, to help them narrow their searches down while using the massive website and find suitable products. The site now records shoppers’ histories and combines them into a targeted home page, specific to their needs.

EBay appears to have taken some inspiration from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest in its layout and functionality, a tactic which only stands to serve their expansion plans going forward.

10 Minute Guide to Estate Planning - Getting Started

Apparently, Americans are in no big hurry to plan for their final days. According to a 2011 EZLaw Wills & Estate Planning survey, 60% of those surveyed believed that all adults should have estate plans, yet only 44% said they have one. The primary reason for not having an estate plan in place is the belief that it's too complicated to deal with estate planning documents. This brief guide will get you started with estate planning with ease so that your family and loved ones are protected in case of unfortunate events.

10 Minute Guide to Estate Planning - Getting Started

Get Life Insurance

Life insurance should be included in your estate plan. Why? Because it can provide tax-free security for your loved ones to ensure that they won't suffer financially. Life insurance will provide you with the peace of mind knowing that those you care about can maintain their lifestyles and live comfortably for years to come. Plus, life insurance can be used as liquidity to pay off estate taxes which is important, especially if you own real estate or a business.

Draw up a Will

A will is a document that states what you want to happen to your assets in the event of your passing. Once you die, your will is used in court in a process called probate to ensure that your wishes are handled fairly. Three key things to consider when setting up a will are: 1) Determining who will be the executor of the will 2) Who will get your assets and 3) Who will take custody of your minor children or dependents if you have them.

Designate a Power of Attorney

If you are not married, you will need a power of attorney. A power of attorney is only valid while you're alive. It's basically a document that gives someone you designate the power to handle your financial and legal affairs should you become incapacitated. In other words, you are designating a specific person to represent you if you are somehow not able to represent yourself.

Have a Living Will

10 Minute Guide to Estate Planning - Getting Started

A living will provides healthcare directions which are to be followed you should become unable to tell family and/or medical personnel yourself. You can use a living will to spell out whether or not you want to be left on life support for a long period of time. It also can be used to inform others about what methods you wish to be implemented to save your life.

Create a Master Document for Your Loved Ones

An important aspect of estate planning involves sitting down and listing all of your assets and debts. Next to these items, state everything you want done to close them out and to put the assets in the hands of the people who you wish to have them. Sign this master document and make copies. Leave one copy with your attorney, put the master copy in a safe place and give copies to key loved ones. This document can be a tremendous help to your grieving family who may end up disagreeing about who gets what, when and how.

Setting up your estate plan can be personal and emotional. That's why it's important to work with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. Focus on choosing a well-experience attorney whom you feel comfortable talking to.  Remember that coming up with excuses for putting off your estate planning could leave your family's financial security to the unforgiving mercy of inflexible laws. Spare your loved ones both expense and anguish by following these straightforward tips.

Frugality Doesn't Mean Saying No To Fashion

Sometimes fashion is a pain; mostly for your bank account.  Not only does another season come round more often than seems entirely reasonable, some seasons are more expensive than others.  The one that I hardly dare mention (but we’re all painfully aware of) that is just around the corner not only means spending on gifts for friends, family and complete strangers, but it also means that party season is here again.  
Frugality Doesn't Mean Saying No To Fashion

Here are some tips to save money on fashion items at any time of year, especially now!

Losing the Pounds


Weight loss could be the single biggest fashion mistake you’ll make.  Ok, so it’s good for your health – whether you need to lose or gain it – but you won’t just loose pounds in weight, you’ll have to completely restock your wardrobe.  You’ve seen programmes like ‘Ten Years Younger’ but they don’t highlight the “and several hundreds poorer” element to changing your weight.  I’m not saying don’t lose, or gain, weight (as required) but be aware with every ten pounds or so is you’ll be waving goodbye to a dress size.  The best approach is to find your ideal weight and stick to it.  Most clothing can be altered a couple of sizes effectively, beyond that it’s off to the Marks and Sparks charity bin with it all. 

If only the Sales would come early


Frugality Doesn't Mean Saying No To Fashion
It’s a sad fact of life that until somebody sorts out realistic time travel technology you simply can’t wait to the January sales for that new Christmas party outfit.  However, the sales come earlier each year and by making the best use of online discount vouchers and promotional codes, free delivery offers and, if it makes sense, two-for-one offers you can get that perfect outfit at the perfect price.  Online stores such as the classically stylish French La Redoute offer excellent voucher codes on a permanent basis and if you find that the High Street doesn’t always cater to your specialist market – new mums for example – you’ll find that online retailers almost certainly will.  Not only does this make shopping easier, whatever your needs, you’ll nearly always find that specialist retailers have frequent discounts and offers to encourage you to buy! 

Power Tools (and Accessories)

"Accessories maketh the woman" (and the man for that matter).  They also can be cheaper than a whole new outfit.  If you’ve sensibly stocked up on the perennially fashionable little black items, then you can accessories for just about any occasion, at low cost and to great effect.  Scarves, shawls and a little light bling will all help to stretch your understated style (and budget) a long way.  Done carefully, people will barely notice that you apparently only own one party outfit.  When it comes to jewellery, use a liberal sprinkling of the fake and faux along with the real thing.  Mixed with your best pieces, faux or costume jewellery can be passed off as the real thing far more effectively.

Move Away from the Wardrobe

Some items in our wardrobes cost so much that we’re terrified of wearing them.  This is a pointless and rather silly exercise.  If you daren’t open the wardrobe for fear of damaging the clothing, the chances are that you also use bank notes as firelighters.  You may as well.  Find a balance when it comes to how much you are prepared to spend; spend enough to buy quality but not so much that you can only touch your clothing wearing protective gloves.

The Cost-per-Wear Factor

When it comes to spending big money on fashion items, don’t focus on the outfit you’re going to wear once.  Certain fashion items spend a lot of time with us; handbags, wallets, purses, watches, favourite jewellery items.  Spend the big money on these in order to get the most out of said cash.  This is basically a cost-per-wear equation and makes lots of sense if you think about it.  When it comes to one off parties and celebrations you can splash out, but remember that the outfit in question needs to be adaptable for future parties if you are going to get the most out of it.

By making best use of promotional codes, accessories and taking a realistic approach to expensive outfits, you can manage to look great at any occasion without breaking the bank.