Q: My husband and I are going on a few long distance trips this year including a big trip to the Far East. I thought it would be more cost-effective to buy a 12-month insurance policy, so I've done a lot of research online. However, the only policies I've been offered are much more expensive than I expected.
My husband had an accident last year and had his leg in plaster for several weeks. He also had to take medication for months afterwards to avoid blood clots. Although he's recovered fully, this medical one-off seems to be affecting the price of our travel policy. Am I stuck with this or is there anything I can do?
A: Since you first contacted me I know that you've talked to some of the travel insurance specialists and that you got a suitable policy about a third cheaper than the cheapest online quote. Happy travelling.
We've become so used to shopping around online for insurance that we often forget we can pick up the phone and talk to a human being who may be able to come to a more appropriate conclusion. When we shop online there are only so many factors an online program can take into account when calculating a policy offer.
The main factor for an insurer is the degree of risk it will be taking if it offers you a policy. The greater the risk involved, the more expensive the policy. Some insurance companies may refuse to offer you a policy at all if they think the risk of having to pay out a lot of money is too great. If, for example, you have an illness or condition which is ongoing, and might be made worse by travel, an insurer may decide not to take a risk on you and therefore decline your invitation to offer you a policy. That's why people with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart trouble often find it difficult to get travel insurance, or may find the policies they are offered too expensive.
By talking the situation over with a trained person you had the chance to explain that in your husband's case he had a one-off accident, the medication prescribed was only necessary as a direct consequence of that accident, and so the combination of factors was highly unlikely ever to come about again. That person was then able to reassess the situation in light of that information and offer you a better deal. Sometimes it's good to talk.
Q: A few weeks before Christmas I got a lump sum of money left to me by my grandmother. I put it in the bank as a temporary measure, but now I've got to decide what to do with it.
In the long term it will be the deposit for a flat, but I'm not ready to buy somewhere yet, as I'm still trying to establish my career, and my income can be a bit uncertain. What's the best thing to do?
A: I am not qualified to give you investment advice. I don't know how big your lump sum is, but if it's more than £85,000, while you take advice from qualified advisers and decide how to act on that advice, spread your money across more than one financial institution, making sure that you have no more than £85,000 in savings in any one bank, building society or credit union. That way your money will be protected if any of those organisations gets into financial difficulties.
The rules about giving advice changed on 1 January this year. Advisers can no longer take commission from investment products. There have been worries that advisers haven't always advised their customers on the best products for the customers but have been more interested in selling products that gave them, the advisers, the best commission. You should be able to have faith in the advice you're given, but you will have to pay for it. Advice has never been free, but if you haven't had to pay for it upfront it hasn't always been clear exactly how much of your investment was being used to cover the costs. Now the cost of that advice and how you will pay for it must be made clear to you.
Advisers will be qualified to a higher professional standard in future, and those who offer independent advice will be able to advise you on all the various types of retail investment products that would be suitable for you. There are also restricted advisers who can only offer advice on certain products, such as those of one particular company.
It's always hard to choose an adviser. Ideally you need someone you like and can trust. Ask friends and family if they already know someone they can recommend. You also need an independent adviser who can look at all the suitable products on the market. Check out the qualifications of anyone you plan to talk to. Ask right at the outset how much advice will cost, how that cost is calculated and the different ways you can pay for it.
Q: My aunt very generously bought me a leather jacket for Christmas. It came from a high-street chain, and although it fits and is very nice it just doesn't suit me. I took it back, but the shop won't give me the money back. They did offer to allow me to choose something else to the same value, but their sale is on, and there's nothing else I want. How do I get the money back?
A: You won't get the money back unless the shop agrees to give it back. It could do this because it is feeling generous, because it is shop policy, or because it made an agreement with the buyer at the time of the sale that they would return the money if the jacket didn't suit. The only other situations in which it would have to give the money back is if the jacket was faulty and that hadn't been pointed out when it was bought, or if it wasn't as it had been described, for example, it had been described as leather but wasn't.
Some shops will refund items within a particular period from the date of the sale and they will have notices to that effect around the shop.