Money Insider: Use your mobile to beat those bank charges

 

Anyone who has accidentally slipped into the red on their current account or exceeded their agreed overdraft limit will have experienced the £20 or £30 rap on the knuckles from their bank for their financial indiscretion.

Many people lead increasingly busy lives these days with their work and family commitments, barely giving them chance to draw breath, let alone finding time to make sure their bank account is in good shape.

While there have been endless arguments as to whether the level of unauthorised bank charges are justifiable or not, to be fair, the banks are actually using new technology in order to give customers a better chance of avoiding these fees.

Some offer a text alert service, where you'll get a message sent to your phone when you're getting close to your limit. Barclays charges £2 per month for this service (not on all current accounts), but perhaps it's a small price to pay if you're constantly on the move and don't have the chance to check your account as often as you'd like.

Lloyds TSB offers a similar service, but for free, as part of its mobile banking application where you can set up free text alerts for high balances, low balances and also when you are getting close to your limit.

If you have a smartphone, you'll find that all the main banks offer a mobile banking option for your iPhone or Blackberry. As long as you are already registered for online banking on your PC, you will be able to opt for banking on your phone too.

Barclays, NatWest, Lloyds TSB, First Direct & Santander all offer thisservice. You can see the last few transactions on your account and make payments and transfers when you're on the move, and there's no charge from the bank for these services.

With your bank account at your fingertips, you can take a look at your balance or make a transfer during some of your daily "dead" time – maybe in a spare five minutes between meetings or perhaps on the train journey to and from work.

Last year, Lloyds TSB launched its online service, Money Manager, which is aimed at helping customers take much better control of their money, providing them with a deep level of detail on where their money goes each month by categorising their spending into groups.

It includes an online calendar option so you can see at a glance what payments are due to be made over the coming days/weeks – something that should help those who struggle to keep on top of their finances.

Even if you only use the services on the odd occasion, it's worth signing up for – at least it's another way of helping you avoid being hit in the pocket with unwanted bank charges.

Don't rush in to this year's batch of ISAS

With just over a couple of months until we start a new tax year, those who haven't yet decided where to invest their tax-free cash need to start considering their options.

With cash-based ISA savings, the annual, tax-free allowance is £5,340 per person for the current tax year with the 2012/13 increased cash allowance of £5,640 kicking in from 6 April.

However, as major financial players often leave it until early to mid-March before launching new products, it may be worth hanging on for a few weeks before making your final decision.

In the meantime, you may find following checklist helpful:

1. Is the interest rate variable or fixed?
2. Does the ISA allow you to transfer in previous years' ISA balances?
3. Does the interest rate include a bonus? – if yes make a diary note to switch when it expires
4. Is interest paid monthly or yearly?
5. Is the interest rate only available to existing customers?
6. Do you have to purchase another financial product to qualify for this rate?

Some of the best rates at the moment include: 3.05 per cent from an instant-access account with AA Savings and Newcastle Building Society; a "no-frills", 2.85 per cent from Virgin Money; a fixed-rate ISA paying 3.25 per cent for one year with Metro Bank; and 4.4 per cent from Halifax's five-year ISA Saver bond.

Andrew Hagger – Moneynet.co.uk

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

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