Q My wife's car insurance is due for renewal and the company she has been insured with for years has sent her a renewal notice. They propose to charge her twice what she paid last year. She's in her eighties, has been driving her own car for years without making a claim and has a full no-claims bonus in her own name. Last year's premium was £320 and this year they want to charge £750. The car is an ancient, very low mileage Nissan Micra.
I have phoned a few other companies, some of which wouldn't even give her a quote. If we didn't live in a rural area with no bus or train services she says she'd just stop driving as this is more than the car is worth and more than we as pensioners can really afford. I have seen various companies advertising their services online but we don't have the internet so that's not an option.
A I sympathise. It seems that the best deals these days are often only available to those who are online and it can be frustrating feeling excluded. I've had a trawl of some of the internet insurance comparison sites. With the detailed information you gave me with this letter I've discovered dozens of companies that would offer cover for a lot less than your wife's current insurer has asked for. Ask around friends and family. Someone you know will be online and only too happy to help. It is straightforward for someone who uses the internet regularly to put in the car and driver details, select any extra cover you want such as protection for the no claims bonus, legal assistance or a courtesy car, and get a list of quotes.
Once you have a quote you are happy with – and bear in mind that the cheapest may not always suit you best – you can pay online with your credit or debit card. Most firms hold the quote for a month so you can pay nearer to the date you want the insurance to start. If you pay immediately, the cover will start from the date you ask it to start. Go back to your current insurer and say "thanks but no thanks."
Insurance companies are like any other business; they are there to make money. They may feel that your wife is no longer the type of customer they want. Perhaps her age is a factor or they feel that as she doesn't drive very much she's more of a risk. That may be the reason the premium has gone up. But there are many people who simply stay with the firm they've always done business with and end up paying over the odds.
You're right to shop around and reject a premium that's too high. You still have car insurance until the end of the month. Drive to your nearest advice centre for assistance or ask an internet savvy friend to go to the local library or an internet cafe with you. In this case, I've printed off the list and will put it in the post so you can call the company of your choice. There are phone numbers you can call for help with the quote.
Q I have run up debts on a few credit cards. The problem started when the company I work for had to cut back my hours. I had been paying my cards in full most months until then. I'm paying the minimum amounts on each card each month but the debts are creeping up because the interest rates on cards are so high. I'd appreciate any advice you can give me as to how to handle this.
A You're far from alone. Most of us can manage the credit we take on until circumstances change. The first rule is don't panic. Credit card debts aren't secured against your home so you won't risk losing that and you won't go to prison for being in debt. If you only pay off the minimum the debts will grow rather than go down and in the long run you end up paying a lot more than you spent. How much extra you end up paying in total will depend on the rate you're being charged on your card.
You need to get a complete picture of your situation. That means working out exactly what you have coming into the household and what you spend. You must pay your rent or mortgage; you must pay your utility bills and council tax is a priority because non-payment could result in a fine. The same goes for your TV licence. You obviously have to spend on food and getting to and from work and getting the children to and from school. Look for anywhere you can cut down on spending or increase your income.
If your earnings have gone down dramatically you may be entitled to some help towards housing costs or council tax. Is there anyone in the house who could contribute more towards the bills? Do you have a spare room for a lodger?
Once you have worked out all the income and outgoings you'll see how much you have left to clear your debts with. Make a list of everyone you owe money to and how much you are behind with your payments. If it's only your credit cards you're having trouble with look at whether or not you could transfer everything to the cheapest rate card. Contact the card companies and tell them the situation and ask them to freeze the interest.
As long as you keep making at least minimum payments your credit file won't show non-payments or late payments that could damage your chances of getting credit in future. If you need help with your budget and working out debt repayments there's an internet tool at www.mymoneysteps.org, run by the charity National Debtline.Reuse content