A WEEK IN PERSONAL FINANCE

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The Independent Online
The number of home-owners with negative equity rose by more than 90,000 in the past three months, reversing the downward trend of the first half of the year. More than 1.1m households have mortgages greater than the value of their homes, according to the Woolwich building society survey.

The insurer Norwich Union announced it was considering floating on the stock market, a move which could lead to average windfalls of pounds 600-plus to more than two million policyholders. But no firm plans are expected to be announced until next year.

TSB shareholders stand to be paid a special dividend of 68.3p a share as part of the bank's pounds 15bn merger with Lloyds. TSB shares will be swapped for the same number of new Lloyds TSB shares as part of the deal.

Safeway is going nationwide with a supermarket customer loyalty card offering discounts to customers according to how much they spend. The move follows the success of rival Tesco's Clubcard, which has six million holders, and successful testing by Safeway. Both offer discounts of pounds 1 for every pounds 100 spent. Sainsbury is also testing a card.

National & Provincial building society will give details tomorrow of windfalls to members if they agree to the announced takeover of the society by the Abbey National. The basic payment is expected to be pounds 500.

Meanwhile, more than 200,000 policyholders with Provident Mutual were sent details last week of the breakdown of the pounds 25m of bonus payments that are part of the insurer's takeover by General Accident.

HSBC, the parent bank of Midland, announced the first of a new breed of higher-risk tax-free Tessa accounts. As well as paying a guaranteed rate of tax-free interest HSBC Tessa Plus will also offer a bonus related to stock market growth. The new Tessa will be available from January, from when existing Tessas start to mature.

Alliance & Leicester announced the closure of more than 40 branches in a move that is seen as potential preparation for converting into a bank. Conversion would, again, yield windfalls to savers and borrowers.

House prices fell in nine out of 12 regions of the UK between the second and third quarters of this year and were lower than a year ago everywhere apart from Northern Ireland, according to the Halifax building society.

Barclaycard is linking up with Cellnet to offer credit card holders a mobile phone offering financial services at the press of a "Barclaycard" button.

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