Money Talk: A wealth of ideas for next year's investors

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The Independent Online
Perhaps, having dropped Rowan Atkinson from its ads, Barclaycard should have considered running a little festive warning jingle with that well-known tune Last Christmas you gave me your Barclaycard, (with apologies to Wham! of George Michael fame). A staggering 2,000 Barclaycards were stolen every day of last Christmas, the company tells me.

If you have been one of the unfortunates this year (and you may not even know: Barclaycard says in 50 per cent of cases it has to tell the holder that his or her card has been used fraudulently), don't worry overmuch. This could be a starting point for the first of my recommended New Year's resolutions.

Yes, yawn, financial New Year's resolutions. But hopefully these tips could save you serious money.

If you have had your credit card stolen this Christmas (or wish it had been, given how much you have spent), there could not be a better time for cancelling and changing that all too flexible friend.

The credit card market has never been more competitive, whether you pay off your bill every month or use your card to borrow.

And if you have run up big bills over Christmas that you can't pay off, don't assume you are stuck with your credit card. There are plenty of low-rate offers for transferring existing debts from one card to another at special rates, although watch out for higher interest charges on subsequent spending.

Similarly mortgage borrowers, faced with further rises in rates in the New Year, should look at switching to a new loan. A mortgage is most people's single biggest monthly outgoing and yet too many of us unnecessarily pay the high standard variable rates of traditional lenders. Fixed-rate deals are about as cheap as they have ever been, and there are plenty of lower-cost variable rate deals around.

Do consider buying a PEP this spring, now that the Government has confirmed that up to pounds 50,000 of PEP and Tessa money will be convertible into new- style Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs). Subject, that is, to the underlying investment markets looking attractive (which for now they don't), and with the important caveat that charges are low.

Low charges are particularly important because you have less than two years to make up these costs before the introduction of the ISA.

I could say sort out your pension, but for many (especially younger) people this will be too big a step. But while you may not be ready to shovel money into a pension just yet, at least find out your present entitlement (from the DSS, employers and any private plans) and make sure you are signed up to any "free" - called non-contributory - arrangements with your present employer.

One of my New Year's resolutions for these pages is to look at getting the most out of available pension arrangements at minimum expense.

Some resolutions are going to take some work. If you are someone with an uncompleted self-assessment tax return, you really are going to have to knuckle down.

Likewise, even with generally rising rates, big gaps in the interest paid have opened up between different savings accounts, making shopping around ever more vital.

Finally, the resolution for these pages is to continue to be as practical as possible. If you have a question or want an issue addressed, feel free to write to me: Steve Lodge, personal finance editor, Independent on Sunday, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax me: 0171-293 2096 or 2098; or e-mail me at: s.lodge@independent. co. uk.

A happy and especially prosperous New Year!