Make managing money your top priority in 2020

After the cash splurge of Christmas time, it may be time to batten down the hatches and take stock of your finances for the year ahead.

Train tickets are to rise, so look at your employer’s options
Train tickets are to rise, so look at your employer’s options

And while most of us will mainly be thinking about how to pinch the odd penny here and there by cutting down on certain habits, there are more constructive ways to ensure that you make the most of your money during 2020.

As always, there is a full-scale assault on your wallet coming from areas of life that are simply beyond your control.

Whether it’s the amount of money you pay out each month for your home, or the cost of your commute, there’s only so much you can do to fend off some price increases.

But there are tricks to make sure that you have more of your money left over to spend on new year treats – even if that only means kale smoothies and short-lived gym memberships.

House price rises

Some commentators say they expect house prices across the UK to increase by around two per cent in 2020 – although there could be big variations depending on where you live.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser at EY ITEM Club, believes some easing of political uncertainties could help house price rises to accelerate during 2020 – the overall increase during 2019 was a more modest one per cent.

He says: “Housing market activity – and possibly to a lesser extent prices – could be given a modest lift in 2020.”

Rising house prices could be good news if you’re selling, but less welcome if you’re trying to get on the property ladder.

However, there are still plenty of low-deposit mortgage deals around to give aspiring first-time buyers a helping hand.

Nitesh Patel, Yorkshire Building Society’s strategic economist, says: “Sales to first-time buyers are buoyant and now account for around half of all house purchases. We’re seeing more and more lenders giving access to five per cent deposit mortgages, which can be useful for those looking to buy their first home.”

The cost of commuting will increase for many workers

Train fares will increase on average by 2.7 per cent in 2020, industry body Rail Delivery Group has already announced. Fares become more expensive from tomorrow.

The extent to which travellers could be affected – or not – will depend on where they live. West Midlands Trains, for example, has moved to freeze season ticket prices after recent disruption.

Laura Suter, a personal finance analyst at investment platform AJ Bell suggests some people may be able to ease the costs by making use of their employer’s season ticket loan scheme.

Another alternative she suggests is: “Put the season ticket on a zero per cent interest credit card to spread the cost across 12 months, meaning you don’t have to start the new year by forking out thousands of pounds in one go.”

Your overdraft costs could go down – or up – depending on your normal borrowing behaviour

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is bringing new industry rules into force in 2020 to make overdraft charges fairer and simpler to understand.

The regulator’s changes will be in force by April 6. It has promised to shake up the “dysfunctional” overdraft market – including stopping banks and building societies from charging higher prices for unarranged overdrafts than for arranged overdrafts. More than 50 per cent of banks’ unarranged overdraft fees came from just 1.5 per cent of customers in 2016.

People who sometimes slip into an unauthorised overdraft may well find they pay less under the new rules. But those who stick within their authorised overdraft may potentially find they pay more.

Some current account providers have already announced plans to impose new blanket overdraft rates set at 39.9 per cent – leading some commentators to say that being charged around 40 per cent annual interest for going into the red could become “the new normal”.

This may come as a shock to some borrowers, but at least the costs they are actually paying should become clearer.

Suter says this is “good news for anyone who accidentally slips into the red. Banks will have to make their fees clearer, putting them in one annual interest rate, and won’t be able to charge fixed fees, per day or month, for going into your overdraft.”

She adds: “If you are in your overdraft you should check how much you’re being charged and see if there is cheaper credit available, so you can move it to that while you pay it off.”

Some broadband customers could get a fairer deal

Regulator Ofcom has challenged broadband companies to make prices fairer for “out of contract” customers.

People go out of contract when their introductory offer has ended – but could save money by negotiating a new deal or switching provider.

Ofcom found these customers could save around £100 a year by picking up the phone to their current provider and getting a better deal.

As a result of its review, major broadband companies had made various commitments to protect customers and cut prices for those who are out of contract.

Most commitments come into effect by March 2020.

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