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Thursday 18 September 2014

Personal Finance 2012: A difficult year for many with little relief in sight

Charlie Weston, Personal Finance Editor

Published 27/12/2012 | 05:00

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THIS year was costly and difficult, with the prospect of better times still hard to see.

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But the situation is not without hope. There is now an acceptance that property prices may have bottomed, and an expectation that there will be some economic growth in 2013.

Here are some of the personal finance hightlights of the year with predictions for the year ahead.

Bank charges

The cost of everyday banking for consumers suddenly got very expensive in 2012, with predictions for more of the same for 2013.

Early in the year AIB introduced new rules which will result in up to one million of its 1.5 million customers being charged for day-to-day banking.

From May, AIB customers need a minimum daily credit balance of €2,500 in their account for the full quarter to avoid quarterly maintenance fees and charges of up to 30c for each transaction.

And more than a million Bank of Ireland customers have been hit with a controversial new fee structure for current accounts that has come into force.

Those who do not keep €3,000 in their account at all times will be hit with fees and charges.

A consumer lobby group claimed most of the bank's estimated 1.2 million personal customers would end up having to pay.

The chief executive of the Consumers Association, Dermott Jewell, said very few people could leave €3,000 in an account and earn no interest on it. Most people have not got €3,000 to spare.

Permanent TSB imposes charges of €12 a quarter for new customers – unless they lodge at least €3,000 and make a minimum of 18 card purchases and at least one financial transaction through telephone and online banking.

They must also keep the account within agreed limits.

EBS has also increased its fees for customers who access their savings using an ATM card.

Ulster Bank currently has no charges on its basic current account, but that is expected to change in the year ahead.

Health insurance

Nothing rises like health insurance premiums in this country.

A succession of price hikes during the year took the edge off the fact that we actually got a new player during the summer.

GloHealth launched with much fanfare, targeting its offerings mainly at families.

The Irish Life-backed company has stripped down its plans to make them less complicated than its rivals.

But higher levies to be imposed on all policies by the Government are set to see the premium-rising trend continue next year.

The new levies come in next March, and are expected to add €190 to the cost of health cover for an average family.

Pensions

THE massive squeeze on incomes meant that 2012 was the year that thousands of people were forced to give up paying into a pension.

This means that huge swathes of the population face having to scrape by on just the state pension when they retire.

A new survey found that one in five of those who have a pension have stopped paying into it or have radically reduced payments. Most of those who have been forced to give up on pension payments are understood to be in the private sector.

And those with a defined benefit pension continued to feel the pinch. A slew of companies said they were considering shutting down these schemes, including IBEC, Arnotts, AIB and Independent News & Media.

More company schemes will go next year.

But our politicians continue to benefit from one of the most generous pension arrangements in the world.

The cost of buying the pensions for the entire

Cabinet was put at €36m.

And retired bankers, who led the likes of AIB and Bank of Ireland during the boom, also continue to be well looked after.

Pensions of up to €650,000 are being paid out by these banks, despite the taxpayers stepping in to finance the lenders.

This means the taxpayers have indirectly saved these fat-cat bank pensioners.

At least the December Budget did not see the tax relief for putting money into a pension being cut – a move that would have hurt 550,000 mainly ordinary workers.

Mortgages

The summer might have been very wet but for those with a tracker mortgage it proved sunny as the European Central Bank cut its key interest rate by 0.25pc, saving €15 on monthly repayments on every €100,000 borrowed.

There is the prospect of another cut early in the new year.

Not so lucky are those with standard variable rates.

The two leading banks – AIB and Bank of Ireland – took the unusual step of pushing up their variable rates by 0.5pc within weeks of each other.

Expect more variable rate, and loan-to-value rate rises next year.

And the mortgage arrears crisis continued unabated.

Banks got a deserved red card from Central Bank regulator Fiona Muldoon in the autumn for their tardiness in dealing with problem mortgage.

Next year will be a crunch one for dealing with the mortgage mess, with the new personal insolvency laws expected to be up and running by March.

Ulster Bank

It was a horrible year for Ulster Bank.

For most of the summer its computer systems were down, the bank was fined for failing to have sufficient reserves in place, and it was forced to refund money to thousands of its home insurance customers.

At least it did not close any branches or start charging its current account customers. But expect that to change in 2013.

Irish Independent

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