Keeping a close eye on your finances has never been more important. It is easy to feel intimidated by the complexities of managing your finances. But things are getting easier with the huge range of free financial websites available. These allow you to keep up to date with the latest tax legislation and compare charges to see if you are really getting value for money.
One the biggest advantages of the internet for any business or individual is the increased ability to control and monitor one's finances. Gone are the days when you had to go to your bank branch to obtain a bank statement, schedule payments or apply for a loan. All of these services are now provided via internet banking.
An internet banking account is simple to open and use. To register for internet banking all you need to do is complete a registration form from the comfort of your own home. Once the registration form has been submitted, the bank will issue you with a security code. From that date on you are no longer bound to bank opening hours, thereby not wasting valuable time travelling to and from the bank.
The Revenue website (www. revenue.ie) is the primary source on the internet for tax information. This website is split into a number of sections: personal tax; business and self assessment; tax practitioners; customs; tax and duties; and online services.
The personal tax section provides details largely for PAYE workers but does supply information regarding the most common tax credits/reliefs, such as service-charge credit and medical expense relief.
For the self-employed, the business and self-assessment section provides details on issues such as the tax implications of running a business, what is required of an employer who operates PAYE, and tax self-assessment rules.
For the more financially aware individual, the website also includes links to tax briefings, which are Revenue's on-line technical journal. These journals provide in-depth knowledge regarding the latest developments in tax legislation.
Revenue also provides facilities to PAYE employees and self-employed/chargeable individuals via the online systems PAYE Anytime and the Revenue Online Service (ROS) respectively.
PAYE Anytime allows employees to update their tax credits and non-PAYE income online, while ROS allows self-employed/chargeable individuals to file their annual income tax return and make payments of tax to Revenue. The Irish Tax Institute is a useful source for tax information.
The institute recently published a selection of tax guides under the "Understanding" series, which cover PAYE cycles, stamp duty and childcare entitlements. These guides are available on its website (www.taxireland.ie).
The institute also provides daily tax news updates on its homepage and recently released an iPhone application to allow PAYE individuals to calculate their after tax pay.
Chartered Accountants Ireland also provide various tax updates via its website.
There are a number of other internet sites that have impartial information and handy tips to help you make better financial decisions. These websites provide information on reviewing your finances, comparing products on a cost basis, planning for the future, borrowing, and other financial issues.
Various financial tools are available on these websites, including mortgage calculators, mortgage rate change calculators, loan calculators, budget planners and cost comparisons. These tools allow you to realistically calculate the financial impact an event will have on your monthly cashflow.
The sections on reviewing your finances provide details on why you may need financial advice, how to go about obtaining financial advice, the costs involved and managing your money in retirement.
The sections on managing your money in retirement, for example, explain pension benefits depending on your employment status, such as employee versus self-employed, types of pension products available such as Personal Retirement Savings Accounts, and retirement options available, such as Approved Retirement Funds.
The sections on cost comparison provide an overview of products in the market place. Under credit cards, for example, the websites compare financial institutions by annual percentage rate on purchases and cash withdrawals, along with details of late-payment charges and introductory offers. Similar cost comparisons are available for day-to-day banking, savings, insurance and loans.
Stockbroker websites and the Stock Exchange website provide information on share prices, economic indicators and other such information.
The Pensions Board provides information on pension-related products.
Aidan O'Boyle is a manager in Grant Thornton's taxation unit