Email your questions to email@example.com or write to 'Your Questions, Sunday Independent Business, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1'.
While we will endeavour to place your questions with the most appropriate expert for your query, this column is not intended to replace professional advice.
Query: We have accumulated loads of phone chargers in our house over the years. I read an article about phone chargers going on fire and am a bit worried. How can I tell which ones are safe and which ones aren't? How can I make sure to only buy safe ones? Tracy, Co Kildare
Answer: Unsafe chargers and other electrical appliances can cause major fires in homes. Although businesses have obligations to ensure that products they sell reach the required safety standards, hundreds of potentially unsafe electrical goods are stopped from being put on the Irish market each year.
The most important check you can do is to look for the CE mark, which is a manufacturer's declaration that the product complies with the EU's safety regulations and standards.
It should appear on the product, in the instruction manual or on the packaging, and must be easy to read. If you can't see it, don't buy it.
There are a number of rules you should follow to ensure you buy safe phone chargers. First: Always buy chargers from a reputable retailer and check that the charger has the CE mark.
Second: Look out for inconsistencies - don't buy a charger if it feels very light, is supplied with a two-pin plug, or if the USB port is upside down. Watch out for labels where the manufacturer's full contact details are unclear, not present, or if words on the label or packaging are spelt incorrectly.
Third: Cheap isn't always cheerful, so be wary of cheap chargers, even if they appear to have the logo of a well-known brand. Poor-quality chargers pose a higher risk of electrocution, fire or damage to the device.
Fourth: If you have bought a charger and have any concerns about its safety, ask the seller for proof that it meets Irish and European safety regulations and standards. If the seller can't give this to you, ask for a refund.
You can also report any products you believe to be unsafe to the CCPC by calling its consumer helpline on 1890 432432 or 01 4025555.
Finally, do what you can around the house to minimise charger fire hazards.
Don't charge electronic equipment overnight as it can overheat and become a fire hazard. It is not unusual for a device to become warm when charging - however, this can become a serious fire hazard if you leave your device charging on a flammable surface. Therefore, always make sure you charge on a hard surface and never cover a device with a blanket or charge it under a pillow. Once the device is fully charged, unplug it.
Late pension starter
Query: I'm nearly 40 and haven't started a private pension yet. I've decided that it's time for me to finally start paying into a pension - but have I left it too late? What should I be aware of? Tom, Co Westmeath
Answer: It's never too late to start planning for your retirement. We are living longer, so taking steps now to help protect finances is very important.
Regardless of what stage in life you decide to start your pension planning, the first step is always to make a budget - that way, you know how much you can afford to save in your pension each month. If you find budgeting difficult, there is a free and easy-to-use budget planner on ccpc.ie to help you plan your finances. As well as saving as much as you can, you need to think about the kind of lifestyle you would like in retirement. It will be important to get the right balance between the two as this will help you set realistic retirement goals for the future.
The next step will be to decide on the type of pension that's right for you.
There is a lot of information about pension plans available and it can be difficult to decide which one is the best option for you. Furthermore, what you need may vary depending on a number of factors. For example, are you an employee or self-employed? Is this your first pension plan or are you looking to top up an existing pension?
Something that is often overlooked is how tax-efficient pensions are as a saving tool for retirement.
Tax relief is available on pension contributions, and any growth made in your pension fund is tax-free.
If you are an employee, you should contact your human resources department to find out what pension services, support and advice it could offer you.
If you are self-employed, or you would like advice, contact an independent and qualified financial adviser.
Current account switch
Query: My bank just announced that it will be increasing the transaction fees on my current account in the coming months. I had a look around and there seems to be better value available elsewhere. What should I bear in mind before I decide to switch - and what steps should I follow if I go ahead with the switch? Karen, Co Waterford
Answer: Switching your current account might seem like a lot of time and hard work but in your case, it is usually worth it. The Central Bank has a switching code to make the process as quick and easy as possible. All banks must follow this code.
A good place to start is to compare current account fees and charges. There is a current account comparison tool on ccpc.ie which can help you to do this. This easy-to-use online tool compares the fees and benefits of all current accounts available so that you can find the best one that suits you.
Price will always be an important factor, but it is also important to look at the product features which are most important to you. For example, you may want to have good online banking facilities so you might decide to switch to a digital bank, which is only online or mobile-based. In addition, these types of banks can have attractive rates and offer additional services that you might not get from all traditional banks.
However, digital banks are unlikely to have other types of services - such as the ability to lodge cash in your account. At this point, you need to decide which current account best suits your needs.
If you decide to switch, the next thing to consider is your switching date.
This date is agreed between you and your new bank for the switching process to start. Your new bank must have your new account up and running within 10 working days of the agreed switching date. You have the option to keep your old account open or close it.
But if you keep it open, you may have to pay fees and stamp duty on your old account and cards. You must let your new bank know which option you choose before you switch.
Choose a switching date during the month when the activity on your account is low. For example, avoid selecting a date on or near when you get paid, when your mortgage or rent payments are due, or when there are a lot of direct debits or standing orders.
The CCPC has developed a guide on switching accounts, which is available at ccpc.ie.
Sunday Indo Business