They're not just for car loans, you know. I'm talking about credit unions which, from this year will roll out a whole host of new products from insurance to banking services.
Due to a new electronic system, via a not-for-profit organisation called CUSOP, credit unions will be able to offer simple banking options which would suit a vast number of ordinary people at considerably lower cost than that charged by mainstream banks (see table). Others are offering them via their own electronic systems which work in the same way.
Apart from quarterly fees, many banks charge transaction fees too, unless you keep a whopping balance in your account.
Some 52 credit unions are already open for banking business, including:
Baldoyle & Portmarnock; Ballyfermot; Blanchardstown; Bray; Donnycarney/Beaumont & District; Dundrum; Finglas; Greenhills & District; Kilnamanagh; Malahide & District; Rathfarnham & District; Sundrive; Tallaght & District; Tallaght West Credit Union and Members First (the merger between Coolock, Artane and Swords), along with a host of employer-related ones such as those for teachers (all three unions), the civil service and ESB.
Kevin Johnson, head of the Credit Union Development Association (CUDA) told me: "The credit union online banking system is easy. For example, at Member First Credit Union, they are encouraging members to bring in their own device, e.g. laptop, tablet or smart phone for registration and tutorials on using the 'CU Anywhere' App and online facility.
"The security features include SSL encryption, three-tiered log in, eight-digit PIN and password, firewall protection and a secure time out facility to protect you and your money. There are no fees applied."
By the end of the year, 200 credit unions will be set up, which is over half of those in existence.
Most people don't have complicated banking requirements; they simply want to lodge and withdraw cash, use a debit card and pay bills or transfer money. If this is all you need, then do consider switching. Most also offer foreign exchange purchases at zero commission.
You can always keep a deposit or savings account with your old bank for free if they ever get around to offering interest on them again!
The CUSOP initiative is being operated in conjunction with Danske Bank in the EU so it means you can set up direct debits, standing orders or money transfer to any one of 33 countries as long as you have a BIC and IBAN code, which is now mandatory everywhere.
You'll also be able to lodge your wages/salary directly to the credit union and make loan repayments to them, or anywhere else, very simply. Add in bill payments which are already on offer and there's precious else a bank can do differently.
Both the Irish League of Credit Unions and CUDA tell me that they expect charges to be 'considerably' lower than banks; many will be completely free. They are awaiting Central Bank approval to issue debit cards, but they'll work exactly the same as your current one.
Credit union membership is up by 70,000 in the last year and its moves like this which keep them relevant, and local. With mainstream banks shutting up shop in so many towns and villages, there's a strong case for moving to credit unions.
I don't know about you, but it takes a lot for me to bring my child to the GP. I poke, prod, give them over the counter medicines before sighing and shelling out €55. They'd want to be in a serious state for me to consider the Emergency Department.
Well, according to research by parenting site mummypages.ie, 58pc of us hesitate before deciding whether a GP visit is necessary. Twenty five percent use online sites to diagnose what's wrong first which I'm not sure is a great idea at all.
Of course, many are worried about the cost of course. An ED visit costs €100 if you haven't a referral letter.
The Government was due to roll out the free Under 6s medical card, but that looks less likely as time rolls on amid the controversy, and cost, of the scheme.
It's worth noting that the charge doesn't apply if:
- you have a medical card
- you have been referred by a GP first, (which makes both economic and medical sense)
- your baby is under 6 weeks
- it is maternity related
- it is a recurrent visit for the same illness and you've already paid.
If you have private health insurance, you might also consider the free service offered by their nurses, available 24/7 over the phone to make a determination:
VHI: Nurseline 1850 247 724
Aviva: Nurse on Call 1850 946 644
Laya: Nurseline 1850 923 500
Glo Health: Nurse on Call 1890 767 767
You can't have failed to notice the talk about the euro plunging in value against Sterling and the US dollar, which will be further fuelled by the ECBs belated decision to enter into quantitative easing (QE) - printing money - to try and dig the eurozone out of deflation. It may or may not work but it did for the UK and US, so that's why it's important to try.
For ordinary mortals though, it means that the value of the euro is down 17pc against the dollar and 9pc against Sterling before QE gets going.
While it's great for Irish exporters, holidaymakers have a bigger problem. Anyone travelling outside the Eurozone will feel it, as I did last weekend.
However, many analysts reckon QE was so widely flagged that further drops have already been priced in.
I'm not so sure, but it's worth holding off paying for foreign stuff you don't have to just yet, even online.