Following the financial markets meltdown, banks are under increasing pressure to act more responsibly whilst rebuilding confidence in the financial systems and rebuilding their financial strength.
However, with many of the apparently easier ways to make money now gone, banks are resorting to ever more clever ways of earning fees.
Savings rates (linked to Reserve Rates) are at record lows. Real savings rates are negative, as inflation runs at much higher rates. Careful savers are being penalised by seeing the purchasing power of their money reduced over time.
Banks respond by using term savings products that encourage savers to fix savings into one, two or up to five year terms, meaning that they lose ready access to their money and have to take a risk on where future money cost rates will go.
Banks have increased both the frequency and amount of fees being charged. Now it is common place to have administration fees for services that were once free. Application fees, for example, are also being charged for loans or mortgages.
Obtaining a credit card has also become much harder. Even the number of balance transfers deals that were once common have reduced. But for the customer with a good credit history, this can be an excellent way of reducing the very high charges levied by banks on debt balances.
But even balance transfers are not truly free. Most companies levy a flat fee for effecting a transfer in exchange for an interest free period.
In addition, interest charges on new purchases using the card can be high so extreme care needs to be exercised when looking at the various balance transfers offers.
Getting all the relevant information in one place means using one of the comparison websites. These do most of the leg work, by analysing the offers and clearly stating what fees and charges are made.
The same is also true for virtually every financial product on the market today. Even insurance products may contain hidden fees for previously free services, so reading the small print and choosing carefully is essential to avoid being charged unnecessarily.
Assume nothing and check everything has to be the motto for the future. Sure, a strong financial sector is vital for the success of a modern open trading society, but that does not mean that consumers should pay excessive fees or charges.
Shopping around for the best deals is more important now than ever before. Even with reduced competition, there are still options for savvy savers and borrowers.
Banks thrive on lethargy, so invest time and effort into analyzing options and savings can be made. Banks love new customers and milk existing loyal ones.
A good credit record opens the doors to many options but use it wisely and carefully to seek out loan, saving and balance transfer options.
Remember that a credit history also contains a record of applications, so if they spot that you are a regular shopper or hopper there is a risk of being declined.
Beat the banks at their own game. Make them want your business buy being appealing. That means making the absolute most of your credit record, so work hard to keep it in top shape.
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