Monthly Archives March 2007

Grateful for Two Wheels

Having temporarily lost the use of my car to a severe case of head-gasketitus it was with absolutely no marked reluctance whatsoever that I resorted to using my motorbike.

It’s true certain inanimate objects can spark emotion because I actually feel guilty about leaving it locked away for sometimes months on end!

Maybe I feel guilty about the fact it’s money doing nothing? But I don’t think so.

I know what I feel and it’s definately guilt over not getting out there and enjoying the freedom you feel on a bike!

I recently replaced the slightly illegal exhaust pipe for the much quieter standard alternative and it makes the ride so much more relaxing than before.

The previous exhaust probably didn’t have much in the way of baffles….

It’s a 1.2ltr motorbike so not as economical as a moped but still much more economical than any car I know of! (There are probably some more economical cars, but I don’t know what they are! – Apart from the Smart Electric car I saw at last years motorshow but that’s a different ball park, I’m talking internal combustion engines..!)

The tax for a bike 600cc or over is £64 per annum. My fully comp insurance is under £150 (with legal cover) and the enjoyment factor is worth so much more!

Roll on this long hot summer we’re expecting!

 

How to Save Money Without Getting Your Hands Dirty

Over the next few days I will hopefully be saving myself nearly £200.

If done correctly, not only will I save money but I should literally not get my hands dirty while doing so.

This is not something that everyone will want to do and only something certain people may ‘need’ to do.

I am in the process of replacing the head-gasket of may car myself.

I bought a CD from ebay with workshop manuals for every car made by the same manufacturer of mine. It cost £0.99 with £2.75 postage (£3.74 total).

Having searched the disc I have found full step by step instructions which I have printed off and am using as reference.

I have been quoted £300+ to have the work done by a garage but by doing the job myself I only have to worry about the cost of parts. I’ve shopped around and a friend will be skimming the head and supplying a gasket kit for a total of £66.16 (inc VAT).

I need an oil filter (£2.70), oil (£20.50) and cam belt (£38.85).

Total cost of parts: £128.21.

Oh, and I’m not getting my hands dirty because I also invested £1 from the pound shop on some latex gloves!

All that remains to be seen is, will the car go back together and will it ever run again!

World Largest Credit Card Fraud Case – Find out more.

Fraudsters have stolen over 45 million credit card numbers from a well known retailer’s database.

Hackers accessed the database of TJX (TKMaxx in the UK) several times over a period of 4 years and only stopped when suspicious software was discovered in December last year.

The company revealed details in January about suspected fraudulent activity accessing customer card numbers but has only now revealed the full extent of the theft.

Apparently customers’ names and addresses were not stored on the same systems as the card numbers, and it is not thought Pin numbers could have been compromised.

People that have shopped in TK Maxx in the UK can call a helpline number set up to answer questions and provide help in establishing if you are at risk but BBC news teams were on hold for over half an hour and failed to make contact.

The number to call in the UK is 0800 779015

For Republic of Ireland 00 44 800 779015

 

LETTER FROM TJX’S PRESIDENT AND CEO

February 21, 2007

To Our Valued Customers:

As TJX’s President and Chief Executive Officer, I want our customers to know how much I personally regret any difficulties you may experience as a result of the unauthorized intrusion into our computer systems. We are working with leading computer security firms to investigate the problem and enhance our computer security in order to protect our customers’ data. We are dedicating significant resources to evaluate the issue. Given the nature of the breach, the size and international scope of our operations and the complexity of the way credit card transactions are processed, the evaluation is, by necessity, taking time.

Since we learned of the probability of a breach in mid-December 2006, we have cooperated with law enforcement as well as with the banks and credit card companies that process our customer transactions. Further, we have established customer helplines in three countries and are making available a great deal of helpful information on our company websites.

We are committed to continue to address the situation and to provide periodic updates as we learn more. We have reported updated information in a press release which you will find below.

Additionally, I encourage you to access the information we are providing on this website to learn more about steps you can take to protect your credit and debit card information, or to contact our special customer helplines.

With the help of computer security experts, we have strengthened the security of our computer systems and we believe customers should feel safe shopping in our stores. We value the trust our customers place in us and again, I’d like you to know that we sincerely apologize for any difficulties you may be caused. Thank you for continuing to shop at our stores and for your years of loyal patronage.

Respectfully,

Carol Meyrowitz
President and Chief Executive Officer

More information is available from http://www.tjx.com/tjx_message.html with details of stores affected and what information they believe was stolen.

TJX has also responded to FAQ’s such as:

What are you doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

“Since discovering the problem, we have strengthened the security of our computer systems. Leading computer security and incident response firms General Dynamics Corporation and IBM have assisted us in further securing our computer systems and implementing additional security. We are also continuing our investigation. ”

Is it safe to continue shopping in your stores?

“We believe customers should feel safe shopping in our stores. The steps we have taken to strengthen the security of our computer systems have been, we believe, appropriate to protect the safety of credit and debit card and other customer transactions in our stores. ”

According to BBC reports several people have been arrested for receiving stolen credit card information but TJX have also responded to:

Do you know who the intruder was?

With:

We do not know who the intruder was, or if there were one or more intruders.

So far there does not appear to be any involvement in the investigation by UK police or other UK crime prevention/investigation organisation/department/body.

Compare Car Insurance Online

I just saved my mother £136.54 by using the moneysupermarket.com online car insurance comparison service.

Compare Car Insurance

She’s 65, retired and drives a ’99 Fiesta Ghia and was quoted £206.85 or £227.54 if paid over 12 months.

This renewal quote was from Lloyds with whom she also banks and yet they still charge more for paying monthly. No incentives there….!

By putting in all the information you would normally give over the phone, the moneysupermarket.com car insurance comparison tool compares a wide selection of some of the best known UK car insurance companies.

Once you have filled in your details the system gives you a list of insurance companies organised by price from lowest to highest plus details of whether or not a courtesy car or legal cover is provided. (Always get legal cover, solicitors are expensive)

Online quote systems usually provide cheaper prices than in person or over the phone because you are doing much of the admin work yourself by filling in the form.

The best price came from The Post Office at £141.

You are probably thinking, that is not a saving of £136.54! That’s only £86.54 and you’d be right but…

The Post Office are also offering £50 cashback which brings the annual policy, fully comp with courtesy car and legal cover with a voluntary excess of just £100, to £91 and a saving of £136.54!

To compare car insurance online I had to provide a phone number and I suspected why, so I entered my number not that of a retired 65 year old woman who really dislikes sales calls!

Sure enough, later that day…

A call from ‘Call Connections’ and the lovely sounding Gemma!

It was suggested to me that it may be possible to beat the quote and if I was willing could she put me through to one of the companies and see?

Naturally I was staggered to find I may be able to shave even more off the policy and agreed.

I was put through to Swinton in Eastleigh (a local branch), the chap answered the phone but said they were very busy and could he call me back shortly. I agreed but never heard back… 1 strike for Swinton!

Shortly after, Gemma called again and asked how I’d gotten on, I explained, she was saddened and offered an alternative and asked if she could put me through.

This time it was Equity Insurance Brokers in Southampton and Sophie was extremely helpful and the quote was surprisingly competitive at £122 (£136 with protected NCD) and I will definitely be keeping their details! Unfortunately they could not offer a cashback incentive and did not get the business this time…

Later that same day…

Another call from Gemma! I didn’t mind though because she had a very good telephone manner and was also very polite.

I explained what had happened and once more was offered to be put through to the A-Quote Insurance ‘Priority’ line. I did, got put on hold for over a minute and I hung up. 1 strike for A-Quote.

Gemma called back and said ‘that was a quick call, how did it go?’

That was worrying but I’m sure their system only records call times…. Although I’ve heard so many ‘this call will be recoreded for training etc…’ messages that I can’t remember who said what!

Anyway, I told Gemma what had happened and she suggested Norwich Union, I was put through and I immediately told the operator the best quote I had so far. His reply was ‘we can’t go any lower than £130 in this ofice so can I put you through to our specialist team?’. Off I went to the specialist team who came back with a quote of £162, £32 more than NU’s lowest limit!

Another call from Gemma… I explained and yet again she had another insurance company up her sleeve but detecting a hint of boredom in my voice she said it would be the last one! She was good at her job that’s for sure because I was trying not to show it!

Anyway, Direct Choice (with whom I insure my motorbike) went through the motions and came back with a quote of £164 and did not think there would be a company in the whole of the UK that could beat the Post Office quote with the £50 cashback incentive.

In conlusion, moneysupermarket.com offers a pretty good comparison service and the Post Office are doing some killer deals!

Sorry call Connections but even though Gemma earned her money today, it must have cost more than her efforts made!

Compare Car Insurance

Beware when typing too quickly. You could type – compare car insuramce – or – car insurnace online – car insuramce

 

Spring is Sprung the Price of Beer has Ris’

It’s the first day of spring and along the south coast of England it’s a glorious sunny day.

(taken using Nokia 6233)

The general feeling when the sun is shining is positive but despite the beautiful weather many of us also feel a little apprehension over today’s budget.

It’s been announced that the cost of a pint of beer will rise by 1p and cider will rise by 1p per litre. Wine rises by 5p, sparkling wine sees a rise of 7p while there is to be no increase in the tax on spirits.

Cigarettes will see a rise of 11p per pack and to continue the governments drive against smoking and smoking related health costs the VAT on products that help people quit is to be cut to just 5%.

With regard to the highly publicised rise in the cost of road tax for gas guzzlers, cars that fall into the highest ‘environmental band’ (and purchased since April 2001) will see a rise of 30% to around £300 (rising to £400 next year) whereas high economy cars that fall into lower bands could expect a reduction of up to 30%.

Corporation tax will be reduced next April from 30p to 28p, £8 Billion has been allocated for the NHS, £5 billion has been allocated to Science and Development. More incentives for low carbon homes and targets for introducing biofuels into mainstream transport have also been announced.

Oh, and did I mention that from April next year basic rate tax will be reduced from 22p/£ to 20p/£?

The lowest basic rate for over 70 years!

 

 

Mortgage Fees Rise Sharply

In the last two years the average fee for arranging a mortgage has risen by 83% from £334 to £611 with some fees potentially over £5,000.

These fees can be paid at the start of the agreement but many people are unlikely to have an additional £5000 at the time of arranging a mortgage so the fee will be added to the total loan amount.

This means the fee will also be subject to interest over the term of the mortgage. £5,000 is one of the highest examples of rising mortgage fees but fees of around £2,500 are becoming common.

Fees are also set to rise in the second charge market as some secured lenders now allow brokers to charge a fee to customers with clean, healthy credit.

Adverse customers have historically paid fees to brokers because extra work is often required to arrange the loan.

People with clean credit are typically eiligible for more comeptitive rates of interest which means over the term of the loan the total amount on interest paid is less. This means less profit for the lender and less commission for the broker.

With fees now being introduced for arranging loans for ‘good credit’ customers, lenders are able to offer an even lower rate of interest because with the combined fee the total profit could be the same as it would be at a higher rate with no fee, thus making the loan appear more attractive.

4×4 Car Tax Increase to Combat Global Warming?

Recent news suggests owners of the least efficient cars on the road are to incur much higher road tax costs over coming years in a bid to help tackle climate change and reduce the UK’s CO2 emissions.

“Annual duty on the 225,000 least fuel efficient vehicles purchased brand new since last April, including most 4x4s and sports cars, is set to rise from £210 to more than £400 over the next two years, according to newspaper reports.” Source – Moneyfacts 19/03/2007

Is there a list available of the vehicles affected?  How would you know if you have you bought a vehicle since April 2006 that could now be subject to this increase? (Some will be obvious!) What about inefficient cars with ultra-efficient catalytic converters? Surely this increase should only affect cars that actually put out more CO2? Are MPV’s affected? How will this rise impact large families?

Are the manufacturers of inefficient cars forced to pay more for producing machines that could contribute towards global warming? New cars must meet certain recyclable standards so surely they must also meet emissions standards?

There MUST be emissions standards set my governments regarding new cars so why is the end user forced to pay more for a vehicle that meets these standards?

Even if standards are changing it seems unfair that car owners should now pay more to tax a vehicle that met the correct standards at the time of purchase?

And of course the big question is will this really help the issue of climate change?

A recent documentary suggested CO2 levels were rising in line with an increase in sun temperature and may not actually be due to man. Many people are likely to be unhappy that they will be forced to pay more to fix a problem when there is evidence to suggest it may make no difference at all!

Whether or not this will help to make a difference towards the rising levels of CO2 and the resulting problems that can cause, we should also remember that the amount of pollution in the air we breathe is not normal for the natural make up of our bodies.

We are not designed to process the high levels of toxins that float around in our atmosphere today and pollution should be just as much a part of the debate when it comes to tackling the problems we face from vehicle emissions.

The direction is right but the argument may be wrong.

Pi to the Nearest 100,000 Decimal Places Please

Today is the day the Pi is celebrated by a unique group of people sometimes referred to as the ‘acolytes of the church of pi’.

Once a year these followers of Pi gather to celebrate all things Pi.

Falling on the 14th of March is also significant because in the US date format that would appear as 3.14 which are the first three digits of this well known seemingly infinite number.

Although not recognised as a world record holder (for not submitting the required evidence to Guinness), Akira Haraguchi, a 60-year-old mental health counselor in Japan has after accurately recited pi to 100,000 decimal places. It took him 16 hours.

The world record actually belongs to Chao Lu, a Chinese chemistry student, who rattled off 67,890 digits over 24 hours in 2005. (It took 26 video tapes to submit to Guinness.)

I feel for the guys and girls at Guinness, some poor individual had to sit down and cross check the entire 24 hours of Chao Lu reciting Pi with a printout. Not a job I’d envy!

I can understand why people are passionate about cetain things but to be able to memorize a number to 100,000 decimal places is to me something more than sheer passion. To me it’s an insight into the untapped potential of the human brain. If one person can do something, so can another.

Followus Uncovers Airport Car Park Scandal

FollowUs (www.followus.co.uk), the UK’s leading mobile location solutions service company, has aided BBC’s Watchdog to uncover how one airport car parking company was mistreating a customers’ car.

Aired on the 27th February, the show followed the actions of an employee of a Meet & Greet service with the hidden FollowUs Win200 GPS logger device to track the movements of a bait car. It revealed the car was left on the side of a road and outside a supermarket for three nights when it was meant to be in a secure compound. The device also revealed the driver breaking the speed limit eight times as well as topping 100mph twice. The GPS tracker costs just £99 plus VAT.

Kevin Brown, Commercial Director of FollowUs, commented,
“The size of a box of matches, this device can be hidden and provides additional security for your property. As the programme showed, you just download the log onto your computer to see details of the movements based on time, speed or bearing. We are happy to see the device work in such exciting ways and help Watchdog for a good cause.”

Available from FollowUs’s online store, www.followgb.co.uk, the Win200 GPS logger unit costs just £99.99 (+VAT). The device can be used with Google Earth for mapping and can recharge using the car’s cigarette charger.

Transferring Credit Card Balances to Multiple Cards

In a previous post I mentioned the possibility of being able to strengthen an individual credit score by transferring a credit card balance onto multiple cards. I.e. a £5,000 balance transferred across 5 cards by putting £1000 on each.

This may not be advisable in the UK.

The information I was originally working from was based in the US and discussed something called ‘credit-utilization ratio’ which suggests that if you have lots of credit at your disposal, you’re only using a relatively small amount of it and you’re managing it successfully, you will be regarded as a fairly safe risk when it comes to credit.

This suggests that if you have 5 cards, each with a limit of £5,000 and only have £1,000 balance on each, which leaves you with £20,000 of available credit, you are responsible with your borrowing and credit use. This makes sense; you’re not maxed-out so why should you not be considered for more credit?

Not so in the UK.

It would seem (having spoken directly with Experian on this) that individuals with large amounts of available credit may actually be declined for having ‘too much credit’.

The thinking behind this is if an individual has 5 cards with a £5,000 limit for each and only £1,000 balance on each with £20,000 of available credit, why do they need more?

This research suggests that people may be refused further credit if they’re not making full use of the existing credit available to them.

This seems harsh and unfair because the interest rate on most credit cards (not 0% offers) is much higher than that of a loan. So someone wishing to clear their cards with a lower rate loan could end up being declined by some lenders and be unable to benefit from the best available rates.

However one argument for this way of thinking that does make sense is that if the person with the available credit of £20,000 went out and spent the lot, they could very well find themselves in dire financial straights and unable to repay.

Some lenders will refuse further credit on this basis because if they were to provide a loan and the borrower then went out and maxed out their cards it is unlikely that the loan would be repaid in a timely fashion.

Of course what determines if an individual is approved for credit is set out by the lender, not the credit reference agency. Credit reference agencies only compile data, it is up to the lender to make a decision based on the information and lenders have varying criteria.