Lucy Warwick-Ching

We have launched a brand new interactive personal finance page, where you can find top tips, beginners’ guides and advice across the whole sector. From tips on the best way to sell your home, to guides to help you check and improve your credit scores, Money Matters will cover the topics from your perspective.

We’ll also have live Q&As with experts and audio interview podcasts linked to the latest news stories.

You can read and comment on the latest Money Matters blog posts, and we are also adding the newspaper columns to this page so you can also comment on these columns each week. Don’t worry – you will still be able to view or search for previous posts on this page.

Tanya Powley

Forget the Bank of Mum and Dad. First-time buyers have found a new way to raise the extra money they need to finance the deposit for their first home: selling make-up from cosmetics company Avon.

The door-to-door makeup sales firm, for whom Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon advertises their products, says it has seen a “huge growth” of new recruits who cite saving for their first property as a reason to join Avon and supplement their income.

Matthew Vincent

Does the general public care about huge levels of unsustainable debt? Not if it’s the government’s, apparently. As my colleagues wrote in this morning’s FT:

Ten leading investment funds all told the FT that a hung Parliament, potentially delaying action to tackle the UK’s £167bn deficit, was the biggest threat to the market… But Sunday’s polls suggest the public does not share market concerns about a hung parliament. In polls by ComRes and YouGov, they said that would be their preferred outcome. More…

Are Britain’s consumers so intoxicated, or numbed, from their 13-year credit binge that they no longer think of debt as a problem? Not so, claimed Sainsbury’s Finance – arguably the ultimate “off-the-shelf” lender – this morning:

Tanya Powley

So the Budget has brought a smile to the faces of first-time buyers across the UK with the news that from tomorrow, there will be no stamp duty for purchases of property up to £250,000 for the next two years.

But while Chancellor Alistair Darling was a bearer of good news to one part of the market, he also brought bad news to wealthy property buyers by announcing a new stamp duty band of 5 per cent for property costing £1m and over.

This change doesn’t start immediately – it comes into effect from 6 April 2011. No doubt the market will see a rush of property purchases before the higher stamp duty band comes into effect – part of the Government’s plan we assume.

The property and mortgage industry has welcomed the first-time buyer stamp duty relief after months of calling for an extension of the stamp duty holiday for property purchases between the value of £125,000 and £175,000 which came to an end last December.

According to figures from the Land Registry, about 78 per cent of property transactions in England and Wales would fall below a £250,000 stamp duty threshold. This of course varies significantly across the country from 93 per cent in the north-east of England to 48 per cent in London and 68 per cent in the south-east.

Figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that about 91 per cent of first-time buyers bought property worth less than £250,000 in 2009 and that these buyers accounted for about 35 per cent of the total market.

However, many in the industry believe the government should have reformed the stamp duty structure rather than just introduce a new higher stamp duty band.

Melanie Bien of Savills Private Finance says:

Raising the top rate to 5 per cent over £1 million to fund this tax break simply underlines just how unfair the stamp duty system is because it is not tiered. A root and branch reform to make it fairer remains long overdue. It is at the top end of the market where the majority of transactions have been taking place, supporting the housing market. This may make homeowners think twice before moving.

What’s your view on the changes to stamp duty?

Tanya Powley

Reward schemes have proved to be increasingly popular with consumers, from gaining additional points at your weekly supermarket shop to cashback offers from the credit card you use to buy your shopping.

But a new first has happened in the rewards scheme market. Consumers can now accrue points when they buy a new mortgage or insurance policy after Countrywide, the property services group, today launched the industry’s first rewards scheme for mortgage customers.

Lucy Warwick-Ching

Regulation of the property sector continues to be much debated but until there is firm legislation on sales techniques in place it is up to the individual to do their own research to find the best agent. Here are some top tips on how to identify a reputable sales or letting agent:

Play web detective
Take the time to play web detective and fully research the agent’s website. It is a good start to see if they are members of any professional associations, if they have won any awards and whether their information is easily navigable, up to date and accurate.

Standing out from the crowd
With more than 80% of house hunters turning to the web for their property search, online marketing has never been more important, but it takes more than just signing up to property portals to keep ahead of the competition.  Does the agent use twitter or facebook to share property with a wider audience and do they advertise directly online or is your property left languishing, lost on the portals?

Lucy Warwick-Ching

With prices rising all over the country, and the UK now out of recession, we could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve made it through the worst. But it seems that first-time buyers are doomed to be shut out of the housing market recovery altogether because of the difficulty in securing the funds to buy a home.

Here, ten experts give their top tips on how individuals can get onto the property ladder:

Tanya Powley

Building societies are at it again. Just a week or so after Skipton Building Society outraged the market by breaking its guarantee to customers and hiking its standard variable rate (SVR) from 3.5 per cent to 4.95 per cent, another three building societies have followed suit.

Last week, Nationwide Building Society announced its subsidiary brands – The Mortgage Works (TMW) and UCB Homeloans – will increase its SVRs from 1 February.

And now Norwich & Peterborough and Holmesdale Building Society have also confirmed they will be increasing their SVRs.

N&P is increasing its by 0.5 per cent to 5.35 per cent and comes into effect today. Holmesdale’s SVR rose by 0.35 per cent to 4.89 per cent on 1 February. The changes affect both new and existing customers.

Tanya Powley

The huge spike in inflation has been the talk of the week. Official figures showed this week that consumer price inflation had jumped to 2.9 per cent in December from 1.9 per cent the month before – the highest single month rise on record.

This has prompted many experts to warn that borrowers’ low interest rate holiday is likely to come to an end sooner than expected.

But these warnings may have come a tad too early.

Swap rates – which are used to set fixed-rate mortgage prices – dropped yesterday back down to pre-inflation report levels suggesting the panic over inflation has subsided.

Tanya Powley

It seems it’s not just the average Joe that should be thinking about what their New Year’s resolutions will be for the coming year. After a tumultuous couple of years, it is the financial sector that also needs to adopt some positive resolutions and stick to them.

According to research from consumer group Which? released on Friday, over three-quarters of people believe that rebuilding consumer trust should be a New Year’s resolution for banks.

The figure isn’t surprising. With the financial sector and banks particularly being blamed for the onset of the credit crunch, there’s no wonder the public feels this way.

The FT’s Money blog is a forum for the latest news and insights from the UK’s personal finance scene. Matthew Vincent, the editor of FT Money and his team of reporters will upload their views and insights on what’s happening in the industry and how this affects people’s finances.

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

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About our bloggers

Lucy Warwick-Ching is the FT’s new Money Online Editor and has been a UK Companies reporter covering tobacco, pubs and leisure companies as well as the deputy editor on House and Home.

Matthew Vincent is the FT’s Personal Finance Editor and was previously the editor of Investors Chronicle, where he also devised the award-winning online video The Market Programme, and produced the BBC-FT standalone magazine ‘How to be Better Off’. He presents the weekly FT Money Show audio podcast, and previously worked on the BBC TV programmes Short Change and Pound for Pound.

Alice Ross is deputy personal finance editor of FT Money. She specialises in pensions, investments and investment trusts. Alice joined FT Money in April 2008 - prior to that she was deputy editor at Money Management magazine.

Ellen Kelleher has been a personal finance reporter in the UK for close to four years. Before arriving in London, she worked in the FT's New York bureau where she covered the insurance sector.

Steve Lodge is a personal finance reporter on FT Money specialising in savings.

Josephine Cumbo has written about all aspects of personal finance but currently specialises in insurance. She also covered company news for Prior to working at the FT she was a news reporter for the ABC.

Tanya Powley is a personal finance reporter on FT Money specialising in mortgages and the housing market. Tanya joined FT Money in November 2009 after working in Australia covering personal finance for the Australian Financial Review and its sister magazine Asset. Prior to that, Tanya wrote about mortgages for UK trade newspaper Money Marketing.

Jonathan Eley is editor of Investors Chronicle, and has been with the title for ten years. Before that he worked for newswires and trade journals in London, New York and Hong Kong.