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News round-up: the top money stories of the week

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
This is Yourmoney’s bite-size summary of the key trends, facts and figures over the past week.

Oil and energy
Oil and energy prices continue to dominate the headlines as Royal Dutch Shell produced its full year results showing earnings had fallen 80% after it took a beating from the lower oil price.

As motorists benefitted from the fall in petrol prices, with January becoming a landmark month owing to diesel averaging 98p/litre at supermarkets, the RAC says the cheap fuel market ‘may have bottomed out’ as the barrel price has rebounded.

But Scottish Power this week became the third energy giant to announce a cut in the cost of standard gas, reducing bills by an average of £32 per year.

And there’s more good news as the ‘Boris Boiler’ scheme was unveiled this week giving homeowners in the capital up to £400 cashback to replace old models with energy-efficient ones. Though it’s best to get on your ‘Boris bike’ quickly as it’s limited to the first 6,500 properties.

While homeowners continue to benefit from competitive mortgage rates owing to the near-zero interest rates, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee unanimously voted to maintain the base rate at 0.5% bringing it one step closer to the record seven-year lows.

However, the low interest rates mean that £160bn of savings have been ‘obliterated’ owing to the rock bottom interest rates, according to Hargreaves Lansdown.

If you’re a landlord capitalising on the competitive mortgage rates, make sure you know the rules: YOU now need to carry out immigration checks, otherwise known as ‘Right to Rent’ checks on all new tenants to make sure they’re legally allowed to live in the country. Also, ensure you’re aware of the new mortgage tax relief and EU Mortgage Credit Directive that come into effect from 2017 – it could impact your mortgage application and the amount of tax relief you can claim.

With UK house prices continuing to rise and with a 1.7% increase in January alone, those not on the property ladder yet may be daunted by the prospect. However, since the launch of the government’s Help to Buy ISA on 1 December, 250,000 have flocked to open one of these accounts – that’s one every 30 seconds. For every £200 saved, the government will top it up with £50 (maximum £12,000, £3,000 respectively) when you’re ready to buy your first place.

You could even combine it with the Help to Buy: Equity Loan scheme which was extended to London at the start of this week, allowing people to buy a new-build property up to the value of £450,000 in the capital with a much smaller deposit and an interest-free loan from the government.

While homebuyers can now get a foot in the door with much smaller deposits, parents may be able to help more than they think. Fidelity says you could even give your child £100k on their 18th birthday by contributing £78.46 a week to a junior ISA to provide them with £106,208 when they become an adult (based on 5% growth per year).

And this kind of saving behaviour could stand little-ones in good stead as more than 30m people in the UK believe the way they handle money has been influenced by the way their parents handled their finances.

So where should you be putting your money? If you’ve an ISA, The Share Centre’s picked four AIM stocks (it’s a trading platform for smaller companies that want to raise money but decide against a full market listing due to regulations and costs) that investors could consider in 2016: Finsbury Food, Hayward Tyler, Breedon Aggregates and OPG Power Ventures.

Continuing the theme of investing in smaller companies, Venture Capital Trusts and Enterprise Investment Schemes made the headline’s this week as Swiftkey, the app behind faster and easier typing on mobile phones and tablets, was sold to Microsoft, delivering “exceptional returns” to investors in the Octopus Titan VCT. But what are they and should you be investing in these tax-efficient schemes backing start-ups?

For the more mature and risk-averse investor, it seems that those heading into retirement will collectively owe £260m less than last year meaning they now have an average of £18,000 debt, compared with the £38,200 recorded in 2012.

If you’re a pensioner and you’re still driving, make sure you know the rules as licences expire at 70 and needs to be renewed every three years from that point onwards. Yet millions are in the dark about this. DVLA stats show there are four million drivers with a full licence aged 70 and over while 230 motorists are aged 100+.

So our thoughts turn to the weekend where the biggest sporting event in America – The Super Bowl – takes place. Can it also predict what will happen to the stock market?

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