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Five traps to avoid when transferring money to and from the UK

Navigating international finances can be complicated, no matter how seasoned you are at transferring funds overseas. Knowing the common pitfalls of sending money abroad can save you a lot of trouble (and hopefully some money too).

Five traps to avoid when transferring money to and from the UK
Photo: tbtb/Depositphotos

The changeable market keeps most expats on their toes with exchange rates, fees and timings. Whether you’re sending money to friends or family in far-flung places or repatriating money back to the UK, you should know the most common mistakes people make when transferring money internationally.

That’s why we’ve collaborated with international payments specialist Hargreaves Lansdown to help you avoid falling into these traps.

Stop losing money on international transfer fees with Hargreaves Lansdown

1. Forgetting to check the exchange rates

Whether you’re a small business or an individual, chances are you’ve used your bank to make international currency exchanges and transfers. After all, this is the most obvious option. But it’s also often the most expensive option as you could be paying well above the odds.

Even the smallest change in the exchange rate offered by your provider could cost you hundreds of pounds (possibly thousands). So it’s important to shop around for the best rate.

Save as much money as possible by looking at currency specialists, such as Hargreaves Lansdown, as the exchange rates they offer are often better than the banks’. This is especially beneficial when transferring large amounts of currency for more expensive purchases such as property.

2. Paying transfer fees

Although still a common practice, it is unnecessary to fork out extra for high bank transfer fees. Incurring a flat fee can sting if you’re sending relatively small sums across country borders. Some currency specialists offer individuals or small businesses regular payment plans for recurring payments which help to keep costs down.

There are providers, like Hargreaves Lansdown’s currency service, that offer low or no transfer fees. This can save you up to £30 on each and every transaction, which really adds up if you are making multiple transfers or paying invoices. 

3. Making insecure payments

Not all currency specialists are created equal, some are more secure than others. Make sure you’re protected financially from the moment the money leaves your account to when it reaches its destination account.

The terminology can confuse the most clued-up of people but there is a huge difference between whether a firm is authorised or registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Hargreaves Lansdown’s Currency Service is an FCA-authorised service, which in practice means they are legally bound to keep your money transfers separate from their company funds and provide financial safeguards proving their stability.

Whilst registered firms may choose to safeguard your money, they aren’t required to do so. And they don’t have to provide the FCA with as much detail about their business, so the regulator can’t check on their financial health.

4. Leaving it until the last minute

Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of the exchange rate on the day you transfer. If time allows, savvy savers should plan their transfer as far ahead as possible. This gives you more flexibility as you’ll have the option to fix an exchange rate for the future, or target a specific rate. 

If you’re fixing an exchange rate you’ll have the peace of mind to know what a future purchase will cost you, regardless of whether rates move up or down. Targeting a specific rate will enable you to make the most of improvements to rates, but doesn’t offer protection if rates move against you. Both of these options are only available if you plan ahead.

Bypass bad exchange rates with Hargreaves Lansdown

5. Not keeping up to date on the latest news

You wouldn’t expect to be well-versed in current events without consuming the news. The same goes for your finances. Without monitoring the latest market developments it leaves you vulnerable to making the wrong decisions in the fast-moving world of finance.

Stay on top of trends and currency movements and how to best position yourself to take advantage of the highs and avoid the lows. Hargreaves Lansdown offers a free weekly report on their website and via email, making sure you get the most from your payments. Please note, their service does not provide personal advice, but can provide information for you to decide what’s right for you. If you’re unsure please seek advice.

Download your free guide to international currency transfers here.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Hargreaves Lansdown July 2018

The Hargreaves Lansdown Currency Service is a trading name of Hargreaves Lansdown Asset Management Ltd. One College Square South, Anchor Road, Bristol. BS1 5HL, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority as a Payment Institution under the Payment Services Regulations 2017, see www.fca.org.uk. FCA Register number 115248. Registered in England and Wales. Registration number: 1896481.

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EXPLAINED: Why not paying off your mortgage in Switzerland can save you money

The idea is strange to most of us, but the majority of people in Switzerland choose not to pay off their mortgage - and save money in the process.

EXPLAINED: Why not paying off your mortgage in Switzerland can save you money

Many of us who have been raised with the goal of one day owning property will have one thing on our mind as soon as that deal is done: pay it back. 

From avoiding credit rating issues to not seeing the erosion of our hard-earned money due to interest, there are a number of reasons we want to get out of mortgage debt as fast as possible. 

But in Switzerland, due to a variety of factors, it sometimes makes more financial sense not to pay off your mortgage – or at least to pay off less than you can afford to. 

Estimates vary, but statistics show that a majority of Swiss do not pay their mortgage off before retirement. 

Not only that, but Switzerland has the highest mortgage debt per capita of any country anywhere in the world, according to OECD figures. 

READ MORE: Buying property versus renting in Switzerland: What is actually cheaper?

Here’s what you need to know. 

Why would you not want to pay your mortgage off in Switzerland? 

There are a number of factors which contribute to Switzerland’s unique framework when it comes to mortgages. 

These include the country’s wealth tax, the dual system of mortgages and traditionally low interest rates. 

At this stage, it is important to mention that while a majority of people don’t pay off their mortgage during their working life, this does not mean they skip out and run for the Caymans upon retirement (although presumably some do). 

Instead, it means people are not actively paying off their principal, but investing the funds in an account with their bank. 

When they retire, they use the money in the account to pay off their mortgage debt – and keep the change. 

This sounds complicated because it is – and is explained at length below. 

For more information on buying property in Switzerland, check out this link. 

The Swiss mortgage system: Dual obligations

The reason you may not want to pay your mortgage off in full in Switzerland is partially because of the unusual structure of mortgage obligations. 

The Swiss mortgage system differs from that in most countries in that you effectively take out two mortgages when you buy a property, or more accurately, the mortgage is split into two mortgage obligations. 

The first obligation resembles a traditional mortgage seen abroad, in that it has an indefinite repayment period and covers the majority of the purchase price. 

This will usually be around 60 percent of the total purchase price, less the deposit and the amount included in the second mortgage obligation. 

The second will cover approximately 15 percent of the purchase price. 

Importantly, this will have a fixed repayment period, usually around 15 years (at around one percent per year) or by the time you retire (if shorter than 15 years). 

EXPLAINED: How to save on your mortgage in Switzerland

While you must pay off this amount, the ‘optional’ part relates to the other component of the mortgage. 

Mortgage rates in Switzerland are low by international standards. Photo by PhotoMIX Company from Pexels

Should you choose direct or indirect amortisation? 

Amortisation is an accounting term which refers to reducing the book value of a loan or debt, but basically means paying off your mortgage. 

In most countries, the only option is ‘direct amortisation’, which means paying money to the bank to cover your debt. 

Direct amortisation not only reduces the debt, but the interest (as the interest is based on the quantum of the debt). 

Indirect amortisation is something relatively peculiar to Switzerland and is where the idea of not paying off your mortgage comes in. 

Finding a flat in Switzerland: How to stand out from the crowd

Swiss financial advice site Beobachter points out that the system in Switzerland is effectively set up to allow long-term non-repayment of mortgages. 

“In hardly any other country are the amortisation standards as lax as in Switzerland… In no other national economy can debts remain “forever” in this way”, they explain.

Instead of paying off the mortgage directly, you make regular payments into a ‘third pillar’, which is basically an investment account or fund offered by the same bank. 

This money is then used as a security against the property. 

Keep in mind the amount you need to repay will be the value of the property when you bought it, not the value of the property when you retire. 

During this time you will continue to pay interest on the debt.

This interest will not decrease as you are not paying off the principal, although Switzerland’s low interest rates make this an attractive option. 

Eventually, the debt will be taken from the third pillar. Usually, this will happen when you retire, but you can also sell the property, organise some form of reverse mortgage or sell it to your kids and have them rent it to you, among other options. 

Why is this beneficial?

The main reason this is advantageous is for tax purposes.

In Switzerland, you can deduct mortgage payments from your tax. Also, the money you pay into a third pillar is not taxable. 

Another major reason is the country’s wealth tax, which is not as unique but still relatively uncommon. 

Property: Why you can be taxed four times over for owning a home in Switzerland

In most countries, you pay tax primarily on your income. In Switzerland, you are liable to be taxed on your total wealth as well (under one percent per year). 

The wealth tax is calculated by your total assets minus your total debts. If you have significant debts – including a mortgage – then this will reduce your wealth tax. 

Importantly, the money in your third pillar does not count towards your wealth tax. 

Look, I just clicked on this article to find out about my mortgage, can you speak English please? 

While this all sounds incredibly complicated and you are advised to seek the support of a licensed agent, the calculus is relatively simple. 

Calculate the amount you would pay if you invested the money in a third pillar – keeping in mind the tax savings – by the end of the mortgage, minus the interest payments and the mortgage principal upon retirement. 

Compare this to the amount it would cost you to pay off the mortgage completely, including interest payments, keeping in mind that your tax savings will decrease over time as your regular payments decrease as you pay more of the mortgage off. 

Generally speaking, your financial advisor will present this to you as comparable percentages over time, which means your income will be a major factor in your final decision, as will your retirement plans and the tax rate in the canton and municipality you live in. 

EXPLAINED: How where you live in Switzerland impacts how much income tax you pay

It is important to note that your bank is likely to offer a combined form of both direct and indirect amortisation, which will allow you to spread the risk/burden somewhat. 

Editor’s note: Please keep in mind this report is intended as a guide only and should not replace legal and financial advice from a qualified agent or advisor. 

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