2010 election: how to vote with your wallet
SPRING is in the air, as are the promises of various political hopefuls: the fight for government is on and it's as ugly as ever.
Somewhere under all the sloganeering and slander, however, are the parties' manifestos - what are they promising for our personal finances?
At the heart of all three major parties' manifestos is the concept of 'fairness' - who could argue with that?
The word 'fair' appears 121 times in the Lib Dem manifesto, 75 in Labour's and 22 in the Tory 'invite'. Whether any of the parties are using it particularly meaningfully remains to be seen, however.
Ending unfair charges
All three parties have promised to end 'unfair' banking charges.
Only the Lib Dems, however, have made it a manifesto promise: they say they'll "legislate to end unfair bank and financial transaction charges, so you cannot be charged more than the costs incurred".
Labour, meanwhile, promise "a crackdown on unfair terms in contracts".
Stopping irresponsible lending
All three parties have also made curbing irresponsible lending a big part of their campaigns.
Labour have promised another crackdown, particularly on 'high cost' borrowing.
While only a few months ago they introduced new rules to curb irresponsible credit card lending - the new legislation aims to take it further.
They're promising to implement legislation that will force every credit provider to ensure repayments on any new borrowing can be afforded before extending it to customers, as well as offering a cooling off period for unsecured borrowing, such as credit cards and loans.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems both promise to save consumers money with interest rate caps although, according to the Shadow financial secretary Mark Hoban, "only the Conservative party is committed to an interest rate cap for store credit cards."
Help for those in debt
The Conservative's manifesto also includes a pledge to protect people in debt from losing their home.
This was an idea resurrected from 2008 and intended to stop people suffering as a result of unsecured debts - for example, credit cards and loans - which total less than £25,000.
Easier comparison and switching
The shadow chancellor, George Osborne, has also said that bank and credit card customers should have the right to receive a "data file" detailing their payment history.
The idea is that this would allow consumers to find out whether rival companies offer cheaper services, increasing consumer power without having to directly influence businesses or financial providers.
Labour also hope to make the financial products market more competitive by making comparison and switching easier.
Their idea is to introduce portable bank account and cash ISA numbers to encourage consumers to switch products.
They also say that "consistent, easily understood labelling" will help push people to move products but it's unclear how they specifically intend to change the labelling system to achieve that end.
Of the three main parties, the Conservatives seem to promise the largest scale reforms of the consumer finance market if they receive the country's support.
They're looking to abolish the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and replace it with a combination of a more powerful Bank of England and a new consumer protection agency (CPA).
Labour plan to further regulate the banks and make financial products more accessible by turning the Post Office into a 'People's Bank' that would offer products to those currently facing financial exclusion and alternatives to controversial payday loans.
Pension policies are a stark contrast to the vote-winning policies on everyday financial products: no matter what the parties say they're bound to upset someone.
Pension age is a good example. Everyone's living longer so all the parties have had to commit to the unpopular policy of increasing the age at which people can get their state pension.
Labour and the Lib Dems plan to set that increase at 68 for both men and women in 2024.
The Tories, however, say they would move much more quickly - increasing pension age in 2016 for men and four years later for women.
The three parties diverge much more on the subject of workplace pensions.
Labour are currently planning to force all employers into making contributions to workplace pension schemes, which will be compulsory for eligible workers, starting in 2012.
Under this plan, a National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) would support employers legally forced to make pension contributions.
The Conservatives have been highly critical of NEST and it seems likely that they'd scrap the scheme, although it's not clear what they'd replace it with.
The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, seem determined to increase state involvement in pensions with their 'citizen's pension' idea.
The idea is that National Insurance contributions will no longer effect eligibility for a state pension.
If deciding between the various political flavours seems a little confusing it might be gratifying to hear that just voting at all could help your financial health.
Being on the electoral roll shows up on credit reports and makes it easier for potential lenders to confirm an applicant's identity as well as, potentially, making them attractive by looking more stable.
UK credit reference agencies are urging people to sign up for the vote - or face the consequences. Failing to appear on the electoral roll can result in difficulties obtaining a loan, credit card or insurance.
According to Neil Munroe at Equifax: "A lot of people, particularly the younger generations, such as students, aren't aware that not being on the electoral roll at their current address can affect their credit score."
More pressingly, everyone must register by 20 April in order to be able to vote on 6 May.
Simply visit the Aboutmyvote website where you can fill in the online form, print it, sign it, and send it to your local electoral registration office.
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