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The Energy Crisis: Why are prices increasing and how can you beat the price hikes?

In the latest episode of the bonkers.ie podcast we chat to David Kerr, the founder and group CEO of bonkers.ie about the energy crisis, why prices are increasing, what consumers can do to offset the price hikes, and whether there may be blackouts this winter. Talk us through the energy price hikes All of Ireland’s energy suppliers have announced huge increases in their gas and electricity prices over the past few months and it looks like more price hikes are on the way.  This year is the only time in the last eleven years we’ve been in operation and the only time in the history of deregulated energy prices that we’ve had this number of price increases in a single year.  This year we’ve had over 30 energy price increase announcements by various suppliers. This is unprecedented. Some have even increased their prices four times this year.  What is the impact on the customer?  Unfortunately, the price of gas and electricity in Ireland is the highest that it’s ever been. To put this into perspective, we’ll be paying on average around €600-800 more for gas and electricity this winter and into next year than the equivalent period last year.  If you consider €600-800, that’s €10-15 a week. This is also the complete cost of most peoples’ annual car insurance premium. It’s almost like having a 13th mortgage payment in a year, for no additional service. We’re not getting anything extra and nothing has changed, other than the price.  The price increases are something that will creep up on us. We’re recording this podcast in the middle of October and the first winter bill has yet to arrive. However, by the time this podcast comes out, many will have got their first bill, the clocks will have changed and it will be dark already by around 6.30. Our consumption is dramatically increasing and we’ve still yet to see the effect of this increase. The price increases started in spring but then we moved into summer when energy demand is at its lowest. We had a good summer this year, it wasn’t too cold. People are going to be in for a huge shock when the bills start coming in.  Some people may also be catching up on bills that were estimated. When you’re paying to catch up on bills, you’re paying for the unit rate now as opposed to when the energy was consumed.  As the smart meter programme has rolled out around the country, there’s now around 500,000 smart meters rolled out in the country - which is about a quarter - suddenly all bills are accurate all of the time. There are no estimated bills.  Why are prices increasing?  There are three main reasons why energy prices are increasing, but the main reason comes down to the cost of natural gas on wholesale markets.  1. The price of natural gas Roughly half of our electricity generation is made by burning gas in a gas turbine. The cost of burning gas has gone up over 200% in recent months, so the cost of the electricity generated has to go up as well.  2. A lack of wind output The second reason is to do with wind energy. Wind turbines do contribute significantly to our electricity generation but unfortunately, we’ve had a very calm summer. July was the least windy summer since 1961. There’s been a wind drought. Even sailing races have been cancelled due to the lack of wind. Up to 50% of the electricity on the grid at certain times of the year comes from wind turbines, but in July this was only 7%. This is a really small amount generated by wind. As a result, we’ve relied more on the electricity generated from burning gas, which has been extremely expensive.  3. Power plants out of action The third reason is due to the closure of two major gas-fired power plants. These usually contribute to about 15% of our electricity generation. There’s one in Whitegate in Cork, operated by Bord Gáis Energy, and one in Huntstown in Dublin, operated by Energia.  These are the two most efficient power plants in the country, but they’ve both been down for maintenance purposes. They couldn’t be maintained because of Covid as the servicing teams couldn’t travel to Ireland from abroad. This has meant that we’ve been reliant on the less efficient power plants, which burn more gas. We’ve been burning more for the same amount of electricity.   Eirgrid operates a most efficient first principle. This means that it will request that the most efficient generators contribute to the grid first. With these two being down, the least efficient ones are contributing.  Geopolitical aspects There’s some geopolitical aspect too. Part of the reason for the wholesale gas price going up is there’s a new pipeline proposed that goes in the sea between Russia and Germany. The German regulators are slow to approve that. It seems as though now Russia is restricting supply, which is having a knock-on effect.  In Asia they had a particularly cold winter and burned a lot, so now they’re replenishing the stocks over there. It’s a global phenomenon and we’re at the end of the pipeline in Europe. Should this have been forecast better? One thing that we need to recognise is that renewable energy through wind is only part of a mix of ways that we can generate electricity from renewables. Another thing we need to be aware of is that it’s not windy, you don’t get the electricity into the network.  Wind isn’t the only answer to renewable energy. It seems as though we’ve put all our eggs into one basket sometimes.  Microgeneration We need to think more about microgeneration and microstorage. For example, you can see more houses with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels - the ones that generate electricity as opposed to heating your water. Those should be coupled with battery packs on the side of the house so that you’re less reliant on the grid and so there’s less of a draw from the home on the grid.  People think that because Ireland isn't very sunny that solar is of no use, but that’s not true at all. Certainly, we’re not the Sahara, but we’re also not in a closed room.  Some of the newer solar panels are so efficient. The technology is definitely there. With microgeneration and micro storage, you as an individual can contribute to the overall demands of our national grid. If you’re planning a retrofit, don’t just consider the generation, but also the storage.  In the budget, there’s a tax credit for people who can contribute energy back into the grid.  Tidal One type I’m a big fan of is tidal. The tide goes in and out every day, there’s no reason that it won’t. Ireland has a really low implementation rate of hydro tidal, whereas places like Scotland and Newfoundland have big tidal installations.  We don’t have these here and we’re perfect for them. We should look at more elements in the mix for renewable energy. Wind energy is great but we should do more tidal hydro and more solar.  How can people beat these price increases? Switch supplier First people should consider switching energy supplier. If you haven’t switched in the last 12 months - and 6 out of 7 people haven’t - you’re not getting any discount. And you can get a discount at no charge with only the commitment of one year by staying with a supplier. If you’re staying with a company anyway, you may as well stay with one that’s giving you a discount.  Discounts can be very significant, up to 30-40% off standard rates. You can offset €500-600 of that increased amount just by switching your electricity and gas supplier.  It’s easy and only takes a couple of minutes to do online. No one needs to come to your house to change your meter, it’s just a change of supplier. It’s the same electricity in the wires and the same gas in the pipes.  There is still value to be had by switching and this can’t be overemphasised enough. Reduce your energy consumption The second thing you can do is use less energy. In the 1980s, mortgage rates were 18% and that’s when you had your parents yelling at you to switch off lights, close doors and turn off the immersion. When you stop consuming, you stop getting billed for it, so do the little things.  Retrofitting is a big endeavour, but you can easily do smaller things like putting more insulation in the attic which makes a huge difference. It’s really simple to do.  Assess the wind that comes through your door and put up a weatherstrip. This is really cheap and makes a huge difference.  Also consume less. If you haven’t got a NightSaver Meter, or you haven’t got a NightSaver tariff and you have a smart meter, consider availing of a better tariff. With smart meters, you have a day rate, a night rate and a peak rate. You can then decide to run your dishwasher, washing machine and tumble driers at night.  You can learn more about smart meter tariffs in this blog. Other things you can do include half filling the kettle if you’re making one cup of tea and using LED light bulbs. These things make a difference to consumption over the course of a month. Discover which appliances use the most electricity in this guide. The SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) has some really good tips on its website, as does the bonkers.ie blog. For example, here are 15 ways to use less electricity and save money, and 10 top tips for heating your home for less. Is there any help from the Government? If you’re over 70, you will qualify for the free electricity allowance. This is a payment that’s taken off your bill or paid to you directly. This is €35 a month, paid throughout the whole year.  The winter fuel allowance is a means-tested allowance that will give you an extra payment too. This is part of the home benefits package. It was increased to €33 a week in the recent budget. If you’re looking for more information on how to apply, we’d recommend you look on the Department of Social Welfare website.  Should the Government introduce an energy price cap? We’re seeing huge increases in the price of energy and it’s an important product that people need. There are price caps on energy in the UK, so should the Government here be putting a limit on how much consumers can be charged? People think a price cap should be put in place to prevent companies from gouging, but in fact, there’s no gouging going on here. The input cost - the cost of gas - has gone up dramatically.  The price cap in the UK was introduced for a different reason. It was to stimulate the market to actually take advantage of the offers available. Unfortunately as a result of the price cap, companies are going out of business.  There were 70-odd energy suppliers in the UK and there’s now 60-odd. The price cap has forced companies to go out of business and has resulted in customers not having a supplier, or being forced onto a new supplier that they didn’t select themselves. In addition, it creates unemployment. All of the companies that have gone out of business have created job losses. You have to ask yourself is it morally right for a Government to force a business to sell something at a loss? This year the minimum unit pricing for alcohol was introduced to prevent below-cost selling by the supermarkets. They wanted to entice customers into the shop with the low cost of alcohol. That was outlawed and banned.  As well, the loyalty card club schemes can’t count points based on alcohol purchases and you can’t redeem points against alcohol purchases either. All of this was to prevent this bad activity of below-cost selling, but that’s exactly what a price cap would require in a very increased market for pricing. If there was a price cap, some companies would be forced to sell at below-cost. So what can the Government do?  This has been talked about a lot recently and is one area that people have started to question. One break that was given at the start of Covid was a reduced VAT rate for the hospitality industry, going down to 9% from 13.5%.  Yet, every single home consumes electricity and 650,000 homes consume gas, and we’re paying 13.5% VAT on our electricity and gas costs. Perhaps a reduction to 9% would be in order.  When you consider the context of Great Britain, the British VAT rate for energy is 5%, not 13.5%.  Do you think there will be blackouts this winter? I don’t think there will be blackouts this winter. I think the media may have picked up a report from Eirgrid that said it expects there will be a massive increase in demand in the coming years and that we need to plan for it and put the infrastructure in now.  If it comes on all of a sudden, which is likely given the amount of planning permission applications for data centres, then we might put our grid under pressure. At the moment it couldn’t cope with the switching on of 20% more data centres than we currently have and also cater to our domestic requirements. Eirgrid and ESB Networks run our electricity in the country. Eirgrid runs the transmission network and ESB Networks runs the distribution networks. The wires to your house are from ESB Networks and the pylons are from Eirgrid. They work in conjunction with each other and one hands over to the other as it gets closer and closer to your home. The backbone of the network has to have electricity flowing through it at all times and there’s very little storage in it.  Planning for data centres I think there should be a national program of infrastructure upgrades for the transmission network and also the distribution network.  Specifically, when it comes to planning for data centres, technology is at a significant level now that we can make them both carbon-free and energy neutral. We could require that every single data centre planning permission that is granted comes with caveats of having to be carbon neutral and energy neutral. They could figure out their own blend locally of turbine, solar and emergency diesel backup generators even. Make the data centres not be a draw on the core network.  The big companies that require data centres know this too well and they do plan to provide their own energy for their data centres.  We can accept the data centre volume that we’re getting if we plan for it well and it could be more of an industry.  Some would argue that a data centre only employs 20-30 people. This might be true for its daily operations, but there are companies in Ireland that contribute hugely towards their construction. There are specialist technicians and local economies that benefit greatly too. The fact that they can be put anywhere means they could contribute to the diversification of our population. What advice would you give to those who are worried about energy prices? The first thing is to check and see if you’re eligible to apply for the various supports available, such as the winter fuel allowance and free electricity allowance.  Secondly, if you are finding it difficult to pay your bills, do not let them mount up. Your energy company doesn’t want to disconnect you and there are moratoriums in place over winter which prevent this.  However, the bill doesn't go away so you can contact your energy company. Some suppliers work with MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Service) or St Vincent de Paul. There are funds available that can help to reduce the amount you owe, even though you’ve consumed the energy.     Switch and save on bonkers.ie Are you worried about the increasing cost of energy? Start saving by switching energy supplier today. It’s quick and easy to switch and can all be done on bonkers.ie in the space of a few minutes, provided you have a few things on hand.  Use our energy comparison tool to compare the best deals today across all 14 energy suppliers nationwide.  If you’re seeking advice when it comes to switching, have a look at our guide on 7 things to consider when switching energy supplier or check out the list we compiled of frequently asked energy switching questions.  Get in touch If you have any questions about what was discussed in this podcast episode, feel free to reach out to us on social media. We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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New launches

In this episode of the bonkers.ie podcast Daragh chats with Rebecca Wylie, Product Manager of Financial Services at An Post Money to discuss the recent launch of its new app for current account customers as well as its plans for the future.   We also chat to our very own Group CEO and founder of bonkers.ie, David Kerr, about the launch of our new, fully online and paper-free mortgage broker service. So whether you're a first-time buyer or mover looking for the perfect home or a switcher looking to save on your bills, listen in to see how we can help. Here’s an outline of what was discussed by both Rebecca and David in the podcast. Tell us a bit about your role at An Post I’m the product manager for the An Post Money current account. I’ve been in An Post for about 2 and a half years and I work on a small product management team.  What I really like about my role is that I get to work on a wide range of current account products and I get really involved in product development and product cycle management. What services does An Post offer now? An Post has undergone a massive transformation, moving from the world of letters and cash payments to the digital world of e-commerce, parcels and financial services.  Our range of products has hugely increased. It now encompasses the An Post Money current account and mobile app, Money Mate, perosnal loans, credit cards, FX multi-currency cards, cash, money transfers, An Post mobile and An Post insurance.  We also now have the Green Hub which offers green loans and a one-stop shop to support home retrofits for better energy efficiency, as well as electric vehicle purchases. Have parcel volumes changed due to Covid? Definitely. We’re now handling parcel volumes that were only forecast for 2024 pre-Covid. It’s a massive change in circumstances. We were managing Christmas volumes for most of 2020.  The postal service went above and beyond for the local community and people during the pandemic. There were initiatives with delivering and collecting mail, newspaper deliveries and just generally checking on people in the community.  Tell us about the new An Post Money app The new An Post Money app makes it really easy for customers to manage their money, control their spending and stay on top of their finances. We’ve taken functionality that was previously only available through online banking and we’ve made it available on the An Post Money app.  With the An Post Money current account, you get everything you’d expect from a current account. This includes a contactless debit card, the ability to pay direct debits and schedule recurring payments. It offers device pay such as Apple, Google and Fitbit pay, and you can temporarily freeze your card in the app if you misplaced it. Round Up and Jars There are new features customers can benefit from, such as Round Up. This takes the change from your card transactions and puts it into a nominated jar.  For example, if you buy a coffee for €2.90, you can round this up to the nearest euro so that the leftover 10 cents goes into the jar. There’s also a multiply feature, so you can multiply that change between up to ten times the amount. These small amounts build up over time. You can have up to ten Jars. These can help with putting money away for saving, but they can also be used for managing your money.  You can set up a direct debit to come out of a Jar and scheduled payments. In theory, you get the main current account where you can carry out day-to-day spending, but you can also transfer money into a bills jar, a jar for your next trip away, a jar for saving for Christmas, etc.  The fact you can make payments directly from Jars makes the feature a bit different to that of competitors offerings. Does the app offer up to the minute analytics? At the moment, no but this is something that’s coming later in the year.  What is An Post Money Mate? This is a current account for children, aged 7-15. It’s set up through the An Post Money app and is available to both An Post Money current account holders and to those who have current accounts elsewhere.  The parent applies through the app and the account is controlled by the parent. The child gets access to their Money Mate version of the app straight away and the account is opened instantly. They just have to wait for their shiny, iridescent debit card to arrive in the post. If you’re a parent and have a current account with another bank, you can download the An Post Money app and have a Money Mate account for your child. Is it similar to Revolut Junior? Some of the features are similar to Revolut Junior but the difference is a lot of items that are paid features in the Reolut Junior offering are included in the Money Mate package.  Is there a top-up limit each month? There is an annual turnover limit and some monthly limits as well, but pocket money of €50-100 is well within those ranges. Can parents see where money is being spent? Absolutely. From an overhead perspective, any of the merchant category codes related to gambling, alcohol or other adult industries would be blocked outright from the start.  There are also additional features we’ve put in. The parents have complete control over how much the child can spend. For example, you might decide you don’t want your child using an ATM, or you only want them to withdraw a set amount, you can control this in the parent app.  You can turn off the ability for contactless payments if you don’t want your child mindlessly tapping. Parents are also notified when there’s a transaction carried out.  What’s the Jobs section of the app? Parents can set up a Jobs section in the app. For example, you might set up a Job for your child to set the table for dinner every day for a week. You might then give them five euros for doing that. It can encourage them to help more around the house. At the end of the week, the child can make a note in the app that they did complete the task. The parent can select whether the child actually did or didn’t complete the Job. If the parent signs off on it, the child gets paid on a Sunday. Is the child’s app the same as the parent’s? The app is a child’s version of the An Post Money app but we’ve rebranded it to make it more child-friendly.  Children can see on the app what they could potentially earn if they completed their Jobs, see how much they have available to spend and can access Jars for savings. If they want to withdraw from the Jar, they have to have the parent’s permission.   If a child receives cash as a birthday present, for example, they can still lodge this in the post office for free into their account. It’s a modern version of the post office savings books. The freeze card feature is also available through the parent’s app for the children’s card. What are the fees and charges? The An Post Money current account has a monthly maintenance fee of €5 and that covers all debit card transactions, contactless transactions, domestic euro transactions, direct debits and any scheduled or recurring payments. We do have some transaction fees for withdrawing cash at an ATM. This costs 60 cents. Lodgments through a branch or quick lodge cost 50 cents. However, you do get one free cash withdrawal in a post office per week. Is An Post Money Mate included in that? We have a dual fee structure for Money Mate. For customers who hold an An Post Money current account, the fee for the child’s account is €2 per month. This is charged to the parent, on top of the €5 per month.   For customers who don’t have a current account with An Post Money, the fee for Money Mate is €4 per month. Is An Post Money a worthy alternative to banks?  With the withdrawal of KBC and Ulster Bank, An Post Money is a strong alternative for customers who may be affected or for anyone just looking to move banks. While they’re exiting the market, we’re actively growing and promoting An Post Money.  An Post Money is tied to every city, town and village in Ireland and is at the centre of the community, with over 900 post offices nationwide. Our current account has lots of great features and it’s good value. Is a branch network a key thing for An Post? The branch network with An Post is one of the strongest selling points for the An Post Money current accounts because we are still in the small towns and villages where other banks have cut back. An Post has gone on a bit of a journey in co-locating some branches. We’ve moved into some supermarkets and convenience stores, which has helped to increase accessibility to the post office and allows for more parking.  Having 900 plus post offices means that customers can come into a branch if they need to. You can still lodge cash and cheques, which are things you can’t do with online banks. Cash is still being used and cheques are still being used, years after they were supposed to have ceased.  With online banks if you have a problem, lose your debit card, need to lodge cash or just need to speak to a person, it can be very difficult. That’s where our ‘human about money’ brand comes in and you can walk into the post office and talk to someone. Can you get an overdraft with An Post Money? At the moment An Post Money doesn’t offer overdrafts, but there is potential in the future. What are the future plans for An Post Money? We’re currently in negotiation with a potential mortgage partner and we’re looking to offer something that will be very competitive for the mortgage consumer in 2022.    After speaking to Rebecca from An Post Money, we spoke to our own CEO and founder of bonkers.ie, David Kerr, about our new mortgage broker service.  Why did you find bonkers.ie? It was really to scratch my own itch. I was at a life stage where I had to look after my own bills and money was tight. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t overpaying on my bills.  The company was founded in 2010 but I was thinking about it all through 2009. Before the financial crash in 2008, Ireland wasn’t ready for saving on energy bills and consumers weren’t particularly interested.  Once the crash hit hard, we were being taxed more and the USC was introduced. People were losing their jobs and for those lucky enough to keep their jobs, salaries were often reduced. For a family or any kind of household, the income was probably reduced. I was working with a company that was doing a similar thing in Great Britain. I started bonkers.ie to create a branded, consumer-facing website with the goal being to help people lower the everyday cost of living.  We launched first with no money and just three lads in a basement in town - myself, co-founder Simon and a designer. We sat for 6 months and bashed out the first version of bonkers.ie and we had five products - electricity, current accounts, savings accounts, personal loans and credit cards. Why should someone use a mortgage broker service? We don’t really call ourselves a broker, even though that’s what we are because we introduce customers to lenders.  You’d use a broker to hide the warts and polish the good stuff, but it’s also to answer all the basic questions. You might be buying a house for the first time. The average age is around 36 now but when bonkers.ie started in 2010, 29 was the average first-time buyer age.  When you want to get a mortgage, it’s all-consuming and you want to know everything. However, you might not know the difference between fixed and variable rate mortgages, and what term length to go for.  What a company like bonkers.ie can do is answer all of those generic, broad questions for you without necessarily addressing any of the lenders in the marketplace.  Assessing the mortgage market Now we have lenders like Finance Ireland and Avant Money who have fixed rates for 30 years. People want to know the advantages and disadvantages of opting for these rates. There are also other market offers out there, like free legal cover. Some banks will contribute up to €1,500 towards your legal fees. Getting the money to purchase your home is only one part of the puzzle, you need a lot of other things too to get the key.  Banks also offer cashback offers. Some banks will offer 3% cashback, but you’ll have to keep your mortgage with that bank for five years to get it. They may give you 2% when the mortgage is drawn down and then another 1% after 5 years.  Typically rates with cashback mortgages are slightly higher, so people want to know should they go for these. Advice on spending habits There’s also the point around where you spend your money before applying for a mortgage. People are unsure if they can have a betting account or how much they can spend on gambling. Different banks and lenders have different lending rules.  Looking at where money is spent can help a bank determine what kind of spender you are and whether you’re cautious. It gives a bank a picture of your spending habits and attitude towards money. We can advise on this. An independent, impartial helper is what we are. We’ll answer the generic questions and tell you how to become ready. Mortgage readiness is very important because it’s an involved enough process to go to a bank and ask for a large amount of money. No one can see into the future and banks are very cautious about long term lending. As a mortgage broker, we can tell you who offers exemptions. There are two types - one on the deposit you’ve got and another on the amount of money you can borrow.  What are the main advantages of using a broker when applying for a mortgage? There are three main advantages: A full overview of the market: bonkers.ie will be able to tell you what all the lenders in the marketplace have on offer. You’ll see all the mortgages out there, whereas if you deal with an individual lender, you’ll only see their own offerings. Convenience: It can be onerous to fill out forms with each bank or lender. With us, there’s only one form. We’ll help you get ‘mortgage ready’: We’ll tell you if you’re not ‘mortgage ready’ and advise you on what you need to do to become ready.  We can also tell you which bank is most likely to say yes.  What is the new mortgage service from bonkers.ie? We’re a fintech. We use technology to make things easier for the consumer.  The first thing we need is to know who you are, but we don’t want you to fill out any paper forms. Covid is still ongoing and people don’t want to go to offices to physically sign things. All of this can be handled using technology.  We ask you to identify yourself by downloading an app and taking a selfie. People are used to this, we’ve all done it before.  We then send you some documents to sign electronically, so that you know who we are and so you know who you’re dealing with. We’re called Bonkers Money Limited and we’re regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.  After that, we need to determine your income. We send you a salary certificate and your employer fills it out and sends it back to us. This is carried out on an online platform. You get a username and a password. This is the platform we use to guide you through the whole process.  You then need to tell us about your current account, so you can upload your current account statements from the last six months. Make sure they’re numbered sequentially, no pages are missing, etc. We’ll check this and then move on. You might have some savings, so you’ll upload a statement for your savings account. You then might have to upload a statement for a car loan you might have. If you’re applying for a mortgage through us, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home or see us, but we will speak with you. Why should you choose bonkers.ie as your broker? Going through the mortgage process is intrusive and involves so much paper. We’ve made it as convenient as possible and everything is all online. It’s quicker than it’s ever been before. The portal also gives live updates. If you’ve uploaded a savings account statement, you’ll know whether or not we’ve seen it and whether we’ve reviewed it. We’ll leave a note if something is missing.  There’s a chat function and an email option. When you’re in the portal, you have all the benefits of sitting beside a broker, without actually sitting beside anyone.  It’s great for seeing where you are in the process. It’s all split into different sections too. There’s a section on you, your savings, your current accounts, your loans, etc.  Customer service Sometimes you hear horror stories associated with online services. We’re very much a concierge service if you like because you can always reach us by phone and talk to a human if you want to. If you don’t want to though, you can still get everything done at your own speed. How much does the service cost? The mortgage broker service is free. Everything we’ve done over the last 11 years has been a free service. It’s really difficult to do, but we get paid by the supplier or company that you choose for the service we provide them, which is presenting you as a customer.  We can provide this for free as we try to make everything as efficient as possible with technology. The only catch is that we can only help customers who are looking to borrow €200,00 or more.  Who can use the service? The mortgage broker service can be used by first time buyers, movers and switchers What else do you need when applying for a mortgage? You’ll need mortgage protection insurance, which will pay the bank the remaining amount left on the mortgage should you, unfortunately, pass away during the mortgage term.  We offer the best life insurance and mortgage protection insurance rates in the country. It’s less expensive to purchase mortgage protection from a company like us than directly from your bank, so do shop around. You’ll also need home insurance or buildings insurance. The bank will help survey the house for this. You can apply for home insurance right here on bonkers.ie. You’ll also need a solicitor, which we don’t currently help with. Maybe your estate agent can help with this. Compare banking products on bonkers.ie You can easily compare a range of different banking products on bonkers.ie. Whether you’re seeking the current account that best suits your needs, a savings account, or looking to start your mortgage journey, we’re here to help!  Take a look at this blog to learn more about our new mortgage broker service. Don’t forget you can stay up to date on all the latest banking,personal finance and mortgage news and top saving tips with our blogs and guides pages.  Get in touch If you have any questions about what was discussed in today’s podcast, we’d be happy to help! We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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N26 vs Revolut: How do they compare?

With Ulster Bank and KBC planning to exit the Irish market soon, many of you might be on the lookout for a new current account. Or maybe you're simply fed up with your current provider’s service and their fees and charges and are looking for something better? In our latest episode of the bonkers.ie podcast we take an in-depth look at both Revolut and N26, the fintechs who have been dominating the banking space here for some time. We'll cover off the basics from fees and charges to rewards and extras, as well as all the other essential things that you need to be aware of before signing up. Here’s an outline of what was discussed in the podcast. What is Revolut? Digital bank Revolut has around 1.5 million customers in Ireland. Revolut’s headquarters is in the UK and it operates in Ireland under what’s called an e-money licence.  This licence is actually from its Lithuanian business, which is why all Revolut customers have a Lithuanian IBAN at the moment.  Revolut is sometimes referred to as a bank as it does a lot of things you’d expect from a bank. It feels like a normal current account, but technically it’s not a bank. The company is looking at taking out a banking licence in Ireland, which would change things. You can learn more about Revolut’s status as an e-money licence here. What is N26? N26 is a similar fintech but is technically a bank. It’s online-only and has a banking licence from the German Central Bank.  This is the main difference between the two fintechs.  How can N26 use their banking licence in Ireland? If regulated by the Central Bank, all financial institutions in the EU can passport over that licence to another country relatively easily. That’s what N26 has done. This also means that N26 users are covered under the Deposit Guarantee Scheme by the German Central bank. This covers deposits of up to €100,000 per institution. How are these fintechs different from traditional banks? N26 and Revolut are online-only. There are no physical branches and they’re cashless. You can take out cash with your card, but you can’t lodge cash or cheques. For some, that’s not an issue and many people don’t go into banks anymore. Older people might like the personal touch of a bricks and mortar bank.  Technology is really at the heart of N26 and Revolut. They’re digitally native.  Traditional banks are behind the times with their digital technology. They have old IT systems, which can be difficult to update. Revolut and N26 have really strong IT foundations and they’re always bringing out new features, products and services.  In fairness to AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB, they're doing their best and trying to innovate where they can, but it’s a lot slower for them.  What are Revolut and N26’s current account offerings? We’re going to look at the basic account. Both have premium accounts, but we’re just going to focus on the free version.  With both fintechs, pretty much all of your day-to-day banking is free. There’s no charge with N26 or Revolut for direct debits, standing orders, chip and pin, contactless transactions, topping up your account, receiving money, etc.  There’s no monthly account maintenance fee either. There is a €6 charge to set up a Revolut account initially, which includes the cost of the physical card you get sent out.  With N26, it costs €10 to get a physical card sent out. It’s free if you don’t want a physical card and just pay with your phone.  Pretty much all of your day to day banking is free after this, so they’re really competitive when you compare them to other current account providers in Ireland.  Cash withdrawals When it comes to cash, they’re both a little different. With N26, you’re allowed 3 fee-free ATM withdrawals a month. After that, there’s a pretty hefty €2 charge for each withdrawal. With Revolut, you’re allowed to withdraw €200 a month fee-free or this has to be done within 5 ATM withdrawals. Once you hit either limit, there’s a €1 charge or 2% of the amount withdrawn, whichever is higher.  Revolut and N26 want to discourage people from withdrawing cash because they get charged when customers withdraw cash from other banks’ ATMs.  Every time you take out money, the banks usually charge each other. With the main banks, it’s usually fine because they all have enough customers and machines so that they recoup the money back.  Foreign exchange fees The lack of foreign exchange fees is one of the reasons why both of these fintechs became so popular. This is a key feature and selling point for both of them.  Foreign exchange fees add up when travelling abroad or making purchases online. With Euro, they’re not so big but if you’re going to the US or the UK, the fees can add up. Foreign exchange fees can be as high as 3% with some banks.  When you make a payment with your card with N26, you don’t get charged a foreign exchange fee. If you like travelling a lot the N26 account can be brilliant.  With Revolut there are no foreign exchange fees on card purchases up to €1,000 a month. It used to be unlimited, like N26, but now there’s a limit on it. Still €1,000 is very generous. Withdrawing cash abroad With N26 if you withdraw cash outside of the Eurozone, you’re just charged 1.7%. With Revolut, you can withdraw the equivalent of €200 fee-free and after that there’s a 2% fee.  Both accounts are brilliant for making payments and withdrawing cash in a non-Eurozone country. They both have Apple pay and Google pay. These are fee-free as well as they’re considered contactless transactions.  Spending analytics Both N26 and Revolut can provide up-to-the-minute details on your spending. Revolut’s app in particular is a bit more fun and engaging in this way than N26’s.  Revolut has lots of graphs, charts and information to show you how and when you’re spending your money.  Security settings You can really easily toggle on and off security settings in both apps.  If you want to limit online transactions you can turn off online transactions. You can also turn off ATM withdrawals, disable contactless, etc. You can also block and unblock your card. Saving options One key feature that Revolut has is called Vaults. It’s a really handy feature that allows you to round up any purchases you make and then deposit the remaining amount to the nearest euro to the Vault.  For example, if you buy a coffee for €2.80, it will round this up to €3.00 and put €0.20 in the Vault for you.  With N26, you can do the same with a feature called Round-Ups. These then go into the Spaces of your choice. With N26, you have to have a paid subscription to access Round-Ups, it’s not available on the Standard account. Vaults is available for free on the Revolut app. What is Revolut Junior? Revolut Junior is a great feature for families, parents or guardians. There are currently over 100,000 Revolut Junior customers in Ireland. It was launched in July last year and is an account for children aged between 7-17. It was designed by Revolut to promote financial literacy in kids from an early age.  A parent can set up an account for their child from their own Revolut app. The child will then get a card of their own and can download the Revolut app. The parent will be in complete control of the account and the security features.  When Revolut Junior launched, it had a top-up limit of €40 a month, so technically you could only give a child €10 a week in pocket money. In June however, Revolut removed this feature so it’s now limitless. Disposable virtual cards With Revolut the disposable card feature allows you to create a new card for a one-off payment online. Once you carry out your purchase, the card number gets destroyed. If you’re on a website that seems a bit suspicious, you can use this card and you can be certain it won’t be linked to your original card. However, if you need to return the purchase you made with the disposable card, it will come back to your original Revolut account. N26 doesn’t have a feature like this at the moment. Cryptocurrency and commodities In the Revolut app, you can invest in cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, and buy commodities. If you do invest, cryptocurrencies can be stored in your Vault.  You can invest in stocks and shares too. You can even access the likes of Apple and Facebook through Revolut too. N26 does not offer this feature at the moment either.  Do these digital banks offer traditional banking services, such as loans? No, they don't, which is a slight impediment as some people like to do all their banking with one provider.  N26 does offer overdrafts in some other markets and it has plans to offer loans. It doesn’t offer overdrafts in Ireland at the moment, but there are plans to bring this feature here, likely within the next 12-18 months. If N26 did start offering these other banking products, it would help people to perceive them as a bank, as opposed to just as an app or money management tool. Mortgages are probably a good bit down the line as it’s more risky.  Revolut is an e-money licence business, so it doesn’t offer overdrafts, loans or mortgages here. The company has said it intends to apply for a banking licence in Ireland soon. Revolut has also applied for an e-money licence in Ireland, so it wouldn’t use the Lithuanian one here anymore. This would mean that Irish customers would have an Irish IBAN. Are these digital banks safe? As N26 has a full banking licence, you’re covered by the Deposit Guarantee Scheme for up to €100,000.  With Revolut, you’re not technically covered. It ring-fences your money, so technically Revolut can’t access your money. If you have money in your Revolut account, that money gets ring-fenced into a client account from JP Morgan.  Theoretically, if anything happened to Revolut and it became insolvent, while you wouldn’t be covered under the Deposit Guarantee Scheme, your money wouldn’t be with Revolut and you’d be first in line to get access to the money. Technically, there is slightly more risk with Revolut. Both N26 and Revolut have really good fraud monitoring tools. You can get up-to-date push notifications on your spending, so if someone manages to steal your card and buy something, you’ll get a notification immediately to let you know about the purchase. If Revolut thinks a transaction may be suspicious, it can ask you to verify it with a security code.  Customer service Customer service with both of these is lacking somewhat. The customer service in traditional banks is quite good. There’s always a person to talk to and doesn’t take too long to get through.  With the free accounts from Revolut and N26, you end up chatting with a Robot and it’s all done online, which can be frustrating.  This may be off-putting for older customers, who like the personal touch of in-person banks. Which digital bank is best for travelling? If you do travel a lot, then N26 is probably the better option. There’s no limit with N26 for foreign exchange fees, whereas Revolut has a €1,000 limit.  Having said that, Revolut recently launched a new service called Stays which allows customers to book accommodation for their latest holiday and get up to 10% instant cashback. It’s planning to also offer flight booking and car hire soon.  If you travel a lot, it may be worthwhile investing in a paid account for the added benefits. With premium accounts, both Revolut and N26 offer travel insurance, winter sports cover and compensation for delays or lost luggage.  IBAN discrimination With N26 there’s a German IBAN and with Revolut, customers will have a Lithuanian IBAN. In theory, it shouldn’t make a difference what IBAN you have in the EU since we’re all part of SEPA, but sometimes you do hear of IBAN discrimination.  This occurs when employers or utility providers have outdated payroll systems or payment systems that don’t recognise foreign IBANs. This is improving, but it is still an issue.  If you’re thinking of moving to a digital bank, make sure you check and see if your employer can pay your salary into one of these accounts.  What are the main differences between N26 and Revolut? To summarise, here are the main differences between the two digital banks: Revolut has disposable virtual cards, which N26 doesn’t offer. Revolut has Revolut Junior to help parents manage their children’s money. N26 doesn’t offer a similar feature. The Vaults feature in Revolut is great. To access N26’s similar Round-Ups feature you need to be on a paid subscription. Revolut is an e-money licence business, whereas N26 is an actual bank that can affect the protection of your money.  Revolut offers access to cryptocurrency, stocks and commodities. You can’t access these with N26. Both treat cash withdrawals differently, with Revolut having a €200 limit. Revolut has a limit on foreign exchange purchases of up to €1,000 per month, whereas N26 doesn’t. Revolut’s app is more fun, colourful and engaging. Revolut now offers an accommodation booking service, Stays, offering customers up to 10% instant cashback. N26 doesn’t have this feature. Who wins? At the moment, it seems like Revolut has more of an edge over N26.  If N26 starts to offer loans and overdrafts, this could change things. Having said that, if Revolut obtains its banking licence, this could help shift the favour back.  It depends on what people value. They’re worthy banking alternatives and people should check out one of them if they haven’t already. Compare banking products on bonkers.ie You can easily compare a variety of banking products at bonkers.ie using our range of comparison tools.  If you’re interested in signing up for a digital bank, head over to our prepaid credit card comparison page, where you can review fees, charges and card features across a range of providers. If you’re looking for a more traditional current account, we can also help! Our current account comparison tool will quickly show you what options are available from Ireland’s main current account providers.  You can stay up to date with all the latest banking and personal finance news with our blogs and guides. Get in touch! Have you tried Revolut, N26 or both digital banks? Which do you prefer and why? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below or reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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Everything you need to know about retrofitting your home

Last month Electric Ireland and retrofit experts Tipperary Energy Agency announced a new joint venture called Electric Ireland SuperHomes, which aims to deliver up to 35,000 home retrofits over the coming years. Home retrofits have become increasingly popular as homeowners look to lower their energy bills as well as their carbon footprint. While certain retrofit measures are more costly than others in the short term, a wide range of grants and services are available for those homeowners looking to make green improvements, whether that's improving your home's insulation or upgrading your heating system. In this episode we chat to David Flannery from Electric Ireland SuperHomes to discuss the new joint venture as well everything you need to know about retrofitting your home. What exactly is retrofitting? Retrofitting is when a substantial upgrade of a home is carried out through a combination of measures. It might mean an overhaul of an energy system that is inefficient and transforming it into a system that works. We don’t often think about a home as being a system, but that’s precisely what it is. We generate heat in a home, we try to keep it in the house as much as possible and we have ventilation as well, which a house needs so it can breathe.  A retrofit design combines these elements and takes them into account to provide an energy system that works together. The non-energy benefits of a retrofit include warmth, comfort and healthy airflow throughout the house. What’s the difference between a shallow and deep retrofit? We’re more familiar with shallow retrofits in Ireland. Historically a shallow retrofit has been the predominant energy upgrade route that people have chosen. Examples of this would include pumped cavity wall insulation, upgrading your attic insulation from 100mm to 300 mm, upgrading your oil or gas boiler, or adding heating control so that you can heat water upstairs and downstairs separately. A deep retrofit goes further. We’re not talking about incremental improvements, we’re talking about dramatic improvements in terms of house performance, bills and carbon production. Deep retrofits are entirely different and would be a once in a generation change. It’s about getting everything right at the same time, thinking about how things work together and designing your energy system for the house and how you use it. Electric Ireland SuperHomes Electric Ireland SuperHomes kicked off in 2017, even though it’s been around since 2015. Focusing on bespoke, tailored designs for each house, SuperHomes has pioneered the retrofit model and refined it into something that works. Each house has different needs. Even houses in a housing estate that were once the same would all be different now. Some will have extensions, converted attics, new boilers or new windows, and some won’t have upgraded at all.  You’d need a separate retrofit design for each of those homes.  Are Irish homes poorly insulated? Irish homes are quite poorly insulated and even when we started insulating in the mid-1990s, insulation was treated with a little bit of suspicion. We have a different climate from other countries and other countries have a history of insulation that is far more advanced than Ireland’s. Ireland has improved a lot in terms of the shallow retrofit over the last number of years. There are now grants available from the SEAI, so there have been a lot of upgrades and the standard of new homes has improved considerably over the last number of years. Take a look at this blog to see what energy efficiency grants the SEAI offers. How can people tell if their home needs a retrofit? Homeowners will know their home inside out, so usually they can tell you what part of the house is cold, what the bills are like, or if it’s draughty. They can talk to a retrofit expert to pinpoint exact problems. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the cause of problems. An example of this is with box bedrooms. Many households say that the box bedroom is the coldest part of the house, no matter what they do. The box bedroom tends to be right over the hallway and usually has no insulation underneath. In many cases, the bedroom door is old and has gaps at the edges, allowing a breeze to enter from the hallway. Most of the time the radiator in the box bedroom is the smallest in the house.  This is where the fix comes in. If you get good and impartial advice that considers the features of the house, you should get a retrofit plan that’s cost-effective, sensible and addresses the issues in the house. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels There are two solar panel options for people, which are solar thermal or solar photovoltaic. The most compatible with a heat pump would be solar voltaic. Rather than the sunlight producing hot water, it’s producing electricity and feeds into your meter box. You can use that for anything and save you money. For photovoltaic, you can put in a battery, which will store the excess that you’re not using if you’re not in the house.  An element will spill onto the grid if it’s not being captured. There’s no fee or payment for that at the moment but in time the plan is to be paid for this excess. Solar thermal panels Solar thermal is going to provide you with lots of cheap hot water. There will be more hot water produced at certain times of the year than others for obvious reasons and you have to be able to use that water. Your return on investment will depend on how you use that water. For example, if you don’t use the hot water produced, because you keep your electric shower, you’re kind of doubling up on your costs and not availing of the savings you would get. You need a bigger cylinder and need all the showers to run from it and it’s going to suit larger families, as they’ll save on the production of hot water. How much are solar panels? The cost of the solar thermal or photovoltaic could range from €2,500 - 5,000 depending on size. The return on investment will depend on the extent of using the hot water for solar thermal. For photovoltaic, you’re talking €200-250 euro per year in savings. This means it’ll take around 12 years to earn back what you paid for the solar panels. Does the panel always have to go on the roof of the house? You can choose where you put it, but the more you do it in line with convention, the cheaper it’s going to be. The obvious place is the roof if you have a good aspect. The southern aspect is going to be the best, but you could still do it on an East or West axis and split the panels in two to get morning and evening sun. You can have panels on top of your shed. There aren't any significant planning issues, but there’d be more pipework, travel and distribution losses that way. What is a heat pump? With a heat pump you’re trying to extract as much free energy from the air as possible. A conventional gas boiler would have an efficiency of around 90% or thereabouts, which sounds great if you think about it out of 100. However, a heat pump will have a performance that’s about 300-350% efficient.  For every unit of energy that you use, you’re producing something called three comparable units in heating terms.  A heat pump will keep the air in the house at a nice even temperature. At its most efficient, it will be around 21 degrees, it can go up to higher temperatures than that but it would be working hard and using more electricity. Once you agree within your house on the temperature you like, you don’t really touch the thermostat after that and the temperature stays at this optimum level. If the house is well insulated, the heat pump will work very well. Getting heat pump ready The key thing to remember is that the home needs to be heat pump ready and there are strict criteria in place now for assessing whether a house is heat pump ready. Essentially it looks at every fabric aspect of the home, such as windows and doors, walls of the attic, flooring, etc. There’s a value associated with each factor and when you put this through a heat loss indicator, you’ll come out with an overall figure. The overall figure has to be below a certain amount and each element of your building fabric needs to perform to a minimum standard. Once you achieve that, you know your house is heat pump ready and that the heat pump will work efficiently. People can find out how efficient a heat pump would be in their own home by getting a heat pump technical assessment carried out. That will provide you with a pathway and will help you get to a standard you need to have a heat pump. What is the cost of a heat pump? The cost associated with a heat pump is also the cost associated with getting the home heat pump ready. If you look at a home built in 2010, it might not need much. It might need some insulation upgrades or wall cavity pumped.  If you’re talking about a unit cost for the heat pump, it might be €10-13,000. There are grants available. It’s more complicated for an older home or for homes that have extensions or attic conversions. You could be looking at anywhere between €40-70,000 for a house like that. What are the savings with a heat pump? The savings could be anywhere between 30-50%.  There is funding there to help. The SEAI is incentivising plans to take a shallow retrofit to a deep retrofit. Insulation The right insulation depends on what your wall type is. When you have a floor that’s concrete or a suspended floor, it’s not really something you’d want to insulate. You lose around 14% of your heat through the floor. You should start focusing on the place that makes the most sense, which is the attic. When you assess the wall, you’ll see there are different wall types so there are different solutions. You’ll have a hollow block or a solid wall. You’ll have to go internal or external. If you’re fortunate enough to have a cavity wall insulation with enough of a gap then pumping that is the most cost-effective way. There are grants for insulation available of up to €6,000 for detached houses and €2,500 for internal insulation for smaller houses. There’s also grants or attic insulation as well. Boilers We’re making a transfer over to renewable sources and soon there won’t be any gas boilers put into new houses. There are improvements moving from a boiler to a condensing boiler. If it’s an old boiler, you might get 20-30% savings on that. For budget, this is what people may need to look at sometimes. There are no grants for upgrading your boiler anymore, so it’s not incentivised. This is why people should perhaps consider a deep retrofit instead. Airtightness and ventilation Airtightness is crucial. If you insulate your home and there’s a draught going through, it will undo much of the positive work carried out. We can measure this through an airtightness test, and that will vary from 7 or 8 air changes per hour to 13 or 14. Tackling that is important. Bringing this to 5 air changes per hour is comparable to a new home. The last part is a ventilation system. You’ll have an active ventilation system that regulates the airflow through the house. It reacts to moisture and when moisture builds up, it switches on. It’s an intelligent ventilation system. This will minimise mould and odours in the home. Those three essential elements - fabric, airtightness and ventilation - are the fundamentals of the SuperHomes package. The process of a retrofit A retrofit advisor, such as David, would be the first point of contact for anyone looking to retrofit their home. The advisor will give some general advice and look at the suitability of the person’s home to see if they’re eligible for the scheme. You should receive a ballpark figure of what the costs could be. Electric Ireland SuperHomes tries to create a process for people that shortens the retrofit journey, improves it and provides solutions and puts together a coherent, effective plan. Customers should be able to choose the type of measures they would like to implement. If everything is satisfactory initially, you move onto a survey before bringing in a contractor and putting together a report with all the recommended measures, the grants available and the costs. That report will essentially contain a retrofit offer. In general, how much is a deep retrofit? While it does depend on the house, a typical house will cost around €50,000. There is around €15-17,000 available in grants, so it brings the net cost down to somewhere in the region of €35,000. That can vary and it can be less for a newer house. For an older or bigger house, it can be more than that. Finance options Retrofitting costs a lot of money and not everyone will have access to the funds right away. This is changing in Ireland and there’s a realisation there will need to be grant and financial support in place for people to avail of retrofitting. You now can get a range of green loans for home improvements from banks and credit unions. You can put the savings you’re making on energy towards paying back these loans. You can learn more about the various finance options available here and see what home improvement loans are available with our easy-to-use comparison tool. If budgets are tight what can people do? It’s always fabric first, so insulating the attic is a good step for those with a tight budget. A good way to approach it is by looking at the pathway to a heat pump and the elements you have to tackle to put a heat pump in ten years down the road. How can someone contact Electric Ireland SuperHomes? The website, superhomes.ie, contains a lot of information and explains more about the retrofit process. There’s good general information on heat pumps and other technology and there’s an expertise section there where you can find out more. Lower your energy bills with bonkers.ie Over time retrofitting your home will help lower household energy bills. However there are ways to immediately start saving today. With energy prices increasing, there’s never been a better time to consider switching energy supplier. For those willing to switch, it’s possible to save up to 40% off standard rates for the first 12 months with some energy deals. Here at bonkers.ie, you can use our energy comparison tool to compare the best deals today across all 14 energy suppliers nationwide. Switching takes just a few minutes and you only need the following on hand to switch: A GPRN number if switching gas and an MPRN number if switching electricity A recent meter reading A good estimate of how much energy you use Some personal details Read our helpful guide on what you need to switch suppliers for further information. If you have any questions about retrofitting, let us know and we’d be happy to help! You can contact us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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