How to protect your money as UK heads for longest recession since the 1920s

The UK appears to be heading into recession after the economy shrank 0.2% between July and September.

A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of growth – so six months.

Today’s figures – which cover one quarter, or three months – are being viewed as the first step toward the UK officially entering a long economic downturn.

It is expected the country will be in recession by the end of the year.

The Bank of England this month warned the UK is facing its longest recession since records began, as it raised interest rates to 3%.

Economists believe the downturn could continue next year and into the first half of 2024 – a possible general election year.

It would mark the longest recession – although not the deepest – since records began in the 1920s, the Bank said.

So what exactly is happening right now? Inflation – which is a measure to show how prices have gone up over time – is now at a 40-year-high of 10.1%.

There are a mixture of different reasons why inflation has rocketed – but the largest contributors are food prices and energy.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent the price of gas soaring, while also disrupting supplies of goods such as grain, oil and fertiliser.

There is also pressure on businesses, who are charging more for their goods and services because of the higher costs they face.

As a response to rising inflation, the Bank of England has hiked its base rate for the eight time in-a-row to 3% – just a year ago it was at 0.1%.

The base rate is important because it is what the central bank charges other banks and lenders.

In turn, this then affects the rates banks charge you, as their customer – so when interest rates are higher, borrowing becomes more expensive.

With so much going on, you might be wondering what to do with your money. We look at how to best protect your finances.

There is one positive thing about rising interest rates – saving rates should also go up, which means a bigger return on your money.

But despite this, banks have been slow to pass on the base rate rises to savers.

Saving rates are also still pitifully below the rate of inflation – although they are creeping up.

With any extra cash you have, work out how much you can afford to put away in savings, then make sure you’re getting the best rate.

The highest easy-access rate right now is 2.55% (being paid by Tandem, Atom Bank and Chip) or you can get up to 5.05% fixed (United Trust Bank and Close Brother)

If you want to lock your money away, you will get a bigger return – but you can’t make withdrawals when you please and you won’t benefit from future rate rises.

In uncertain times like this, it is always best to have access to an emergency fund in case you need it.

For example, if your car breaks down or you need to replace an essential household white good.

Aileen Robertson, head of savings at Atom Bank, said: “It’s key to have a savings account that works in your favour at the moment.

“Realistically, you should aim to utilise this more than your current account, as this will likely be paying you next to nothing on your savings.

“I’d think about keeping the majority of your money in an easy-access savings account – which allows you access to your cash but earns you more interest on your hard-earned cash at the same time.“

Finally, make sure the account you pick is covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

This scheme covers cash up to £85,000 per financial institution if the bank or lender goes bust.

The mortgage market has been much of a rollercoaster this year, with both the action from the Bank of England and the disastrous Mini-Budget sending rates higher.

Data from MoneyFacts shows variable rates are increasing – these are largely the ones being influenced by the base rate – while fixed rates have nudged down.

The average two-year tracker rate stood at 4.12% yesterday – up from 3.69% on the day of the last Bank of England rate rise.

But the average two and five year fixed rates have fallen.

They stood at 6.46% and 6.30% respectively on the day of base rate change but yesterday they were at 6.35% and 6.12%.

If you’re on a tracker or SVR mortgage, and you know your new rate, see if you can save money by switching to another deal.

Start by comparing what other deals are out there by using a free comparison website – you should also talk to your current lender.

Getting a new deal with your existing lender is known as a “product transfer”.

Once you’ve compared all the different options available right now, note down all the important bits of information of your current deal so you can get an accurate price comparison.

Remember to look at your current rate, the terms and length and any exit fees, as well as the loan to value (LTV).

Christina Melling, mortgage expert and owner of financial platform, Stipendium, said: “Speak with a mortgage adviser with access to all of the available deals in the market.

“A whole market adviser will have access to thousands of mortgages from a variety of lenders. Advice like this could significantly reduce your mortgage payments.“

For anyone coming to the end of a fixed-rate mortgage, you may find you’re paying more compared to how cheap rates were one year ago.

It is best to start actively looking for a new deal as soon possible, as the market is changing rapidly.

Some lenders let you lock in a rate six months in advance – and many more let you lock in three months ahead.

Again, you may want to talk to a mortgage broker who can track down the best rates.

If your fixed-rate deal isn’t going to end soon, then you’ll need to factor in any early exit penalty fees to work out if you’ll be better off leaving now.

What to do with your debt

The number of people seeking help for debts is expected to spike this winter. If you’re struggling, it is important to seek free help as soon as possible.

Talk to one of the following organisations:

  • Citizens Advice (0808 223 1133)
  • StepChange (0800 138 1111)
  • National Debtline (0808 808 4000)

If you’re stuck paying expensive credit card interest, see if you can apply for a 0% balance transfer card.

The idea is that you move your existing credit card debt onto a new card so you pay 0% interest for a set period of time.

These cards need to be used responsibly though – don’t spend on them – otherwise you could lose your 0% period and be charged a fee.

You also need to make sure you can pay off all your debt within the 0% period. Check if there is a fee involved when making the balance transfer as well.

The longest 0% balance transfer card available right now is from Sainsbury’s Bank, where you could get up to 34 months interest-free for a 2.88% fee.

You might not need to longest length card – there might be a shorter period that suits your needs but without a fee, which would save you money.

NatWest offers 22 months at 0% but without charging a fee.

Typically only those with top credit scores get accepted for the best 0% balance transfer cards – or you might get accepted but not for the longest rate.

MoneySavingExpert has a 0% Balance Transfer calculator which carries out a “soft credit search” and won’t be seen by lenders.

You could also look at a 0% money transfer card. These are a type credit card that pays cash into your bank account, for a one-off fee.

You can then use this money to pay off a debt, such as an overdraft, or as a cheaper way of giving yourself a “loan” if you absolutely need to borrow.

During the 0% period you won’t pay any interest, though you do need to make at least the minimum repayment.

The longest card right now is from MBNA, where you can get 18 months at 0%, with a 2.99% or 3.49% fee.

Remember that all credit cards are another form of debt – so always make sure you can afford to make your repayments within the 0% period.

After this, you’ll start to be charged expensive interest rates.

Another way to cut your overdraft costs, is to see if you can switch to an account that offers a 0% overdraft.

For unsecured loans with a high interest rate, you might be able to save money by taking out another loan with a cheaper rate to pay your current one off.

The idea is that you’re using a cheaper loan with a lower APR to pay off the existing loan.

But a word of caution – use a free online loan calculator first to check how much you’d pay overall for both loans you’re comparing – and be wary when taking out more debt.

Check as well if your existing loan provider will charge you for paying off your debt early.

If you have multiple debts – and the above methods don’t work for you – you could consider consolidating all your payments into one loan so you’re only paying one company.

However, you need to do your research first and seek free advice from one of the agencies we’ve mentioned above.

Taking on debt to pay off other debt isn’t always the right route for a lot of people so you need to be careful.

Debt consolidation loans will spread repayments for longer to make monthly payments more affordable – for most people – but this means more interest mounting up overall.

If you’re getting a specific debt consolidation loan, there can be huge fees and charges.

“Some debt consolidation loans will be secured against your home, so if you miss payments, your home could be at risk,” said Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“Debt advisers would never suggest taking out a secured loan to repay unsecured debts.”

What to do with your pension

More workers are cutting their workplace pension contributions or opting out of schemes entirely because they cannot afford the payments, according to trade union TUC.

In the short-term it may help by providing some extra cash, but it means you’ll have less money in your retirement.

It is always a good idea to keep paying into your workplace pension if you can.

You are auto-enrolled into a workplace pension scheme if you earn over £10,000 a year, are over 22 and below state pension age.

A minimum of 8% must be paid into the pension, with you contributing 5% and your employer paying at least 3%.

Your contribution is deducted from your salary.

If you have private pensions, you might want to consider keeping them diversified so your money is spread out during volatile periods.

Helen Morrissey, senior pensions and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Having a well-diversified portfolio is vital to dealing with market volatility as when some assets fall in value others will rise so you should be cushioned from the worst effects.

“Pension default funds are designed to be diverse so if you have not chosen your own investments then you are likely invested in one of these.“