This week's hot tips

Mortgage approvals are on the rise; the best deals for first-time and second-time buyers; how to become debt free; and make the switch to save.
Mortgage approvals rise again
The number of mortgages approved rose to 28,179 in February. This was the third monthly rise in a row, and a big increase on the 24,278 registered in January, says the British Bankers Association.

People are buying and, for the first time in 16 months, house prices went up nearly one per cent last month. A welcome bounce for sellers as Easter house hunters set out.

First-time buyers
Mortgage broker Richard Morea of London & Country says: “For first-time buyers, or anyone needing a loan of 90 per cent, the best offer is a five-year fix from the Post Office at 6.01 per cent with an arrangement fee of £589 for purchase or remortgages. But this is still higher than the average owner-occupier loan.”

Second-time buyers
For those with a deposit of 25 per cent or more, First Direct offers a lifetime tracker at Bank Base Rate plus 2.39 per cent, giving a current pay rate of 2.89 per cent. This seems a good deal, given that it comes with no penalties and with an offset facility.

Auction room boom
Buy-to-let investors, now filling the auction rooms, are finding it hard to get money with a maximum loan value at 75 per cent. The best deal is a two-year fix from NatWest at 5.69 per cent, with a flat fee of £1,999. Buy-to-let arrangement fees can be as high as three per cent.

Make yourself debt free
Homeowners are taking advantage of the current low interest rates in a bid to make themselves debt-free. Homeowners paid off their mortgages at a record pace in the final quarter of last year.

A net total of £8 billion of mortgage debt was repaid between October and December, making up 3.3 per cent of homeowners’ income after tax. In both cases the figures were the highest since records began.

Switch and save
Cash rebates of up to £62 are available for switching gas and electricity companies. These cashbacks boost the potential savings from changing tariffs following the recent round of price cuts by energy companies.

Some online comparison services, including www.moneysupermarket.com, offer rebates of up to £30 for moving to “dual fuel” plans. However, having identified the cheapest tariff using a comparison service, it is possible to use a specialist cashback website to make the switch and earn a higher reward.

One of the best-paying of these websites, www.topcashback.co.uk, offers £62 on dual-fuel switches to Scottish Power and £40 for moving gas and electricity to Npower.

Quid.com offers £60 for dual-fuel switches to Eon. Some experts note that it may be cheaper to buy gas and electricity from separate companies rather than via a dual - fuel deal. Cashback websites also pay rebates for single energy switches - generally up to half the dual-fuel amount.

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