Lack of price transparency in veterinary care

Think of the last time you took your cat or dog to the vet. Did you know what it was going to cost before you went? Did you shop around?

Caring for a much-loved family pet can be very expensive. The ITV program Pets: The True Cost – Tonight was on last night, and revealed that the an average dog can cost its owners £33,000 (€38,000) over the course of its life, and a cat costs around £24,000 (€27,500).

Vet bills can quickly mount up, especially if your pet has a serious illness or accident. And people don't always realise that their pet insurance may not cover all the treatment costs.

I checked our pet insurance last night, and it only covers the first €4,000 of treatment in a year. And while that may seem like a decent amount of cover, an MRI scan for your dog costs €1,000, before you've even get to the cost of surgery and after-care. And do you really want to deny your pet some treatment because you can't afford it?

No published prices

Part of the problem that contributes towards surprising vet bills is that vets themselves don't publish their prices. Go on, do a search online (I'll wait), and see if you can find any prices listed on a vet's website. I couldn't find any.

The only way (besides bringing your animal in for treatment) is ring around a few vets and get a quote for a specific procedure or treatment – that's if you even know what your pet needs. And even then the people on the phone can be a bit evasive about what is or isn't included in that price – which makes it hard to compare costs.

My wife was trying recently to get prices for routine booster inoculations and for a scale/polish of our dog's teeth, and called three vets to get a quote. The prices varied hugely between the different vets, and there didn't seem to be any pricing consistency within any single veterinary practice. One vet would be the cheapest for one procedure, but also the most expensive for another.

So the only way to get the cheapest treatment, if you're concerned about costs, is to take your animal to different vets for different treatments. But if you do, where's the continuity of care? What happens if a new vet doesn't have access to historical medical records?

It's little wonder that pet owners often pick one vet – often based on location, or a personal recommendation – and stick with them for everything their pet needs, even though they often have no idea what any of the treatment might end up costing. 

Free Revolut cards in Ireland

I just got an email from Revolut to say that they're offering the next 10,000 to sign up in Ireland a free prepaid Mastercard. 

It's apparently to celebrate Revolut opening an office in Ireland. And instead of the usual €6 fee to order the first card on the account, they are going to wave this fee.

Revolut is great for anyone who travels, or who orders anything from abroad. The mobile app-based prepaid credit card offers much better exchange rates than a traditional banks, credit cards, or foreign currency exchanges.

My wife and I used the card extensively on a holiday to the USA a few months back, and must have saved about a hundred euros in currency transfer fees. I also use the card to buy things in pounds sterling from Amazon.

How much can I save?

At the time of writing, buying something from Amazon costing £50 will cost you:

  • €58.07 if you choose to pay in Euros rather than Pounds at the Amazon checkout
  • €57.38 if you pay with a Bank of Ireland card
  • €55.81 is you pay with a Revolut card

I don't know about you, but I'd rather keep that couple of euros difference! 

What other features does it have?

  • Mobile app to control your account
  • Instant loading of funds using your debit/credit card
  • Multiple wallets in different currencies
  • Buy and sell Crypocurrencies
  • Transaction notifications on your phone
  • Premium card option with additional benefits
  • Gadget and travel insurance available
  • Physical and virtual mastercards
  • Security options, and ability to set spending limits and change PIN

Disputing fraudulent transactions with N26 bank

I had the unfortunate experience in the last few days of my N26 card being cloned, and a whole bunch of fraudulent transactions cleared out my balance.

The first I realised that something was wrong was a series of transaction notifications late on Saturday night. And when I checked the N26 app on my phone I saw loads of fraudulent transactions.

This has happened in the past with a credit card from a traditional bank, and I've simply called the 24 hour phone number of the bank, and queried the transactions over the phone. But N26 don't have a 24 hour support number, and it seems the process to get this sorted with them is a bit more complicated.

Blocking the card

The first thing I did when I saw the fraudulent transactions was to disable my card in the mobile app. You can do this from the Cards settings. I turned off all the options, and locked the card.

I then used the app to order a new card. My existing card number is compromised, so there's no point trying to use it again. Unfortunately it'll take a few days to get a new card – because I can't avail of the expedited service available to German residents.

I guess I'll also have to use cash until my new card arrives. I've gotten used to paying for pretty-much everything using contactless payments recently, so it's going to be strange going back to coins and notes.

Disputing the transactions

I tried calling the N26 support number on their website as soon as I saw the dodgy transactions, but they don't open 24 hours a day so I got a recorded office-closed message.

The contact page has local phone numbers for each country. The one for Ireland is a VoIP number, and isn't included in the free minutes on my mobile plan.

N26 support advised me that I needed to fill in a Disputed Transactions Form for each of fraudulent transactions, scan the pages, and then email to support(Replace this with the @ sign)n26.com">support(Replace this with the @ sign)n26.com.

I have 6 fraudulent transactions, so that's six 4-page forms that I need to fill in and send off.

And you need to wait until the transactions are confirmed before submitting the forms. In the app, if you see a blue dot on the icon beside the transaction then it's still pending. It's only when the blue dot disappears that it's confirmed – and this might take 3-4 days to happen.

On the N26 Online Banking portal, you need to check the Statements sections for the current month. Only when they appear on the statement will they be confirmed.

The disputed transaction form also needs to show the date of the transaction on this Statement. I filled in the forms with the date/time from the mobile app – the date/time the fraudster actually made the transaction – and I had all my claims rejected. So I need to re-submit all my forms again!

Then I need to wait for N26 to query the transaction with Mastercard, and hopefully initiate charge-backs to recover the funds, which might take a while. Until then I don't have access to my money.

Resultant problems

While I wait for my new card, I can't spend anything – which is fine, because the fraudsters took all my money. I can't top up my phone, or order anything online, because I don't have a card.

Also there are two direct debits on my account have been rejected as unpaid, because I don't have sufficient funds – and I'm also going to be charged bank fees for those failed direct debits!

So all-in-all I'm not particularly happy about the situation, and it's making me reconsider whether I want to continue using N26 for my banking. I can't help but think that other banks would deal with this a lot better.

VAT rates on Amazon

I live in Ireland but often buy things from Amazon in the UK.

I sometimes use services like Parcel Motel or AddressPal to buy items that won't deliver to Ireland. But it's also worth considering using these services to make a saving on VAT as well.

Amazon applies the VAT rate at checkout on goods according to the delivery address you select:

  • If you use a UK delivery address, the price displayed in the checkout is the advertised price on the site, based on a VAT rate of 20%
  • If you use an Irish delivery address, the price displayed in the checkout will be recalculated based on a VAT rate of 23%

This is because Amazon are required by the EU to collect VAT based on the country the customer lives in.

So, for instance, if you want to buy a set of headphones for £299.99, and get them delivered to the UK, then you will pay £299.99. But if you get them delivered to an Irish address, then you will pay £306.48. That's nothing to do with shipping costs – both addresses can get free shipping – that's because of the extra 3% VAT charged to Irish consumers.

When you think that Parcel Motel charges €3.95 at the moment to redirect a parcel from the UK to Ireland, you can still save a couple of quid.

And if you're buying something really expensive, such as a top of the line Microsoft Surface Pro 4 for £1,799.99 it could cost you an additional £45 if it gets delivered to Ireland. But it's worth noting that if you do consider taking delivery through Parcel Motel, their standard insurance only covers parcels up to a value of €100. To increase the insurance cover you need to pay an additional €10.50 to get extended liability cover for €1,500.

Foreign currency transfers

Changing money between different currencies can be expensive.

Traditional banks buy and sell foreign currencies from/to their customers at rates vastly different from the exchange rates you might see on the news. And while they may claim they don’t change fees, they do earn quite a bit of money by adding a mark-up to the exchange rate being offered.

There are, however, a number of disruptive financial companies emerging that can save you money. Companies like TransferWise, Revolut, and others.

For example:

  • a Bank of Ireland transfer of €1,000 to a UK bank will get you £887.80.
  • Using TransferWise to move the same €1,000 will get you £909.45. That’s a difference of £21.65 – or 2.5%!
  • Using Revolut to transfer the €1,000 will get you £914.00. That’s a difference of £26.20 – or 3%

And as the numbers get bigger, the difference will start to matter a lot more. Move €5,000 and the difference between Bank of Ireland and Revolut is £131, so it’s definitely worth shopping around.

And if you want some cash in a foreign currency, the one thing to remember is to never ever change money at the airport. That’s where you’ll get the very worst rates. The same €1,000 converted to pounds at ICE in Dublin airport would get you just £861.

The best thing is to wait until you arrive at your destination, and then use the Revolut card to withdraw cash from an ATM. The first €200 ATM withdrawal per month doesn’t incur any fees – after that there is a 2% fee – but it’s still better value.