How much longer can offshore account-holders hide from the taxman?

Offshore accounts have long been a tidy way of tucking earnings out of sight of the taxman. But not any more.

The taxman is on the rampage and heading to an offshore account near you. In a landmark ruling, Barclays has been forced to divulge details of hundreds of thousands of customers with offshore accounts. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is expected to collect £1.5bn in unpaid tax as a result, according to Ian Cowie in The Daily Telegraph. And the probe is unlikely to stop with Barclays. Accountants are predicting that HMRC could force other banks to open up their record books. In all, about three million Britons are thought to have offshore accounts and one in five has probably not paid the correct amount of tax, if they have paid any at all.

If you are resident and domiciled in the UK, you have to declare interest on your savings, whether the bank is in Chigwell or the Channel Islands. You are also liable for income tax in the normal way. Penalties for tax dodging can be harsh. If you have failed to declare income, you will have to pay the tax due, plus interest, plus a fine of up to 100% of the unpaid tax.

The taxman is no doubt after a much bigger prize than the unpaid tax on undeclared interest. HMRC suspects that many people, particularly the self-employed, are shoving money offshore because they don't want to pay tax on their profits, says Lucy Warwick-Ching in the FT. And it looks like its gearing up a wider crackdown. If you've been keeping shtoom about an offshore account whether wittingly or not my advice is to start talking.

Overdraft penalty charges make me see red

Punitive charges and poor service have led to a surge in complaints about high-street banks, says David Budworth in The Sunday Times. The biggest bugbears are penalty fees for accidental overdrafts and slow cheque clearance. Lloyds won a lot of publicity recently for its decision to pay interest on cheques immediately, before they have cleared. But unsurprisingly, it comes with strings attached and it still doesn't explain why clearance takes so long.

Penalty charges are my personal bte noir. How many of you have fallen victim to the most exorbitant charges by slipping into the red by just a few pounds? I hope the recent if belated intervention by the Office of Fair Trading will cap the charges at £12, but I'm not holding my breath. If you have seriously had enough, you could switch banks. Or and this is much more fun try the website set up by Richard Branson's Virgin Money (www.loseyouranger.com). You can get your own back by taking a wrecking ball to the bank of your choice. It worked for me!  

Act fast before fixed-rate mortgages are scrapped

If you want a cheap, fixed-rate mortgage, you'd better act fast. A number of lenders are scrapping their best fixes, says Jo Thornhill in The Mail on Sunday. The City is expecting interest rates to go up. It may not always be right, but if you want a two-year fix for less than 4.5%, there's no time to lose.

How to avoid big stamp duty bills

Stamp duty is the rather nasty side effect of the housing boom. If you a buying a property for £500,000 or more, you pay stamp duty at 4%, to give you a bill of at least £20,000. There is one way to avoid a big bill: build your own home. Apparently, there's a bit of a self-build craze going on it accounts for about 12% of all news homes built each year.

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