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Personal finance roundup: what's happened this May?

What's going on with the new fiver? Have the laws changed with ISAs? Here's our financial news roundup for May

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We've put together a summary of the latest personal finance news from the past month.

Throughout May, the news has been largely dominated by the snap general election on June 8. But, while the world of personal finance was out of the limelight, it was no less eventful.

Here are some of the highlights:

You can finally open a lifetime ISA

Announced in April 2016 and officially launched in April 2017, lifetime ISAs are tax-free individual savings accounts aimed at younger savers.

To be eligible, you must be aged 18 to 39. You can save up to £4,000 a year and the government will throw in £1,000 a year - a 25% bonus. You can use the ISA either to buy your first property or to save for retirement.

Despite being launched over a month ago, no high street bank has offered them. But now, the first lifetime ISA has finally hit the market, thanks to mobile investment platform Nutmeg. MyMoneyBox, another online platform specialising in micro-investing - that is, investing your spare change - will be launching its own lifetime ISA soon, too.

You can inherit an ISA tax-free

You can now inherit your spouse or civil partner’s ISA savings without losing their tax-free status. The rules were introduced back in April 2015, but they only came into force this May.

Under the old rules, interest earned on an ISA was only tax-free until death. This meant that anyone who inherited an ISA would have to start paying tax on the full amount, including all the interest earned over the years.

Under the new rules, you’re entitled to a one-time additional tax-free allowance - called an APS - that covers the value of the ISA you’ve inherited. So, if you inherit an ISA worth £30,000, your ISA allowance for 2017/18 would be £50,000: this year’s allowance of £20,000 plus the £30,000 you’ve inherited.

To be eligible, you must be married or in a civil partnership. You have three years from the date of your spouse or civil partner’s death to make use of this one-time additional allowance.

Mortgage APRs reach all-time lows

If you’re thinking of buying property, now could be a great time to do so. Interest rates are at unprecedented lows, with some banks and building societies offering APRs as low as 0.89%.

The best rates do come with a few catches. In particular, they’re fixed for five years, which means you may lose out if interest rates drop further during that period. You’ll also need to put up a 40% deposit, which may be more than many can afford.

That said, interest rates are low across the board. In other words, you can probably snap up a great mortgage deal even with a 20% to 25% deposit and a smaller fixed-rate period.

Of course, your credit report and score may influence the interest rate a lender is prepared to offer you. So it’s never too early to start monitoring your report and working on your score to make it the best it can be.

Samsung Pay finally arrives in the UK

Launched in 2015, Samsung Pay has lagged behind its rivals Apple Pay and Android Pay due to availability problems. It was originally meant to reach the UK in mid-2016, but the release date was pushed back indefinitely to sometime in 2017.

Well, the wait is finally over. Samsung Pay is available in the UK as of the 16 May 2017.

Samsung Pay works in a similar way to Apple Pay and Android Pay. However, it also uses a technology called magnetic secure transmission (MST). This works in a similar way to a card’s magstripe, which means Samsung Pay works even with payment terminals that aren’t contactless-enabled.

Unfortunately, Samsung Pay currently only supports a limited number of banks and card providers, namely Santander, Nationwide and MNBA. You’ll also need a Samsung Galaxy S6 or up to use it.

So long, old fiver

Old £5 notes - which were replaced by the new plastic £5 in September - ceased to be legal tender on May 5. This means they’ll no longer be accepted in shops, bars, restaurants and other establishments around the UK.

But if you still have the odd old fiver lying around, fear not. You can exchange it for a brand new £5 note at the Bank of England or at the Post Office. High street banks can also keep accepting the old notes. However, this is entirely at their discretion, so it’s best to call your local branch and ask first.

Once you have your brand new fiver, you might want to check its serial code. The first batch of new £5 notes have become sought-after collector’s items. Those with codes starting AA01 in particular have been known to fetch up to £80,000 at auction.

Who said a fiver can’t buy you anything these days?