Friday, 29 January 2010

Death to Epsom printers

I think you should know

There's no doubt that switching to posterous from Mr Site is gaining a Zero-credit audience - thanks! However, you may be wondering why zero-credit seems prolific some days and uneventful others. 


When I launched in June 2009, I was working as a supply teacher and am now on a part-time contract which leaves me one day a week to work on Zero-credit. I'm also a mum!


As I add more of the old blog, you'll be able to see the deliberations I've had about formalising Zero-credit's not for profit status - as ever thanks to the countless third sector and not for profit agencies who've recognised it as such.


I'm currently working on a model which should effect this formally by the start of the new financial year and I aim to be working pretty much full time on Zero-credit and associated social enterprise from August / September.


In the meantime thanks for all the comments and links to relevant reading, especially the Links UK series this week on Poverty in the Media (via Rob Dyson):

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Big up my Little(woods)voice

@LittlewoodsDeal tweeted me today, saying that if I called their service team I could stop the type of call that offers me extended payment at 29.9% APR over three years. Actually I'm quite impressed they had the wherewithal to reply (I had tweeted as well as blogged my dissatisfaction).

The thing is though, I personally don't want to stop receiving calls like this because they keep my fingers firmly on the pulse of sub-prime lending. What interests me most is not stopping calls to me as an individual, so much as stopping this type of call altogether. It's an issue I've considered before, on audioboo - citing the "institutional benefit fraud" of energy companies making a mint from those who pay cash, cheque or worse still, by meter.

You see, I don't agree at all that folk on low incomes have no lending alternatives - saving with a Credit Union strikes me as an inordinately superior method for securing access to emergency funds should you need it - especially when doorstep lenders and loan sharks can look so incredibly similar to a mum rushed off her feet and worn down by the poverty trap. I want none of these extended payments, pay day loans, cash any cheque, pay for view and cash for gold millarkey - they're rot.

The question I most want us, as a nation, to ask ourselves is less which individual is scrounging off the welfare state, but which organisations are preying on such folk with products capable only of perpetuating their misery? How much of the £53 million pre-tax profits made by Provident in the first half of 2009 is accounted for by tax payers' money? How much does Littlewoods make from targeting customers after Christmas? Or Brighthouse? Or Yes Car, oops, ACF car credit?

Let's face it, we only endure the inflated prices of such schemes when we cannot afford to pay in full up front (precisely what I did shopping online, post unemployment over the Summer). And I don't mind a certain degree of inflation - I know full well that the 20 and 38 weeks models include a premium for paying piecemeal (I had a discount voucher I'd been saving to that end, enabling me to even things out btw). However, the cynicism of a marketing strategy, which involves selling yet more credit to those who have already bought on some form of deferred payment so as to brave a downturn, in the week or so before the end of January leaves me seething.

We need a shift in culture. Credit is what has got us into this mess - and no, I don't believe the Crunch has gone away - therefore selling more of the blasted stuff is unlikely to bring us out of it. Somewhere along the line, we have to realise that in a country where 50% of us own 7% of all private wealth, credit will be the straw which breaks the camel's back.  

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


One of the benefits of running Zero-credit whilst housed in a modest council home is getting the lending garb first hand. Today, Littlewoods, no doubt in a carefully crafted post Xmas drive - it is afterall a week till I get paid again after the festive splurge  - have called to ask me if I'd like to reduce my payments over a longer term: 3 years to be precise. When I said "I don't do interest", the indignant reply was "But it's a fixed term" - as though I was quite mad for contemplating any differently.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Faking it - part 2

Boobs, butts and buxom bits are high on the surgical agenda, yet how long are big breasts going to stay up with what’s hot, never mind upon a chest after a few score years?  

To bypass nip and tuck, explore control pants and girdles in a totally new class.  You can even use “chicken fillets” to pad out what’s missing, for who knows what frippery next season may bring.  Why not see if old shoulder pads will boost bra or booty - how else do you think the designers come up with the idea?


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Faking it - part 1

If you’ve ever wondered how celebrities continue to look good, airbrush apart, it’s often basic stage make-up tricks that they use.  For blemish and age-defying results, follow a theatrical, film and TV set make-up guide.  

Find out where to highlight, shade and how to trim or plump up your nose, mouth or chin, according to the prevailing light.  If your ears flash with excitement - the real windows to the soul - apply foundation to these too.  

You’ll need to be subtler than performers because your audience is more personal, but trial and error should eventually bring you a round of applause.

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top shop spots

Living in a less than cosmopolitan area, the trick to Zero-credit is shopping further afield, where others fail to go. Little towns like Loughborough or Aberystwyth, with good University and keen to be quirky consumers have streets lined with retro and small scale designers, not always at a discount, but daring to be different.

In smart towns with delusions of grandeur, local boutiques send surplus to charity once or twice a year, causing consternation when hundreds of pounds hats go on sale for a snip. Kensington Church Street is a heady mix of high street designed clearance and haute couture hand-me-downs, in which even tailor made Versacchi can be found to fit you.

To know your local haunts, scan the weekly rag for highest house prices and visit charity shops there - likewise, make credit free savings at car boot sales in popular retirement resorts.  Due credit to Penny Go Lightly too, who specialises in up to the minute fashion sales news.

Markets are good, so long as you know what to expect. It's no use scouring for vintage at knock off Nigel's stall. To be fair they're not knock offs - good markets veto that.  Rough Guides are useful for checking out what's what and use hyperlocal what's on sites  for church fêtes with all manner of saintly surprises. Though, if you know it's worth a mint, help pay for the new roof.

For accessories and trim, you can't beat a good fabric market like Nuneaton. Centralised clearance ventures, where local fads hold no sway, are another excellent source for the relatively original. Littlewoods Clearance are good for basics and staples, Next Clearance for quality menswear (although these are very difficult to find other than word of mouth - Corporation Street, Birmingham -  shh!).


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bag a fashion statement

Sale stock tends to shift trends which are on their way out, so shop selectively to make credit free savings.

There isn't a soul you'd be ashamed to meet in that bastion of British bloomers and purveyor of timeless classics, Marks & Spencer. The only extra it will cost is a catch-up cup of coffee in the in-store café.

Claim a carrier which says it all and recycle at will to show freedom from financial woes. Tuck a trifle from the likes of Liberty in a branded plastic bag, then parade your Zero-credit habit with pride.



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buy now, pay... less

Most money saving tipsters will tell you that it's best to bogof when toiletries are on offer. However, ends of line and half-price deals allow you to experiment with something new. Look for products from manufacturers you like and trust in this overly diversified market. Sure, there's momentary grief as some limited edition reaches its last ever scraping, but you'll soon find the term limited means nothing of the sort.

Future proof your wash bag by hitting the sales well after New Year. A large branch of Boots or similar will often have designer packages from Christmas up for clearance by Valentine's Day, so you get discount goodies with accessories thrown in credit free! By February most loyal customers are heavily indebted, making it all the more of an ego boost to flash your cash when others can't.

You'll make regular savings because whilst the summer sales are okay, un-cleared goods do a second round at the end of the winter sales, making this is a far better time to sort a new season wardrobe. You're more likely to know your commitments and the Sunday papers should have featured some fashion previews by then.


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Back to school costs

An on site on online shop, offering cost price equipment and simple uniform show pragmatic regard for your pocket. Having the same kit as other kids means yours may enjoy some respite from going without. The CAB Adding Up campaign offers guidance to schools and parents to make equipment costs more affordable – an issue you should feel confident in taking to the Parent Council, Governing Body or PTA, if you need to.

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aged 16 or over
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school policy or politic?

Copy and paste phrases from a prospectus into Google to spot rehashed childcare guidance. Those who pay attention to detail are more likely to tackle injustice – important when you consider that money worries are not your child's fault. Check policies are backed up with procedures - what will be done if your child is bullied, for example? Bullying UK has excellent resources for schools, parents and kids. Think about schools and nurseries as employers too - newsletters should inform you of staff turnover and you can seek reasons for frequent of recent job adverts during a visit. Remember, continuity builds trust, which a child from a troubled home may need.

Want a say in how we do things?

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is open to anyone, 
aged 16 or over
with personal experience of debt.

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How to pick a good state school

No school will claim anything less than the best, but the contradiction of rising examination results against reports of failing schools is a clear indication that your politics are being played - a good rating isn't always what's best for you or your child. A significant proportion of results just above the national average can mask a conceit to deliver only the bare minimum - helpful for a child who achieves below this, less so for one who surpasses it.  The distribution of results at every grade will show which abilities are best catered for. Sudden improvements can indicate a shift in the goal posts, so check whether a new qualification kick-starts or hides real achievement, before deciding what meets your needs.


Want a say in how we do things?

For £1 a year, Zero-credit membership
is open to anyone, 
aged 16 or over
with personal experience of debt.

Come on, join us today!

Monday, 18 January 2010

original sin


Creativity has been at the forefront of my mind all weekend. It started early on Friday, when I finished the last of my Journey out of Debt articles for - on making the most of a tight energy budget - Survival of the Skintest. There's something about the dictum that "needs must" - it brings out the right kind of fight in us - taking on extreme challenges, overcoming adversity. We think originally, creatively to find new solutions to old problems.

And I guess that's where I'm at - the brink of an original creation, promoting sustainability where I live. But it's weird because for the past few weeks I have ignored family life to focus on this, zero-credit, conkertu and plans yet to come. I've pretty much left my son to his own devices, nocturnal and needless in a game fuelled teenfest as Christmas and the weather turned school work upside down.

Then the rain came, and with it reality. 6th form applications need to be in. We went to an open day at Burton College, where I learned that Will and I have far more in common than I ever imagined - he's interested in poverty, climate change and human rights. That evening, he joined us for the Donisthorpe Wassail (photo courtesy of Phil Campbell who so totally covered this wonderful event: and But it's been so long since Will came out with us, I was over the moon.

Just now, I audioboo'd a piece of Will's GCSE English Coursework, completed this afternoon in a fitting culmination to a most amazing weekend. 

Food for mind, soul and reflection, provided simply by people sharing memories, skills and ideas. I take zero-credit for the magic that's been recorded this weekend, accepting fully the culpability of ignoring my son. And this is it. If there is such a thing as sin in this world it sure as hell ain't original, for in creation itself is the life blood of what's best. More like this, please!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Zero-credit accepted

There isn't one single person who knows for sure whether they'll be accepted or declined for credit. Every lender has a different set of criteria, many of them automated, and all of them carefully concealed between layer upon layer of computer generated ifs and buts to prevent fraud. So, there can be no shame in having poor credit, or debts, come to that. It's how you approach the problem which determines whether your intentions are honourable.

Whether you've lost your job, been ill or even on a silly spending spree, the biggest mistake you can ever make is borrowing when you feel down, because you'll pay for it with more than you can imagine in risk associated premiums. Personally, I find this exploitation of fear immoral. What's more, it's as damaging to original creditors as it is to debtors themselves and for this reason alone, the credit and debt market is huge. Many commercial debt counsellors specialise in passing themselves of as recognised charities, so it's small wonder that people become trapped. 

I'll be posting some more on spotting the bad guys but for the time being one of my top new tips is: - Do us all a favour and pass it on!

Progress with Stock Transfer


Monday, 11 January 2010

Pawn stars

There was a jingle on the radio today - cash for gold - to the tune of a nursery rhyme and sung by a child. I don't like these ads at the best of times, but this one jarred because pawn features heavily in my conversations of late. 

My experience of selling up isn't great. By the time I graduated in 1988 my parents had sold our London home for £18,000 and our Welsh cottage for £36,000. Both are now worth well in excess of a half a million and I have yet to earn enough to buy either. Still, after a decade of quite literally selling the family silver, my parents walked away debt free. 

Fifteen years on, I was not so lucky, selling the last of remnants of an inheritance before my house was repossessed. From a dog eared copy of an antiques guide, I had a price in mind, set above the bottom line, which in real terms was what I needed. What I remember most is the indignity of the snap mental arithmetic - stall outlay plus recalculated budget - before selling well under reserve.  

Such is the reality of selling valuables, not some ditty sung by kids. The funds invariably keeps families fed, clothed and warm, so I am struck by the macarbre irony of a target market that is parents desperate to provide for a child. Pawn stars indeed.

Zero-credit Emma



My Dad was an international opera singer. Until I was about thirteen, he was very successful. Yet by the time I left university, my parents had split, sold two homes and owned little more than a couple of grand between them. Ahead of our time with celebrity secrets, we'd tried everything not to let it show.

Twenty years on, I've been a market researcher, turned social researcher and now, I'm a teacher. Last year, I witnessed a pupil experiencing much the same as I had in my teens and I thought this has to stop: it's about time I blew the whistle, so here goes.

I declared bankrupt in October 2002. Alone with a small child, I quit self-employment in 2000 to do a PGCE. I'd spent two years trying to keep financial ruin at bay, making all sorts of debt offers I couldn't afford. There's not much a parent won't do to hide nasty strangers and put food on the table, so I'm not proud of my actions. 

At least one person is angry that my mess caused problems, but as I tried to explain, what else could I do? I never set out to default on a loan. I tried every which way to sell my house. Cash flow in my research business had dried up, so I didn't have the money to take my debtors to court.

A cousin lent me a couple of hundred pounds for the administration charge and I met the Official Receiver in Leicester. I remember exactly where I parked. I cannot turn a street corner there without thinking about it. Yet, the only people who noticed were the so called debt managers, aiming to turn a profit. 

My declaration was met with a deluge of letters warning me about the horrors of bankruptcy. Well, tough. At last someone other than me was trying to shut the barn door after the horse had bolted.  Finally, I was free from the anguish in which I had not acted rationally. 

Head in the sand, I had hidden from bailiffs, accepted shoddy credit to tide me over, converted valuables into cash and cashed cheques at a loss, only to succumb to the scare tactics of anyone who shouldn't have lent me money in the first place. More of my original creditors would have been paid if I'd known then what I know now about credit and debt. 

We need to recognise bankruptcy as a financial tool, not beat about the bush of urban legends. If you own a lot, you will lose it, whereas essentials are rarely sold off. That's important to know. I was so close to the breadline with a family to care for and nothing to keep us on that it really was my last option. Still, I'd never have been cornered into taking it, if I wasn't so scared.

Since discharge, I've looked at ISAs for which I'm not eligible and bank accounts that I can't open either. Wading through the fine print of products ultimately not on offer, there have been countless gateways to a credit history, suggesting that I borrow at an astronomical rate to come back to the fold. 

Zero-credit was my answer - just wait for the cash... Invariably, it came sooner than I expected and always with options; sometimes a stop gap, yet remarkably, at times, even better than I had hoped for. A younger person might prefer to rebuild a credit history, an older one to hang on to their assets. I saw taking credit as a matter of personal choice.

Then came the Credit Crunch. With the collapse of financial markets the world needed to take stock. Consumer borrowing is now inextricably linked to investments which are making a poor return, so it's small wonder that debt is interesting. Drawn in by ads that use words like trust, security and release, watch out for the con in consolidate - lenders playing on your insecurities with good cop, bad cop routines. I, for one, have had enough of dodgy debt ads, so here it is, Zero-credit to the max! 

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