Monday, 1 October 2012

Which is more shocking?


A few years ago there was an outcry when Carol Vorderman advertised debt consolidation loans that put borrowers' homes at risk. But what of that bastion on pensioners' settees, David Dickenson? Does any celebrity really need to scrape a living from ads for one of the world's oldest professions? It's not as if we've never heard of pawnbroking, Dave.

Promoting 500 stores, hunting for a bargain that borrowers can pawn, Dickenson presents The Money Shop's offer with sickening ease. Never mind that these chains are often strategically located next to betting shops, nor that their expansion fuels a whole new wave of family tensions, likely to be heightened by a Universal Credit paid to households and not individuals. No mention of the fact that for the young and vulnerable, these places look like some nirvana stacked with readies. And if you ask the police to investigate a personal property theft these days? Well, heaven help you!  Cashing in shops were a haven for the rioters last summer.

In Parenting for Pawn, we illustrated just how much a minefield these off the shelf pawn-brokers can be, cutting everything down to the lowest common denominator. No experts here, to cast an informed eye over your heirlooms and assests, just a quick check on E-bay to see what something that looks like what you're selling is fetching these days. A Bargain Hunt indeed.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

#CfRCconference2012 - what was that all about?

Karen Michael from the London Borough of Southwark talking about the Universal Credit pilot in Southwark

On Wednesday 26th September, Emma Bryn-Jones went to the annual conference of the Centre for Responsible Credit, in London, a fantastic charity that works under the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion.

The CfRC conference is always a highlight because it brings together an effective mix of alternative and mainstream thought. For instance, alongside government ministers and their shadows, you will find international authorities on evaluating credit use, as well as local projects to tackle indebtedness and promote financial inclusion. This year was no exception.

Our focus was to learn more about welfare reform, so we skipped debt advice with the Money Advice Service and payday lending with Stella Creasy, to get stuck in with ideas and experiences we know less about. Highlights of the day included a superb presentation from Toynbee Hall, about development research to map the impact of money advice and other financial inclusion work, and some inspired community participation that harnessed Buy As You View customers from Teeside, with the company that serves them.

“I take away more questions than conclusions,” said Emma.“The immediate issue seems to be how Universal Credit will be paid, to a household rather than to an individual, potentially into a managed or prepaid account, if you are unbanked or not paying bills on time, and this raises all sorts of issues about independence, risk taking and decision-making. We are in very real danger of some of the poorest people paying for the right to bank in this country, which feels very wrong,” said Emma.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Life is too important to be taken seriously

I may get into trouble for posting this pic, but I don't care!  It seems to be cached at Pinterest but I am pretty damned sure they don't own the copyright, since it has been engraved on my memory for well over 30 years. That said, I'll give them #duecredit for allowing me to share it with you, because it has guided me throughout my entire adult life.


You see, this photo, together with the caption "LIfe is too important to be taken seriously" was on a motivational poster, illustrated with photos of animals, in my form room, when I was at school. I loved it and still do.

Perhaps because my parents collected models of elephants and religiously pointed them facing the doorway, I have a thing about elephants. Elephants never forget.

Every day in my work at Zero-credit, I never forget my childhood. It looms as an atavistic call to stand by what generations of my family have strived for, social justice, human rights, empathy with one's fellow man. Life is so important that you just have to embrace, nurture and love it for every second of every day. It makes me cry until I am overwhelmed with joy at the sheer blinding and blissful simplicity of it all.

You cannot destroy me with all your regulations and reforms, your ducking and diving to avoid these, or your connivance to come out on top, for you are at one with me. There is nothing which places one human being above another in this world, nothing whatsoever.

Lift me out of poverty, destitution and debt, would you? Quit standing on my shoulders and I shall achieve the greatest heights. No. We shall achieve our greatest heights together. I am reminded of Will Smith at Live8 citing our "state of interdependence". So, before you frown, why not laugh with me?  Life is way too important to be taken seriously.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Would YOU pay for debt help?

Understanding the range of help available to debtors is essential for two reasons. Firstly, it prepares us to act against any adversity (sensible in a vulnerable economy) and secondly, it allows us to contribute to outcomes that are fair to the consumer. The latter is important because when we stigmatise debtors, we create conditions that are ripe for abuse. 

Collectively, we owe around £1.5 trillion in personal borrowing – per capita, that’s about 122% of average earnings. When you increase the availability of credit as we did over the first decade of the millennium, it follows that you increase the extent of indebtedness. To be a debtor is no longer extraordinary, yet to share the experience openly remains taboo.

Reliable debt help can be elusive in the UK – it is all too easy to profit from shame. “On their heads be it,” you may say, “debtors are irresponsible”, but for every penny that is diverted into profit, we pay the price. Yet, who is without profit-motive in the incentive to repay?

Impartial money advice is least likely to prevail within the vulnerability of indebtedness. From the politician who seeks election, to the charity that needs funding, the business that must be viable, professionals who protect their employment, the lender who earns interest and the borrower who seeks relief, we all have a stake in failed credit agreements.

In Who Pays for Debt help? we advised that “UK debt professionals have four months to come up with a workable plan to provide a consistent standard of debt help – specifically for Debt Management Plans”. Isn’t it time you had your say?

We’ll be blogging more on funding for debt help and the Debt Management Protocol over the coming weeks and welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Can't pay? Must pay...


Still struggling with the autopost of a boo-player - we'll get there...

#duecredit to @kangaroocaught who inspired Emma to think even further about the costs of living

Monday, 3 September 2012

Back Attack


Getting back to work after the summer break and gearing up for our third year of trading as a co-operative!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Wake up and smell the coffee!


Goodness, a lot has changed on Audioboo - looks like we may need to invest in a Plus or Pro account. Still, #duecredit to the developers - it's a great product!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Who pays for debt help?

UK debt professionals have four months to come up with a workable plan to provide a consistent standard of debt help – specifically for Debt Management Plans. One of the main reasons we hear so little about developments like this, is that many of us still believe that debtors should simply knuckle down and pay back what they owe. They’ve done the crime, must do the time. It’s as simple as that.

Since the 2008 crunch, personal borrowing has stood at around £1.5 trillion. Its victims are increasingly ordinary people so embarrassed by their debts that they suffer in silence: small businesses on dodgy swap rates, those in broken relationships, or mis-sold PPI, the jobless, injured and sick. Repayment plus penalties and charges creates a never-ending story, yet credit was bought “subject to status” – surely, the lenders calculated risk and included this in their costs?

Every now and then, we see headlines that people owe less than they did, that bankruptcies are falling and delivering an upbeat take on recovery. Yet four years and two opposing governments later, personal borrowing has not budged, and our economy continues to limp either side of a persistently precarious flat line.

Stuff the party political blame game and the media, marketing an elevator pitch. We all know that recovery requires spending, but trapped by an unpaid bill, this will not happen. The solvent may switch to an ethical provider or preferential rate, the politicians may print money, but what happens when a growing body of no-credit check numpties can no longer repay? It does not help to marginalise the desperate.

Like it or not, our finances are interdependent, all needing somebody, somewhere to pay on time. We share a vested interest in the availability of credit and debt help, because defaults and arrears affect the solvency of us all. With financial services under scrutiny for all manner of dodgy dealings, we simply cannot afford to look away. We need to find the bad apples and deal with them fast.

“Who pays for debt help?” is an essential question because in handing responsibility for debt advice signposting to the Money Advice Service, the government has effected a creditor funded resource. Perhaps you agree that lenders should bear the cost of unsustainable credit, or maybe you question their impartiality. Either way, “Who pays for debt help?” is a complex issue that demands our attention.

We’ll be blogging more on funding for debt help and the Debt Management Protocol over the coming weeks and welcome your comments.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The UK's Leading Debt Help?


Here at Zero-credit, we're always checking out what professionals say about themselves. We've been Mystery Shopping for online credit and debt help since November 2010 - it's all part of our commitment to making informed choices together.

The Claims Trend
Recently, there's been an increase in claims that "we're the UK's leading debt specialist", so we thought we'd ask you what qualifies someone to state this.

Because we're interested in genuine consumer opinions, we are asking professionals to refrain from taking part. By all means have a look at our questions - we think you'll find them fair - but we will name and shame anyone who tries to play the system...


Monday, 9 July 2012

Back to Basics Banking


We had the good fortune to connect with EUFFI (the European Foundation for Financial Inclusion) on Twitter the other day and we like what they're doing!

Ever since Zero-credit was the seed of an idea, we've been great believers in basic banking (note that MoneyMadeClear is now the Money Advice Service):



The thing is, you simply cannot access basic household goods and services without a bank account these days, so it makes sense to set down in law that banks must provide these.

We've all seen with the recent Cookie Law how much clout the EU can carry, so let's back EUFFI to campaign for a fairer deal for us all.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

??47 million to #Liebor


The face of Jerry del Missier, the man who took £47 million for alleged rate-fixing. In March 2011, the Daily Mail ran an article: Greed 'is good': Anger as Barclays bosses hand themselves up to £47m a head in pay and bonuses - and then claim it's in best interests of Britain. It featured this neat little graphic of executive earnings:


Of course, we could argue whether anyone should earn £47 million, especially from employment in which risks are taken with someone else's money, but that's another debate.

The real question lies in the judgement of an industry prepared to pay such wages without even checking the legality of what staff are doing. Since when were the "best interests" of any country served by lies and deceit?

Until recently, were we told that to toughen regulation would result in an exodus of top talent, yet a century or so ago, such talent would be in exodus to a penal colony.

Homes and businesses may have been lost to the lining of Mr del Missier's pocket, a pocket aggrandized by a whole host of denial in which ordinary people are suffering.

Four years we have been waiting to sort this mess out, yet all we see from Westminster are "vote for me" soundbites and spin. Never mind whether an enquiry is judge-led or parliamentary, get the Serious Fraud Office in, get our money back and give us some justice.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Itching to Switch Bank?

The Barclays LIBOR scandal is just about the last straw for British bank customers.

You don’t have to know what LIBOR is (the interest rate at which banks lend to each other); or whether the fact that banks, including Barclays, were trying to manipulate it meant you paid more or less for your mortgage to be furious that there seem to be no depths to which the banking fraternity will not stoop.

The rate-fiddle came hard on the heels of IT meltdown at RBS and NatWest that locked customers out of their accounts, halted payments and still hasn’t been fully resolved. Benighted customers of RBS subsidiary Ulster Bank have been told that they may have to wait until the end of the month until their accounts are in order.

As an aside, another RBS subsidiary the posh people’s bank Coutts, whose most famous customer is probably The Queen, was unaffected by the computer chaos, which probably tells you something about who gets looked after best in the financial services world while the rest of us fend for ourselves.

So in the wake of all this chaos, anyone in their right mind would want to switch banks or even get out of the banking system altogether, wouldn’t they?

Hey, not so fast. There are some great alternatives to the banks for savings and loans and everyone should check out the building societies and credit unions to see what’s on offer, particularly for loans, where dodgy brokers and payday lenders should definitely be given a wide berth.

But if you want easy access to your cash, direct debits, quick cheque clearance, or international services you can’t beat a bank account.

You can’t really avoid the banks anyway unless you have a current account with Nationwide, the world’s biggest building society. All the other UK building societies bank with a bank. Even the four that in addition to Nationwide offer their own current accounts clear their cheques and stash their cash with a high street clearer. The same goes for credit unions. You’ll get a different type of service from a credit union, but you won’t avoid your money being routed through a bank.
Even Think Banking, which offers paid-for accounts with budgeting assistance for those with credit problems, was hit by the RBS outage because it banks with it.

So what can you do if you are fed up with the big banks? The answer is to play them at their own game and don’t fall for their tricks.

With anything in financial services, the golden rule is to find a solution that suits you personally. Avoid the hard sell and the freebies and get an account that’s right for you. There’s really no point getting “£100 when you sigh up” if you have to pay £1,000 a month into the account to avoid punitive charges and you can’t do this. It’s a waste of time and money paying a monthly fee for an account that gives you “free” mobile phone insurance if you don’t have an expensive phone.

It’s simple really. Get the best rate you can on your savings; avoid rip-off loans and don’t pay charges if you don’t have to - including expensive pre-paid cards. This could mean putting your savings in a building society or borrowing from a credit union – or not, if you find a better alternative. It could also mean using a bank for your everyday financial transactions.

The reason is that bank accounts are a bit different from other savings and loan accounts and you can find yourself put to a lot of inconvenience if you don’t have one.

Remember that if you have problems getting an ordinary current account because of your income or credit history, just ask for a “basic bank account”. All the big banks offer them and they are absolutely free.

More information on the implications of switching: Why you shouldn't switch your bank account - and why you should.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

I just can't get you out of my head

It is a beautiful morning, one of those when you feel inspired to make it up as you go along and one that will end with a sunset of satisfaction that you lived it. I thought I’d tweet for a bit.

My nightmare returned.

In February, I met a man who has had a profound effect on me. I feel trapped by whether I should talk about him. He is too easily pigeon-holed into that most disassociated of experiences, the case study, and the man I met is not a “case”.

Off the page of my report to the DRF, he may well read as a working class pensioner, predictably irate. He was so much more.

Some days I’ll be honest with you I don’t want to wake up. I know it’s a bad thing to say, but I don’t. I just wish I could close my eyes and not wake up and that’s how bad it is.

The point is that our humanity must transcend ideology, not the other way around. Our preoccupation with economies of truth to prove a point condemns us to a catalogue of cases.

I do not ever want to sit in the parlour with a host in tears again.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Dear @MartinSLewis

I was fascinated to watch your evidence to the Treasury Committee about the Money Advice Service, not least because you were as unfettered in your critique as some have found Zero-credit at times. #duecredit. Most compelling in your evidence was its departure from your more public appearances, with more detail and substance than a ten minute slot can provide. So often I have wished to understand more about some of the recommendations you make, yet felt unable to communicate without “shouting”.

Correspondence with Stella Creasy earlier this year made it apparent that there is some perception of Zero-credit as an organisation that is more significantly resourced than is the case. In some respects, it’s a great compliment to a digital presence with which I have persisted from a council house kitchen table for the last three years, in others hugely frustrating that our lack of funds to attend a meeting should marginalise our contribution to relevant debate. It was all the more pertinent that you should question the spending of the Money Advice Service, when our entire budget last year was just over £5k.

This is not a begging letter by the way.

A victim of funding cuts since our formation as a co-operative (a start-up grant that was signed for and never paid), last May, our Members voted in favour of earning every penny of income that we receive. I am pleased to say that commissions for original research and development are beginning to pay our way, yet our desire to work with the Money Advice Service, expressed quite clearly last summer, remains summarily ignored. I do find this incomprehensible, given their accountability to consumers, the participatory nature of our work and indeed our business model.

Around 80 individuals own a share in Zero-credit and it costs £1 to be a member so that ownership of the influence we achieve is as close to universally accessible as possible. A further 40 businesses and organisations subscribe to the information services our Coop provides - not a lot, until you consider who some of these are: Experian, Which?, Payplan, Bristol Debt Advice Centre, DEMSA, Moneysupermarket, to name a few. Our digital influence has challenged even you and ThisisMoney at times and our site traffic is now some 6000 visits per month.

Our vision is one of consumers and professionals making informed choices together because each and everyone one of us “consumes” personal finance. Currently there is no provision for anyone with experience of unmanageable debt to contribute to the regulation or delivery of financial services, meaning that the opportunity to learn from mistakes is lost. As an advocate of financial education, I am sure you will agree that mistakes are integral to learning.

Martin, I am too frequently angered, saddened or tired at the injustices we encounter to engage politely at times. Generalisations that we should all avoid commercial debt help, PPI firms and payday lenders undermine any informed choice that has led to such a decision. In so doing they diminish our capacity for critical thinking, making us more vulnerable to scams. Of course, these are problematic markets, but within them are suppliers who are no less commercial than you have been. It is perhaps pertinent that my trust in your absolute integrity comes from the personal recommendation of a commercial debt solution provider with whom you went to university.

Now, I should very much like to ask you to join us.

Best wishes


Friday, 15 June 2012

A LOT of money?

On the same day that the BBC reported Child Poverty down as household income drops, not one panellist on last night’s BBC Question Time challenged an assumption of wealth from an income less than two grand a year above that defining poverty.

Responding to a question about the new immigration income threshold, Greg Dyke, who had earned some £300,000 a year as Director General of the BBC (he stated his income at paragraph 12 of this article) said:

£18,600 seems like quite a lot of money to me. It’s not a lot of money in some parts of the country. It’s an awful lot in others. If what we’re saying is we’re going to keep husband and wife, genuine married couples, apart until they can earn that sort of money, then I find it offensive.

Perhaps more offensively, this panel of higher rate income tax payers had already discussed “problem families” (at 19 minutes), apparently without any sense of realism to place “a lot of money” in context.The new requirement to sponsor a spouse is an annual income of £18,600 before tax.

That’s £37 a week more than “poverty”.

         £419   average Household income
         £289   immigration threshold
         £251   poverty threshold

That’s £204 a month more than the average rent for a one bedroom property in June 2012.

       £1,251   immigration threshold
       £1,047   average rent

After tax, it’s more than £5000 less than the average debt of a CCCS client.

     £20,023   average debt
     £15,010   immigration threshold

And before tax, it’s 11.6% of the average house price in England and Wales in April 2012.

     £18,600   immigration threshold
   £160,417   average house price

Whatever your take on immigration, believing that wealth is a few quid above state dependence is dangerous. How close to becoming a scrounger are you?

Image courtesy of


Saturday, 2 June 2012

MoneySavingExpert, ??87 million - Zero-credit, priceless!

Peerindex 18.05.12

#duecredit to @MartinSLewis - his work has been original and compelling and for that alone, it deserves respect. Recession dictates that there will be those who find his £87 million money saving deal unpalatable, but when his individuality has been as inspired as that of any Wayne Rooney or Leona Lewis, the question is less whether he should profit from his talent than whether our notions of reward are at fault. He has simply applied sound business acumen to building a brand, then selling it.

With money saving on trend, Martin’s deal speaks volumes about the capacity to turn a profit when so many people are struggling. For my part, I founded Zero-credit because there was nowhere to find savings that improved my insolvent state - unable to bogof without the one I could not afford, #creditfree was born. Thus, beyond the similarity of my £150 investment in a website in 2009, compared to Martin’s £100 nine years ago, our businesses have never run the same course.

Earlier this year, our Coop was quite vocal about Martin’s proximity to MoneySupermarket. How could someone so critical of debt management firms and payday lenders receive an income from a company that refers consumers to both? #duecredit to Martin, he effected an introduction and MoneySupermarket could not have been more earnest about their desire to connect people safely to products and services that so many were already using. In the fight against scammers you cannot fault either.

That both believe they are acting in the consumer’s interest is not in question, it is rather the impartiality of financial advice, funded by referral fees, which is the issue. This is why Zero-credit has never taken a penny in advertising, sponsorship or backlinks. To be truthful, we dallied briefly with promoting savings accounts from mutuals this time last year, but our Members hated it and no one used it, so the page came down within a month. It confirmed our starting point that the market is crying out for recommendations with absolutely no possibility of strings attached.

Later this month, we celebrate our third digital birthday and our annual site revamp will feature much more of our work informing financial services in the UK. So, if you’re one of the 39 million MSE users feeling a little irked that your digital footprint was sold for £2.23, why not pay a pound to own a share in our co-operative?  It’s unlikely that anyone at Zero-credit will ever make £87million, but there is no doubt that we are the shape of things to come.


Lifetime Membership (individual) £1.00 Lifetime Membership (couple) £2.00

Saturday, 5 May 2012

People with money

There is nothing quite like financial vulnerability to eliminate your right to speak. Being poor is one thing, but being indebted adds an entirely different layer of oppression. It never ceases to amaze me how many seem able to advise, without ever experiencing the reality of those they seek to help - people with money telling people without money how to manage it.

Never pay for debt help, PPI or payday loans! Yet thousands of us carry on doing just that. Only recently, a survey found 93% of customers think payday lenders treat them with respect. So loathsome was this thought that Jill Insley of The Guardian sought to undermine the research without the slightest regard for the body of evidence corroborating it from Wonga.

Now, you might say that Wonga is an unreliable source (we’ve checked their statistics, Jill, they’re solid), but could you run a successful business if your entire truck was a con? When you hate the idea of people making money from disadvantage, you have to ask yourself how it happens, if you are to stop exploitation. It’s a dirty job finding out, so I make no apology.

The psychology of “don’t” is powerful. It brings mobile phones into inappropriate social gatherings, cannabis to the school gates and a host of questionable products and services to the consumer who perceives no choice. Meeting Mike Shamash of The People’s Power last week to consider households who never switch energy supply was a real eye-opener.

Even the considerably flawed Money Advice Service has invested some funds to explore why people don’t necessarily do what is best for them. We procrastinate over savings, borrow more when we are in debt, and pay over the odds for goods that we know are opportunistic. I often wonder how many people have done a deal they’d rather forget.

It’s uncomfortable when our economy generates solutions that challenge our comfort zone. Payday lenders say they are transparent and many of their customers seem to agree. It’s all too easy to chastise from the comfort of column or constituency, but when bankruptcy costs some £700 to get by on a mere £20 a month disposable income, is it any wonder we look for alternatives?

The growing market for recession-easers is not as clear as it seems. When you unpick the incentives of loyalty, vouchers and discount codes there is little difference between the profit motive for a share of your belly and that with an interest in debt recovery. Never mind that some claims and debt management firms belong to individuals with social justice at their core. It’s in vogue to tar them all with the same brush.

Our collective failure to comprehend the affair with credit that defined the last decade has left us blind to the pensioner (with fixed income) sold PPI, bank charges slapped on a lone parent suffering unpaid child maintenance and the increasingly unaffordable costs of living. With an average household income of some £26,000, how else do we pay for car insurance, if not by credit agreement for instalments?  Governments past and present are accountable for that.

What disgusts me most in all of the received wisdom is its composite failure to address the real scams, like registered debt charities without a consumer credit licence (not the well-known ones), or brokers quoting a representative APR, when they can guarantee no such thing.  These under the radar cons are what cost people dear - deal with these, please, before you dismiss Wonga and co.

Those of you who know me well - and there are a few who have watched my journey from lone voice to founding a collective – will know that as much as I may dislike payday loans, paying for debt help or PPI claims, our Coop has confronted me with people, who use these services. Increasingly, not for-profit providers as well as firms ask us how to deliver help transparently, because we cannot afford such arrogance as to think all these people wrong.

Not one of the money-saving pundits predicted the credit crunch, so their authority in addressing the fallout is questionable. I founded Zero-credit to give consumers a say in financial services and every aspect of its vision aims to level each voice alongside yours. I don’t have the answers, but I’d like to think that co-operatively, we all do.

Businesses are professionals are asked to subscribe because a share in Zero-credit is only open to people with personal experience of borrowing.

Lifetime Membership (individual) £1.00 Lifetime Membership (couple) £2.00

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Looking Good? Tomorrow's looking great! #NSMW12

We've been a tad busy of late... Among other things we've been working on a cracking event for National Student Money Week with James Jones of Experian, to invite a number of 6th form students to the Experian HQ on Wednesday 14th March to learn all about credit referencing.  check out our event blog at


Thursday, 23 February 2012

Payday loans ??? the knave???s tale

This is a fictional tale by Claire Walters (@WFCCUClaire) and does not necessarily represent the views of Waltham Forest Community Credit Union.


“I’m a bit short mate, can you lend us a tenner?”

“Course I can, as long as I can get it back by Friday, and you pay my train fare as well”

“How much is the train fare?”

“Oh not much, just over £3”

“OK, I guess, thanks, see you Friday”


“Have you got my thirteen quid?”

“I’m really sorry, I can only give you a fiver, and your train ticket obviously, but I had to put some money on the gas meter so I’ll have to catch you next week, is that ok?”

“Oh well, I suppose so, but I’ll need you to give me another £3 for my fare and buy me a sandwich for the inconvenience”

“All right, ok, sorry, what kind of sandwich?”

“Prawn and mayo, £3.75”

“OK, no problem”


“Hi, have you got my £8 and the sandwich?”

“I feel a bit silly, but I ran out of time so I’ve only got £5 and haven’t had a chance to get the sandwich yet I’m afraid.”

“Oh man, I’m starving! And now I’ve got to buy my ticket too... Right, next week, I want the £3 you owe me, 2 lots of sandwiches, my ticket home and a pint to say sorry.”

“Ok, calm down  - sure, whatever you want , sorry again.”


“Now then – where’s my dosh and stuff?”

“Here it is, all sorted, the £3 I owe you, the sandwiches, today’s train ticket and a pint of Stella – are we straight? “

“Yes mate, that’s cool, but if you want to wait a week, I don’t mind, as long as you buy me a sandwich and a pint again next time...”

“Thanks for the offer, but I’m not being funny – I only borrowed a tenner and it’s already cost me £30 to pay you back because of all these extras”

“Ah well, who else would have lent you the tenner in the first place though... sure you don’t want to wait another week?”

NB: such people are not your friends, steer clear...
Individual Member - £1.00 yearly Business Subscriber - £30.00 yearly

Sunday, 5 February 2012

20 things a brand cannot do

1. A brand may die, but it cannot live

2. It cannot squeal with joy

3. Nor writhe in agony

4. A brand can be limp, but it can never run with the wind in its hair

5. A brand cannot smile

6. Nor can it laugh

7. And as for the jokes that it tells? A brand can never stand-up

8. A brand cannot make your bed rock

9. Nor can it get so drunk that it droops

10. A brand can have children, but never sit them on its knee

11. A brand cannot caress you

12. Nor can it fart 

13. Burp 

14. And snore

15. Though it can keep you awake at night, but only unintentionally

16. A brand cannot do the timewarp

17. It cannot hand-jive

18. Head-bang

19. Or do the twist

20. A brand cannot command your loyalty when it is not loyal to you


Individual Member - £1.00 yearly Business Subscriber - £30.00 yearly

Friday, 3 February 2012

Parenting for pawn


Soon to be 18, my son is full of it! He wants money for this, money for that, and fancies himself as a bit of a wheeler-dealer. Like every parent, I want to encourage his independence so I try to guide him through the process of making informed choices when buying or selling.

Around 18 months ago, he had a real stroke of luck, picking up a gold bracelet in the US for $40. When he brought it home, I took it straight to the jewellers and had a valuation of £350. Nice one, son (he is nice, my one and only son, and his luck was totally legit)!

My son hung on to the bracelet, and because it did not fit, I suggested that with gold prices rising he might want to keep his investment in an asset that was increasing in value. Last weekend, the opportunity to experience Cash for Gold could no longer wait...

After researching gold prices online, we went to four establishments to consider a sale - one jeweller, one traditional pawnbroker and two cash converting types. My son wisely suggested avoiding a table-top booth in the shopping arcade, where everyone can see your transaction.

The jeweller looked at the bracelet through an eye glass, weighed it and came back with an offer of £345 – less than I had been told it was worth 18 months ago and less than our digital valuation – shame on you, who abuse your profession...

The pawnbroker advised that with so much fake gold on the market, the bracelet would need to be tested, but only if we agreed that a sale could go ahead first. Before shopping around for more information, the bracelet was weighed and a price of £415 suggested.

Cash Converters refused to give a price without testing the bracelet and as this involved scraping and acid by someone who had to refer to several layers of management before confirming a recognisable hallmark, we walked out.

Cash Generators, where we had previously sold a long since abandoned student trumpet, weighed the bracelet, checked the internet and confirmed a price of £12 a gram for 14 carat gold - £288, no questions asked, though to be fair, the valuer is an ex-pupil of mine.

Within less than 500 yards of each other, four gold buyers had offered prices with a difference of £127 – around two weeks rent for a small council or housing association property and top dollar for a budding entrepreneur of 17.

Of key importance to anyone wishing to cash in their assets is knowing that these new style pawnbrokers cut at least 40% off the value of any item you trade. Fine, perhaps, if you’re selling items that a traditional pawnbroker will not buy, but not so fine for serious valuables.

What did we do? Well, despite my best efforts to trade at the start of a week rather than at the end of it, when that Friday feeling takes over, my son could resist the call of filthy lucre no longer. Who am I to criticise? The kid just made £390 profit - #duecredit, son!


Shared by Emma Bryn-Jones, Zero-credit founder and coop director.

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Image: Idea go /

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Move your Money! consumer revenge @ New Statesman


Not the first time we've blogged this and it may not be the last... But, where could you bank?

Hmm.. not suprisingly, we like ethical banking from the Co-operative, but bo doubt you'll find more to choose from at which launches today!


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Monday, 30 January 2012

Christine Lagarde on Innovation

As politicians and economists continue to argue the merits of cuts versus spending the world over, Christine Lagarde comes up with one key point - there can be no growth without innovation. To this, I should add that until we re-appraise our understanding of growth, there can be no innovation.

Original creativity, whether it manifests itself scientifically, technologically, or artistically shows no respect for social constructs. A child from a slum may have far more to offer the world in terms of life saving surgeries, carbon cutting energies and anthems to lift our soul than one born with a silver spoon in her mouth. We can never know this until we create more uniform access to opportunity.

All the more reason to stop tinkering with the ideological and start dealing with the practical, because it is not just a question of cutting and spending. Regulation of consumer markets and employment terms is key.

Unfettered, marketers mine consumer data to devise products and services that we have no choice but to buy. Why is bread more expensive than beer? Why does it cost more to heat social housing? Why, oh why, should poorer people pay more to bank, borrow or save? Indeed how can a young person from a low income household be expected to work unpaid? Should they never climb out of this trap?  

Since when were our taxes a dependable resource to mop up the aftermath of exploited employment and market trends?  When businesses actively make us more vulnerable - requiring care because our basic needs are unaffordable, or unable to take up an unpaid internship - should they not pick up the welfare tab?

It is plain lazy to assume that poverty and low academic attainment predisposes people to a lack of talent. Even the great Albert Einstein was slow to develop speech, failed entrance exams and copied another student's notes. In the current climate, it is dangerously unproductive to consign those in poverty to never revealing their talent and we should do well to eradicate the practices that impose this.

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Sunday, 29 January 2012

Morrisons make it with #MSavers

We’re very particular about advertising and sponsorship here at Zero-credit. There’s none of it!  We’ve been asked countless times to post a banner for this, or a link to that, and besides one brief trial to promote savings from mutuals with values similar to our own, we’ve never done it. Our independence is our strength and we believe in consumers and professionals making informed choices together.


Over the coming weeks, you will see the outcome of a very polite request by Morrisons for some of our coop members to try out their new M Savers range. Should the goodie bag our cash-conscious households receive represent the kind of value we call #creditfree, we’ll say so. 

Look out for the culinary critique of canny scot, Karen Bryan, at HelpmetoSave too – not much passes her eye for a deal! And finally? Due credit to Morrisons for a totally honest approach – it could go either way – though in our view, it pays to understand that loyalty cannot be bought.


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Friday, 27 January 2012

So you need cash now...?

Watching the #ITVtonight Twitter stream after yesterday’s programme, I could not help but notice how many people were rude about people who use short-term credit. This does not help.

Often someone who never thought they would need a quick fix loan thinks they are not weak or foolish enough to be caught out. When they are, they become too scared to tell anyone. Perhaps they too would have said rude things if it had not happened to them.

Feeling stupid stops people from seeking help and this is dangerous. You see, if you took out a short-term loan, then found it a struggle to repay, feeling that you could not ask for help, you might take out another loan or simply accept the charges to save face.

As an ex-bankrupt, I am well aware how you may feel about people like me not paying back debts. But the thing is, short-term lending is attracting all sorts of people who are operating illegally - some are out and out criminals, others get rich quick on the internet types.

Can you think of me as reformed character?  Would you accept my advice as a way of paying my dues?  Even if you are really sure of how to manage your money and that you’ll never get into debt, would you bookmark this page, just in case?  I’d like to save you a few quid.


Step 1 - OMG I need cash now

Think about what you need money for.  If it’s a one off expense like burst pipes or a replacement tyre, then a loan may ease your pocket, provided you can afford the repayment. This might be because you are about to change job and get a pay rise, or are owed a tax rebate.  Otherwise, you will have to find the repayment out of your day to day money and live frugally for a few weeks.

If you need the loan to repay other debts, or to cover day to day living costs, then the chances are that you have a “structural deficit” in your budget and you need to get your expenses under control. This does not always mean that you spend too much on silly things. It can mean you’re paying too much for insurance or energy, for instance.

Sometimes, you can shop around for lower cost goods and services, then work out a new budget yourself and it is always a good idea to keep working at this every couple of months or so. It is, after all, your money and you do need to have control over it, otherwise somebody else will!  

However, if you have a responsibility like caring for family or looking for work, your time might be scarce. Similarly, if you feel unsure of yourself, it makes sense to get help. Visit our planning and support pages to try out a range of tools, then choose the ones that you find easiest to use. Almost all of them are free and those that aren’t cost no more than a few pounds.


Step 2 – Getting the best loan deal

Short-term credit is expensive. If you think about it – and whilst you may need to borrow quickly, you should think about it carefully – no business is going to risk lending money to people who may not pay it back. The only way to cover that risk is to charge for it and that’s why we see loans charged at around £30 for every £100 borrowed. Some people are okay with that, others are not.

To avoid paying high charges for a loan, it makes sense to be sure of lending before you need the money, rather than to start looking for lending as soon as you need it.  If you know that mainstream lenders may not help you, the best way to safeguard against unexpected costs is to join a Credit Union where you live or where you work.

Credit unions require you to start saving before you can borrow, and most allow you to borrow once you have started to save around £20 a month for two or three months. Usually, you can borrow three times what you have saved so far, so after three months you might be able to borrow around £150. This will increase as you save more.


Step 3 - Still need the money now?

Sometimes there is no alternative to finding extra cash quickly. Do ask friends and family. The cost of living affects everyone and your loved ones will surely prefer to see you saving money. Lendfriend has some excellent informal loan agreements you can adapt. However, do not under any circumstances allow friends or family to guarantee money that you have borrowed from a formal lender as this could put them at risk.

If there is no one to ask for an informal loan, then is it time to consider a short-term lender. Remember this market has some big brand names and an awful lot of lookalike brand names, so be sure you are dealing with a company that offers clear and fair terms. Then and only then, are you safe to compare costs.


Step 4 – Flog, tarry, avoid

Our top tips of what to look for in a short-term lender are as follows:

1. A postcode that you can tap into CCA search to check that they hold a consumer credit licence. This should read either consumer credit (meaning that they actually lend the money) or credit broker (meaning that they shop around for loans for you). Watch our video if you need help. If you cannot find a licence, they are operating illegally and you can flog their behinds, by reporting them.

2. Look to see if there is a responsible lending policy on the website, perhaps on its own page or the FAQ page. Does this information help you to understand exactly when you will need to repay your loan, how much you will need to repay, how they will collect the repayment and what happens if they cannot collect it. Are you confident that they will check your income, employment and credit history? These companies specialise in difficult circumstances and responsible lenders will check everything first. If all this information is clear, tarry, in other words add them to a shortlist of companies you might use.

3. Check that the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy do not force you to accept communications by letter, email, phone call or text from third parties. This allows other people to keep sending you promotions for more loans, insurance, claims and all sorts, so you need to find an opt-out box in the application form before you agree to anything. Terms and policies can be very long and confusing. If you cannot find what you are looking for assume the worst and simply avoid the company.


Step 5 – Keep costs down

It is tempting, when you are applying for a loan to ask for that little bit extra. Remember that short-term loans are not like the easy credit we enjoyed before the credit crunch. For every tenner you add the company will add around £3 more in charges. So if you bump £350 up to £500 your charges will increase from £105 to £150. If you can cut back on your spending while you borrow the cash, you will be better off, so think about the smallest amount you need to borrow, before comparing the charges between your shortlisted lenders. 

And finally? If for any reason at all the company cannot collect your repayment, contact them immediately to explain or question the problem. If the problem is yours contact an independent advice agency also. For ease, try National Debtline, or the links in these posts.


Author, Emma Bryn-Jones is the founder and a director of the Zero-credit Coop.

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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Payplan's Payday Plot - the story behind the stats...

Payplan’s recent survey of its customers and online communities will no doubt have the statisticians up in arms. In the first week of December, John Lamidey, of the Consumer Finance Association, wrote off R3’s research as unreliable because he said the sample sizes were small.  

John is right, of course - people who use payday loans are a minority and debt focused organisations, like Payplan and R3, would like to keep it that way.  So, setting the arguments aside, what does Payplan’s survey tell us about people struggling with payday loans?



One in three in Payplan’s survey had used a payday loan
Payplan is one of the largest providers of debt solutions in the UK. As such, when 707 customers, fans or followers complete an online survey, you can be reasonably sure that the results are broadly representative of the people Payplan helps - they have problem debts. 

2011 saw significant increases in payday debt problems, not only reported by R3. For instance, National Debtline said payday problems had risen from 200 to 1200 calls a month between October 2010-11. With difficulties increasing on this scale, we need to consider the issues that Payplan’s survey found.  


Responsible lending deserves due credit
Responsible lending is at the heart of a credit agreement because it reduces the risk of debt. John Lamidey won’t argue with that and neither will Stella Creasy MP, who leads the campaign to cap high cost credit. Responsible lending can be summarised as:

transparency - the lender is not misleading or oppressive in advertising or selling credit 
affordability - the lender makes a reasonable assessment of the consumers’ ability to repay 
informed choice - the lender explains the key features of the credit on offer
terms & conditions - the lender ensures that terms and conditions are fair, clear and intelligible
suitable credit - the lender does not trivialise credit, treating vulnerable people unfairly 


Were lenders responsible to Payplan’s payday debtors?
You decide...

86% - used the money for essentials including food and paying bills
If you agree that borrowing to put food on the table, stick a quid in the meter, or keep a roof over your head makes you vulnerable, then you will also agree that payday loans were not suitable credit for more than eight out of ten of Payplan’s payday loan users.

69% - don’t know the rate of interest on their payday loan
Some lenders may be trying hard to explain the costs of borrowing, but over two-thirds of Payplan’s payday debtors did not understand this and did not make an informed choice.

61% - have taken out more than one payday loan at the same time
Lenders’ terms & conditions should set out the borrowers’ responsibilities to repay. However, almost two thirds of Payplan’s payday debtors were able to apply for several loans at once because credit reports for payday loans update very slowly. 

56% - over half owe more than £500 to their payday loan lenders
£500 is just under a third of the average monthly take home pay. Payplan’s payday debtors probably had other debts, because so many were paying for essentials with payday loans. It is unlikely that the affordability of their borrowing was properly assessed.

47% - have taken out six or more payday loans in the last 12 months
Almost half of Payplan’s payday debtors borrowed frequently to pay for day to day needs. This indicates a growing dependence on credit that raises questions about the transparency of payday advertising. 


Payday lending has a debt problem 
Where people differ is in deciding who takes responsibility - the lender, the borrower or both. We could argue, of course - quibble over facts and figures, while the number of people using payday loans cracks on apace. Or we could discuss how to manage this new lending phenomenon safely. Now, who doesn’t agree with that?

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Monday, 16 January 2012

Instant Loan For Unemployed? Bad luck Wonga!


So, it's 6.30am and I'm catching up with e-mails for the week ahead... I use g-mail.

I'm so accustomed to ads targeting my credit interests, that I rarely look at them these days.

It's just bad luck for Wonga that this morning I caught them out.

Kinda hard to brush that one off as an old SEO tactic, hey? And yes, it does link through to sliders.

You know, I don't jump for joy when I find stuff like this. It makes me sad, bitterly, bitterly sad.

I want to know when it became okay for financial services to lie?

I want to know what the hell anyone ever did, that meant it was okay for you to exploit them when they're down?

I want to know how you feel about the kids, turning up to school, unable to admit that mum and dad are in bits because there's no food, no electric, and soon to be no home?

I want to know these things because once upon a time, I was that kid and I'm telling you now, nothing ever takes that pain away.

Do NOT mess with people, Wonga. We are many, you are few and you too have kids. We can can do so much better than this.


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Thursday, 12 January 2012

How Wonga can an apology be?


#duecredit @MartinSLewis @StevePerry2011 @stellacreasy - Wonga replaced their Student Loan page with an apology, yesterday.


"In fact, the main purpose of the content was search engine optimisation, or ‘SEO,’ which is a common practice for any internet business that wants to appear in searches for relevant subjects."

Let us be clear that search engine optimisation, or "SEO" is the means by which a company that is online targets specific consumers. When creating this page, Wonga made a conscious decision to target students and to appear in relevant searches for Student Loans. It is nonsense to claim, as this apology does, that:

"No-one was directed to this page, nor was it prominently promoted on the website."

Search engine rankings do not require pages to be prominently promoted. The whole point of SEO is that online marketers can direct people to pages through the careful selection of keywords that consumers are likely to use when searching for goods and services.

Moreover, to state that no-one was directed to the page remains inaccurate, as there is a permanent link to it in standard footer menu for the website. Indeed, the Wonga Student Loan page has a link from Wonga's Responsible Lending page, in precisely this format.

Most commonly, standard footer menus include important information like FAQs or Terms & Conditions, so consumers do look for and re-directed by them. Some companies use standard footer menus to raise the profile of all the goods and services they provide, because this ensures that they appear on every webpage.


Profiling goods and services in a standard footer means that there is not one single page on a website from which the consumer cannot be directed to a specific product page - clearly, Wonga's approach to website navigation and SEO. However, by placing this standard footer menu beneath all of its significant achievements, Wonga is also attempting to associate its products with the reputable organisations that recognise the company.

To be fair to Wonga, the company uses a great many tools, tactics and strategies that are common to online marketing. The question is whether these methods are appropriate, when an increasing number of consumers are searching for short-term lending to meet basic living costs, or to service unmanageable debt.

The growth in payday lending is significant, rapid and quite the reverse of any other sector in the UK economy. For this reason alone, it demands our attention. Claims that such lending is fuelled by and essential to lower income households alone, seem to ignore the likelihood that growth on this scale can only be accounted for by a growth in the number of consumers.

Since 2008, Zero-credit has warned that the target market for short-term lending is middle income earners - people who are too frightened, ashamed or proud to admit to a money problem and to seek help. This is tragic when consumers have personal debts to the tune of £1.5 trillion and, rightly or wrongly, austerity measures affect us all.

It is perfectly normal to be struggling in 2012.

All the more reason for Wonga to stop being so naive and to start recognising that it is part of an industry that is actively promoting borrowing as an alternative to seeking advice. As for the trade associations that promote standards for short-term lending? When they have codes of conduct, training, qualifications and audits that match those of Advice UK, The Institute of Money Advisers, the DRF, DEMSA, R3 or the APDSI, only then may they start to take the moral high ground.



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Thursday, 5 January 2012

So, MoneySupermarket?

Googlesearch, less than five minutes ago, delivers this sponsored link...

So, who in the media is going to take the plunge and hold MoneySupermarket to ransome?

Paul Lewis at the beeb - we told you about this kind of activity a couple of weeks before Christmas...

Martin Lewis, care to drop them from your recommended suppliers?

CCCS bold enough NOT to blog on their website?

Must we all just shimmy along pretending that payday prey are other people?

SO superficial...

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