Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Money for Nothing

A few years ago I had a call on my mobile.

I was in a meeting at the time and expecting a call about some work I was doing for our accounts department, so I took the call and was momentarily thrown by somebody talking about refunding bank charges. I eventually twigged that it wasn't anything to do with work, but it was actually somebody offering to reclaim everything that my bank had ever charged me.

The only problem was that I had never had any bank charges.

The cold calling salesperson on the other end of the line was a little thrown by this as this case obviously wasn't covered in her carefully prepared script, so I told her again that I hadn't ever had any unauthorised overdrafts, bank letters or missed any loan payments, and eventually she took the hint and gave up.

I've had a couple of periods of unemployment in my life during the recessions of the late 80s and early 90s, so I've always been cautious with money, being wary of loans, never spending more than I've got and always paying off my credit card every month by direct debit. I probably missed out on the 80s housing boom by not wanting to commit to a bigger mortgage than I could comfortably afford at the time, even though the financial advisors at the estate agents were trying to push self certified products where you effectively lie about your income in the hope that your wages will go up before the interest rate does.

The bank story today has annoyed me though, with the impression I get being that people are expecting to be let off paying back money they've borrowed. Don't get me wrong - I think the banks are greedy and money grubbing, and they must carry a huge responsibility for the current crisis, but there's a principle at stake here. If you are going to borrow money then you'd better be damn sure that you can pay it back and take account of what might happen if you lose your job or fall ill. If a credit deal looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Always read the small print and the charges before signing anything.

Working out a budget is not rocket science - most bills can be anticipated or set at fixed monthly amounts, and it is always a good idea to leave extra money for emergencies rather than always spending it. If you run out of money before the next payday then something has gone seriously wrong somewhere. If the worst comes to the worst, that's what the safety net of social security is supposed to be there for.

I don't know. Should I have spent up in the 90s and taken out big loans to pay for holidays and flashy cars and maxed out multiple credit cards buying nice things? If had, would I feel justified in asking for a bail out now?

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