The Interest Rate Puzzle

The indication by the Bank of England, that Bank Rate will be unchanged tomorrow, could be good, bad or unimportant to you. Which way it should go is a matter of opinion. I believe the threat of inflation has been completely underestimated and the depth of sickness of the economy not understood.

Perhaps you need a long memory to even fear big trouble, or perhaps pessimism informs me more than facts. My underlying advice is, however, hold on to your hat; there are strong winds coming.

Because of this I think it vitally important to understand what is happening in interest rates and to make the appropriate protest—I have already written five posts on that and gathered them into a page on this blog.

But if Bank rate has not moved for some weeks why are Credit Card companies in particular pushing rates up, even for their best customers? Might it be to get customers to pay for the banks own mistakes in gambling on investments?

Just opportunism, perhaps? Or perhaps the old yachts are worn out…

But enough of my sarcasm…

What I am really concerned about is the difference between Bank Rate and the interest rate charged on credit cards. Even if we add the inflation that affects banks, ‘headline’ inflation now around four per cent, that still doesn’t make 10% and hasn’t for a long time.

Apart from the few cards that add only five or six per cent, and they do have costs and need to make some profit, the general view has seemed to be that an addon around 10% is a generous minimum. Perhaps with the odd low rate for some part of the loan or a nought per cent transfer period that can be justified. Perhaps.

But what of the card that shot its rate from around 19% to around 30%? Had headline inflation moved 10%—or the Bank Rate?

Of course not. But losses had started appearing; strains of various types. You may have noticed your card(s) taken over by a bank, or taking over another card. That has been going on for about three years, and now with increasing frenzy as one wonders how many card funders there will be in a couple of years.

Like every other finance area the rules for lending became sloppy, the assumption of ever increasing growth a mantra. And why not? Didn’t Gordon—our very own Prudence—have everything under control. [At this time there are no prizes for the answer. Hands up those who realised in 1997, when he destroyed the regulatory framework, what must happen!]

The interest rate movements are by no means limited to credit cards, and there has been movement that it would be hard to justify in many other areas. The mail order catalogues have long made me wonder. Not so many years ago most did not charge interest to customers at all.

Those that did had an incredible rate of 29.9%, and that appeared to follow the earlier consumer credit system of hire purchase. Now hardly a catalogue has not made the main company a credit company with rates of 29.9%; one charged an absolutely horrendous 39.9%.

Now I see another, that long offered 29.9%, has joined these Olympian heights with a rate of just below 40%.

And that has a great deal to do with debt experience; 29.9% is like adding one third to the bill, depending on what type of loan we are referring to. Which means more of your hard earned money goes to the company and getting out of debt and avoiding default become harder and harder.

If you are subjected to an increase in your rate which you do not think is justified please contact the company and ask for the rate to be reduced, or to explain to you in writing, with justification, what the increase represents.

You might be pleasantly surprised.

Joseph Harris
Debt Control Man

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