Posts Tagged ‘inflation’

Hold on to your cash

April 22, 2009

I do not often discuss the wider economic picture here. This is because there is enough to discuss on issues of how to control one’s own affairs.

But I do feel that this is one of those times that wider events are going to impact on exactly that, and quite seriously.

My view of the direction of the British and of the world economy is extremely bleak. For me this is no recent conversion. For as long as I can remember I found the idea of exponential growth in a finite world merely disaster waiting its opportunity.

It is my belief that now the changes will be quite dramatic; if they are understood then there can be an orderly and planned move to the changes.

But in the interim you and I need our wits about us. And the first move is the opposite of the ‘wisdom’ from official circles. You need your cash more than some over-exposed company. You have no duty to spend. Rather you have a duty to think how you will manage in the next years if there is a drop in your income.

And – unless you are one of the few lucky ones – your income will not rise and is most likely to fall. This will look acceptable as deflation operates for a few years. But the actions of governments, and the continued thinking – that if you are in debt you should borrow your way out – promises a massive inflation following on from that.

In terms of debts and repayment, my advice is to is to ensure you have kept in your own pocket everything you possibly can; and I give advice on that elsewhere. While it may feel like a good idea to repay debt as fast as you can it may not be your best approach at this time.

In view of the difficulties ahead I may write more on the wider picture, but for now please think very carefully when faced with any expenditure – including repayments.

Joseph Harris – Debt Control Man
author: Control Your Debt Crisis on Your Own Terms
site: http://www.controlyourdebtcrisis.co.uk

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Can Debt Really be a Way of Life?

November 13, 2008
Life has a habit of knocking us off our perches, does it not?
Anyway I’m back with the blog and thought a quick review of the national and international scene might be worth the time.

I can actually remember when most people would at least be aware of the saying ‘neither a lender nor a borrower be’. And then, right at the beginning of the ’60s, came to our shores the first hire purchase company [Union Discount if I have the name right – started by the man who later created the Bank of Wales].

Hire purchase (h.p.) was quickly dubbed ‘the never-never’. I am still not sure if this meant you never finished paying, or if it meant that you never fully paid.

The first implied that the company had you in its grasp, the second that one paid in such small amounts over such a long time that you never really paid its value. When inflation was serious (remember it has reached 15 per cent a year within the past 40 years) of course the value of the cash used to pay was indeed well below the worth at the time the contract was signed.

It may have been at first that the loan was secured against the item, but later the loan became separate. In a way credit cards work on a similar basis except that the loan is never tied to any goods specifically.

Over the years the idea of credit grew and caught on. After all kings had always borrowed money – to fight wars if nothing else – and the Government of England had found itself with a debt in the seventeenth century.

That debt led to the creation of the Bank of England – a private joint stock company, empowered by parliament to handle the national debt!

The entrepreneur who had seen the opportunity later went on to bankrupt Scotland and force the union of the two countries. But that, as you can imagine, is a quite different story!

By about twenty years ago the idea of credit, that old frowned on idea of ‘buying on tick’, was accepted. Governments had early learnt how easy it was to run deficits on the nations’ dealings internationally – the balance of payments – and on the annual budget.

And we did not resist the idea of having more goods than we had earnt!

And companies, who always had been dealing with uncertainty, found debt a very good way of dealing with the lags between orders and delivery and distribution and sale. And then came the more relaxed control of the financial sector.

And the development of ‘derivatives’, and sub-prime mortgages. I don’t have to tell you much about those now, as they have been well discussed in the press, on radio and on television.

And in blogs…

I have seen all that well described as MLMs and Ponzi schemes, and the whole sector as a casino. And when those bastions of sobriety, the banks, joined in I am afraid there was nowhere else to go but down.

‘Down the rabbit hole,’ as Lewis Carroll put it so well, and in to Wonderland. Well a land in which the great and the good certainly seem to have well-developed senses of self-delusion.

And you spotted how our very own Gordon has taken centre stage, as though born to acting.

But then aren’t all politicians? [Paulson on his knees to Pelosi – I ask you!]

Meanwhile the massive $707bn that Paulson and Bernanke twisted arms to get the US Congress to approve to buy ‘toxic’ [don’t you love that term? It means poisonous!] debts from the banks is now not going to be for that.

Whatever; its purpose appears to be to pay the gambling debts of those big businesses, rather than to spur the US economy, which has a really big hangover from the ‘credit economy’.

Not incidentally that the $707bn tag is even very relevant to the new debt we are all going to have to pay off some time – through taxes – which as already reached about $2trn [that’s $2,000,000,000,000]. Maybe it needs some more noughts. It is big for sure.

It is about $300,000 for every man, woman and child on the planet – assuming a population around 6.7bn. In English say £200,000. But the possible real amount of toxic debt – silly me, I mean derivatives including sub-primes that have gone sour [not all have] – is about five times that.

So you owe a million; so do I. that puts our personal problems in perspective, huh?

Joseph Harris

Debt Control Man

 

 

Negotiating With Creditors for Changes in Terms and Loan and Debt Schedules – 4

September 25, 2008

Let’s now talk about the repayments and the charges from creditors.

So far this set of blogs has covered the basic thinking for a negotiation, what the companies are like and the need for understanding the rules, and my ever-critical view of interest rates.

Repayments are a contractual obligation, and nothing I say should be seen as altering that basic point. There are however many different ways of viewing what this means in practice. Especially bearing in mind the matter of force majeure.

When the debtor – you and I – are able to pay without any problems there is no reason for varying the payment schedule, unless it is to match changes on your own income receipts or to put right a change made by the creditor using his supposed right to vary any terms unilaterally. There are reports of this being done to trigger late payment charges.

There are also cases of increasing repayments by 50% by upping the monthly percentage, which obviously causes budget stress and increases the likelihood of triggering charges.

More significant in the call for repayment variations is the reduction of personal disposable income. There are many ways this can happen. I would suggest that among these is loss of bonus, loss of job and taking lower paying jobs, the effects of inflation, additional family commitments and accident or ill-health problems.

The majority of creditors will discuss lower payments, though they have their own ideas of what lower means. For you this is a matter of redoing your budget and seeing how that places you. This is the information that will inform each of we debtors and this will also inform them.

Since it is my view that inflation is about to show some serious muscle I advise frequent and regular personal budget reviews.

You do need to think in terms of treating all creditors equally, so the usual way is to establish what you might be able to afford and apportion that in relation to each debt. If you have any difficulty sorting it out any of the online charities will give help. Maybe the excellent fora – forums if you prefer – will have mathematical geniuses who will put a little time in to giving you the answers.

Don’t take no for an answer and don’t let the creditors bully.

And then… and then… and then is the matter of penalties and special charges. These are applied in all sorts of ways and are purely profit centres for the creditors.

In a ruling early this year the Office of Fair Trading determined that charges should relate to the actual costs that the charges relate to. anything above that becomes a fine, and there is no legal support of companies to levy fines.

Unfortunately the OFT also stated a maximum level for a bundle of different charges and set it at £12. this was less than the previous figure of £20 – and sometimes £25 0r £30. Of course putting it this way was a gift to the creditors who immediately made all charges £12 [and I would be interested in any evidence of new types of charges being levied at that time].

Now it is my contention that these charges are mostly illegal fines. The reason rests on the rules of fairness and the point in the ruling about relating to costs. I will talk only about late fees, but this will stand for others as well.

Examine the way a late fee is determined and levied (as a fine). The computer – yes, the computer – has a program written by groups of clever fellows to do all the paperwork, calculate interest, instantly apply changes of all kinds, and react to the time a payment is received.

If the deadline is midnight and the payment comes in a one minute past – maybe one second – the computer automatically triggers the late fee script and sets it for the following statement. On the statement this requires a miniscule amount of bulk-purchased ink or powder and enough extra time on the automatic printing system to print one extra line.

If you have ever seen those in action you know we are talking about a fraction of a second. The script action requires no extra time since it is a choice of options. At a guess we are talking 0.0001p for the ink and 0.001p for the time.

So by my estimate a £12 levy includes a justifiable charge of 0.0011 and a fine of £11 99.9989p.

If anyone has figures to disprove this estimate I welcome them. The idea floated by one senior executive that there is a little man in a smoke-filled back office checking every charge is not just risible, but an obvious …er… mis-statement.

Joseph Harris
Debt Control Man

Matching Debt Repayments to the Budget

September 4, 2008

A vital part of the process of contacting creditors to negotiate a new arrangement is the income and expenditure statement. They need it to assess what they can ask for and you need it to assess what you can afford to pay.
Usually you will receive a budget form from the company. My advice is ignore it. Not the need to present a completed form, but the actual form they send. The reasons for this are many, among them the fact that each company has its own layout, and none are about you; they are about the company!
Now more important is the fact we are facing difficult times. Living costs will inflate for some time, and it is likely that incomes will decline. A squeeze.
So long as you describe your needs clearly in this income and expenditure account it will provide the essential and accurate point for discussion.
I favour this accompanying your second letter, when you have had time to review all your affairs carefully. It might be worth setting it out roughly and putting it aside to come back to for review and correction. When you finally send this off it is vital that you have all items of expenditure included.
This is the 21st century; you are expected to continue to live without starving and without being homeless. In pursuit of this there are certain priority debts and payments. These must be deducted from your income before any attempt to assess what you might be able to pay towards settlement of non-priority debts.
If this gives a debit position—in other words if you need more money than you have to meet your needs then your creditors cannot expect payments.
As you investigate further you will learn of the options for managing your position: IVAs, bankruptcy and so on, and be told about bailiffs and court action. Court action—which rarely happens—will in any case be a long way down the road, and bailiffs can only be involved after court action.
You have research to do of course and trying to work out your personal best course of action. As you seek advice as well you will probably find your first fears recede, and options which you can handle with little discomfort becoming realistic.
That is exactly what I found. Because those who might have been intermediaries gave me advice that was not very sensible for me and made hashes of the figures I gave them I determined that it was up to me. And I am glad I took the step to control my debt crisis on my own terms.

The Interest Rate Puzzle

August 13, 2008

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