New Year, New Start?: Dealing with Debt

Financial Services Team Blog

Georgiana Brown

It’s the New Year and time for a New Start.  Ahead of the usual won’t last into February New Year’s resolutions of going to the gym and giving up alcohol/smoking/chocolate, according to My Vouchers, the resolutions topping the list this year are to save more money (31%) and get out of debt (22%).

Every day in the UK more than 300 people are declared insolvent or bankrupt and we shell out a staggering £166 million of interest on personal debt (Credit Action, Q3 2012) – so it’s not difficult to see why finding a way out of the debt cycle is going to be a must this year for many of us.

With hefty credit card bills scheduled to land on doormats across the country in mid January or interest-free periods on credit cards coming to an end, the 0% balance transfer is a handy get out of jail free card worth utilising.  But where to start?

Ever popular price comparison websites are the first port of call for many but, with over 200 credit cards offering a 0% balance transfer from another card, according to Money Facts, the choice is so great this presents a challenge in itself.

Perhaps it’s sign of a general turnaround that, following a decline in the offers out there since 2008, we now see so much competition for new business.  Or maybe it’s just the credit card companies hoping to capitalise on people’s desperation to manage their debt in the best way they can, all the while tempting us into even further debt.

Despite the choice there’s little to differentiate between the various tempting offers, so how do we feel about the types of companies listing them, and will this help inform our decision?  Well, here again the differentiation just isn’t there with a recent Harris Poll indicating that trust is universally low.  Just 15% say they trust credit card or insurance companies quite a lot or a great deal, and it’s only marginally higher at 18% trusting high street banks.

Alongside most 0% balance transfer offers is the usual small print indicating that you cannot transfer a credit card balance onto another credit card within the same banking group: proof if ever we needed it that credit card companies don’t value our loyalty any more than we choose to bestow it.  According to Barclaycard, at some points in 2012 they were receiving more than 100,000 applications a month for balance transfers from new customers.  And it’s easy to see why when you consider that right now their 24-month Platinum Visa tops the list, offering the longest interest-free period on balance transfers in the market.  Not to be outdone, if it’s an unsecured loan you’re after, Tesco Bank is now offering the cheapest one ever, at just 5.2% interest.

In these recession-ridden times, with widespread consumer scepticism towards the banking industry as a whole, we can be sure that trust is minimal and whilst loyalty to your bank remains fairly strong, when it comes to credit card companies, loyalty feels like a thing of the past.  For them, focus has largely shifted to acquisition over retention, whilst for the consumer, it’s all about the latest deal.

So out with the old and in with the new.  Time to unleash our inner flirt, roaming eye at the ready, to see what attractive offers take our fancy, and help us make it into February with at least a few New Year’s resolutions still intact.

Harris Poll data collected between 27 November and 3 December 2012 amongst a sample of 2,121 adults in Great Britain aged 18+.  Data was weighted on age, gender, region and social grade to bring figures in line with the general population.