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Credit crackdown

Marketing and ad agencies must be brought into line to stop debt misery

Well, here we are. Everyone has finally made it back to work, the Christmas trimmings are away for another year and there is nothing left to buy in the sales. As for resolu-tions, will you really use that new gym membership, stick to that diet and finally stop smoking? Probably many of those good intentions have already slipped away.

For many, one issue which will not go away is the enormous financial hangover from the festivities and the dreaded credit card bill due to thud through the letterbox shortly. Perhaps a significant part of the outstanding balance has accrued through buying all that bargain bling which, in the cold light of day, may well even now be hitting the listings on ebay and be up for sale for a fraction of the purchase price.

You are also reminded that the New Year has truly arrived when the postman delivers the first of the “unbeatable 0 per cent interest credit card offers for transferred balances, including payment of cashback bonus award, no annual fee and a 10 high-street voucher into the bargain” But I had to wait until January 4 for the biggest surprise. It must have been delayed by the Christmas post.

The more detailed explanations surrounding the 16.9 per cent APR are somewhat more opaque but the rate is described as “low” but, compared with present base rates, it does not look like that to me.

Then again, there are those who obviously think a store card at 30 per cent APR is an attractive proposition. If only they would do a few calculations.

The point I am getting at is the ease of obtaining credit compared with the bureaucracy of making even the most simple of investments, many of which, child trust funds being a prime example, do not even begin to feature on the advice radar as the admin costs are greater than the investment itself.

It is perverse therefore, that the plethora of ads, particularly the type of mailshots I have referred to, are so readily permitted. To circumvent the mailing preference service, many organisations have stooped so low as to use fictitious names in the forlorn hope of trying to get a message through to registered households. No wonder financial institutions are so often accused of sharp practice.

Compare this with the numerous hoops that advisers are required to jump through before being able to give a client advice in relation to any financial topic and it is not hard to see why potential investors are dissuaded from taking action. They have such an avalanche of paper to digest at the same time as having to reveal much more information themselves than is necessary to obtain a multitude of loans.

It seems that with 1,000bn of debt and the apparent lack of controls, even with some slowdown in new credit levels, we really are a nation with conflicting priorities and it is about time that sanity prevailed.

Can the marketing departments and advertising agencies be brought into tighter line to remove the misery that debt mountains cause, even with the “get out of jail card” provided by the Government through the weakening of bankruptcy legislation. Well, perhaps things are about to change.

I am not one who makes New Year resolutions but there is perhaps a glimmer of light appearing, given current developments emanating from Brussels in relation to the Unfair Commercial Practices (UCP) Directive although I have my doubts that it really gets rid of the timeshare touts.

Coupled with possible amendments to the banking code and the lobbying by the Insolvency Practitioners Association, will 2006 prove to be a watershed for the curbing of overzealous credit advertising?

So, no particular resolu-tions other than to encourage everyone who wants to stop junk mail to use the mailing preference service and to hope that those who are trying to tackle the problem manage to achieve their objective. Advisers just need removal of wasteful red tape and perhaps individuals might be helped to plan their finances better.

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