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Money News 2005 Archive

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Please read on.

The Only Way Is Up

(21:45 Wednesday 23rd March 2005)

The Fed (United States) yesterday increased its base rate to 2.75%, from 2.5%, in an attempt to curb "inflationary pressures". The increase was widely predicted.

This might have many effects on Britain and Europe, amongst them a reciprocal increase in British base rates. The Bank of England's monetary policy committee voted 7 to 2 to keep rates unchanged earlier this month, so pencil-in a nudge upwards early in April.

Please read on.

Pensions For Insurance Companies

(20:50 Monday 21st March 2005)

We were just watching the Money Programme on the BBC, concerning pensions. Isn't it amazing how Boots' directors pay themselves 35 or 38% of their salaries into their pension funds, yet will only contribute 3% of the salary of any employee who decides to take up a Boots pension? These directors aren't paying into their pension funds themselves, they're making Boots plc pay into it - the same company that, by only offering 3% to staff, is discouraging 92% of the staff from having a pension at all via Boots. If pensions aren't the responsibility of employers, how come the directors of some companies make damn sure they'll spend retirement in luxury the expense of their employees?

Significant in the programme's study of Australian rules on compulsory pension contributions was a representative of Standard Life who was wholeheartedly in favour of compulsion and would recommend that we follow suit in Britain. The trouble is, in Britain, when a person who has contributed to a personal pension retires, they must purchase an Annuity from an insurance company with between 75 and 100% of the fund value. (Up to 25% of the fund total can be taken as a tax-free lump sum). Annuity rates for a man retiring at 65 pay at best a taxable 7% of the annuity bought until the man dies. That's it. When the man dies, the fund disappears.

Oh no it doesn't. At 7% and taxable, the annuity payment compares well with Halifax's 5.70% Fixed-rate tax-free ISA, and HSBC's taxable 8% Regular Saver (with catches), looks generous in comparison. In short, the annuity payments are like getting interest off a good savings account.

But with a savings account, the capital is owned by the account holder - the pensioner. With an annuity, the capital is kept by the insurance company. This is wrong. This is the reason above all reasons why workers must not be compelled to contribute to a personal pension plan.

We understand why the government is keen to ensure that pensioners don't fritter away their pension funds, then ask the state to bail them out when the money's gone, but there must be a way to stop this annuity robbery. Why not put all the government and employer contributions into a separate fund which pays ISA standard interest, that can be transferred from one bank or insurer to the next, depending on the interest rate, like ISAs, and that can be passed-on to heirs, but only to the heirs' pension funds?

For that part of the fund contributed-to and built-up by the fund holder, access should be far less restricted. It's his (or her) money after all. Why not make that amount wholly accessible? Then compulsion can be encouraged, however, within a generation or two, we'll have no pensions crisis due to the massive amounts in passed-on pension plans. The government might even make a fortune from the income tax. Right, that's pensions sorted out...

Well Done to Wales who won a Grand Slam last Saturday, by the way.

Please read on.

Long-Term Budget Effects

(20:40 Thursday 17th March 2005)

Some of the effects of the budget cannot be ignored by any so-called money saving expert or DebtBusting Patient:

If you're cursing 7p on a packet of 20 cigarettes, assuming a moderate 20-a-day consumption, it's an extra 49p a week. That's £25 over the year. Factor-in the interest lost at say 5%, and you're gonna inhale an extra £500 over 10 years. Or £1,000 for a 40-a-day habit. Smoking is the biggest waste of money on Earth. Think about it: You're setting fire to dried-up bits of plants every hour, but instead of calling the fire brigade or simply running away, you actually inhale the smoke on purpose, and pay well over £50 a week for the opportunity. Changing hurts far less than the pain you inflict on your finances AND your health. Take a deep breath Cough and say it with me... "I will give it up". Please. It's easy. I dare you.

Anyway back to the budget, why are so many pensioners moaning that "Gordon Brown's £200 refund off the council tax is just an election bribe". Or "That £200 still isn't enough to cover the 2 band rise we have to fork out for". Yeah, we know it's a bribe, and we know that council tax is a complete rip-off but hey, if you don't want the 200 quid, send it to us, here at Money Surgery. E-mail us, and we'll reply with the address to send your cheques, you ungrateful lot. Gordon, if you're paying £200 for a single grey vote, how much is a strawberry-blonde or dark-brunette vote? I'm open to offers, but £200 will do. I'd vote for anyone who gives me £200, even screaming lord Kilroy-Silk. Well, maybe. Allright, I wouldn't, but I nearly went there for a second. I was wavering. Just think how many imperial mints £200 could buy, pensioners, for you to suck while you ride around and around all day on the local free bus. Best days of yer life!

Finally, although Money Surgery is completely independent and has absolutely no political affiliations (they're all a bunch of losers), a thought has occurred to us: If you don't let Gordon win, you let Letwin win. Aargh!
He didn't need any bribes after all, did he, pensioners?

Good Luck to Wales chasing a Grand Slam this Saturday, by the way.

Please read on.

5-Minute Budget Guide

(20:00 Wednesday 16th March 2005)

Here's our quick Budget fact sheet, from Gordon Brown's speech this afternoon:

    • Stamp Duty threshold raised to £120,000 from £60,000 for home buyers.
    • Inheritance tax threshold raised to £300,000 over the next three years.
    • Tax on a packet of 20 cigarettes raised by 7p.
    • Tax on a pint of beer raised by 1p.
    • Tax on a bottle of wine raised by 4p.
    • ISAs to be maintained until 2010.
    • Personal income tax allowances increased with inflation.
    • Council tax refund of £200 for pensioners.
    • Free local bus travel for pensioners.
    • £2,000 return-to-work golden hellos for single parents.
    • Petrol duty inflation tax rise is postponed until September.

The chancellor's speech also included economic statistics that Mr Brown was keen to flaunt as proof that Labour is expertly handling Britain's economy, with record levels of employment, sustained low inflation and low interest rates, and high, and accurately forecast, economic growth figures.

The budget was definitely "feelgood" and emphasised the government's capable handling of the economy, and the end of the boom-and-bust cycles that had been a feature of previous regimes. However, there wasn't the great giveaway expected by some people. Rather, as Evan Davies of the BBC's six o'clock news commented, Mr Brown seemed to ask the electorate, "Who do you trust with the economy?"

Please read on.

TV Advertising Ban for Sexy Booze

(21:00 Tuesday 15th March 2005)

Television advertisers are to be banned from portraying alcohol as an "aid to seduction", and from showing it alongside themes strongly appealing to under-18s. The BCAP has begun a consultation process leading up to a probable ban by October. Advertisements should also avoid insinuating that alcohol enhances attractiveness, according to Ofcom rules.

At Money Surgery, a site that needs no advertising to enhance its attractiveness, we believe that the world would be slightly better without a lot of the television adverts that we've seen. We accidentally caught some Saturday morning children's TV last weekend, in between operations, and we were appalled at the advertising served-up for the kids. Typical was one that had someone in a pink hippo costume eating some hippo-shaped junk food, saying it was "delicious" in the style of George from Rainbow. There's originality for you. These poor obese children haven't got a chance have they? Advertising junk food using dancing cuddly characters between programmes for children, using terms like "delicious" is wrong. Ban these ads, we say, on the fat kids' behalf. Let's force the supermarkets to promote fruit-n-veg instead. They make enough profit. Then we'll have a healthy population that are no burden on the NHS. Until they're 105 and needing full-time nursing care and multiple hip or heart by-pass operations. Maybe we can kill two hippos with one stone, and get the countryside alliance to focus on pink-hippo hunts instead of red-fox hunts. I feel we're really sorting the world out here tonight, Patients.

But then there's daytime TV, funded entirely by a never-ending stream of adverts for homeowner loans, or for credit for people with poor credit histories, or for over-fifty savings plans, or for compensation claims companies, etc, etc. You could end-up advert-punch-drunk if your remote control was out of action. No, we don't want to a loan to help buy "our ex's half of the home", and if we did, we'd use MoneySurgery, or Moneyfacts, or anyone else to find us one first, no offence. These advertisers aren't always the best value product. They're just in yer face, every ten minutes, like torture until your spirit's so crushed, you call their freephone number in brainwashed desperation. Ban these ads, too, we'll all be better off, even if it means the end of daytime TV. It was rubbish anyway. The highlight is "Countdown", need we say more?

Women too, find that they're targetted with clinical efficiency. Have you seen Cadbury-ation Street lately, girls? The ladies get a conveyor belt of bad but irresistable products, usually having something to do with chocolate, when the soaps are playing. Choc-flavoured Persil, coming soon. Football programmes are merely vehicles for beer, sales-rep cars, and all the things that are bad but irresistable for blokes, usually involving a scantilly-clad attractive woman. Its easy isn't it: If you want to sell your product to people aged between 18 and 80, use chocolate or women-in-underwear, or both.

What we call bad for our health is usually bad for our wealth. But aiming adverts at young and impressionable minds, or even old and vulnerable minds, is wrong. Simple as that. It goes beyond the effect on their finances, even if that is later in life. More controls are required on television advertising. But thank goodness for a functioning remote control, and the ad-free BBC.

Please read on.

Pure MoneySurgery

(22:00 Monday 14th March 2005)

Imagine this: You have debts, and they are getting in the way; you're working to pay debts and should there be a loss of income, the consequences could be serious. At this point you might make a list of outgoings and income, then a forecast for the remainder of the month until pay day, being honest and giving everything your most accurate estimate. You realise that if you (and your partner maybe) spend nothing, travel only when necessary, use the phone as little as possible, etc., then your spending for the month might be reduced right down to a paltry figure.

This is the basis of the MoneySurgery philosophy. It is in its most extreme sense, to merely exist for a short time, foregoing unnecessary expenses, so that debts can be paid off as quickly as possible. It could be called pure MoneySurgery or extreme MoneySurgery.

Think about the term MoneySurgery. Its name was not accidental. It implies a crisis, it implies pain and suffering, an immediate whole-hearted response to an emergency situation. Pure MoneySurgery means cutting-out comfort and luxuries, prioritising where our money goes, channelling it into paying-off those debts. Surgery also describes a review and a refocussing and a chance to regain control of our own money and our own life. To see where every penny goes and to make changes. To be brutal and to waste nothing.

The more extreme the response, the quicker the recovery.
Cut out the car, get an instant cashback and save £4,000 a year, £60,000 - 70,000 in ten years.
Cut out smoking 20-a-day and save £35,000 in ten years.
Keep re-mortgaging and save 20% of the mortgage, that's £20,000 over a 25-year 100K mortgage.
Don't have a baby, save £20,000 - 50,000 in the first five years, depending on the child care.
Cut-off your mobile account, go Pay-as-you-go and switch to BT's Light-User Scheme and pay just £15 per quarter. Dial "M" for MoneySurgery.
Snip-off your hair for free, and save £1,200 over 10-years.
Buy just enough food to live on, from a supermarket, using own-brand products and good-for-you fruit n veg, that won't get wasted.
Give NOTHING to charity: YOU are the charity now.
Keep checking and switching fuel supplier, and keep the lights out and the heating down
Don't buy clothes - They'll last.
Cut out holidays and any unnecessary travel.
Forget satellite TV, computers, CDs, DVDs and books.
Don't booze, gamble or do anything illegal because getting caught costs.

Living like this is extreme. It is, in a way, pure. There are many aspects, of abstinence, of poverty, of discipline, of suffering, even of chastity, that we share with religious beliefs and doctrines. The difference is, all you need to believe in is yourself. Oh, and you'll get your reward on Earth, too. In cash.

Please read on.

Oil Demand is Set to Soar

(21:00 Friday 11th March 2005)

The demand for crude oil is set to grow faster and faster through 2005, "fuelled" by China's unstoppable appetite, warns a new report.

The International Energy Agency said that demand would rise by 1.8 million barrels a day to 84.3 million. It points to key factors of intensely cold weather, and strong growth in the US and China. The current oil prices are over 50 dollars per barrel, but this has not risen on the back of this report.

With demand outstripping supply, and resources dwindling, there appears to be no possible let up, ever, in the price of oil. Only when there is a viable alternative, or there is global recession, will oil prices possibly come down to 20th-century levels.

The impact on households will first appear in petrol or diesel for the car, followed by increasingly higher electricity and gas bills. Reducing our exposure to this would be to reduce our usage of the car, or possibly selling it, and to continually shop around for the cheapest alternative household fuel supplier. Start to think about conserving energy use at home too: light only rooms that are in use and with efficient lamps, cut central heating usage and at lower settings, install cheap but effective draught excluders because some nights, the well-insulated home need not be heated to be comortable. There are so many ways we can avoid being hurt by a fuel crisis.

There are a few ways that we can take advantage of the situation too. There are a few investment funds out there that focus on only oil and energy stocks. We could simply buy a portfolio of oil shares. There's one or two big guns in the FTSE-100, if you can afford to shell out. Or why not take a look at alternative-energy firms?

To live purely within the doctrines of The Surgery, is to live with no car. It is also to live in a mortgaged, or owned-outright home, that is heated only when absolutely necessary and in the dark recesses of the winter months. Our web site contains all the secrets for maximising one's ability to get money and to save money, in order to get rid of debts as quickly as possible. Don't be careless, be carless, and save a fortune.

Please read on.

Why Pay Off Your Mortgage Early?

(19:00 Monday 7th March 2005)

We've just read another article on paying-off your mortgage early.
All we say is Why?

There are a host of Discounted Variable mortgage deals offering around 4.5% over a couple of years, including 4.49%, 4.54%, and 4.63%, with Lambeth BS, Dunfermline BS and Saffren Walden BS respectively. You can also get Fixed-Rate mortgages for as low as 4.59%, 4.69%, and 4.79% with Skipton BS, Alliance and Leicester and Portman BS, respectively.

For the savings, you can have a 5-year fixed-rate Mini Cash ISA with Halifax for 5.70%. Alternatively, you could choose a good variable ISA like Lambeth BS's 5.65%, or Abbey's 5.35%. Members of Leeds and Holbeck Building Society can open an account paying 6.0% gross, albeit for a limited period.

Now lets pretend Mr and Mrs Smith have a mortgage for £100,000 and over the years, they've amassed a similar fortune in mini-cash ISAs. Annual interest payments on a mortgage with Lambeth BS is £4,490. Annual interest income with Halifax is £5,700. Mr and Mrs Smith consider paying-off their mortgage early as daft. They'd lose £1,210 a year if they did. They joke that they actually want to borrow more, rather than less, to put it into the ISA.

This One-Percent difference between the lowest mortgage rates and the highest savings rates has been in existence in the UK now for at least ten years. As each new market leading ISA account surfaces, the Smiths consider transferring their existing ISA, and when the time approaches for remortgaging, they scour the market for the best rate for them - usually Discounted Variables.

Everyone has different circumstances and getting rid of massive monthly mortgage payments might be a wise move. Monitoring the markets is also time-consuming, getting rid of your mortgage means that your home is safe, whatever happens. But when every financial adviser seems to say "pay-it-off, pay-it-off" like cage-stir-crazy parrots, Money Surgery says think carefully if you are tempted to pay off your mortgage. You might find that paying it off isn't necessarily the the most lucrative option for you, as we've shown.

Please read on.

HBOS: Have Banks 0 Shame?

(21:00 Sunday 6th March 2005)

Does HBOS stand for Have Banks Zero Shame? We understand that they've increased the time that they'll take to clear cheques on basic current accounts from 3 days to 6 days. These bank accounts are taken up by benefits recipients and people on lower incomes. Between one account and the next, who has the money over the six working days? Certainly not the account holder. It's just another example of the way the banks are determined to squeeze out every penny of profit from ordinary people's money.

That 6 working days could span 2 weekends, making 10 days of lost interest and 10 days of gained interest for HBOS. Halifax Bank of Scotland was going to be one of the up-coming champions of competitiveness, challenging the dominance of the Big Four, as they were. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have a Big Five. They collectively pay us a despicable 0.1% interest on basic bank accounts, see the bottom of the MoneyOscars voting page, then pull fast ones like this:

10 days interest lost on say a £100 cheque paid into an account with Halifax will earn them 15p, based on the 5% they can easily earn from lending in money markets or through mortgage lending. They pay you 10p PER YEAR in interest at 0.1% on that £100 cheque. THEY WILL MAKE MORE INTEREST IN 10 DAYS THAN THE CUSTOMER WILL MAKE OVER 365 DAYS FROM ANY CHEQUE PAID INTO THESE ACCOUNTS, SIMPLY BY DELAYING CLEARANCE. Whose money is it guys? These customers may be less able than most to realise that this is happening or to be able to complain effectively. They are likely to be more vulnerable than the average customer.

Here is a summary of the profits that some of our banks made:
HSBC £9.6billion
Royal Bank of Scotland £6.9billion
Barclays £4.6billion
HBOS £4.6billion
Lloyds TSB £3.5billion
Standard Chartered £1.1billion
Alliance and Leicester £0.6billion
Northern Rock £0.4billion
Abbey £0.3billion
TOTAL: £31.6billion

We've reported in earlier articles that our banks were likely to make over 30 billion pounds worth of profits (that's £500 per Briton). We were correct. And correct to regard this as excessive. We were also right to say that there is a need for an alternative to banks and that that alternative is building societies. Banks serve their shareholders before their customers. Building societies serve their customers.

Please read on.

Babies Cost Fifty Grand For First Five Years

(11:00 Sunday 6th March 2005)

A study by Pregnancy and Birth magazine, a favourite in our reception waiting area, has put the cost of bringing up a baby until they were five years old at £52,605. This includes the cost of basic baby expenses plus £30K on childcare.

The purpose of the report was not to scare would-be parents but to allow these people to break-down the costs of parenting, to budget for expenses and to make savings.

The costs start with the £15 pregnancy testing kit, the £50 on pregnancy books, the £12 a week on healthier food, but the real costs come nearer to the birth. Budget for maternity clothes at £200 - 1,000, antenatal classes at £70 - 125, etc. Don't forget your cot, bedding, baby clothes, pushchair...the list could cover several pieces of paper.

After the day of the birth, the costs are spread out: £375 a year for disposable nappies, £1,000 for baby food for the first year, £140 a year for baby toiletries. You might find that fuel bills increase with a parent at home: cooking, washing clothes and using lighting and heating. Life insurance premiums will also increase by about a tenner a year. Many decide to get a bigger car, or bigger house.

Bearing in mind that he has now come out as being gay, wasn't it ironic that George Michael sang so passionately against matrimony in Wham!'s 1982 hit "Young Guns (Go For It!)", rapping, yes rapping, "If you're happy with a nappy, then you're in for fun..."?

If he knew how expensive parenthood was, he would've sang, "if you're happy with a nappy, and a credit card, then you're in for fun", but it wouldn't have scanned as well. We have no particular comment to add to the article in Pregnancy and Birth magazine, other than to underline their message that it is wise to plan ahead, well before the pregnancy testing kit purchase.

50K can buy lots of nice things, even a decent house in some parts of our country, and is still an awful lot of money. Some people would rather blow it all on a cruise, that never starts, from Southampton around the world, hoping to sunbathe the whole trip on the deck and read The Da Vinci Code, or listen to old Wham! tracks on their iPod.
Other novels and MP3 players and lifestyles are available.

Please read on.

Wish You Were Here?

(Friday 4th March 2005)

Package deals are still the most popular form of holiday, despite a profusion of bargain flight deals and online booking facilities making things cheaper. A survey by the Jamaica Tourist Board says 59% of families will leave Britain for a package holiday this year. 38% are happy to book their flights and hotels separately but this is actually down from 41% last October.

On the package holiday theme, we occasionally catch a few minutes in front of the TV we've recently plugged-in at Surgery reception, and today, in-between some group financial therapy sessions at the day care centre, we dropped-in on something on Sky Travel or Thomas Cook TV (Freeview channels 11 and 20 respectively). We couldn't believe how this particular deal that we stumbled in on was being sold: "Stunning apartments close to swimming pool with tennis facilities, bowls, near the sea, Costa something, for all the family, only £200-and-something, ...".

What occurred to us was how poky the white-walled cane-furnitured apartments were, how full the pool and poolside was, how brown-bodied the usually beige-sanded beaches were. The heat was in evidence, the family facilities were emphasised, the package was so packaged.

Imagine: The rip-off, sticky-seated, hot-sauna taxi and bus rides, the queues at the airport, the oppressive heat of the daytime sun. The screaming, crying, moaning children running around or splashing about. Then the dodgy food. The sleepless nights on the cut-price bamboo bed, eyes wide open from the oppressive night-time heat that means the windows are open to let in some breeze, but also the noise from the drunken teenagers, the boom-boom disco, the car tyres, the dog barks, and the bawling babies from neighbouring appartments. Then you're too tired to make the most of excursions and to stay up and out late. Now the realisation: You're actually paying to stay here. You've left behind your comfortable home, filled with all the beautiful and entertaining things that are yours, that are suited personally to you alone, to pay for this. You start to feel nostalgic for showery Britain, and why not, millions are trying to get into the UK illegally.

Why pay to go to hell, when heaven is at home?

Please read on.

Pondering Leeds' Big Rate

(Tuesday 1st March 2005)

Leeds and Holbeck Building Society have notified members of an account that is offering 6.0% before tax. The account, called a Loyalty Savings Account for Members is, as the name suggests, restricted to members of the building society only. It has a low opening balance of £100 and a maximum balance of £5,000. The downside is that there is a 60 day notice for access to the cash, or 60 days loss of interest, and after 31.12.05, instant withdrawal will result in closure; the rate includes a 1.50% bonus until 31.12.05. The account is operated via branch or post. If you're a member it beats your piggy bank if you've paid off your debts and have paid-in your full ISA allowance.

Whilst there are significant restrictions on accessing your money and the rate includes a hefty bonus and only society members are eligible, the rate is exceptionally high. We've installed it as the Money Surgery Rate of the Month for March, and added it to our Latest Rates Page.

Compare this account with a recent headline grabbing offering from HSBC, that offers 8.0% gross for regular monthly saving, compared with the next best at 7.0%, BUT you have to move your current account to them in order to qualify, and their current account offers poor credit-balance interest and uncompetitive bank charges, in other words, not worth it.

There is an alternative to banks, by the way. They are called Building Societies. Stick with these guys for current accounts, overdrafts, cash savings, mortgages, credit cards, personal loans, and avoid anything with "bank" after the name apart from the occasional piggy bank. And bottle banks, of-course. Oh, and riverbanks can be handy.

Please read on.

Vinyl Options

(Monday 28th February 2005)

If you've got an old record collection that's gathering dust, we've got a few ideas from Patients for what to do with them.

Some say that hanging-on to your old records is a must, but keep the dust off by storing them in DJ record cases. They're available from most record shops, and will last for years. Why not play a few of them for a change?

Another option is to use record fairs, see for more details, or to use e-Bay. One person, e-mailed a list to second-hand record shops and delivered the ones that they were interested in, whilst he took the rest to a record fair, costing £30 for the stall, marked-up each record and made a few hundred pounds. On eBay, registering will take just a few minutes, while listing each record title and condition might take a little longer, and we are led to believe that a 10-day auction spanning two Sundays might bring best results.

For those of you thinking of giving your collection to Oxfam, one Patient reminds us that charity shops can't afford to have space for stuff they can't sell and aren't skips for unwanted items.

Some people, though would love to get their hands on more vinyl - there's a distinct niche market for the groovy stuff instead of CDs, with some preferring the sound generated by the turntable needle over those from digital sources.

One Patient emphasises how important research is, to value each record realistically, before the records are put up for sale. You might have a rarity lurking in the sleeves.

You could use an intermediary like, who can value them and sell them on, but you will have to pay them commission.

Our favourite suggestion is to transfer them to your computer. Just use a simple cable between the amplifier and the sound card, and use software like Audio Cleaner Deluxe. You can then save the albums and singles onto CDs if you want, or keep them as MP3s and play them on an iPod. Other MP3 players are available.

We can't promise that the companies and web sites suggested by our Patients will be suitable for everyone or that their performance will be perfect, but there is obviously a range of options for those of us with vinyl in the attic. It's worth remembering that once sold, they're gone permanently, and a few old memories are associated with our old records.

Before I go, how many grooves are on the average album? Is it 33 1/3, 45 or 78?
Answers on a postcard e-mail.

Please read on.

Can Drivers Afford To Take The Bus?

(Sunday 27th February 2005)

Motoring is cheaper than in 1975, according to government figures.
It may come as a shock but the cost of running a car, in real terms, is 11% less than 30 years ago. This includes all the bills associated with motoring, like insurance, car tax and petrol. Meanwhile, train fares have gone up 600% and bus fares more than doubled.

This underlines the fact that there is little incentive in this country to give up your car and adopt more environmentally-friendly and less congestive methods of transport. As well as the purchase price being less than in 1975 for comparable cars, the cost of petrol is virtually identical to its cost in 1975.

Driving is still expensive though. We've devoted a page to it. It costs about 4 grand a year, which equates to about £60,000 over ten years. Add this to what you save from not smoking and you'll have £100,000 in 2015. This 100 grand will buy just 800 standard train tickets for Cardiff to London and back.

Consider all the available methods of transport carefully in advance, bearing in mind that walking and cycling is extremely debt-busting. When on the road to debt-freedom, the phrase "cut out your car, cut out your debts" is as relevant in 2005 as it was in 1975. And even though they've stopped selling Hillman Avengers and the New Mini is nice, computer still says no.

Please read on.

Wednesday, 23rd February 2005:
Not just one but two news items today, Patients, hot off the Surgery information line, providing YOU with top value and no adverts.

March the 16th: A Date With Gordon

It's a date for the diary - Wednesday 16th March. The day when Gordon Brown is taking us to the sweet shop, and he's paying. And you can have anything you want. Because it's the day of the last budget before this year's general election, there's bound to be sweeteners.

We wonder what the Chancellor has in store for us. Maybe a visit to the tax-back tuck shop, giving us all a cut in basic rate income tax, or perhaps it'll be a trip to the supermarket confectionary aisle where all the tax-hikes on consumables will be held back, or maybe a little walk to pension rise pound-store, where pensions will rise by twice the rate of inflation. Who knows - we'll find-out next month. It'll certainly put a pre-election, post-winter smile on our faces.

"Get-to-bed Early Day" Thursday

Talking of winter...
We've just decided that Thursday 24th February is "Get-to-bed Early Day" because we've just heard the weather forecast. It's going to be very cold over most of Britain - the coldest of this "cold snap" - and we think what better way to beat the weather, and save fuel bills, than to get in on Thursday night from work or college and just ...go to bed. Radical, I know.

Imagine being tucked up in your cosy warm bed, reading, or listening to the radio, or even sleeping for the more rebellious of you. You'll wake up on Friday morning with ease, you'll have even saved money on some late evening snacks, and you'll have recovered from any sleep lost earlier in the week. It's cold, it's dark, it's f-f-freezing, so stop fighting it and hit snooze mode.

Cut out the cold, cut out your debts.
This is Money Szzzzzzzurgery.

Please read on.

Prudential's With-Profit Increase

(Tuesday 22nd February 2005)

Shock of the year so far: An insurance company has vowed to maintain or wait-for-it ...increase bonus payments on with-profits policies this year.

Prudential, who run Britain's biggest with-profits fund, said that the fund had increased in value by 13.4% over the last year and is now worth £73bn. Over five million policyholders will be glad to hear the news, having as they do, savings, pensions and endowment investments in the fund, which, like all with-profits investments get topped-up with bonuses, rather than interest, each year.

This news is refreshing to ears used to the same depressing chorus of "with-profits bonuses cut once more" from life companies every few months, in turn. Whilst Prudential are perennial overachievers in terms of investment performance, we are crossing fingers for the other companies when it's their turn to report on with-profits forecasts.

Come on guys, lets have a with-profit fund that comes with a profit, for policyholders. And make it quick - it's so hard to type with crossed fingers.

Please read on.

For Richer, For Poorer

(Saturday 19th February 2005)

The average UK wedding costs a colossal £14,000. It's a little cheaper abroad, at £3,000, and includes the honeymoon, of course. This may come as sobering news to anyone who proposed on Monday 14th.

The thought of a £14,000 special day is enough to make your Valentines roses wilt.
And, though we think they would be ever so useful, life does not as yet come with an undo button.

Please read on.

Banks to Report £500 Profit on Every Briton

(Friday 18th February 2005)

Britain's Banks are due to make AMAZING profits of £30 billion this year, when the big banks report their profits over the coming weeks. That's about £500 for every man, woman, child and anything in-between. This is a staggering figure.
It is quite simply enormous.
And we know why, although it may come as a shock to the average bank account holder.

The reason is that the banks effectively run a monopoly.
According to Don Cruickshank, who wrote a 300-page report into the banking industry for Gordon Brown in March 2000, nothing has changed from then to now, regarding competition in the banking sector. Back in 2000, his report claimed that the banks' sustained levels of profitability was a sign that they were operating in a complex monopoly and that their profits of £3bn to £5bn a year were "super-normal", which annoyed the banks at the time.

The government couldn't act on his report then, and make significant changes, because of a "regulatory contract" between it and the banks. Mr Cruickshank told the Guardian newspaper today, "Sustained and very high profitability is an indication that they are operating a complex monopoly and that on balance this is bad for the economy. In most sectors you would expect to get new entrants but in the UK if you want to be a bank, you've got to be a bank." He dismissed new players like Tesco because their license is actualy held by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Mr Cruickshank points to the 13-year run of economic good times which used to be experienced in 2 out of every 5 years but the old regulatory contract hasn't changed to suit. They are still being protected from the bad times at customers' expense. He is, however, opposed to a windfall tax on profits.

Mr Cruickshank's 5 year-old report is as relevant today as then, highlighting uncompetitive business banking, unregulated moving of money around the system, and a lack of promotion of competition from the FSA.

Against this background, what effect does this monopoly have on personal bank account holders? It would be reasonable to assume that, given this background, people who buy products from banks would be getting a poor value product. To make £500 a year from everyone in the UK, how on earth can they do that from your current account? That's your money in their hands, making them that £500 a year. Add in a savings account. You get good interest don't you? Don't you? Hang on, you're likely to buy the same bank's car insurance. It looks cheap enough. Here comes their big profit-maker... how about a mortgage with the same bank? They're very nice people aren't they, at the local branch? So why not get home insurance at the same time? Or travel insurance, personal pension, financial advice (free of charge), more savings, personal loan with repayment protection insurance, life insurance, pet insurance, credit cards - what's the rate, anyone? ...Endowment anyone?

You're beginning to see how they squeeze out that profit now, aren't you?

All we say is... £500.

Just think about it when you're next queueing to pay-in that cheque that takes 5 days to clear (5 working days that is).

Think about that next time you're charged £1.50 for withdrawing £10 through an ATM that saves the bank wasting their profit on staff costs.

Watch the news, read the headlines and look out for those record profits from HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds-TSB, Halifax Bank Of Scotland, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland...

Please read on.

No More Card Tricks

(Tuesday 15th February 2005)

A credit card which charges up to 69.5% interest, is being targetted at those with poor credit histories. The Vanquis card, backed by doorstep lender Friend's Provident has been dubbed "a national disgrace" by Damon Gibbons of Debt on our Doorstep, who are a campaign group intent on forcing the government to cap credit card interest rates at 30%.

Provident argues that it gives access to credit cards to those who may otherwise be unable to get one, and says that charges are high due to the low credit limits offered, which start from just £150. The cards also come with an annual fee of £19 and users can opt for no extra charges on late payments or breaching credit limits, in return for a higher annualised percentage rate (APR). These interest rates are reviewed each year for each customer, depending on if the customer has proved themselves a good credit risk.

Regarding the Vanquis card, the Consumer Credit Counselling Service said that they encourage anyone to pay their credit card bill at the earliest opportunity, whatever the APR, and reminds us that if the cardholder pays of the balance in full each month, they won't pay any interest. However, they do suggest approaching mainstream lenders initially.

At Money Surgery, we devote a whole page to Credit Card Profit-Making, which is basically a card trick that earns some modest pocket money, but we also often warn our Patients that credit cards are dangerous things. It is so easy to rack up the bill on the credit card and sometimes you can't pay it all off in a month. Next month, you're paying interest for the first time, and before too long you're up to your credit limit. Play with cards, play with fire. Even the card that sits paid-off in your pocket can so easily be used again. We can borrow money and put it into a high-interest account for a short while and earn a few pounds, but maybe we are better off doing something ...else. Transferring your balance to a card that offers 0% for a short time, is sensible, for those of us who are creditworthy enough to be given the choice, but even then, the cardholder must exercise considerable discipline not to increase their balance or to forget about the expiry period of the deal.

It's not just casinos that deal cards that can hurt.
Cut up the cards, cut out your debts. a Surgeon.

Please read on.

New Flight Compensation Rights for EU Passengers

(Sunday 13th February 2005)

As from Thursday, 17th February, passengers who suffer flight delays, cancellation or over-booking by airlines will have the right to claim compensation from the airline. The EU regulations apply to flights to or from Europe, on a European carrier and the compenstion will be between 250 and 600 euros (Approx. £170 to £420), depending on the length of the flight and regardless of the fare paid. However, compensation will be halved for passengers who are found alternative flights which depart within 2 - 4 hours. Other rules also apply, depending on the degree of disruption.

Passengers can also claim for damaged, lost or delayed luggage up to 1,800 euros (about £1250), and for injury or death due to an accident on a flight by a EU airline. The regulations even apply to package holidays bought from a tour operator who fails to provide services booked.

If you suffer any disruption or are unhappy with the service from your tour operator, you should request compenstion. If it refuses, complain to the relevant authority, details of which can be obtained via the freephone number of Contact Europe Direct which is, 00 800 678 910 11, or via e-mail:

For those of us who would love to get rid of our debts, flights to far-flung places are not on the itinerary. It just costs too much. Go after you've beaten Debt. What better reward is there than to take a holiday after you've paid off the last bill, or made that last payment? What better incentive to clear those debts is there than to take lovely long (warm) relaxing break after they're cleared? Each year we ask YOU readers your opinions in our MoneyOscars awards, and each year we always ask "What is the ideal luxury for when debts are cleared?", and each time you guys choose "Holiday" over "Jewellery", "New Car", or "New TV or HiFi".

The cost of taking a holiday doesn't end at the travel agent's office. There's the cost of meals and drinks and treats, excursions, visiting places of entertainment, entry into clubs, taking taxis, fares on buses, extra accommodation maybe, presents for family and friends, presents for yourself, unplanned-for items like batteries, suntan cream, electrical accessories, forgotten items like toothbrushes, hair driers. Then there's the clothes that you buy beforehand to wear on holiday, which could total as much as the booking itself. Don't forget the cost of a new camera or camcorder which many of us consider before a holiday. Or electrical adapters, travel vouchers...

Overshadowing all this like a dark cloud are the things we don't want to think about but can happen on holiday. When taking a holiday, we take a risk on things like the weather, the quality of the accommodation, the good-nature of our fellow-travellers and the locals. Without going into the awful detail, staying at home can often reduce the risks.

We think these new rules which protect the consumer are excellent and will hopefully take away a lot of the risks and pain, associated with some holidays. To our Patients we repeat one of our old adages: "Why travel when you don't HAVE to?"
Beat debt, then take a holiday. And have a ball.

Please read on.

Your Ideal Valentine

(Friday 11th February 2005)

Is your ideal Valentine the kind of person who will send you flowers and cards and showers you with romantic gestures? Is your ideal Valentine the kind of person who whisks you away to a far-off place for a romantic holiday?
If you answered "Maybe not", then you might find that the opinions of one of our long-standing and pragmatic, though anonymous, Patients strikes a chord.

They suggest that encumbered by the burdens of debt, a partner who "surprises" his loved one in the name of St Valentine by "wasting money" in this way may be in-fact cruising for a bruising instead of fanning the flames of passion:

Imagine the hapless male distracted by work to such an effect that upon remembering that the date is February the fourteenth, he frantically drives around the evening stores after working late, on a mission to snap-up the first half-decent bunch of roses, box of chocolates, slushy card, cuddly teddy and heart-shaped cushion that he stumbles across. There, shining like a yellow and green beacon in the black, rain-swept night is the 24-hour garage... are there any flowers on the forecourt? Yes. Plenty. Twenty minutes later, car boot groaning with pink and red, cellophane-wrapped booty, he proceeds home to his Valentine, satisfied that the forty-four pounds worth of gifts will be sufficient. The trouble is, he forgot that his wife told him not to waste ANY money on Valentine's Day because of their debts. "We'll wait until next year when we pay-off the loan, then we can have a well-earned break",
she said...

At the Surgery, our Patient's tale reminded us of the tv advert for car insurance, where the blonde woman driver congratulates her male partner, whilst re-entering their car at the petrol station: "You really have been saving the pennies haven't you? Cheaper insurance, washing the car..." Then he reaches up to the roof and brings down a bouquet, "All so I can make romantic gestures like this." And she smiles. At this point, you can tell that this is not fly-on-the-wall documentary here. If it was, she'd have rolled her eyes, and whispered something like, "You silly man".

Our point is, if you have unwanted debts as a couple, and the other half succumbs to society's Valentines pressure in a moment of weakness, you have every right to whisper "You silly man (or woman)" or worse. Fighting debt as a couple or household is a teamwork thing where you both make significant sacrifices for both your benefit.

Love comes in many colours cue slushy music, including fluffy pink, but maybe when both of you make amazing sacrifices for each other to show debt the door, maybe that's an improvement on a Texaco teddy-bear. No offence to Texaco.

Please read on.

Switch to Lloyds-TSB for Fifty Pounds.

(Thursday 10th February 2005)

Lloyds-TSB is offering £50 to anyone who switches their personal current account to them. They promise to pay up within a matter of weeks of your first salary credit and they will asign a dedicated switching team to handle the transfer of all your direct debits, standing orders and account details for your employer. They'll even close the old current account for you.
Unfortunately, that makes the fifty pounds a lot less attractive.

We recommend that everyone gets the right current account for them. Be it one that offers high interest on credit balances, or maybe low overdraft interest rates for debit balances. Perhaps your ideal current account is one that offers low charges or it could be from a bank or building society that is close to home. Trawl the market, using the Internet, for the best account on offer. An Internet based account might be convenient for you and offer better rates.

Whilst we would not dream of encouraging people to play "Frogger" with dear old Lloyds, in other words to open and close accounts just to get the £50 incentive, we are aware that this can happen, which is probably why this bank has insisted that they will swap over the automatic payments and close your old account with the other bank or building society. This makes jumping back, and preserving your banking record, with the old current account virtually impossible.
Jumping to Lloyds-TSB, getting the £50, and jumping back might be worth the hassle to some wonderfully resourceful people, but probably not if the old account is shut-down.

There is another couple of banks offering decent current accounts with more modest cash credits: Alliance and Leicester at £20 for online applications, and First Direct at £25.
If any of these accounts get a good rating in the media, and they suit your requirements, then why not ask for more info? But please check all the account terms and conditions first.

Remember, though that switching current accounts is a tiresome task and "dedicated switching teams" are rare beasts. Having a captive, passive customer gives banks the extra incentive to post you more info on other products, like loans, cards, mortgages, car insurance, home insurance, pet insurance, travel insurance, currency exchange and savings, which may not be ideally suitable or good value necessarily but will definitely make the bank some profit. Lloyds-TSB is seeing its current account market very slowly eroded by upstart account providers like Internet-based smile, Cahoot and egg, and from highly competitive Alliance and Leicester and Nationwide Building Society. They need to expand their customer base at its heart - the current account.

And they'll get their £50 back pretty quickly...unless you're quicker at playing "Frogger".

Please read on.

Eat Less Spend Less.

(Wednesday 9th February 2005)

We've been amazed at some recent stories in the media regarding dieting and how expensive it can be.
Expensive? What are these people eating and where? Ryvita at the Ritz?

Choosing to limit what we eat for flirtatious or fitness reasons gives us the ideal opportunity to save money.
That's what it is: An opportunity.
Think of the rubbish you'll deprive yourself of: No more expensive workday sandwiches. No more pricey garage sweets. No more expensive meals and drinks in restaurants with soft music. No more raiding the larder. No more raiding the fridge. No more pizza deliveries. No more late night takeaways. No more pigging out when you're bored. No more eating a whole packet of choc chip cookies with your coffee. Sorry, that was just me there on the choc chip cookies. However, it is possible to eat sensibly by resisting the expensive and calorific foods and working out what offers good value in terms of cost, nutrition and taste, and from where to buy it.

Fitness foods can often be cheap, natural foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables. Fatness foods can often be expensive, processed, prepackaged, preprepared, convenient, advertised, and in large portions. Supermarkets sell baked beans for 9p a tin, rice pudding for 15p a tin, soup for 19p a tin. That could be a day's food for an adult for 43p. That's 2p less than a packet of wine gums from your convenient lunchtime shop. Not that we suggest that this should be a permanent diet but you get my point.

Health and wealth, hand-in-hand.
What better incentive to diet is there than to save huge servings of cash in doing so, and what better incentive is there to save cash than to be slimming down at the same time?

Please read on.

Only One Thing You Can Bet On.

(Tuesday 8th February 2005)

Our Surgeons have been in action this evening, dissecting some weekend horse racing betting odds. They knew what the test results would be, but they had to be certain. They operated on three races, adding up the odds and made a certain diagnosis. They concluded that gambling will lose you money.
Surprise, surprise

If a horse has odds of 3-to-1, it has a 1 in 4 chance of winning. Theoretically all odds should add up to exactly 1. Three horses each with an equal chance of winning should be priced at 2-to-1 (1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3). Two horses, equally matched would each be 1-to-1, or evens. The Surgeons went through each race, adding-up the odds and got these results:

Race 1 1.28
Race 2 1.08
Race 3 1.18

The collective odds added-up to more than 1. That's a bit like saying, "We've got ten horses in this race, all at 3-to-1."
Conclusion: The bookies always win. End of story.
Noticeably, the odds aren't overwhelmingly stacked in favour of the bookie. Averaging at 1.18, they are tantalisingly close to making him no profit. It's not even very noticable unless you dissect the figures like our Surgeons did.
I guess that's the tease: Mr Bookmaker could be out-foxed.
All gambling is like this. The odds are stacked against you in every form gambling takes. Only one thing you can safely bet on: Bookies will always win in the long run.

When in debt, cut out... Ayr, Lingfield, Market Rasen, Leopardstown, Kempton...
Like a Surgeon.

Please read on.

The Best Thing Anyone Can Do

(Monday 7th February 2005)

Smokers are the luckiest people in the world.

They can do something the rest of us can't. They, and only they, are able to do the best thing anyone can do.
"What's that, Doctor? Feed the starving? Home the homeless?" Unfortunately... not.
What they can do is give up smoking.

A smoker who gives up smoking 20-a-day in ten years will save an enormous £35,000. That's an amazing figure isn't it? Read it again: £35,000. Reducing it to mere numbers doesn't do that sum justice. That was Thirty-five thousand pounds. That was sixty-four thousand US dollars. Roughly. Run with me on this. Taking into account the current price of about a fiver for a packet of 20 and factoring-in price rises and the interest. Leave the smell and the health issues aside for a moment.
Just think: £35,000.

Money Surgery hopes every new-year resolute non-smoker succeeds in dropping the weed. Please read our page on giving-up smoking for a bit more info for Patients who are considering doing the "best thing anyone can do". The sixty-four thousand dollar question is... can you afford not to?

Please read on.


(Sunday 6th February 2005)

On average, subscribers pay a little under £40 per month for their television package with a well-known company. With such a deal, of course, subscribers can view a range of channels, depending on the package chosen, including relatively recent movies and live football.

To someone paying-off debts as a matter of priority, paying for this sort of TV package is daft. Over ten years, the cost of the average package is probably £8,000, factoring-in future price rises and the loss of interest. That £40 per month is in addition to the cost of the tv license, and hardware/electricity costs.

Hang-on, they also show adverts on these channels and like the adverts on channels all over the world, their sponsors and commercials promote all sorts of products: Cars, beer, chocolate, holidays, insurance, processed food, national lottery, stain remover, internet gambling, and so on.

Get this: Subscribers forfeit £8,000 for ten year's worth of adverts for unhealthy food, alcoholic drink, gambling, and products that they may find expensive and inappropriate or unsuitable. "Yeah, I've got debts that I'm struggling with. Lets pay £8,000 to watch adverts so I can choose a junk food supplier while I invest some cash on the lottery and horse racing that I saw on a TV commercial. Don't worry, I've got beer: saw it on a TV commercial".

Cut out debt. Like a Surgeon.

Please read on.

Uncanny Economic News

(Saturday 5th February 2005)

Following on from our article of yesterday, below, concerning the value of Halifax's competitive 5.7% 5-year-fixed mini-cash ISA account, we have just received some reliable economic forecasts for Britain that point to another DOWNTURN in base rates. The report from Capital Economics actually mentions all of the factors that we listed yesterday which the Bank of England would regard as requiring stabilising by reducing interest rates until balance is reestablished.
As we discussed, a downturn in interest rates would make medium-term fixed-rate savings accounts, with market-leading interest rates, much more viable over their term compared with the best variable-rate accounts on the market.

The report makes the following predictions for 2005 that bear a remarkable similarity to the "possibilities" which we suggested would "conspire to force the Bank to pull its base rate back down":

    • The year 2005 will see the lowest growth in consumer spending since 1992, following-on from the pre-Christmas slump.
    • House prices will fall 20% over the next 2 to 3 years.
    • Taxes will rise, "to get the public finances back on an even footing" according to Chancellor Gordon Brown.
    • Household debt will remain a heavy burden, with debt repayments relatively high compared with income despite low interest rates.

The report predicts a drop in base rates back down to 4% from their current level of 4.75%, by the end of 2005, in response. Whilst this report contains all of the rate-reduction factors that we thought might possibly turn up, that does not mean Money Surgery necessarily predicts these as well. Capital Economics bases much of its case on house prices falling, and it is worth bearing in mind that they have been wrong on this before. In 2002, it forecast that house prices would fall 25% in 2004 but in fact they rose 14%. Also, GfK Martin Hamblin reported a rise in consumer confidence in January, especially in relation to expensive household goods.

Their general predictions, however, make sense. They sound reasonable. We know that taxes are going up, house prices are stagnating, and personal debt is incredibly high.

If the Bank of England base rate dropped to 4%, the best Mini-cash ISA account with a variable rate would be paying 4.1 - 4.25%, which is a generous distance from Halifax's Fixed, Five-year 5.7%.

Please read on.

Pondering Halifax's Big Rate

(Friday 4th February 2005)

Hello Patients.
You might be aware of a big, juicy rate appearing in the mini-cash ISA section of the Latest Rates page, lately. It's from high street heavyweights Halifax and is a fat 5.7%. The drawbacks are that the rate is fixed and fixed for a tediously long 5 years, with no access to your money or the interest until the end of the term. Also, the minimum investment is £3,000, unfortunately.

The question is... if you invest, will 5.7% still be a good rate in 5 year's time? Interest rates have notched up a little over the last year from their lowest level in 30 years and some expect rates to continue their upward trend. But some of the factors that prompt the bank of England to raise rates have reversed recently: Consumer spending since before Christmas has disappointed shopkeepers, house prices have started to drop a little in some parts of Britain. Conversely, consumer debt is still at record levels. So, as ever, it's a gamble.

Over five years, forecasting base rate movements is virtually impossible. Over the last ten years, mortgage rates went down from about 7%, up a little, down again, up once more, before plunging, over a couple of years, to the very low levels recently witnessed, with a few quarter-point rises in the last year to their current level of about 6.5%. Looking at the extreme possibilities, a continuing retreat for property prices coupled with sluggish UK economic growth, poor consumer demand, and increased personal taxation to balance the goverment's books would all conspire to force the Bank to pull it's base rate back down. On the other hand, continued consumer borrowing, inflated house prices, a bourgeoning economy and a general feel-good factor might well mean higher rates. Not easy is it?

When choosing an account like a mini-cash ISA, which, of-course, offers reasonably good rates but with the bonus of being tax-free, think always of the long-term performance of the account provider, especially over 5-years in this context. Consider too, the ease with which the account funds can be transferred to a better account with a better rate. Think in terms of being in the top half of all the rates in this sector rather than "The best one".

We'll never promote a company's products on this site, however, we were surprised recently at how consistent the Nationwide Building Society has been over the last three years, as reported by a respected newspaper, in all savings sectors. These things will change, though, so the message is, "read those newspapers".
...Oh, and keep visiting the Surgery.

Please read on.

Warning on 130 percent Mortgage

(Tuesday 18th January 2005)

Experts are warning people to avoid a mortgage deal which offers up to 130 percent of the value of the property. The Max130 product from Mortgage Express, the specialist lending arm of Bradford and Bingley, is aimed at first-time buyers or those wanting to merge debts. Online broker, Purely Mortgages said it might encourage consumers to run-up large credit card bills which can be consolidated into a 25-year mortgage.

A mortgage that offers so much more than the value of the property, specifically to first-time buyers and those already struggling with debts, is another example of how easy it is at the moment to borrow money. The lenders are relying on the continued growth in the value of homes as collateral on the loan. Don't rely on household high-street mortgagers to act responsibly or in your interests, rely on yourself and regain control of your financial life. Don't tell us, here at the Surgery, that there won't be someone who takes on this loan, consolidating his credit card and overdraft debts in the process, to buy his first home and face the decorating/furnishing/homebuying bills that accompany this otherwise memorable experience, only to slide back into using the old credit card and running-up the old overdraft, praying that negative equity is a thing of the past. Don't tell us because we've looked after dozens of them here at Money Surgery. Don't merge debts, get rid of debts, say the doctors.

Please read on.

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2004 articles,
2000 - 2003 articles

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