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Loans and Credit Cards – and Bankruptcy

Not so very long ago the moral climate in this country was very different. People had more time for each other, and more time to examine and compare their own moral standards with others. One of the many results of this was an almost unspoken pride in making your own way through life without looking for handouts from the state or elsewhere.

This resulted in a high degree of poverty in the working classes and the unemployed with their determination to be in debt to no one, but also a resolve in the so-called middle and upper classes to avoid financial embarrassment. The lowest point of this ‘loss of face’ was a declaration of bankruptcy – the shame which this carried with it is difficult to comprehend nowadays, but it was very real then. People lived (often very precariously) within their means and a failed business venture was a usual reason for total loss of credit.

Credit – even that word has undergone a subtle change of meaning. It used to be a means for businessmen to raise funds for expansion or a new venture, and was a word with very limited use outside the business world. Nowadays credit is more often taken to mean the opportunities for individuals to spend more than they earn and to live beyond their means, with a concomitant increase in the numbers declaring bankruptcy.

This situation however seems to have lost its aura of shame, and instead has become, whilst not quite a badge of pride, at least an apparently easy way out of a crisis of ones own making. In 2005 there were almost 70,000 individuals declared bankrupt in England and Wales; the trend would seem to indicate that the figure for 2006 will exceed 100,000.

This has resulted in an explosion in bad debts to a current average in the UK of over £3000 per person – a staggering total of over £190 billion. High street banks report that they are being particularly hard hit.

Why so many? There are two major factors involved – the availability and the variety. Credit is now very readily obtained, with some financial institutions positively anxious to lend sums of money which are at best loosely related to the borrower’s income. The increased variety is provided in the form of debit and credit cards, mortgages, unsecured loans and ‘schemes’ such as consolidation agreements.

A further problem is the refusal by many people to see the problems they are facing and to deal with them whilst there is yet time. They tend to close their eyes and hope it will all work out, which to some extent it does – by a declaration of bankruptcy! This can result in loss of their home and most of their possessions and, doubtless in many cases, the break up of their family.

One improvement for bankrupts is in the increased cost of housing which can mean that they have sufficient assets to pay their debts but do not necessarily have to sell the property, despite their lack of available funds.

Does the problem start in schools? Not because pupils are going bankrupt, but because proper education in financial matters is virtually non-existent. This really would be useful education – learning about the costs of credit, how to use credit cards responsibly, how to say no to that unrepeatable bargain, how to operate a bank account etc. All of which would be remarkably useful information in the credit crazy 21st century.

In addition, people need to know the cost of loss of control over their financial affairs. That administrators will take control of all their financial decision making, and that there could be criminal charges for irregularities. That restrictions on their actions can continue for up to 15 years after discharge. Perhaps most telling, the information that an administrator will for their services, take a 15% levy on all income received by the bankrupt person. This at the time when for the bankrupt every penny will count as never before.

Bankruptcy Restriction Orders are likely to be served on around 10% of bankrupts who are deemed to have been reckless in their move into debt, and are to be made very much aware that the condition is ‘self-inflicted’. A restriction order operates for up to 15 years, and prevents trading under a different name or acting as a company director, and makes credit virtually unobtainable.