It’s a seductive deal: a pre-loaded “easy shop” card which lets you spend up to £500 at Argos, and repay the money in monthly instalments. But there’s a rather big sting: the interest rate can be as high as 222.7%.
Price comparison website uSwitch.com this week warned cash-strapped consumers, struggling to afford Christmas presents, to avoid expensive loans marketed by doorstep credit firms. Some of these come in the form of pre-paid plastic cards and gift vouchers accepted by popular, well-known stores. It comes amid mailings being sent out nationwide by Provident Personal Credit, the largest doorstep-collection home lender, to promote its products.
These include the “easy shop” card which comes with a pre-loaded loan of £100-£500 to spend in any Argos store (or pass on as a gift to someone else to spend) which borrowers then have to pay back in fixed weekly instalments at a typical APR of 222.7% over 27 weeks or 183.2% over 56 weeks.
Weekly repayments are collected immediately, even if the cardholder has not spent anything. The lender also sells gift vouchers - which work in the same way, with an APR of up to 222.7% - that can be spent in 97 high street stores including Woolworths, Topshop, HMV, Debenhams and House of Fraser.
Louise Bond, personal finance manager at uSwitch.com, says: “Despite being attached to well-known and trusted brands, people shouldn’t be fooled into thinking these are anything other than a sub-prime loan with an inflated APR.
“It seems they are just cashing in on desperate consumers who need relatively small amounts of money quickly. These customers may not care how much they have to pay back as they are just focused on the Christmas period.”
Provident Personal Credit’s main business is offering small cash loans - normally between £50 and £500 - to people on low incomes who often have a poor credit history. An agent calls to collect a fixed repayment each week.
Interest rates on cash loans are even higher than those on the store-linked gift vouchers and card. A £300 cash loan repaid at £15 a week over 31 weeks, for example, will end up costing £465 - a typical APR of 365.1%. Yet, despite the higher cost, 90% of the lender’s 1.7 million existing customers opt for cash loans.
“We can give a slightly better rate on vouchers and cards than for cash because we negotiate a discount on products with the retailers who accept them,” says Provident spokesman David Stevenson. “But most want cash because they can spend it anywhere they find a bargain.”
Bond adds: “We’d strongly advise people to exhaust every other avenue first before (taking out these sorts of loans) and to consider scaling down your spending.”
Source: The Guardian