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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 November, 2003, 00:47 GMT
56,000 in credit? Certainly sir
By Justin Rowlatt
Panorama reporter

You want to spend it like Beckham? It couldn't be easier.

A couple of hours on the computer, a visit to your high street and - a few weeks later - you too could have 56,600 to spend.

That's how much credit I managed to rack up in just six hours.

To be honest I was a little disappointed. I'd hoped to match the 58,000 Beckham earns every day.

With a little more work - a couple more calls - who knows, I might have made it. After all there's no shortage of places to apply for cards.


These days you can get credit from virtually anywhere. Banks and building societies are old hat. Why not check out the offers from your local supermarkets?

Then there are the American companies like Capital One and MBNA which are providing ferocious competition for our home-grown card providers. How about a card from an e-bank, your favourite shop or even your local football club?

There's no guarantee they'll give you one, of course. They'll want to check out that you are creditworthy and that you are who you say you are.

I lost track of how many companies turned me down - I was particularly upset when John Lewis knocked me back; such a good shop and quite a reasonable interest rate, at least for a store card.

But set-backs aside it was an illuminating experience, a journey into a world I'd never known.


Credit cards are one of the most effective tools for separating people from their money ever devised.
Justin Rowlatt
I've always managed to avoid having a credit card - I've relied on the services of a debit card and an overdraft facility.

And I'll be honest, I was shocked by what I discovered - not just because it was so easy to get credit but by how it feels when you get it.

A credit card is a pretty insubstantial thing, a little piece of shiny plastic. Most aren't even particularly well designed. But it's not how they look or feel that's important, it's the world of opportunity they represent that counts.

For many of us credit cards are even more alluring than cash, precisely because they seem so insubstantial, so unreal.

Debt cards

"It might as well have said free curry on the front", one of our interviewees told me, "because that's what it was, it was free money and you went and spent it as if it was yours."

But there's nothing free about credit cards. They are one of the most effective tools for separating people from their money ever devised.

The bank base rate is 3.5%. The lowest interest rate on my fistful of cards is 12.9%, the highest is 29.3%.

In fact even the name is wrong. They are credit cards until you use them. As soon as you've done that they become something completely different. Then they are debt cards. Because, let's face it, few people pay them off in full every month.

Spend it like Beckham was broadcast on BBC One on Sunday, 30 November, 2003 at 2215 GMT.

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