Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Would you like a debt collector with that?

It's not a problem getting a credit card if you're in the UK. Shockingly easy, actually. Imagine the old fast food joint thing about "would you like fries with that?" - well, here it's like "would you like a credit card with that?" I find it quite disturbing, to be honest, because at the same time, we're showered with commercials about debt consolidation and personal loans and reports that people are in over their heads in debt.

Everyone seems to offer credit cards as well, so it's not just banks and actual credit card companies. It's supermarkets, airlines and other stores to name but a few. Even the RSPCA offer one! (Same goes for insurance policies, come to think of it.)

When I moved over, we went to the bank to get me a bank account. I went there to get a bank account and left with a current account, a savings account, Internet banking, a cheque book, a debit card and a credit card. For free. Just like that. Even though I had only moved over not long before and didn't have a job or any money, I could basically put myself in a £1000 debt on my credit card straight away, had I wanted to. That sounds wrong to me.

In Sweden, you pay for a lot of things. Some I agree with, some I don't. For instance, a common Swedish bank charges 155 SEK (ca £12) annually for using their online services. On the other hand, the security of Swedish Internet banking is considerably higher than the British. The British system is a joke! In Britain, you have an ID number to fill in, then you're asked about your date of birth, and get to give 3 random numbers from your 6-digit password. That's all. Once you're logged in, there's no verification when you add a new payee or want to pay something. You're asked if you're sure you want to proceed with the transaction, and click yes and it's done. Simple as that. Logging into my Swedish bank requires a lot more. On the site, I type in my full birth number (birthdate and four numbers which combined are unique to you and used as an ID), and then gets taken to a page with an 8-digit code. This code I have to type into a device that looks like a calculator, so I power it up, enter a pin number, type in the 8-digit code, which the "calculator" transforms into another 8-digit code which you enter on the page. This code is only valid for 3 minutes, so no dawdling when you log in. If you want to add a new payee, you have to get the number gizmo out again and confirm it. Same when you want to confirm a payment. You can log in using just a password and your birth ID number thingy, but that will only allow you to see your balance and transfer money from one of your accounts to another.

Spot the difference? Sure, the British online banking is free to use (good), but the security leaves me unconvinced (bad), as I know how good it can be. Also, I think paying bills in at the branch is free as well (good). If you're paying in a bill in the bank or post office branch in Sweden, you're charged 50 SEK (ca £4) per bill (bad, real bad), which means three bills alone will pay for the Internet banking, as in online banking, you're not charged anything to pay in bills. You just pay for the service itself.

Cheque books are free in the UK - just as well, as they're actually in frequent use by people. Cheques in Sweden are a very rare occurance, and I doubt you'd get a cheque book for free. You'd have to cash it in a branch, of course, and that's not free.

So what about credit and debit cards in Sweden? That's the funny thing when I was getting my UK account. They asked if I wanted cards with that... and I asked about the price. They looked slightly puzzled by this, because you only get charged for a card if you're overdrawn or don't use it at all in Britain, it would seem. In Sweden, if you want to use a Visa card, you have to pay 250 SEK (ca £19) a year, regardless of if you use it or not. MasterCard and Maestro range from 195 SEK (ca £15) to 220 SEK (ca £17) per annum. If you have a Maestro card, though, you can add a free service called an eCard to it, which is a little computer program that generates a temporary credit card number which you can use for secure online purchases. You put a time and spending limit on it, see. Excellent little thing!

Even though I don't like being charged for having a card, I think it's a good idea, actually. If you have to pay in order to have one, you're not as likely to get yourself a stash of credit cards and juggle balance transfers and getting into loads of debt. If you have the one credit card, there's only one credit limit to worry about. It limits overspending.

As it stands now, I have two credit cards. If I was in Sweden, I'd have one, or none at all. I'd be quite happy to just stick with my debit card for in-store purchases and use the eCard for online purchases. That's what I did when I lived there, and got on swell. Was I ever in debt due to overspending on credit cards? Certainly not.

And I haven't even mentioned that you normally have to show your ID card for credit/debit card purchases over 100 or 200 SEK in Sweden. That tops chip and pin. Chip and pin isn't as secure as they say it is anyway, as the pin code can be intercepted.

ID cards, by the way... is another discussion. I think an ID card system like the one that's been used in Sweden for ages is great. It contains that birth ID number, your full name, your signature and your picture. That's about it. The one proposed in the UK just seems like overkill. To say they would help prevent terrorism is laughable. It's not as if your ID card would say "Terrorist" on it, for starters. But I suppose it's just another one of those things that show how much of a confused mess this country is. Not that Sweden is Utopia in any way, it may still be a bit of a mess - but at least it's an organised mess.


  1. yes because Sweden rules, we all know that :P We even have three more letters... that's like something right ;)

  2. I never liked the fact that Sweden charge you to havea bank card. That just seems stupid to me. Also in regards to internet banking the English bank cards (atleast barclays and Nationwide) now require the little calculator machine when logging on. Barclays even require it after you logged on if making any new payments or transactions so thats good. Thou credit cards internet safety is crap (I did get my Virgin card hacked on the internet but they did find out about it before anything happened and changed my details, but still bad). And yeah I agree it's way to easy to get Credit cards and overdrafts etc in England.