George T. Mortimer is the editor and webmaster of the amazing Media Underground, as well as being the author of The Probationer’s Handbook, and The Key of it All. Each week Mort will be teaching you ways of keeping ‘The Man’ on his toes, and all from the comfort of your home.
Fun With Finances
A few weeks ago the fixed rate on my mortgage ran out resulting in a rather alarming increase in my monthly repayments to the Halifax Bank Of Scotland (soon to be laughably called Lloyds Trustees Savings Halifax Bank Of Scotland – or something as equally ludicrous due to recent bailout plans). Being the ever-vigilant little investor that I am – and realising the implications that the current economic crisis will have on mortgage rates – I decided to schedule an appointment with the bank to negotiate another fix rate mortgage for a few more years.
The offer they presented to me was reasonable, I thought, until I asked if there were any additional charges.
“It’s £999,” remarked the mortgage advisor as calm as you like, “for transferring from a variable rate to a fixed rate for 5 years.”
“A grand!” I exclaimed. “But I’m not transferring to anywhere, I’m already a goddamned existing customer!”
The mortgage advisor looked contemptuous, almost sneering at my reaction like I was some kind of cheapskate. “It’s the current climate,” he pointed out, “all the high street banks are doing it.”
I stood up, dropped the tropical rain forest he’d spent the good part of two hours printing out and began walking away in disgust.
“You can shove that offer right up your arse,” I remarked, “I can shop around.”
And that’s the first moral of the story. Don’t believe the bastards. Not all the high street banks have such ludicrous charges. After spending an afternoon checking out a number of banks and building societies I settled on the Nationwide who offered me a cheaper rate and a far more affordable transfer fee.
Several days later I emailed a friend telling him about the matter and he came up with a genius idea:
“Next time you go into HBOS (Hair-Brained Office of Shitheads) just stand in the middle of the room and take a dump or something. Or another less drastic wheeze is to write loads of small denomination cheques to yer mates (say £2.50) and get them to write them back as it costs a bomb for banks to process the dear old cheque. That’ll soon eat into those cocksuckers’ £1000 transfer fee.”
Whilst the idea of taking a dump in the middle of the bank’s floor has a certain aesthetic appeal, one could also, I suppose, set up two accounts with the same bank and throw small denomination cheques back and forward to yourself. This could be especially satisfying whenever one receives excessive charges for being overdrawn or having a direct debit bounce.
As you are all probably aware, however, banks are up to no good. Recently I had a two month argument with my own bank about charges applied to my account out of no fault of my own. The bank in question is laughably called Smile and it’s the online division of the Co-operative Financial Services Group – a bunch of crooks who were originally set up “by the people for the people”. This kind of communism has long since died out and the Co-op now functions as a ruthless organisation determined to profit from the little guy on the street.
The problem I had was that pending direct debits were shown as having left my account whilst not reflecting on the balance of the online statement. This can only be considered a deliberate ploy in an attempt to confuse and bewilder the customer so that he/she is never quite sure if they have sufficient funds to cover their bills.
As a result, I was charged a total of £60 for the convenience of them not paying my direct debits, so after a long-winded telephone argument with some call-centre numbskull in an eastern European country, I decided to present my case to the Financial Ombudsman.
The key to successfully retrieving your money is never to back down. If you argue long and hard enough occasionally the bank will offer half of the fees back to you as “a good will gesture,” but when they do, tell them where they can ram it. Register a complaint with the Ombudsman, sit back, keep a copy of all your correspondences, and let the matter run its course. The Financial Ombudsman will contact the bank on your behalf and allow them 8 weeks to respond to you with a final verdict. The Ombudsman will also have supplied you with a next stage complaints application pack, however, you will almost always receive your charges back before it gets to that level since it’s not in the bank’s best interest to be seen to be in constant negotiations with the Financial Ombudsman. When they do refund all your money, hassle the bank for the interest you have lost on money that has been unjustly taken from your account. I can’t guarantee success in this venture but it makes for good entertainment and eats away at their time.
Other fun you can have with finances if you are running low on funds is to pay your bills by cheque. Once you have made out and signed the written order, fold it several times, tear it at the corners and smudge the ink. This will prevent the cheque from being fed into a machine and the bank will put it to the side to be manually processed later. The organisation you made the cheque out to will have it on their records that you’ve made your payment, but it could take up to two weeks for the bank to process the offending item. You’ll be up to date with your bill but the delay will give you time to put sufficient funds in your account to cover the expenditure.