Fintech is a jazzy name for innovation in ways of providing you with financial services. It usually involves a mobile phone, which should never be involved in anything valuable to you, because of the ease with which ne’er-do-wells can run off with your phone number via a SIM swap. But it doesn’t have to. The trouble is in the word innovation. A lot of innovation is put into parting you from your money. It began with Access being your flexible friend, helping out Money when you run out of month. The song’s still the same after 30 years, but innovation is there to riff on the tune.
The problem is that innovation means that your usual spidey sense for scams or bad outcomes doesn’t work. Take Klarna, f’rinstance. Classic piece of fintech, it’s designed to reduce friction in spending for the young. I’ve already had a grouse about Klarna this time last year in the YOLO train-wreck post, and now there’s this story about a young lady who has only just discovered the impact of Klarna on her credit score.
Your grizzled scrivener has a sneaking admiration for Erin, because at 21 she is keeping an eye on her credit score and seems to be managing her general finances with a competence that my younger self failed to achieve. I had to chase earning more to assuage the leakage from my pay packet into things like beer, music and high living. OTOH my younger self was still not so far from the principles my parents had instilled –
Don’t spend more than you earn, son, and if you have to do it, only for non-wasting assets. Do not borrow money for consumption
Klarna seems to be a specific case of a new class of fintech, basically designed to part the poor from their money, by salami-slicing the sticker shock over time. It comes with instagram-friendly puffery but the basic premise is that £100 sounds high, so make it four lots of £25. It is absolutely true that it’s easier to pay off four lots of £25 from four pay packets than one lot of £100.
Always pay cash for your thneeds
What you must not do, however, is to then go and do that another three times that month, thinking to yourself it’s only £25, I can easily manage that. Because four lots of £25 is just as tough as one lot of £100, but now you’re stuck doing that for four months rather than one. This is the fundamental scam behind all these slice-it-and-dice-it buy-now-pay-later schemes, they’re trying to get you to spend more.
The rule is simple. Always pay cash for thneeds. What is a thneed? The Lorax had this taped way back in the 1970s. It’s something that you think you need, but the subtext is you don’t really. And it destroys the environment in some way. Fits fast fashion perfectly.
In the personal finance world we call these Wants, as opposed to Needs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Wants, they make life a bit more interesting and colourful. But you should never borrow to buy Wants. Pay cash. Or use a credit card but pay it off at the end of the month.
If you can buy it with Klarna, it’s a Thneed. You can’t buy food, or toilet bleach with Klarna. Take a butcher’s hook at Klarna’s Instagram. It’s lifestyle, not substance. Strapline
The Pay later people. Highlighting UK retailers smoooth enough to offer Klarna.
Shop our Instagram here
For God’s sake don’t borrow to buy shit like that. If you have money left over at the end of the month, fine. Head on over to MSE’s Demotivator first, however, to find out how many weeks you have to work a year to buy this garbage.
The trouble with Klarna is it’s a ragtag mix of different products
Pay in full in 30 days? It’s a charge card. Pay in 3 instalments? It’s a personal loan application, but for a pissy small amount. Worse still, use the instalment procedure often, and you look like a deadbeat trying to get loan after loan after loan, which means any self-respecting financial institution is going to be very wary of lending you money. If you’re going to take on a hard credit search, then borrow a decent amount of money in the thousands, don’t piddle about with £100 here and there.
Sure, you don’t pay interest if you pay over three months. But you hurt your chances of getting a loan, credit card or mortgage. Here’s a radical idea. Save up for your thneeds before you buy them. There are things in life you do have to borrow money for, and they are important enough (housing, a buffer against losing your job etc). Don’t screw your chances of getting to borrow when you need to for saving a couple of month’ interest on your thneeds. If you must buy your thneeds before you have the money use a credit card, preferably just after you’ve paid off the balance. You get a month and a half of interest-free credit if you pay it off, and if you don’t, then at least it doesn’t crap on your credit score.
Klarna is the fintech version of your grandmother’s catalogue shopping
Back in the day there used to be catalogues of consumer crap and thneeds and clothes delivered to working-class neighbourhoods. These advertised some ghastly object, say for £50. It wouldn’t say this was £50, it would say that this was 50p a week over three years. Their hope was to reduce the sticker shock so people would think that’s only 50p, I can afford that for a while, let’s have it. Then they get to pay nearly £80 over the three years. Klarna is using that sort of principle. It’s not quite Brighthouse, which is the online version of the catalogue scam.
Fintech credit is bad, but fintech isn’t inherently bad.
New ways of borrowing money are bad for your wealth IMO. There are established ways of borrowing money: mortgages, bank loans and credit cards. We are used to them and they are reasonably regulated. We don’t need new ways of borrowing money in funny ways, particularly for Wants.
However, some sorts of fintech are good IMO. I use Starling Bank. Starling means I can buy things in foreign currencies without eating the stupid fees that old-tech banks charge, just because they can. The ability to switch off the card and re-enable it has some value, as does the immediate itemisation of card purchases including contactless. All good stuff. Fintech is doing some good stuff with investing, reducing transaction costs.
If you can’t Pay Now, then Don’t Pay
Klarna. The Pay later people.
The red flag is right up there. Pay Later is always bad for your financial health in some way. If your current self can’t pay now, what do you know about your future self that means they can pay later? Particularly when your future self is only a month away? When was the last time you saw a mortgage advertised as Pay Later? That’s what it is, but at least it’s on an appreciating asset. Nothing you can buy with Klarna is an asset, it’s for consumables. Pay cash for that sort of thing, or use a credit or debit card and pay it off in full. If you can’t do that you can’t afford it, and your next-month-older-self won’t be able to afford it any better than your current skint self. Buy your consumer shit just before the end of the month, with cash or a debit card 😉 Then you know you can afford it. Want to buy a consumable that’s dearer than a month’s spare cash? Here’s a radical idea. Save up for it beforehand. No spare cash? Don’t buy it.
Klarna. Just Say No. Erin can buy several sizes, try them on and return the ones that don’t fit using a regular credit card. If she’s buying enough that five of each size is maxing her credit card limit then perhaps she needs to think about her fashion habit, but she’s probably OK.
For sure if she screws up she will end up paying interest, but it sounds like she’s organised enough to avoid that – just don’t buy fashion in the week before her statement is produced, or have two credit cards, one with a statement date at the beginning of the month and one in the middle, and use whichever one has been billed most recently. And make sure to pay them off. In full.