Melanie Bien: Don't score an own goal on your season ticket

It's that time of year again for football fans: not crying into their pints because the season has come to an end but working out how on earth they are going to pay for their season ticket for 2004-05. Even before the last kick of this campaign, ticket renewal forms are plopping on doormats up and down the country, as clubs attempt to raise cash to fund their summer transfer business.

It's that time of year again for football fans: not crying into their pints because the season has come to an end but working out how on earth they are going to pay for their season ticket for 2004-05. Even before the last kick of this campaign, ticket renewal forms are plopping on doormats up and down the country, as clubs attempt to raise cash to fund their summer transfer business.

With season tickets the price they are nowadays, most fans will have to do a bit of juggling and budgeting to cover the cost. My Arsenal ticket costs £837 - one of the cheapest at Highbury - but it needs to be paid by the end of this month. And given that the boyfriend has one as well, budgeting is high on the agenda chez Bien.

Much as I love my club, using the finance it offers to cover the cost of the season ticket is not a sound move. Football clubs simply don't do the best finance deals; they don't have to because they can rely on fan loyalty.

For example, the Arsenal Mastercard from Bank of Scotland has an introductory offer of 0 per cent on new purchases for the first five months, which is great.

But if I haven't cleared the balance by this time, it shifts to a standard annual percentage rate (APR) of 14.9, which is rather high. Halifax One Visa's 0 per cent for new purchases for nine months is a much better deal as I have longer to clear the balance, and even if I don't, it reverts to a more reasonable APR of 9.9 after that time.

But whichever card I opt for, it is questionable whether I'd actually receive it by the end of the month in time to beat the deadline anyway.

An unsecured personal loan might be a better bet, particularly as the Arsenal website reveals that this can be sorted out in just 24 hours. However, I have to borrow at least £1,000, which is more than I need, and rates are "from 8.9 per cent APR". Even though the site states that the typical APR is 9.9, I won't actually know how much I'd be paying until the loan has been approved - and by then, it's too late. There are no payments for three months, though, which might be handy as it means I could go on holiday this summer before I need to start worrying about paying it back.

However, as with the credit card, I could get a cheaper loan if I put my football loyalties to one side: Nationwide will charge me 6.7 per cent to borrow £1,000. So over a year, it would cost me a total of £1,035.60 to pay off the season ticket - not bad at all. But while I may want only to borrow as much as I need, oddly this will cost me more: the best APR on a £850 loan over a year is 13.9 per cent from Liverpool Victoria. This would mean £61.40 in interest, compared with £35.60 if I borrow £1,000.

Shopping around for credit is clearly important, as highlighted on page 22. There is no excuse for sticking with unattractive or uncompetitive products, offered by providers which bank on our apathy.

Or, in the case of football clubs, our loyalty. They lure us in by promising that when we spend cash on our credit card, a contribution will be made to their youth development programme to discover the next Ashley Cole or go towards funding the new stadium. But the exact amount that is passed on for every spend remains something of a mystery.

Depending on the team you support, you can get pretty much any finance product you need. Manchester United, not surprisingly, offers the most sophisticated range of products, including insurance and mortgages. The rates aren't bad but they're not the best and they rely on the team thriving on the field to make them more attractive.

The "You win, we win" scheme gives reductions on insurance premiums or bonuses on savings to fans when the team does well. So this season's results won't be boosting fans' savings and investments.

Supporting a team is stressful enough without relying on its performance to boost your finances. It's a lot like gambling - and you shouldn't be doing that with your savings, investments or mortgage. By all means support your team, but leave it at that: tickets are expensive enough without committing all your finances to the club as well. The place to prove your support is from the stands - not with your wallet.

m.bien@independent.co.uk

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