Simon Read: Finance firms keep their cards too close to their chest

 

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The Independent Online

When it comes to finding the best credit card, it's a simple process to go to one of the comparison sites and discover which one has the lowest rate, or the longest 0 per cent balance-transfer deal.

But buying on price could prove to be a painful mistake if you choose a company that is going to make your life a misery with poor customer service, for instance.

So I like the ratings provided by the website FairerFinance.com. This seeks to show which companies have the happiest customers, and which are the most open and transparent. It does that by asking tens of thousands of people what they think about finance firms and then analysing the marketing bumpf and websites of the companies. It will be publishing its latest ratings of credit cards next week but gave me a preview of the statistics yesterday.

I learnt that credit card companies are far from being open and honest with us in their marketing. Only around a quarter of them display the summary box prominently, while less than half make it clear that they may not give you the advertised rate.

That is trickery in effect, in my opinion, as card companies attract people by offering what appears to be a low headline rate, and then tell many that they'll be charged much, much more.

They should make it much clearer that the headline rate will only be offered to those with exemplary credit records so borrowers know that they may face much higher interest charges.

First Direct ranks higher for transparency in the FairerFinance ratings, with 97 per cent, and the online bank also gets high marks for happiness and trust. By comparison, the credit card giant Barclaycard is awarded just 41 per cent for transparency, 21 per cent for happiness and 19 per cent for trust.

In fact Barclaycard has slumped to the bottom of the card rankings table after being awarded just a 5 per cent overall rating from the website, compared with FirstDirect's 97 per cent.

I don't believe you should sign up to any finance deal on the basis of a set of figures. Ratings such as these are a much more useful guide than simple rate comparisons.

s.read@independent.co.uk

twitter: @simonnread

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