Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Spend & Save

Benjamin Steele: I needed a loan but was penalised for being a debt virgin

In The Red

I stared at the letter in disbelief. Refused? My dreams of getting a career development loan from the Co-operative Bank to fund a Master's degree had been shot down. Did they know about that fiver that I borrowed off my friend and never paid back? Or the books that people had lent me over the years that had "gone missing"?

Fact was – on this occasion – stranger than fiction. My low credit score was – incredibly – due to my never having had a loan before. Yes, because I hadn't had a loan, I couldn't have a loan!

My mind cast back to my younger years, when the Nationwide building society had cruelly refused to turn my child account into an adult account – with a grown-up debit card and a, somewhat measly, £500 overdraft – for the same reason.

My confusion quickly turned to outrage. Instead of "innocent until proven guilty" this was "guilty until proven innocent" or, indeed, until "proven liable to spend money that wasn't mine".

I raged silently and impotently at the ridiculous Catch-22 I found myself in. I had been labelled and penalised for being a debt virgin.

Happily, NatWest proved more helpful and agreed to deflower me, as it were, by placing in my hand a shiny card – thankfully debit, not credit – and sending me off to spend, spend, spend (as long as I remained within my overdraft limits, of course).

A few years down the line then, I had become used to viewing myself as somewhat of a debt aficionado. After all I had been around the block a few times, I had even, on several occasions, narrowly escaped exceeding my overdraft limit (which, incidentally, is actually not a limit at all but an opportunity for spending slightly costlier money).

In other words, I was ready to take my debt to the next level. Let's face it, a career development loan is not what you get if your benefit cheque just won't stretch till the end of the month. It is for the responsible among us, those who need a helping hand to fulfil their dreams.

Except, in order to get one, you needed at some dreadful point in your life to have owed money to someone. How the landed gentry ever develop their careers is beyond me.

Luckily, NatWest came to my rescue again by extending my overdraft which, oddly, apparently doesn't count as a loan. It means I may still not be able to get a mortgage when the time comes. It is debt, but the wrong sort.

Halfway through my Master's degree, I look enviously at my friends who are squirming in a morass of credit card debt built up over the years. Thankfully, at least they can be sure of getting a loan whenever they want.