Money: Click here for the loan arrangers

You can borrow via the web but, as Stephen Pritchard says, there's little help if you hit a financial short circuit
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The Independent Online
PERSONAL loans offer lower interest rates than credit cards and their fixed repayments make budgeting easier, although the credit card has the edge in convenience. Bank loans also compete well with store cards, overdrafts and manufacturers' or retailers' credit schemes for large purchases such as a car.

The disadvantage of a loan is the need to go to the bank, obtain the right loan form, fill it in and wait for your money before hitting the high street. Using the internet, it is becoming easier to find the right sort of finance at the best interest rate and arrange the loan.

Abbey National's internet pages list the company's loan offers, along with a repayment calculator. Type in the amount you want to borrow and Abbey's computer comes back with the monthly repayments, with and without payment protection, for periods between 12 and 96 months. Helpfully, the calculator also gives the total cost of the loan, including interest, for each period. Web users can e-mail Abbey National for more information, or send a message asking the bank to call back to arrange the loan.

Barclays' website sets out to spare customers' blushes as well as save their time. The pages contain the usual information about the bank's unsecured loans and a loan calculator, but it adds a "one-minute loan planner". The idea here is to tick answers to a series of questions - for example, about your home and work - and the bank will give an approximate credit score.

This is backed up with a budget planner which prompts customers for details of income and expenditure to arrive at a monthly figure for disposable income from which to service a loan.

The Halifax takes the on-line process to its logical conclusion: its site allows applications for loans over the internet. Borrowers fill in an electronic form which is sent to the bank as a secure document. For now, the process is restricted to Halifax customers, but for internet users it is by far the easiest way to raise extra finance.

With any form of borrowing comes the risk of unmanageable debt. As credit becomes easier to find and raise, there is the risk that people will run into problems with their repayments. As yet, the internet offers fewer resources for people with money problems than it might. There are resources listing money advice centres - Manchester City Council's website has a listing of help services, for example - but there are far fewer sites dealing with personal debt here than in the United States. Credit.com is just one North American site that provides information to people in debt. Some of the information is specific to US borrowers, but there is general advice as well.

There are rather more sites dealing with business debt and insolvency. Insolvency.co.uk is a comprehensive site with links to insolvency practitioners and information on receiverships. The site will also interest members of the public who have money tied up in firms in trouble: the site contains a list of creditors' meetings.

For general advice, though, the best option is the range of essays on loans and borrowing, both on bank and general financial web sites. Among the best is Moneyworld's loans article, which outlines the key points to consider before borrowing.

Of the large lenders, Midland Bank deserves a special mention for addressing the issue of debt head-on. The bank's web pages have all the usual information about its loan products, but they also offer sound advice.

Midland explains the way borrowing works, how it can run out of control and what to do if it does. The bank also publishes a reasoned analysis of borrowing to pay off old debts (debt consolidating) countering some of the wilder claims of financial salvation offered in the small ads.

As the bank points out, the best way to deal with debt is to contact the lender as soon as possible. Letting borrowers review their options from the comfort and anonymity of the internet can only help people in trouble make that difficult first step.

q Contacts: Abbey National, www.abbeynational.co.uk; Barclays, www.barclays.co.uk; Credit.com, www.credit.com; Halifax, www.halifax.co.uk; Insolvency.co.uk, www.insolvency.co.uk; Manchester City Council, www.manchester. gov.uk/advice/where- to-go/index. html; Midland Bank, www.midlandbank.co.uk; Moneyworld, www.moneyworld.co.uk/faqs/loafaq3.htm. The writer welcomes details of financial internet sites, good or bad. Please e-mail them to stephen. pritchard @dial.pipex.com.

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