Up to £15,000 in three-and-a-half minutes: how to get an interest-free loan with no strings attached

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The Independent Online

I have just had a rather wonderful three-and-a-half minute Egg. That was exactly how long it took me to borrow £15,000, absolutely free of interest, for six months, from a total stranger over the telephone. Egg is the internet banking service that has so kindly thrust this money-for-nothing deal in my direction - a credit card on which I can get into debt to the tune of 15 grand straight away.

I have just had a rather wonderful three-and-a-half minute Egg. That was exactly how long it took me to borrow £15,000, absolutely free of interest, for six months, from a total stranger over the telephone. Egg is the internet banking service that has so kindly thrust this money-for-nothing deal in my direction - a credit card on which I can get into debt to the tune of 15 grand straight away.

I could have borrowed it from them through the internet, but distrusting technology and having an old-fashioned prejudice in favour of talking to real people, I found a phone number for them instead. The real person on the end of it was very nice, and put my name through a credit check while I waited. I was prepared to wait quite a while for that, especially as Amex has been writing me threatening letters because I keep forgetting to pay the monthly dues on the card I have with them. But I was mistaken. The credit check took all of 12 seconds. Giving my name, address, phone number and a rather vague estimate of my earnings accounted for the rest of the three-and-a-half minutes. Borrowing money can never have been simpler.

And the net result is that Egg offered me £15,000 - a figure they came up with. I had been expecting a credit limit roughly one-20th of that. And it is, unless I have missed something, absolutely free of any interest at all, as long as I give it back by June. No security, no interest, no hassle, and they took my word for what I earned. And I wasn't even ringing from my own telephone.

I am having building work done to stop my house falling down. I had made an appointment with my high street bank to borrow, by coincidence, the same amount of money to pay for it. It took a whole morning's face-to-face interview with their mortgage person. Naturally, they demanded security - the said house should I fail to repay. They are sending a man round to look at the house next week, to make sure it still exists. They demand evidence of earnings for the past three years, so my accountant has to provide a letter to that effect. They demand life insurance, which is daft because I have no dependents, and when I die they can have the whole lot if they like. But still, they want life insurance so I will pay for it. And they want to know when their doctor can come to to inspect my failing body.

The hassle compared to the three-and-a-half minute Egg system is huge, and it's not over yet. Egg manages the job without doctors, without proof of earnings - and presumably without being able to foreclose on house and home if I fall behind with the repayments.

Unlike Egg, the high street bank demands, very properly in my old- fashioned opinion, security. It will take my house if I fail to repay. Does this make theirs proper money, as opposed to the make-believe kind that the credit card people are thrusting at me? Or is instant money just as good as the old-fashioned, hand-crafted sort? As a financial innocent, I only ask.

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