The most Wongaful time of the year

Euan McTear

December. A time of fairy lights, shopping, cards, pretty trees in the living room, those fancy Starbucks coffees, red, green, gold, a jolly fat man and … payday lenders?

With the Money Advice Service estimating that 1.2 million Brits will turn to a payday lender like Wonga, QuickQuid or Mr Lender to fund their festive spending this December, Wonga could soon become as important in our Christmas vocab as Rudolph or Jesus, if it isn’t already. But is Wonga really the pantomime villain we automatically assume?

Say you decide to take out that extra £100 you need to cover your Christmas shop. You decide you’ll give yourself one month to pay it back – until your next payday or until your next SAAS payment comes in. The amount to pay back in one month’s time is exactly £137.15, including fees – a fact which is very clearly presented to you on the website. So although the annual interest rate is a mindblowing 5853%, the actual cost of borrowing £100 for a month is – and I use this word lightly here – only £37.15.

Is that £37.15 quid really that big a deal when it could be the difference between being able to fly home for Christmas or not? Or when it’s the only way of getting your excited kid the latest gadget that all of the other kids in the class have? Or when having a Christmas dinner you’ll never forget with all of the family is a dream only realised with a little help from Wonga?

Many people will think that it is worth it, and that’s why services like Wonga will be used from now until Christmas Eve by those who are most vulnerable. Late repayment comes with a £30 penalty and can affect your credit rating. The longer it takes to pay your small-looking loan back, the closer to the 5853% APR you get. That’s how the horror stories you hear about begin.

But I’d argue it’s that sense of December greed that says, “I need my kid to have the latest iPad” – or even the kids who tell their abiding parents, “I need to you to get me that latest iPad” – that is the real root of the problem. Times are hard and we’ve just come through the worst recession since the war. Students face higher living costs and tuition fees than ever before. Unemployment or underemployment affects many UK families. Yet somewhere amongst all that we seem to have decided that the our need to commercialise Christmas is as great as ever. If ever there was a time to tighten the purse strings then it is now.

Spending Christmas with the family is seen as God-given right to be obtained at any cost, but is the flight affordable? Having a meal large enough to feed the whole town is ‘tradition’ and must be done, but is it affordable? Spending big on all your friends is necessary to avoid losing face, but is it affordable? iPads are really cool, but are they affordable?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, then that’s probably reason enough not to do it. At least that’s how it used to be. Now, with Wonga just a couple of clicks away, we can satisfy any festive greed and delay the consequences to January.

Turning to Wonga to pay a bill that’s due or to fix the heating is understandable. Turning to Wonga just for the sake of wanting something is, at least in my view, not.

So yes, Wonga is not cheap and yes, it is exploiting many people. But it is able to do so because there is demand for it. Wonga and other payday lenders aren’t the problem; they are simply the means through which a larger problem is carried out.


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