Beware of the croc

I recently spent a fun afternoon wearing my actor’s hat, filming a commercial here in Bristol. I was playing an “older gent” sitting in a retirement home in Fishponds (a very nice one, by the way; I’m putting my name down) and extolling to my “son” the virtues of a new auction website, through which I had just bought the large flat-screen TV on the wall behind me.

Suddenly I am attacked by a giant crocodile. That was to be expected, of course, as the auction site is called crocbids. I’m knocked backwards out of my chair and I end up underneath the crocodile, arms and legs waving feebly.

Of course I wasn’t really knocked out of my chair, because for the first time in my life I had a body-double. They could in fact have put a disclaimer on the advert: “no elderly gents, or actors playing elderly gents, were harmed during the making of this advert.”

The finished product will be shown on Sky channels soon but I’m not sure when. If you’d like to see the commercial, though, it’s called “Crocbids Vs Retirement” and it’s on YouTube, at

For the record, and for my thanks, I was cast by Kate Marshall of Room3 Agency and the production company was Lightworx.


A week ago I announced the Kindle launch of my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, at a promotional price of £0.70 including VAT.


(That promo price, by the way, is also being applied to the other e-formats already available in the Smashwords Store.)


Today, I was pleased to see that, within the “Personal Finance” category of the Kindle Store, my book is now ranked at #29 out of 3,902 titles. The ranking is “sorted by best-selling”, according to Amazon.


Many thanks, therefore, to those of you who have bought a copy and helped put it at #29!




“Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, is available on the following retail sites:

Kindle Store:

Smashwords store for other e-formats, including .pdf:


You can follow me on Twitter: @michaelmac43, or Facebook: Michael James MacMahon.


As I write, the experts are dissecting on TV the impact of the Budget just unveiled by UK Chancellor George Osborne. I don’t claim sufficient expertise to add to the acres of coverage it will already be getting. What I do know, though, is that the uncertainties in the economy have already led more and more people into debt.

As I have just uploaded my dealing-with-debt book to the kindle store, and as I feel sure that thousands of people could benefit from it, I want to ensure it gets into the hands of as many of them as possible. I don’t want the price of the book to be a barrier.

For an introductory period, therefore, the kindle version of “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” is available at a launch price of £0.70 (or $0.99 plus VAT). Go to

For the sake of consistency, this promotional price also applies with immediate effect to the multi-format versions, including .pdf, that were already available in the Smashwords store ( The price adjustments in both stores are already active.


Reading eBooks on other devices

You don’t need a kindle to read kindle-format books! If that doesn’t make sense, what I mean is that if you read eBooks but don’t have a kindle, there is a neat piece of (free!) software called “kindle for PC”, enabling one to benefit from the improved readability of the kindle technology (and it really is) when reading on a PC or any other device. There is also a Mac version.

For a download link, just type “kindle reading apps” into Google.

Book links

To sample or purchase “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, go to on of the following retail sites:


Other e-formats, including .pdf:

Note: unlike physical books, eBooks carry VAT (I don’t understand the reason for the difference). The price in dollars is thus $1.14 to include VAT, i.e. British sales tax, even if the book is bought via . In sterling the £0.70 price includes VAT.


You can follow me on Twitter: @michaelmac43, or Facebook: Michael James MacMahon.


I recently attended an excellent conference in London, on Facebook marketing. Somebody, I can’t remember who, made the claim that “Facebook will at some point become the world’s biggest bank”. I didn’t know whether to believe that. However, I did hear many presentations at that event from entrepreneurs apparently earning serious money through Facebook and other online resources.

What I didn’t hear that day, but I know now, was that hundreds of individuals now lend money to each other through Facebook. “Cutting out the middleman”, we used to say; and Facebook is facilitating it. I came across this interesting fact while trawling through my “newspaper cuttings awaiting reading” pile and found an article by Maryrose Fison in The Independent. It was a couple of months ago but no matter.

Debt rescheduling / consolidation / relocation?

People who are concerned about their debts often ask advisers if they should look for ways to move the debt elsewhere, for example through a debt consolidation loan. The pros and cons of that route have been discussed many times so I won’t go into it here, except to say that the general advice is always to avoid this kind of loan if it has to be secured against your home.

A zero percent balance transfer is another way of getting “free” credit. Even allowing for the fact that there’s always a fee of around 3%, it’s cheap money, provided your credit record is clean enough to get it.

Borrowing money from individuals, however, is something that was new to me; except, of course, for friends and family, who are often a source of funds from which debtors make offers to their creditors for “full and final settlement”. However, this new trend is borrowing from individuals who are total strangers.

Here’s an extract from what Ms Fison said:

“As hundreds of thousands of Britons struggle to get a foot on the property ladder, with banks continuing to crack down on new lending, social networking applications have become a lifeline. Who would willingly choose to pay through the roof for an unattractive loan package when there are millions of social network users gagging to lend you their money for less?

“The average rate of interest on a loan at the Lending Club over the past 36 months has been 9.22 per cent. On Zopa, the typical APR on a loan of £5,000 over three years is 8.3 per cent, and on Funding Circle a £15,000, three-year loan has an APR of 9 per cent -well below the 12 per cent a typical bank would charge.”

That sounds attractive, although there are lending offers on the market nearer 9% than 12%; some of them were listed on the same page of the paper under “best buys”. The issue, again, would be whether one’s credit record would be good enough to qualify. A private lender would also need reassurance but might be more flexible than a bank, as they are getting a relatively high return (much better than the high street, anyway) on their money.

Facebook apps

You’ll note that Ms Fison (excuse my formal mode of address: I’m old-fashioned and I’ve never spoken to her, though I shall be following her on Twitter from now on) mentioned The Lending Club; she says it was one of the first applications to be added to Facebook in 2007. She also mentions Zopa:

“UK-based social lending service Zopa is another provider, and the number of communal lending and borrowing sites with applications on social networks is growing at a staggering rate.”

Ms Fison concludes:

“Social networking applications may still be in their infancy, but given the popularity of personal finance and online peer lending, their influence on our day-to-day activities looks set to take off this year.”

Well, there is nothing to be lost and lots to be gained by investigating this further. I’ll certainly be doing some research into peer lending sites: watch this space!


For a copy of the full article in The Independent by Maryrose Fison:

For a free sample of my book, “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, go to:


Other e-formats, including .pdf:

You can follow me on Twitter: @michaelmac43, or Facebook: Michael James MacMahon.


Please indulge me, dear reader, if I take a short canter on one of my favourite hobby-horses. We all know that the thing that best sells newspapers (after sex) is bad news. I once listened to a media consultant speaking at a conference here in Bristol, saying: “News is what somebody, somewhere, doesn’t want you to know. Everything else is advertising.”

OK, so newspapers have to be bought or the publisher will go bust. (alongside “bought”, you can now include subscribing to a website pay-wall, in the case of the Times group of papers). If we complain, as I often do, about the relentless sensationalism of which our media is so fond, the remedy is in our own hands: don’t buy that particular paper.

What really gets my goat (Why “goat”? Answers please!) is when the same policy is adopted by the BBC, which, the last time I checked, is funded by licence fees.

The thing that got me going was just a snippet and I am not even 100% sure of the motivation of the presenter in this case … but I can make an educated guess. The subject was, I think, the London Olympics.

Presenter: “what do you think of these recent rule changes?”

Interviewee: “I am sure that the people who are responsible for those rules have made the changes for a good reason, so it’s up to us to get on with it.”

Presenter: “That’s a very diplomatic answer.”

(Presenter’s thought-bubble: “Rats! No controversy? Very disappointing answer.”)

OK, the presenter’s actual response to the answer was spoken softly, in the very polite voice that particular presenter always uses for her most penetrating questions. I could be adding two and two and making 57 … but I doubt it.


A few years ago, when severely in debt, I avoided opening letters from banks and credit card companies. So I couldn’t begin the process of getting out of debt, because I didn’t have a clear picture of my situation.

However, I found that when I bit the bullet and analysed my situation in detail, I felt better! Knowing the facts, no matter how bad, is better than living with a “sword of Damocles” hanging overhead.

If you too have been ignoring those letters, please start opening them now.

Sorting that paperwork

1.       Bank statements. Overdraft? How much?

2.       Credit card / store card statements

3.       Invoices from other creditors

4.       Tax correspondence (if self-employed)

5.       “Informal” liabilities, e.g. loans from friends / family

When you’ve totalled the debts in categories 1-5, now list the positive side of your “personal balance sheet”, i.e.

6.       Estimates of the value of your assets: property; car; cash at bank (if your account’s in the black); shares; insurance policies; money owed to you, including refunds; occupational pension funds [if you’re old enough to consider cashing them in]; anything that could be turned into cash if necessary.

Now prioritise your debts, as follows:

  • Priority: “roof-over-your-head” and essential utilities, for example:
    • mortgage or rent arrears (you could lose your home)
    • other debts secured on your home (same result)
    • Council Tax (they can send in the bailiffs)
    • gas & electricity (they can cut you off)
    • water (though they cannot).
  • Non-priority: all other services you need, e.g. car loan; home or mobile phone; credit cards; all other creditors.

Income and expenditure

Now you’ve assessed your liabilities and your assets, you need to evaluate your income and expenditure. It’s a “profit and loss statement” for your life, based on your current spending pattern. Then do another, based on your “survival budget”.

You’ll need a table or spreadsheet: money advisers at your local CAB (Citizens Advice) can provide a form.

Putting it in perspective: “key ratios”

Now analyse your total debt relative to your income; also to your assets. What multiple of your net monthly income is your total debt? What percentage of your net worth? These are what I call your personal “key ratios”.

Now you are in a better position to develop your options and choose the solution that works for you.

Discretionary income

A final question: what’s your discretionary income? What’s left after tax and essential expenditure? (Not after your usual expenditure: the answer to that question might be zero, as it was for me)

Whether you think you can repay debts in full or make a partial offer, you’ll need to maximise this “discretionary income”. That’ll involve tough decisions about “needs versus wants”: between what’s essential to your life and what you see as essential to your lifestyle.


The above is an extract from Chapter 5 of my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”

Want to know more?

“Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, is now available as a multi-format eBook, to sample (first 20% free) or buy, at Smashwords:

It is also in the Kindle store but only the first 10% is free (sorry: Amazon’s rules, not mine).



In my book “Back to the Black”, I highlight the need to classify your debts in two main groups. Priority debts have to be paid first, of course, because non-payment could cause you to lose your home, or essential services, or even your liberty. I specify which debts come into this category.

The rest are non-priority debts. In my experience, most of these are negotiable if you cannot find a way to pay them in full.

Here’s an extract from Chapter 10 of the book.


Classifying debts

While you were doing your “reality check” you will, I hope, have classified your debts into priority and non-priority. Priority debts will mostly, if not totally, consist of any arrears you may have built up in the essential areas of keeping a roof over your head (mortgage or rent), the associated taxes (Council Tax in Great Britain or domestic rates in Northern Ireland) and essential utilities, i.e. gas, electricity and water. (Phone rental has often been classed as a utility but it doesn’t qualify as a priority debt for this purpose, whether it is landline or mobile or broadband). There are also some other categories of arrears that could in the worst case land you in prison for non-payment, so we class them as priority debts too; they include court fines and child maintenance.

Negotiating non-priority debts

On non-priority debts – and most credit debts come into this category – one option is what I call Plan C, i.e. “Negotiate a Deal”.

Plan C involves negotiating not only for time while you put the deal together, but also for a discounted settlement on the non-priority debts. Your creditors, however, may be prepared to freeze further interest payments and late-payment charges, while you are putting your plan together and also while you are in the process of paying off any deal that might be agreed.

It may be that you have some funds available and could make an offer for “full and final settlement”. The word “full” in this context means that the debt is acknowledged by the creditor as being “paid in full” or “satisfied in full”; you are paying a lump sum, though you are paying less than the full amount. The funds you have available might come from friends and family, or maybe from the lump-sum element of cashing in an occupational pension, depending on your age (I was lucky enough – and old enough – to be able to do the latter). More usually, though, you’ll make an offer for payment in instalments.

Co-ordinating the responses

However, if you do decide to go for “full and final settlement,” then bear in mind that you will be negotiating on several fronts and not everyone will agree at the same time; a tricky situation. What you want to avoid at all costs is to have agreed with some creditors, paid them the lump sums agreed, and then to be forced into bankruptcy anyway if other substantial creditors would not agree to a negotiated settlement. That’s why you’ll find that one of my standard letters in “Resources” caters for the situation where you have agreed a deal with one or more creditors but need to delay payment of the sum agreed pending agreement from other creditors. For this particular strategy, therefore – i.e. Plan C offering lump-sum for full and final settlement – my usual warning is louder than ever: take advice.

Some creditors will be reasonable and flexible but others will be intransigent and will play hardball. However, once you have decided that you are going to take action about your debt situation, you should inform your creditors of your situation and ask them for a moratorium on interest and charges.

[the book contains a template for a standard letter to handle this and many other situations.]

Avoid the phone

At the risk of yet more repetition, this is where I say again, “don’t negotiate on the phone; do it in writing.” It is simply not necessary to pick up the phone whenever creditors phone with demands and threats; that is a stress you can do without. In Chapter 2 (“Mind over matter”) I discussed the extra stress of dealing with phone demands; even if you might say that you can handle the stress, there is another very practical reason for doing it this way. If you negotiate on the phone, and if at a later date you find that the creditor’s recall of that conversation is not the same as yours (surprise, surprise), you will have no record of what was said or what was agreed. So let those calls go through to voicemail, but then respond promptly in writing to any messages left. Do it all in writing; it’s more work, of course, but the outcomes – not only for your debt management plan but also for your state of mind – will be better.

Keep copies

Needless to say, keep copies of everything. The fact that you are able to refer to the content and the dates of all previous correspondence is worth its weight in gold. Get that lever-arch file; if you have many creditors you’ll soon fill it. Of course you will have kept copies of your outgoing letters on your computer, but when you go for meetings with your adviser it will be very helpful for that adviser to be able to scan a paper record of all the correspondence, both incoming and outgoing.

“The left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing”

Something I learned is that, while you are negotiating with a creditor, they might simultaneously instruct intermediaries to collect on their behalf. This might be policy, it might not, so be aware of the fact that the left hand might not know what the right is doing within the creditor company. If this happens, simply refer them back to previous correspondence (even sending copies of it) in a polite way. This way you retain, if not the moral high ground, at least the efficient high ground. Don’t assume everyone is super-efficient. Poor communication within a creditor company and between them and their intermediaries can work in your favour, if you are patient.


Talking of left and right hands … and nothing to do with debt: I can’t help repeating what was once said about the jazz pianist Erroll Garner, who at times played right on the centre of the beat with his left hand, while playing way behind the beat with his right hand:

“His left hand knew what his right was doing but it didn’t care.”

Want to know more?

“Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, is now available to sample (first 20% free) or buy as a multi-format ebook, at Smashwords:

… and is now also on the Kindle catalogue. (search under the title or under “MacMahon”; sample first 10% free)


The Kindle version of my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” is now available.

If you have one of these wonderful machines, you can find it of course by searching under the book’s title or under “macmahon”.

Alternatively you can find the Kindle version via the Amazon website at:

Reading e-books on other devices

If you read e-books on other devices and don’t have a Kindle, you might be interested to know that you can benefit from the improved readability that the Kindle technology delivers. Before I bought my Kindle, I downloaded the free “Kindle for PC” software and found it useful, because e-books on my PC became just a little bit clearer to read.

In fact Kindle now has a whole family of apps to allow you to read e-books on PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Androids, etc:  And they’re all free! (So I don’t get any commission for bigging it up)

You can find these apps at:


If you live in the UK you might have heard of World Book Night, when a million books are being given away by volunteers in one day. If you live elsewhere you probably won’t have heard about it; despite that “World” tag, it seems to be an exclusively UK event. (I suppose this is our answer to the Superbowl being called the “World Championship”)

Anyway, I’ve been chosen as an official “book-giver” for the event, which is on Saturday 5 March. So I’ll be giving away copies of my chosen book, “Toast” by Nigel Slater, all that day at Rainbow Cafe, Waterloo St, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4BT.

When they’re gone, they’re gone.

Looking forward to it!

Want to know more?

I can do no better than to quote the back-cover “blurb” for this brilliant book:

“Toast” is Nigel Slater’s multi-award-winning story of a childhood remembered through food. Whether relating his mother’s ritual burning of the toast, his father’s dreaded Boxing Day stew or such culinary highlights of the day as Arctic Roll and Grilled Grapefruit (then considered something of a status symbol in Wolverhampton) this remarkable memoir vividly recreates daily life in sixties suburban England.

Go to Toast | World Book Night


This is old news now, as they say about anything that’s more than one news cycle old. However, before I forget, I need to acknowledge that a couple of weeks ago Jimmy Wales, the man who founded Wikipedia, spoke in my current home city, Bristol.

That’s the British Bristol, by the way; I know that several other cities around the globe share our name.

We were honoured in that, though his UK visit was to mark the tenth anniversary of Wkipedia, this was the only public talk he gave on the trip. The event was co-hosted by Bristol University, the Bristol Festival of Ideas, HP Labs and Bristol City Council; predictably, the venue was`packed to the rafters.


Like millions of others I am a regular user of Wikipedia. Years ago people used to joke about the assumption that “anyone could post stuff” and thus the accuracy was not to be taken for granted. However, I’ve read in an impartial source that on scientific matters, for example, it’s said to be as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica.


What I didn’t know was the size of the worldwide volunteer community of both writers and editors: 100,000 all told. 83% are men and the average age is under 30. The requirements to be a volunteer were said to be “intelligence, obsession and spare time” – but if the first two were present, the people find the time, even if it’s at 2 a.m.

Wales’s vision was of  “a worldwide force for free learning and general education, run with modest resources, engaging communities worldwide.”  To have achieved all that in ten years, providing all that information in 200 languages, with no corporate sponsorship and with a payroll that is still only 50 (” I worry if we’re getting bloated”) is remarkable.