I'm a 21-year-old student of Modern History and German at Hertford College, Oxford, currently living in Bonn, Germany. I've just rediscovered Ciao after a long absence and would welcome any comments on my latest review!
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Almost universally accepted, makes you more financially aware
Can't write cheques, not a lot really !
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Ah, the sweet smell of financial independence! When Iím older, Iím going to be an internet millionaire; Iíve decided that. Joining Ciao was to be part of the grand plan, but alas .. ah well, I still have my Solo card.
ĎWhatí Youíre fifteen and you have your own credit card? Now I know youíre entrepreneurial Matt, but this..?
Well, almost. You see, Solo shares many of the features of other debit cards such as Switch. The differences are that itís been adapted for people who may not be eligible for a 'proper' credit card. Typically these groups are the under-18s, those not in employment, and those whose credit history doesn't merit a credit card in the opinion of the banks.
So what is Solo? Well, Solo is an offshoot of Switch, the worldwide standard for debit card transactions. Essentially, a Solo card is just like a Switch debit card. It can be used in virtually all the same places as a Switch card, with an important difference. This is that an overdraft facility is not available. You can only spend what youíve got, which really isnít that bad an idea considering the life of your average spendthrift teenager! I can see how it would constitute a major drawback for older users of the card though.
Why would I want one? Well, if youíre approaching your teenage years (Solo is available from the age of 11), financial matters are undoubtedly of increasing importance to you. Gone are the days when the only use for money was to buy sweeties from the corner shop. You have far more exciting prospects. You want to get out there and spend, like an adult in the real world. You want to do the cool thing where you give the assistant your card and then sign the receipt. That gives you status. Maybe you want to buy something over the phone, or using the internet. Maybe you even have a money-making scheme or two in mind. Solo makes all this possible. But at the same time, you (and perhaps more importantly your parents!) donít want to let your spending get out of control. Remember when Dad said you could buy something on his credit card and received a bill to the tune of £500 for thirty-seven items? Youíll have to spend much more carefully now you have your own card. In this way, youíll gain financial independence whilst learning about the way finance works in the real world - unless youíre Bill Gates or J.K. Rowling there isnít a bottomless pit of money you know! Thatís why Solo is such a great idea for teenagers.
Solo isnít just for teenagers though. There's not an upper age limit for owning a Solo card. This means that if, although youíre 18, you are not eligible for a credit card due to factors such as your employment status or your credit history, you can still have a Solo card, which provides many of the same benefits. Useful huh?
How do I get one? Itís very easy! Your local bank will be pleased to help. Personally, I got mine from NatWest. Your bank will have an application form for you to fill out, on which you will specify your name, address, and other details. On this form you can also set up a standing order, which means that money can be automatically transferred from one account to another on a regular basis - useful for pocket money! Youíll need to get the form signed by your parents, who will need to give their own banking details. Interestingly, the form even gives you a choice of card! When I signed up, there was a purple one and a silver one. I went for the silver but received the purple anyway! Never mind! When youíve completed the form, drop it in at your bank along with two pieces of proof of your identity, and they will open your account for you. In fact they will be more than pleased to open your account, because they know that if they can capture customers at an early age they have more chance of retaining them for the future when theyíre a better investment!
When your account is set up, youíll receive a number of items through the post. As well as your card and PIN number, which will arrive separately for security purposes, the nice bank people will also send you a paying-in book and a welcome pack. The former allows you to pay cash and cheques into your account using the Bank Giro Credit system. The latter will give you a good introduction to your Solo card, explaining all the possibilities.
Excellent, what can I do with it? A lot of things actually - a much wider range than competing products such as the Junior Barclaycards and Visa Electron. Like these, you will be able to use cashpoints to withdraw money, up to a limit of £250 a day. Your card will work at any UK cashpoint, although some banks may have surcharges for processing your transaction. As the card carries the Cirrus symbol, it is also enabled for use at cashpoints across most of the world, but be careful as international withdrawals can carry a nasty surcharge.
Solo can be used in a wide range of shops too. In the early days of the card there were a few problems with shopkeepers refusing to accept that an eleven-year-old could have a debit card! Thankfully these have been ironed out now, and the vast majority of shops now accept Solo as well as Switch. The transaction wonít complete if you donít have the money, so donít worry about going overdrawn. Most shops display the purple ĎSoloí logo, and many of those who donít also take the card. Many shops will also offer a cashback facility with your Solo card, usually up to £50. Availability is very good and improving all the time, and as the card carries the ĎMaestroí symbol it can be used in shops across Europe, with funds deducted at the relevant exchange rate at that time.
Itís also very useful for Internet purchases. All of the major online retailers such as eBay, Amazon and CDWow will accept the card, and the majority of the smaller ones. It can also be used to mail-order a lot of products via the telephone. Iíve only encountered two situations where I was unable to use the card. The first was topping up my mobile phone, which I was surprised at. The second was when I bought my web address, which is no surprise I suppose.
The only other thing I would have liked to have seen with Solo was a facility to write cheques and guarantee them using the card; but due to us teenagersí fast-moving natures, we rarely feel the need to write cheques anyway! Also, inevitably I have written this from a teenage point of view. Although Solo compares favourably with competing products, I can see how it would be limiting and frustrating for those over 18 who have been denied a credit card.
Overall, however, Iím very pleased with my Solo card. In the beginning, it just feels good to have the card; feels very grown up at eleven doesnít it? Later on when I began to step out into the real world, I found it immensely useful for all those essential purchases. (Essential to me anyway!) Solo is by far the best financial option for teenagers. Itís better than cash, because itís more convenient and negates the risk of losing it or having it stolen. Itís better than other debit card schemes such as Visa Electron, and pre-paid cards such as Splash Plastic, simply because the number of outlets accepting Solo is far greater. As well as being easy and convenient, Solo is also an ideal introduction to managing money and the delicate financial balancing act that I now seem to live with on a regular basis! Highly recommended.
Thanks for the read, Matt
PS. Some of the below criteria aren't really relevant. Thankfully I don't have to worry about APR for a few years yet!
This reveiw was exelent i really feel as if i have enough knolege to go and get one. I can really feel at ese because i diddn't know what i was letting my self in for THANKS AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!
Deru 07.01.2004 10:16
Great op. Explains all those diamonds you got. ;-) Informative and interesting to read. I like the way it's worded. I can agree with what you've said about the Solo card. I've had mine since I was 16. Very handy. I've got a MasterCard now though and seem to be using this more. Odd how my bank had no problems with giving me one. No job and all. Oh and they come in purple and silver? Mine's grey....
T21AMY 02.01.2004 22:30
Only just read this but glad I did - deserving of that beautiful diamond 2 xx