Q&As

  • Would-be foreign exchange trader should give it a miss
  • Are credit cards sometimes tied to mortgages? Does it matter?
  • Young son might learn more than one lesson
  • Reader suggests ways to cut food bill

QI started studying forex trading last year and have been operating a couple of demo accounts through various brokers. After six months of trialing different strategies I feel ready to take the plunge into trading a live account. The psychology of trading plays a big part in how successful you are, so it is time to operate with real money.

But finding a reputable broker is proving very difficult, especially with the internet having conflicting reviews on almost every broker out there. Also adding to my nervousness is the fact my demo broker was fined in the US for poor business practices; there are bad reviews on youtube for another broker; and just recently the Herald reported that “Forex Brokers” in Auckland has gone into liquidation.

So if you have any information that could help me make the decision, that would be great.

AFirstly, good on you for doing dummy runs on foreign exchange — or forex — trading before putting money in. I must say, though, that I’ve often heard of people doing well on dummy runs but it doesn’t quite work with real money. I don’t know why, but I’m suspicious.

Good on you, too, for researching brokers on the internet. But I’m really glad you haven’t made the next move.

Please take notice of your research. Good online reviews for anything from forex trading to restaurants may be genuine, but the reviews may be written by all the owner’s aunties and uncles. Bad reviews? Well, they could be written by competitors. But it’s likely that at least some are from people who have had a bad enough experience that they’re motivated to write about it. Where there’s smoke ,,,

The fact is that forex trading for profit is not clever.

“Online foreign exchange trading is used by some people to try to make a quick profit by betting on the changing value of foreign currencies. But they are just as likely to lose money as make it,” says the Financial Markets Authority on its website.

“The risk is even higher if you trade with borrowed money, as this increases any gains or losses you make. We regularly receive complaints and enquiries from consumers who have lost money in online forex trading.”

The main point to grasp is that you’re betting on one currency rising against another. This isn’t like investing in shares or property, whose values tend to rise over time. The value of Currency X will sometimes rise against Currency Y, but it’s just as likely to fall. On average, over time, the changes must net out to zero.

As the FMA says, “For every person who gains a dollar from forex trading, someone else loses a dollar. And that’s before taking into account costs and fees, which can be significant.”

Okay, some people will do better than average. But do you really think you can outwit traders who work for big corporations, watching the markets all the time? And even they get it wrong often. Too many unexpected factors affect exchange rates.

I suggest you read what the FMA says at tinyurl.com/FMAforex. It includes an example of a trader who invests $1000, and ends up losing $4,545.

After that, if you still want to trade, please don’t use money you can’t afford to lose.

PS I’m on the board of the FMA. I’ve recently suggested readers look on their website for info on binary options, and now I’m doing it again! But I don’t gain anything from this — other than knowing that readers are using a good resource.

QSorry to be a pest. We corresponded a few weeks ago about credit cards and whether they are secured under all obligations mortgages.

You said your info was that they are not.

Here is a paragraph from ASB credit cards terms and conditions:

“Security Interest. 15.2 Any all obligations mortgage that we hold, now or in the future, in respect of your property provides security for all indebtedness you incur with your card and any indebtedness we incur on your behalf.”

My question remains why banks who hold a mortgage over your property and provide a credit card treat the indebtedness on the card as unsecured borrowing and charge accordingly?

AASB’s first response to your letter is: “The nature of an ‘all obligations’ mortgage means that it can catch non-home loan obligations such as a credit card, and we consider it is transparent to have this clear in our terms and conditions for customers.

“It is not, however, ASB policy or practice to look to a mortgage security where a customer has a credit card debt. In this sense we approach it as unsecured.”

But that didn’t quite clear this up. So I asked the ASB spokeswoman: “Are you saying ASB would never add a person’s credit card debt to their mortgage, under any circumstances?”

Back came the reply, “No, we are not saying that. Where a customer is in default of their mortgage obligations, and the credit card has not otherwise been paid, it can be recovered under the mortgage.

“ASB does not, however, look to a mortgage security where it is solely the credit card in default.

“ASB works with our customers to agree on mutually acceptable repayment arrangements, in an effort to avoid recovery action.”

A cynic might say that a bank wouldn’t want to add a credit card debt to a mortgage. The bank gets much higher interest on the credit card debt.

But enough of this! ASB’s policies are probably similar to those of other banks. And in the end, no bank can make you use their credit card.

In the past, some banks have certainly enticed people, by sending them cards they haven’t requested, but I understand that’s no longer happening. In any case, a person can always refuse to use a card.

If you think 20 per cent is an unreasonable interest rate — and I agree with you — there are a couple of ways to deal with that:

  • Shop around. According to www.interest.co.nz, while many credit card rates are around 20 per cent, some are around 13 or 14 per cent, and a few even lower — although there are no doubt conditions attached to the lower rates.
  • Better still, never pay credit card interest. Set it up so your card is always automatically paid in full on the due date. If you can’t manage that, don’t borrow in the first place.

I know, I know, many people occasionally run up a credit card debt they can’t pay off straight away. Perhaps the fridge or car has died. If that happens, talk to your bank about getting an overdraft at a lower interest rate. And from then on, save a bit each payday so you have an emergency fund for next time.

People who regularly pay credit card interest are losers. Make a habit of it and you’ll be behind by many thousands of dollars over a lifetime. You’ll travel less, buy a house later or never, and have less fun in retirement.

QI’ve tried to educate my young son about shares and investing, and recently invested $600 on his behalf in Smartshares, by applying directly online via their website.

Later, I was surprised to notice that only around $570 appeared in his balance. I queried why, and was told there was a $30 initial fee for investing.

I don’t have a problem with the fee, but do think this should be clearly articulated on their website. The past performance, ongoing management fee percentage, breakdown of the investment etc. are really clearly laid out, so I wrongly assumed any other pertinent fees would be too!

I’ve just gone through the application process again, where there is a wealth of information listed, thinking I must have missed it, but there is nothing about the application fee at all.

I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes. It’s quite reasonable that they charge a modest fee on application. I just feel strongly that companies should be upfront about their charges rather than burying them in their product disclosure statements when all other aspects are covered so comprehensively on their website!

AI quite agree. And apparently so does Smartshares, now that you’ve pointed it out to them.

“We appreciate our investors’ feedback, so we have clarified this point on the Invest Now page of our website, and have updated our online form to make sure this is as clear as possible,” says a spokeswoman.

“It is important to remember that the fund application fee of $30 is only applicable to those who apply directly to Smartshares and only for the first investment in an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). It does not apply to those who buy units on market or who purchase additional units in a fund they already own.

“This is why it is disclosed in the Product Disclosure Statement, which investors have to read before investing directly with Smartshares, as this fee only applies in certain circumstances.”

Buying on market means buying units on the stock exchange, where Smartshares ETFs are listed. But while you wouldn’t pay the $30 that way, there would be other trading costs.

Well done for getting your son into the market, so he can learn. He might also learn from watching Dad write letters that complaining can get results!

QHere are some suggestions for the couple in their 60s who were swindled.

The weekly food bill is always one of the largest for any family. Here are some ideas to make inroads into the food bill. Things can be done gradually.

Start buying two or three meat specials each week. Only use one. Freeze the others (changing the wrap as most supermarket wraps let the contents breathe, which you don’t want when freezing). Gradually buy extra corned beef, lamb, pork, steak etc on special. Soon you will be able to go to your freezer and decide what is for dinner without paying the full price.

Occasionally cook a double dose and freeze the second meal when cooked.

Find a good greengrocer. When potatoes are at a good price buy a 5kg or 10kg bag. As well as using in your usual way, make and freeze chips, wedges, hash browns and balls.

When cooking veges like carrots, broccoli, beans or cauliflower fill the pot with extras. When the extras have been blanched (for 5 minutes) take them out, place them in a stainless steel plate or tray so that they are not touching and freeze. Next day transfer to transparent bags for the freezer. They will remain separated.

Of course the liquid from all these veges except potatoes and red cabbage makes ideal stock for gravy and stews.

Going through bad times for our generation is almost par for the course. You’ll make it. Good luck. Arohanui.

AThis is getting well off my turf. Please, readers, don’t write to challenge how long it takes to blanch veges, or whether you need to rewrap meat before freezing it!

But still, being clever with the food budget is another way to cut costs that can really add up over the years. So thanks for writing.

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of the Financial Markets Authority and Financial Services Complaints Ltd FSCL, a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary’s advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it. Send questions to [email protected] or click here. Letters should not exceed 200 words. We won’t publish your name. Please provide a (preferably daytime) phone number. Unfortunately, Mary cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give financial advice.