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Credit Card Borrowing Grows at Fastest Annual Rate in 17 Years

BY PA Media TIMEMay 31, 2022 PRINT

Households’ credit card borrowing grew at the fastest annual rate since 2005 in April, according to Bank of England figures–just as a string of price rises started to hit.

The annual growth rate for all consumer credit, which includes borrowing on credit cards, overdrafts, personal loans, and car finance, increased to 5.7 percent in April from 5.2 percent in March. This was the highest rate since February 2020.

Within the total, the annual growth rate of credit card borrowing was 11.6 percent–marking the highest rate since November 2005–the Money and Credit report said.

A rise in the energy price cap, council tax increases and a 1.25 percentage point rise in National Insurance (NI) to pay for health and social care were among the higher costs in April.

Last week, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a package of support to help British people with living costs, including support targeted at those who are particularly vulnerable.

Thomas Pugh, economist at RSM UK, said: “The latest Money and Credit figures suggest that consumers are increasingly borrowing more to protect their lifestyles from the surge in inflation.”

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Blank U.S. Treasury checks run through a printer at the U.S. Treasury facility in Philadelphia, Pa. Leaders in Washington must reach a deal to raise the borrowing limit by Aug. 2, or the nation may not be able to pay its bills, according to the U.S. Treasury. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Alice Haine, personal finance analyst at investment platform Bestinvest, said: “The fear is that with inflation at nine percent–a 40-year-high–and soaring energy and fuel costs, the situation will only worsen as the cost-of-living crisis escalates.”

She added: “The risk is that those that take on debt now may be creating a whole host of problems for themselves further down the line when costs rise even further.”

Haine continued: “To put the situation into perspective, however, it’s important to note that card borrowing is rising from a real low and this is more of a gentle upward trend than a sudden spike.

“Plus, many households are still hanging on to excess savings built up during the pandemic, so the situation is not at full crisis point yet.”

Karim Haji, head of financial services at KPMG UK, said: “Although April was when the new energy price cap kicked in, most households wouldn’t have received their revised utility bills until the end of the month, with the real impact on spending more likely to be seen in May.

“Given the starkness of some of the data here–such as large increases in consumer borrowing–banks will have welcomed the measures announced by the Chancellor last week.”

The number of mortgage approvals in U.K. made to home-buyers meanwhile fell to 66,000 in April, from 69,500 in March.

This was slightly below the 12-month pre-pandemic average up to February 2020 of 66,700.

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Illustration credit cards are pictured in London, England on Dec. 5, 2007. (Photo illustration by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Approvals for re-mortgaging, which only capture home loans with a different lender, also decreased, to 47,800 in April.

This was also below the 12-month pre-pandemic average up to February 2020 of 49,500.

Mr Haji added: “In the case of consumer and mortgage lending, banks are tracking the data even more closely than usual for the early signs of distress, to protect both themselves and households.”

Housing market reports have pointed to property values hitting a string of record highs in recent months, despite the pressure on households’ finances.

A lack of available properties and continued low mortgage rates by long-term standards are said to have helped to push prices upwards–although there have also been signs that the market could be softening, with more sellers offering discounts.

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: “There are still signs of strong activity in the market even though some of the heat has come out of it, and mortgage brokers remain exceptionally busy as borrowers worry about rising rates.

“It doesn’t help that lenders continue to pull products at short notice.”

He added: “Borrowers continue to favor longer-term fixes in order to protect themselves as much as possible, particularly as five-year products are so favorably priced compared with their two-year equivalents.”

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Home is offered for sale in Rutledge, Ga., on Dec. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Hina Bhudia, a partner at Knight Frank Finance, said: “Activity among purchasers is ebbing as the cost-of-living squeeze shrinks the pool of buyers.

“Rates on certain products have doubled in the past 12 months and there is a real sense of urgency among many borrowers who sense they must act soon or reassess what they can afford.

“Demand to re-mortgage remains very strong as borrowers seek to beat rising interest rates.

“Certain lenders allow you to book rates up to nine months in advance, so thousands of borrowers are bringing forward decisions that in normal circumstances would have been put off.

“Lenders are struggling to stay on top of the flow of new applications and are withdrawing and repricing product lines to maintain service levels.”

Andrew Montlake, managing director at mortgage broker Coreco, said: “Re-mortgages, contrary to what this data suggests, are going through the roof as people seek to lock into the lowest rates available before they rise further.

“Perhaps the fact this data only shows re-mortgages to other lenders suggests people are increasingly being forced to re-mortgage with existing lenders due to affordability issues.”

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A second mortgage allows you to obtain a loan, and gives the lender the right to take your property if you fail to repay the money you’ve borrowed. (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Martin Beck, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, said housing market activity is expected to continue to cool, moving through 2022.

He added: “But with the impact of higher interest rates only feeding through gradually due to the high share of outstanding mortgages on fixed-rate terms of two years or more, a soft landing looks likely unless the labor market outlook begins to deteriorate.”

PA Media
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