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10/07/2018

1 in 5 British adults has had an outstanding credit card balance for at least six months

One-in-five (22%) British adults have had an outstanding credit card balance for at least six months, including the 4% of British adults who have had an outstanding balance for over five years, according to a survey of over 2,000 British adults by insolvency trade body R3.

The research, part of a long-running survey of Britain’s personal finances by R3 and ComRes, also found that, of the 34% of British adults currently worried about their level of debt, 49% are worried about their credit card debt – by far the most common cause of concern of the types of debt tested.

Mark Sands, chair of insolvency trade body R3’s Personal Insolvency Committee, says: “With low interest rates, lengthy interest-free periods, and a poor period of real wage growth, credit cards have become a necessary crutch for some households.

“The problem is that credit card debt can be so easy to accumulate. Contactless payments and automatic minimum repayments can make it easy to lose track of spending and the total amount owed.

“When taking on any new debt, including a credit card, it’s very important to have a plan for how to repay it. Taking on more debt or continually putting off repayments is not the answer and will only make existing financial situations worse. Credit cards aren’t a long-term solution for serious financial difficulties, but they can be treated like that.

“For many, credit card debt is affordable. Interest-free periods and transferable balances can help make things manageable. But, it is very easy to be caught out or for small balances to snowball. Where people have outstanding balances which are several years old, you worry about whether that debt can actually ever be repaid.”

Notably, the 25-44 year old age group is the most likely to have a credit card with an outstanding balance. 44% of those in this age group have an outstanding balance, compared to 26% of over-55 year olds (the least likely group to have a credit card with an outstanding balance).

Mark Sands adds: “With a chance of Bank of England base rate rises over the next year or so, which underpin the rates at which commercial lenders price their lending, credit card borrowers may find themselves in for a shock. A significant chunk of the adult population has never experienced base rates higher than 0.5%.”

The research also shows that, of the 34% of British adults who say they often or sometimes struggle to payday, 27% say they struggle because of making credit card repayments.

Mark Sands says: “While credit cards can be a quick fix for financial problems, they can store up problems for later. It’s really important that anyone worried about their debt, or struggling with their finances, speaks to a qualified and regulated expert about their options.”

The proportion of people with debt worries who are worried about credit card debt dwarves the proportion of people with worries about other types of debt. While almost half (49%) of the 34% of British adults worried about their current debt are worried about credit card debt, overdrafts worry just 20%, followed by mortgage repayments and bank loans (each 15%), and student loans(11%).

Source: R3/ComRes

Q. Thinking about your credit card balance, which of the following statements apply to any of the credit cards you own? When answering please think about all the credit cards you own and select all that apply, including if you have a credit card with no outstanding balance. Base: all British adults (n = 2,004)

Personal finance bulletin

The research also found that…

  • 34% of British adults say they are at least fairly worried about their current level of debt – a fall from the two latest surveys in August and February 2017 (both 41%). This level of concern is also lower than in previous surveys in September 2016 (38%) and June 2016 (37%).
     
  • Renters (49%) are almost twice as likely to be at least fairly worried about their current level of debt as home-owners (26%).
     
  • Credit card debt remains by far the most frequently reported cause for concern among British adults who say they are at least fairly worried about their current level of debt, with half (49%) saying it worries them (similar to the 50% who said the same in August 2017).
     
  • 19% of British adults say they do not have any savings at all at the moment (compared to 24% in August 2017 and 22% in February 2017). 33% of renters say they do not have any savings at all at the moment (down from 40% in August 2017), compared to 12% of homeowners (down from 16% in August 2017).
     
  • 34% of British adults say they often or sometimes struggle to make it to payday, down from 40% in August 2017. Renters (52%) are twice as likely as homeowners (24%) to say they often or sometimes struggle to payday.

 

ComRes interviewed 2,004 British adults online between the 18th and 19th April 2018. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables are available at www.comresglobal.com.

Notes to editors:

  • R3 is the trade body for Insolvency Professionals and represents the UK’s Insolvency Practitioners.

  • R3 comments on a wide variety of personal and corporate insolvency issues. Contact the press office, or see www.r3.org.uk for further information.

  • R3 promotes best practice for professionals working with financially troubled individuals and businesses; all R3 members are regulated by recognised professional bodies
     
  • R3 stands for 'Rescue, Recovery, and Renewal' and is also known as the Association of Business Recovery Professionals.