Credit card companies have been accused of deliberately targeting the unemployed, people on low incomes and even those who have had money problems in the past.
Providers are making credit easier to secure but charging ever-higher fees for the privilege, according to price comparison site Confused.com, leading to fears of spiralling, future debt problems among the most vulnerable.
With the number of unemployed in the UK up by 51,000 over the last year to 2.56 million by June, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a study by the aggregator has found that 23 credit cards now accept jobless applicants, compared with just 17 this time last year. Problem credit card debt has been going down recently, but these changes could mean we see debt problems rise in the future," says Una Farrell of debt advice charity the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS).
Despite the average credit card debt currently standing at £2,089 according to Credit Action, the average annual income required to successfully apply for a credit card is just £9,035, down from £9,718 this time last year. If this trend continues, by next April consumers who don't earn enough to meet the basic tax threshold of £9,205 may still be able to rack up debt on plastic that now costs them more, Confused suggests.
The research also found that representative interest rates have gone up from an average of 18.5 per cent APR in 2011 to 20.5 per cent APR today and that the average balance transfer fee has increased from 2.27 per cent in 2011 to 2.81 per cent this year.
"As credit card providers make more cards available to more people, we are warning consumers of the dangers of debt as it appears to be increasingly easy to obtain yet more expensive to get rid of," says Nerys Lewis, head of credit cards at Confused.com.
But the organisation that represents credit card providers in the UK has rejected the accusations.
Craig Jones, spokesman for The UK Cards Association, says: "Card companies use sophisticated credit scoring techniques to ensure that the right cards are given to the right applicants, with appropriate credit limits based on a comprehensive assessment of their ability to pay. Put simply, it wouldn't be in credit card issuers' interests to grant credit to people who can't afford to repay it. Evidence from the Bank of England also confirms that... credit card spending remains flat and repayment on credit cards remains at historic highs."
The association says about half of all card applications are turned down and 60 per cent of consumers pay off their credit card bills in full each month.