Card lending down as debts paid off


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The Independent Online

Credit card lending has contracted by the biggest monthly amount since 2006 amid consumers' determination to pay down their debts, Bank of England figures showed today.

Card repayments outstripped new borrowing by £118 million in April, the largest amount since August 2006, when they outweighed borrowing by £152 million.

Other types of personal lending rose by £400 million, a more subdued increase than the £500 million rise seen in March, showing how people lack the appetite for borrowing amid economic uncertainty and high unemployment.

The figures follow a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report which argued that credit card use could fall into permanent decline, with the rise of digital technology and payday lenders changing how people access credit.

That report argued that the innovation and convenience offered by "alternative lenders" such as high interest payday loan companies was encouraging a broader selection of consumers to choose their services over banks.

Melanie Bowler, an economist at Moody's Analytics, said: "Households are favouring paying down debt, rather than undertaking new borrowing. Demand for credit will remain contained through 2012 amid lingering job security concerns.

"Interestingly however, there has been something of a boom over the past year in demand for relatively new payday loans, which offer short-term loans designed to be repaid typically within a month-and-a-half.

"With these bridging loans offering exorbitant repayment rates, the risk of UK households actually falling deeper into debt is increasing."

The Bank of England figures also provided further evidence that people are having a tougher time taking out a mortgage, as approvals remained way below their long-term average.

There were 51,823 approvals for house purchase in April worth £7.6 billion, a 1.5% increase on the previous month, but still under the previous six-month average of more than 53,000 approvals.

The figures have been modestly creeping up after hitting a seven-month low in February, just before a two-year stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers ended the following month.

The Bank of England expects lenders to tighten their credit criteria further in the coming months amid the weak economy and the eurozone crisis, making it harder for people to meet the requirements to take out a mortgage.

Remortgaging approvals also rose last month to 31,214 approvals worth £4.3 billion, the highest figure since January and nudging slightly above their six-month average.

Analysts have suggested that recent remortgaging increases have been due to concerns from home owners that lenders are set to put their mortgage rates up further following a spate of recent announcements about rises.

More than a million home owners saw their mortgage rates increase at the start of this month, with lenders blaming the weak economy and the increased cost of funding a mortgage.

A stamp duty rate of 7% on properties worth over £2 million was also imposed in March, raising concerns that this will disrupt the sluggish housing market further.

Ms Bowler said: "Mortgage lending in the UK is around a tenth of its pre-recession value.

"Lingering difficulties in the property market as well as continuing reluctance to lend on the part of banks is hindering the recovery in secured lending."

Simon Tombs, an economist at Capital Economics, said the latest lending figures paint a "fairly weak picture".

He said: "Granted, the number of mortgages approved for new house purchase rose from 51,100 to 51,800, despite the fact that the stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers ended at the end of March.

"Nonetheless, the level of approvals is still some 3% below its level at the end of last year, and surveys suggest that new buyer interest is increasing at a fairly sluggish pace."