Britons 'have biggest debts in Western Europe'

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The Independent Online

Overspending Britons are responsible for a third of all unsecured debt in Western Europe, a report showed today.

Figures from analysts at Datamonitor found that the UK consumer credit market hit £214 billion last year, making it the most indebted country in Western Europe.

The average Briton owes just over £3,000, almost twice as much as his continental cousin.

The report's authors put the high figure down to the UK's "insatiable appetite for credit".

Major countries on mainland Europe have a culture of savings and frugality, with people in France and Germany particularly averse to debt, according to analysts.

But this situation could change, with consumer credit growth in Europe outstripping the UK and providing an opportunity for lenders faced with a UK market that is reaching saturation point, the report says.

Paul Marsh, financial services analyst at Datamonitor and author of the report, said: "UK lenders looking for business opportunities should look overseas to realise their expansion plans.

"The UK is an increasingly difficult place to do business, due to the highly indebted nature of the population. Yet in other European countries consumers are not as indebted and the markets are not as sophisticated."

Total personal debt in the UK - including mortgage debt - is estimated to be £1.2 trillion.

Following the OFT's decision to force credit card firms to cut default fees, providers have turned to other ways to boost profits.

Research released on Monday by personal finance information company Moneyfacts found that 19 card providers had increased interest rates in the last three months, some by as much as 12.1%.

Lisa Taylor, analyst at moneyfacts.co.uk, said: "Rising bad debts and the lost fee revenue has left many providers with no choice but to look for alternative avenues for income. And it seems raising interest rates is a popular option.

"For many consumers this rise may go unnoticed but, should they take the time to look at the long-term consequences, they could be in for a nasty surprise."

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