Simon Read: Hard-up families need help, not patronising platitudes

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The Independent Online

Of course it's a good idea for people to cut the amount of debt they owe on plastic. It is an expensive way to borrow and, left unchecked, can quickly add up to a financial problem. Anyone with a credit-card balance of £2,000 who only repays the minimum each month will take 22 years to clear the debt – while being charged £2,275 in interest. The sooner you can pay it off, the less it will cost you because less interest will be charged.

In fact, the logic of paying off card debts as soon as possible has been realised by many people, and the UK's total credit card debt has actually shrunk by £12bn to £57bn in the past five years. But Aviva reckons the average family still has a mountain of personal debt to repay, owing £5,353 on credit cards, loans and overdrafts.

Are credit cards bad? No. They can be a very useful and convenient way to pay for things you need or even to spread the cost at times. Those who can take advantage of 0 per cent interest deals are even effectively making money by delaying using their own cash, which can earn interest until it is needed.

But credit cards are bad when they encourage people to take on debt they may not be able to afford to repay. The Financial Inclusion Centre reckons that 6.2 million households are "financially vulnerable", either already in financial difficulty or close to seeing their money worries spiral out of control. For them, credit-card debts can be impossible to clear as whatever cash they can afford to repay may hardly cover the inflated interest charges.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that hard-up families are charged much higher interest rates than people with good credit records. That makes it much tougher and more costly for them to clear their debts. Anyone in financial difficulty or who is approaching a debt spiral needs good advice – not patronising platitudes.

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