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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Credit-card debt lowest in seven years as we wise up to perils

Charlie Weston Personal Finance Editor

Published 07/05/2013 | 05:00

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SAVVY consumers have slashed their credit-card debt back to pre-bust levels.

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Close to 360,000 personal credit-card accounts have been closed as consumers turn their backs on one of the most expensive ways of buying goods.

New figures from the Central Bank show that households are falling out of love with expensive credit cards, and now have the debt held on them back at 2006 levels.

The average spend on a credit card has fallen heavily since the boom.

Cardholders spent an average of €3,317 per card in March this year. This compares with €4,179 in 2008, just before the bust.

But there has only been a slight fall in the average outstanding balance per card.

In March this year the average cardholder had an outstanding balance of €1,244, down just over €100 from the average owed five years ago, the Central Bank figures show.

Interest of up to 23pc is charged for buying something on a credit card. Spending just €1,000 on the card and not paying it back will mean an annual interest bill of €230.

Chief economist with NCB Stockbrokers Philip O'Sullivan said consumers were discarding their "flexible friends".

Outstanding indebtedness on credit cards has fallen to 2006 levels, reflecting the action taken by households to trim debt.

There are now 1.8 million personal credit cards in circulation, down from 2.2 million in 2007.

And consumers are now spending some €400m a month less on cards than they were before the economy went into a nose dive five years ago.

Households grappling with record debt levels still owe some €2.3bn on personal credit cards.

But this is almost €700m less than in 2008, the Central Bank figures for March show.

The interest rates charged on credit cards have shot up by up to 80pc as banks attempt to return to profitability by increasing fees, charges and interest rates on a range of products.

Permanent TSB has hiked the interest on its Ice Card from 9.9pc in 2008 to 17.3pc today – a rise of 75pc.

Toxic

Both Bank of Ireland and MBNA, which is now called AvantCard following a take-over, have hiked interest rates on cards in the past few months.

In March, Bank of Ireland withdrew its low-interest rate Clear credit card, which was one of the cheapest on the market.

Consumers' Association chairman Michael Kilcoyne said credit cards were "toxic".

"If you do not pay off the balance every month, it is like throwing money into a black hole," he said.

He advised people struggling to get their card debt down to try to get a loan from a credit union to clear the balance they owe.

He advised consumers to get a pre-paid debit card, which they could pre-load with cash and then only spend the cash they have put on it.

Irish Independent

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