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There are no two ways about it: it’s horrible being in unmanageable debt. And now a new survey has found that the scale of the problem is bigger than we first thought.

Researchers have discovered that two thirds of adults in this country have some kind of unsecured borrowing. Put simply, that’s debt on credit cards, store cards, overdrafts and personal loans.

Once you factor in all kinds of debt, the total figure beggars belief: a staggering £139 billion. At an individual level (excluding the mortgage) that’s £4,412 each - enough to buy a second-hand car or go on a luxury holiday.

Of course there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with borrowing money – providing it’s done carefully and responsibly. It’s when borrowing gets out of control that it causes problems.

Why are so many of us in debt?

The past few years have been tough. The global recession has meant job cuts, pay freezes, a clampdown on mainstream lending and, for many people, a struggle to make ends meet.

The research by price comparison site Moneysupermarket found that those aged between 18 and 24 rely on credit the most, owing, on average, £5,446 each. It’s a scary amount of money, no matter how old you are.

A combination of easy access to credit and a growing acceptance that it’s OK to borrow money could be to blame for our increasing reliance on borrowing. And whilst the economy has started growing again, many consumers haven’t yet felt the benefit in their pay packets, which may also be fuelling this reliance.

Who else is struggling?

It’s not just the younger generation who are steeped in debt, though. The researchers also discovered that, overall, more than one fifth of people who didn’t owe money last year are now in debt.

Credit cards are the most popular way of borrowing money, followed by overdrafts and personal loans.

Worryingly, while half of all those in debt owe the same or less than they did this time last year, 43 per cent now owe more. And those who have got deeper into debt are often not capable of seeing a way out.

Clearing debts is a daunting task and it’s OK to ask for help managing it; particularly as financial experts are concerned that those men and women in debt could be hard hit when interest rates rise again. The cost of borrowing is the cheapest it has been in a very long time but rates will go up at some point.

If you can afford to do so, it makes sense to chip away at any debt now before interest rates do increase. But if your debt has got out of control and you’re struggling to meet your repayments, it’s probably worth getting help sooner rather than later. If you do start to miss payments, interest and charges can quickly mount up.

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