One in four young adults relies on credit cards for essentials

A QUARTER of 25 to 34-year-olds have used credit to fund essential purchases in the last year, a report has found.

UK families are typically £7,900 in debt from personal loans, overdrafts and credit cards, despite three years ofrepayments, the survey, from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said.

Meanwhile, credit card use could fall into permanent decline, with the rise of digital technology and payday lenders changing how people access credit, the Precious Plastic report said.

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Each household paid off an average of around £355 of its unsecured debt in 2011, but UK households remain “among the most indebted in the world” despite three successive years of net repayments, the report said.

The report predicted UK consumers will continue their determination to keep paying off their debts, owing around £7,500 by 2013.

It highlighted “worrying” signs in spending habits, particularly among the 25 to 34 age group.

Average incomes have fallen by nearly 3.5 per cent in real terms over the past year, squeezing budgets even further as consumers have faced soaring bills.

Simon Westcott, director in PwC’s financial services practice, said: “UK consumers are among the most indebted in the world, with the average UK household still saddled with nearly £8,000 of unsecured debt.

“Although the UK government’s austerity drive appears to be hitting home, with households paying off an average of £355 worth of their debt in 2011, three years of austerity by UK consumers has only made a small dent in the total levels of borrowing.

“In addition to this, our credit confidence survey has shown that there is a growing reluctance to borrow in the future and a marked deterioration in confidence about meeting repayments, particularly among 18 to 24-year-olds.”

The report said that historically, the United States has been a strong indicator of what happens in the UK, but consumer credit in the US saw the largest increase in a decade in 2011.

It put the contrast in behaviour down to UK austerity policies, which have had “a strong influence on consumer confidence and attitudes towards debt in the UK”.

Bank of England figures showed last week that consumers cut their debts at the fastest rate in two decades during December, amid signs they dipped into savings to pay for Christmas.

Credit card borrowing was also flat for the third month in a row, despite the festive season.

The PwC report said that credit card borrowing fell by 5 per cent last year, leaving the average balance at around £1,000, with tightening credit conditions compounding the issue.

Meanwhile, debit cards grew by 10 per cent in 2011, to become used more frequently than cash in payments for the first time.

Mr Westcott added: “Forty-five years since it was first introduced, the credit card is suffering a mid-life crisis.

“Consumers discarded nearly one million cards in 2011, taking the number of credit cards in circulation down to levels not seen for almost a decade.

“The longer term trend suggests that numbers will continue to decline, with the younger generation showing a preference for debit cards and emerging digital alternatives such as mobile payments.

“This generation seems unlikely to switch to increased credit card usage in later life as perhaps they would have done in the past.”