New data research by onefourzero and GK analysing the credit market has found that consumers now use debt to maintain their spend power.

The report analysed demand data for credit cards and overdrafts, and found that reliance on consumer credit has become the new normal; British consumers are borrowing more now than ever before. What was once seen as a last resort for those in dire financial straits has now become mainstream as consumers use credit to plug the growing gap between wages and the rising cost of living.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Despite a slowdown in consumer credit growth overall, demand for overdrafts is increasing rapidly, with 23% year-on-year growth in 2017. There was a huge spike in demand for overdrafts in November 2017, with a 46% increase in demand compared to November 2016.
  • Demand for types of credit varies dramatically by region. Demand for credit cards is heavily concentrated in the South East of England, whereas overdrafts are most in demand in the North of England.
  • Demand for credit cards shows significant seasonal variation, with marked increases in demand in January (20%) and July (10%), indicating that consumers are using credit as they struggle to finance seasonal expenses.
  • Consumer credit is entering the mainstream: consumers are using credit to supplement the rising costs of living, rather than using credit as a last resort.
  • Increased consumer demand and regulatory interest provide an opportunity for new products and services which offer better rates for consumers, greater transparency and predictability and promote financial inclusion and good financial health.
  • Providers risk increased regulatory and political scrutiny as a result of increased demand, particularly over their lending policies towards vulnerable customers.

Fleur Hicks, Managing Director of onefourzero said “Consumer credit is no longer the last resort for people in desperate need of financial support. Consumers across the UK increasingly see controllable debt as a way to maintain their spending power and pay for everyday items rather than just luxuries or holidays and Christmas presents.As consumer attitudes to debt change, credit providers will have to ready for increased regulatory scrutiny. Providers will have to show they understand when customers are likely to fall into ‘problem debt’ which could have a highly damaging impact on their wellbeing.”

Robin Grainger, GK’s Co-Founder and CEO said “It’s surprising how preferences in consumer credit change depending on geographic region. Our findings reflect local environments, with unemployment hotspots such as Newcastle seeing the largest demand for overdrafts, while the more affluent commuter belt around London preferring credit cards. Credit use is rising, with demand for overdrafts rising by 46% in November 2017 compared to the same time the year before. Credit providers will no doubt been keen to cater to this need for further products, but should be aware that financial regulators are also focusing in on the sector.”

The full report can be viewed here.