More people in debt – but owing less

ClearDebt’s database of people with debt problems shows more people are struggling, despite lower unsecured debts.

I was having a look at our enquiries database earlier today and discovered a couple of things which, together, make me think we have not yet turned the corner in terms of Britain”s personal debt problems

Take a look at this chart first.

Many thousands of people have come to ClearDebt and told us about their debt problems. So, these figures pretty accurately show the amount of credit card and unsecured loan debt held by people who are worried they can’t afford to repay what they owe.

What we can see is that, in the last year or so (and in the first few months of 2010), the amount people owe has gone down quite a lot: Roughly 15%, in fact, between 2007 and now (the red line represents the average wage in the UK in 2009 – so you can see things have changed from people owing a lot more than they earn to owing a little less (but still too much to repay).

So, does this mean things are getting easier. I think not – look at this:

This second chart shows the number of people who have sought debt advice from ClearDebt on dealing with debt since 2007. The line has its ups and downs – but is basically rising steadily. Certainly, the first couple of months of 2010 (not on the chart) have seen no let up.

So what does this mean – for me it is that more people are finding they can’t cope – but that the threshold at which they find they need to seek debt advice is getting lower.

It might mean that people have been prudent, drawn their horns in, cut back – whatever – but STILL find they can’t make ends meet.

The message for those in debt is don’t wait till you are completely bust – take action as soon as you notice you can’t take the strain any more.

The message to politicians, bankers and others who could do something about this is – don’t expect struggling debtors to be able to repay as much as they might have done a couple of years ago.

As the Financial Services Authority might ask them to say, disposable incomes can go down as well as up – and there aren’t many that find themselves with more money left at the end of the month than they used to have a year or two ago.

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