More finding it hard to pay credit card debt

PHOTO: More finding it hard to pay credit card debt

More people are now struggling to pay off their credit card bills, new figures show, as if underlining the need for the tough new rules governing credit card debt.

Data released by the Credit Bureau Singapore (CBS) on Monday also show that as well as falling behind on payments, they are now owing more.

As of July, there were 62,830 unsecured credit customers who had not made a minimum payment in two months - a striking 12.7 per cent more than the 55,726 people in that category last year.

Unsecured credit includes credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans that are not backed by collateral.

The total amount on unsecured cards, overdrafts and personal loans that are two months or more past due rose as well. It stood at $230.7 million in July, up from $212.5 million last year and $183.8 million in 2011.

Consumers now rack up an average monthly debt of $8,030 on credit cards and overdrafts - up from $7,859 last year and $7,349 in 2011.

The steady rise in red ink is likely why the Monetary Authority of Singapore launched new rules on unsecured credit loans earlier this month, said CIMB regional economist Song Seng Wun.

"After the binge, comes the belt tightening. When the bad loans are rising against the backdrop of an unexpected external shock or the risk of interest rates going up, the possibility of people on the margin and defaulting is there," said Mr Song.

The new rules include barring financial institutions from giving out more loans to people whose unsecured debt totals more than 12 months of their income for 90 days or more.

CBS research also found that people aged 35 to 39 had the highest percentage of delinquency and were most likely to roll over credit card debts compared with those in other age groups.

CBS executive director William Lim said that people in that age bracket could have major financial commitments like having their first house or child.

"For most of us, in that age range, your level of financial responsibility is probably at its highest and your financial resources may not be at their peak. You're probably at your peak when you're in your 40s for most people," said Mr Lim.

However, there were also some encouraging figures from CBS.

One showed that the overall delinquency rate dipped slightly, from 6.5 per cent in March last year to 6.4 per cent in March this year.

This means that the proportion of people who failed to make repayments for credit card billings, and home, motor and study loans fell marginally.

The average credit score of consumers nationwide has also risen - from 1,897 in March last year to 1,904 this year out of a maximum score of 2000.

The higher the score, the lower the risk of the consumer falling into default.

Mr Lim said credit scores have likely improved on the back of more responsible behaviour.

He said: "Consumers who overspend and run up debt usually try to make positive changes to how they manage credit and get their finances in order."

Mr Philip Loh, director of financial services at Great Eastern Life, added: "The job market is still stable and people can find avenues to roll over their debt because of the low interest rate environment, so their credit scores are not affected."

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