December home loans hit €1.2bn

HOUSE HUNTERS borrowed €1.2bn in home loans in December, figures from the Central Bank revealed yesterday.

Detailing the level of debt in Ireland, the figures showed the amount owed to lending institutions by consumers rose by over €1bn in December to €142.7bn.

This was driven by a rise of €1.2bn in residential mortgage lending - the highest monthly increase during 2002.

The last time mortgage lending levels were so high was in January 2001 when the amount borrowed was €1.12bn. During the rest of 2001 the amount of mortgage lending growth fell, but from early to mid-2002 the levels of borrowing started to climb, a Central Bank spokesperson said.

Although the Central Bank had no figures available on credit card debt, the Irish League of Credit Unions says people who spent thousands of euro on their credit cards over Christmas are now taking out loans in a bid to clear their plastic debt.

As the bills from credit card firms detailing the amounts spent during the traditional Christmas spending splurge and the January sales start arriving, the ILCU has reported a significant increase in the number of people seeking loans to clear credit card debts.

Since the beginning of the year, credit unions around the country say many four-figure loans have been taken out by people purely for the purpose of clearing credit card debts built up in the run-up to Christmas.

“The number of loans being given out hasn’t increased dramatically, but loans specifically for the purpose of dealing with credit card excesses are accounting for much of the early year business,” the league’s chief executive Liam O’Dwyer said.

“It would appear a lot of people bit off more than they could chew in the run-up to Christmas,” he added.

Mr O’Dwyer said a definite pattern was emerging in Ireland where people would rack up heavy debt on their credit cards over the festive season and then try and take out a loan in January to cover the bills and avoid the heavy penalties of high interest rates on credit cards.

“People are getting into a cycle of debt. They spend heavily over Christmas, then take out a loan to cover the credit card debt and then they are back out racking up bills again,” he said.

Mr O’Dwyer urged consumers not to be taken in by the convenience of credit cards and to think long and hard about over-using plastic to keep their personal finances in order.

“There is a ferocious sting in the tail with credit cards and that is doing huge damage to personal finances. Rather than paying 20%-plus interest on credit card debts, people should look in the first instance to credit unions to cater for their personal finance needs It’s a much cheaper option,” he added.

The director of Consumer Affairs Carmel Foley had urged consumers before Christmas not to overuse credit during the festive period.

She said the widespread availability of credit is resulting in people spending too much and then facing crippling debts.

There is 1,300m outstanding on Irish credit cards, double the amount four years ago, and interest rates charged on cards here is 7% above the EU average.

Earlier this year the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs Mary Coughlan urged anyone in debt to contact the money and budgeting advice service, MABS.

She said the final two weeks of January are the busiest time of the year for MABS, which is operated by her department from local social welfare offices.

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