A credit rating agency has warned about soaring levels of household debt as Bank of England figures show unsecured borrowing is back above £200bn.
The report by Moody’s said lower-income families were “most exposed” to an economic downturn amid clear signs of a Brexit-linked slowdown.
It intervened just hours after the Bank’s latest consumer credit data showed the amount borrowed on things such as credit cards and through loans had returned to levels not seen since December 2008 – the time of the financial crash.
However, there were also signs that lending was starting to slow – in line with demands from regulators to keep borrowing in check to help protect both borrowers and banks – with the annual rate of growth easing to 10% from 10.4% the previous month.
Moody’s analyst Greg Davies said: “Household debt is high and still growing, leaving consumers vulnerable to an economic downturn, while higher inflation, weaker wage growth and levels of indebtedness leaves those in lower-income brackets the most exposed.
“An additional challenge is that households’ capacity to draw on savings to maintain consumption and/or service their consumer debts has significantly diminished.”
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Household savings rates have plunged and borrowing has grown this year as the weak pound pushes up import costs – costs which are then passed on to businesses and households.
Inflation is now rising at a faster pace than wage growth – tightening the squeeze on budgets.
Regulators are concerned about consumers getting out of their depth – with low interest rates attracting many to cheap finance at a time of higher household bills.
There is also a campaign under way for lenders to bolster restrictions on borrowers to better protect themselves – and therefore the economy – with banks being forced to have more money in reserve for tougher times.
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The Bank of England’s top official for financial stability warned last week they were edging towards a “spiral of complacency” – essentially arguing banks were failing to heed lessons of the past.
Its Prudential Regulation Authority has told lenders to prove they are not taking on too much risk by September.