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Consumers acting to counter effects of inflation, interest rates

  • Q4 2022 Debt Index shows consumers being proactive about managing debt
  • Debt counselling inquiries up by 53% and subscription for online debt-management tools up by 130%

A sustained, significant growth in demand for debt management services points to increasing numbers of South African consumers, subjected to raised interest rates and high inflation, facing up to their debt and taking action to repay it.

This is one of the findings from DebtBusters’ Q4 2022 Debt Index, released today (2 February) to coincide with the launch of National Debt Awareness Month.

The quarterly review of data provided by consumers who apply for debt counselling found that enquiries rose by 53% between October and December 2022 compared to the same period in 2021 (Q3 2022, 30%). People who subscribed for DebtBusters’ online debt management tools increased by a massive 130%.

“In our view this is the clearest evidence yet that consumers are facing up to their debt and taking the necessary steps to do the responsible thing and pay it back,” says Benay Sager, head of DebtBusters.

He says the full impact of successive interest rate increases since November 2021 and higher inflation rates are now fully evident in consumer finances.

“Although it seems counterintuitive, lending activity has increased as interest rates have risen because consumers supplement their income with credit, using unsecured loans as a lifeline. The data bears this out: average loan size increased by 31% and 96% of consumers who applied for debt counselling in the last quarter of 2022 had a personal loan.”

Sager says that ironically it was a series of interest rate reductions starting in Q2 2020 that has contributed to the pressure many consumers are currently experiencing. These rate cuts resulted in associated decreases in the average interest charged for bonds and vehicle finance. The attractive rates encouraged people, especially younger consumers, to buy vehicles and houses.

When the interest rates began to rise again in late 2021, these consumers started to feel the increased burden of servicing asset-linked debt. The average interest rate for a bond went from 8.3% in Q4 2020 to 10.8% in Q4 2022.

Compared to 2016, when DebtBusters first started analysing the data, consumers who applied for debt counselling in Q4 2022 had:

  • 33% less purchasing power – While nominal income was on par with 2016, when cumulative inflation is factored in, in real terms South Africans could buy 33% less with the money in their wallets than six years ago.
  • A higher debt-service burden – On average, before entering debt counselling, people spend 63% of their take-home pay to service debt. Those taking home R20 000 or more use 68% of their income to repay debt. For the top two income bands, those with R10 000 a month take-home pay and those with R20 000 or more, the debt-to-income ratios are 125% and 161% respectively.
  • Unsustainably high levels of unsecured debt –Unsecured debt levels were, on average, 21% higher than in 2016 and 50% higher for people with take-home pay of R20 000 a month or more. This is a direct result of people using unsecured credit to counter inflation eroding their income.

Sager says for consumers dealing with high debt levels, debt counselling is a tried, tested and effective tool. Evidence of this is the number of people to successfully complete debt counselling and get their clearance certificates, which has increased five-fold over the past six years.

“While under debt counselling, interest rates for unsecured debt can be reduced by over 90%, from an average of 23,6% to ~1.9% which allows consumers to pay back their expensive debt quicker. Renegotiating interest rates in partnership with creditors enabled our clients to repay R2.5 billion in 2022.”

DebtBusters’ National Debt Awareness Month campaign is aimed at better informing consumers about managing debt and the effect of rising interest rates. This year’s theme is: More consumers than ever are facing up to their debt.

Besides the increases in enquiries and numbers of people completing debt counselling, Sager says the 130% increase in consumers, mainly young people, registering for DebtBusters’ online debt-management tools is significant and positive.

“Younger consumers generally have less debt burden and have been taking advantage of online debt management tools to manage their debt more pro-actively. Indications are they are keen to learn and recognise that if addressed early, debt management of can become part of daily life. We’re hugely encouraged by this and will continue to add functionality to the tools on

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