While credit-active consumers have showed signs of better debt management over the past two quarters, credit bureau Compuscan warns that consumers should not neglect careful credit management during the festive season.
According to Compuscan’s data that formed part of a detailed synopsis submitted to the National Credit Regulator (NCR) – taking accounts of all types into consideration – there was a 7% decrease in those with adverse enforcement statuses in Q2 2015, when compared to Q1 2015. Thus, there were 273 000 fewer accounts with adverse enforcement status codes recorded on the bureau in Q2 2015.
For Q3 2015, Compuscan confirms that there was little fluctuation in the credit market, looking at quarter-on-quarter activity. In fact, there were very few changes in consumer credit behaviour, amongst the approximate 20-million credit-active consumers. This could be as a result of consumers making better attempts to manage their debt, as well as credit providers applying stricter lending criteria. Also pointing to improved credit behaviour, Compuscan’s data revealed that there was a decrease of 10% in accounts one to two months in arrears.
Comments Frank Lenisa, director of Compuscan: “Although these trends seen in our data can be considered good news, the fact remains that consumers’ credit behaviour during preceding quarters indicates that they are not necessarily in a position to be less concerned about their debt, especially during the festive season.”
While the bigger picture seems positive, there are a number of trends which point to the fact that consumers are indeed feeling the weight of financial pressure.
According to Compuscan’s data the current average credit score for credit-active consumers is 615, which is considered high risk. Additionally, pointing to the fact that not all consumers are managing to get on top of their debt commitments; an average of 1,4-million consumers whose worst position was a judgment was recorded on the bureau in Q3 2015.
In addition, the current number of South African consumers subject to the debt counselling process (including those that have merely applied) was recorded at approximately 569 000 as at the end of Q3 2015. Interestingly, however, there was a 50% increase in the number of applications for debt counselling that were rejected, quarter-on-quarter. This might mean that these consumers were not in fact over-indebted and would thus not qualify for debt counselling. It could be argued that these consumers were however being proactive with the management of their debt.
The advice from Compuscan to manage one’s debt wisely over the festive season comes at a particularly relevant time as South Africans are confronted with a strained economic environment due to a number of factors including a weakening rand, possible tax increases, expected interest rate increases, a distressed mining industry and a struggling tourism industry, as well as increases in food – particularly red meat as a result of severe droughts – and petrol prices, albeit by only 1 cent – at this stage.
Additionally, looking at the bigger picture, Fitch Ratings has downgraded the country’s credit rating and Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has changed its outlook for South Africa from stable to negative. If the growth rate does not increase, S&P might downgrade SA to below ‘investment grade’. This would mean that it would be more expensive for the government to borrow as it will have to pay higher interest rates to compensate for the greater perceived risk. This will then increase the pressure on the country’s finances, which will in turn escalate the incentive to increase taxes.
Thus, it would be wise for South Africans to brace themselves for a general increase in the cost of living in 2016 and to factor this in to the way in which they budget to meet their debt commitments, bearing in mind the interest and fees that are added to credit.
“It is not all bad news,” adds Lenisa. “While we, as South African consumers, are faced with a lot of potential areas of financial strain, we also have the opportunity to work wisely with our finances and our credit commitments over the festive season. We recommend that consumers use this time to reassess their credit behaviour over the past year, and to carefully plan for the year ahead in order to start 2016 off on the right foot.
“While it is important for consumers to be mindful of their financial situations and their credit behaviour, it should also be reiterated that there is hope for consumers that find themselves in tight situations.”
Compuscan provides the following tips for managing credit over the festive season:
* Create a budget and stick to it. Ensure you have made allowances for all your planned spending over the festive season. If it is not within your budget then do not buy it.
* Prioritise your debt and pay back the accounts that are charging you higher interest first, no matter what the season is. Do this by paying the minimum instalments on the other accounts and allocating a greater amount to the higher interest rate account.
* Remember that one month of skipped payments can quickly start you off on a downward debt spiral.
* If you are fortunate enough to receive a Christmas bonus, use it to pay some of your debt off and look at setting aside a portion of this for January’s expenses. Don’t waste it on things you don’t need.
* Think carefully before you incur any further credit. Remember, borrowing money costs money (it isn’t ever free) and you must ensure you can afford to pay back the amount you want to borrow as well as the added interest, fees and costs.
* Try and supplement your income so that you will be able to pay back your debt faster.
* Keep a close eye on your credit report so as to monitor your borrowing and spending habits. By registering with www.mycreditcheck.co.za, consumers with valid South African ID numbers can easily stay up to date with their financial standing.
* Shop around for specials, many retailers are offering good buys over this period, and you should ensure you make the most of these deals, as your budget allows.
* Keep these tips in mind to help you meet your financial goals: spend wisely, save regularly, and invest prudently.