Banks hike overdraft and credit card rates as debt soars – APRs hit 40%. ‘We can’t sleep’ | Personal Finance | Finance

As millions struggle to fund their food and energy bills, banks and building societies are making life even harder by ramping up charges for those forced to borrow money just to pay their food and energy bills. Overdraft and credit card rates have rocketed to their highest level in a quarter of a century.

Britons are drowning in debt, with credit card users set to borrow an extra £ 9 billion over the next six months.

That will lift the nation’s total credit card debt to £ 69 billion, a jump of 18 percent, according to subscription lender Creditspring.

A staggering one in six Britons, that’s 8.5 million in total, now have to borrow to make ends. That rises to a third among those aged 18 to 34, said Creditspring co-founder Neil Kadagathur.

“One in four living on lower incomes of under £ 10,000 a year are terrified for their financial future.”

Yet while debts rise, the average credit card APR now charges a punitive 21.49 percent, the highest in almost a quarter of the century.

Banks are driving up their overdraft rates, too, to take advantage of the growing numbers falling into the red as bills rocket.

Overdraft rates now average 34.07 percent after rising an incredible 62 percent since the start of the pandemic. In February 2020, overdraft rates were much lower at an average 20.99 percent.

First Direct, HSBC, Halifax, Lloyds, M&S Bank, Nationwide, NatWest, TSB and others charge a staggering 39.90 percent for overdrafts. Barclays is close behind charging 35 percent.

Personal loan rates are much lower at 3.96 percent for those borrowing £ 10,000, but they are also rising.

They have climbed 17 percent from an average 3.37 percent since September 2020.

Many applicants face rejection. Up to 15 million are unable to get affordable credit for mainstream banks and building societies, and risk falling victim to unscrupulous lenders and loan sharks, Kadagathur said.

READ MORE: Credit card borrowing to become ‘more expensive’ from cost of living

Struggling borrowers should consider consolidating to cheaper credit such as personal loans if they can, advised David Hendry, chief marketing officer at Freedom Finance. “Otherwise try to pay down your most expensive debt first, then move onto the next most expensive.”

Desperate consumers are now relying on controversial “buy now, pay later” credit to buy everyday essentials.

BNPL is typically used to spread the cost of big one-off expenses, but many now use it to buy groceries, said Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “The monthly payments can be hefty while missed repayments will incur late fees.”

Half of young adults now use BNPL, said Kelli Fielding, TransUnion’s managing director of consumer interactive.

They are turning to credit to make major purchases “like buying a car, or moving out of the family home, as well as for everyday finance”, she said.

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BNPL company, Klarna, will start reporting UK customer debts to credit agencies next month, which will punish those who do not keep on top of their repayments.

Brean Horne, personal finance expert at comparison site NerdWallet, said borrowers who use too much credit or miss any monthly repayments, including energy bills, could struggle to get credit in future.

This could make it even harder for young people to qualify for a mortgage and get on the property ladder.

One in four now say managing money is now their number one worry, with nearly one in five losing sleep, according to challenger bank Shawbrook.

Head of consumer communications Sally Conway said as Brits face price hikes every day “it’s understandable so many feel overwhelmed.”

The numbers Googling the online search term “I can’t afford my bills” has jumped more than 400 percent in three months, credit management company Lowell said.

This is Mental Health Awareness Week and Lowell chief executive John Pears said: “It’s important for those struggling to know that there are many organizations that can offer support and guidance.”

Citizens Advicedebt charity StepChange, National Debtline and the government-funded guidance service MoneyHelper offer free and independent advice. Beware those who charge for debt management plans.

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