UK credit card market to be investigated
The credit card market is to be investigated by its regulator following research that found it isn't working well for all consumers.
Some 30 million Brits have a credit card but the Financial Conduct Authority is concerned there's not enough competition when it comes to deals and consumers shopping around.
Other concerns include products being too complex and a potential lack of transparency and fairness in terms and conditions.
The regulator added that its market study would investigate issues around unaffordable lending. More specifically, it plans to find out "whether particular groups of consumers are over-borrowing or under-repaying their credit card balances and the possible reasons for this, including whether credit cards are marketed in a way that works against the best interests of consumers".
A fair deal
Christopher Woolard, director of policy, risk and research at the FCA said: "The credit card market is well-established and hugely important for UK consumers, who hold around 70% of all credit cards in Europe. We want to make sure that the market works well for all consumers and that cardholders get a fair deal."
The StepChange Debt Charity has reported that the average person calling its helpline has 2.7 credit cards with total balances of £9,047.
Mike O'Connor, the charity's chief executive, said: "We welcome today's announcement by the FCA. Too many people are using credit as a safety net when all too often it is a trap which leads to problem debt. Credit card debt is one of the most common debt problems we see. Many people are struggling with multiple debts, high balances and interest rates."
He added: "People will always need to borrow to cope with the up and downs of income and the costs they face, but we need to ensure that the credit market is operating in the best interests of consumers and with good levels of protection, especially for vulnerable people. None of us want to see a return to the bad old days of credit card lending prior to the financial crisis."
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.