Borrowers still playing safe, BBA data suggests

Christmas present
Image caption Christmas can often add extra pressure on family finances

UK borrowers continued to play safe with the outstanding amount owed in personal loans at its lowest level for nearly 14 years, figures show.

The British Bankers' Association (BBA) said that repayments in loans and overdrafts roughly matched new borrowing during December.

This was despite the extra financial squeeze of Christmas for many families.

The BBA data also reflects other statistics that show a pick-up in mortgage lending at the end of 2012.

The number of mortgage approvals for house purchases was up 4% on the same month a year earlier, to 33,636. The average for the previous six months was 30,979.

This remains much lower than the levels seen during the housing boom.

"2012 was a year of holding on to deposits and repaying debt for companies and households," said BBA statistics director, David Dooks.

This has widely been credited to the Funding for Lending scheme, launched in August. The Bank of England has been offering cheap funds to banks and building societies, provided it is then lent to individuals and non-financial companies.

The availability of mortgage deals has increased, various statistics have suggested, and they have become cheaper too.

However, the BBA figures show that lending to businesses remains subdued.

Repayments of business loans to the major UK banks outstripped new borrowing by £3.5bn in December, the data shows.

Personal loans to individuals tend to be used for buying home equipment, holidays and cars, over a two or three-year period.

The outstanding amount owed stood at £34.4bn in December, the BBA said, which was the lowest since August 1999. It is also almost half the level that had built up before the financial crisis.

The BBA reports that credit card usage has gone up slightly, partly because plastic is a common way of paying for goods on the internet, the only part of the retail sector which is showing significant growth.

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