Beware the debt trap

Tamlyn Stewart

Tamlyn Stewart

A 29-year-old employee of a major bank has borrowed her way into serious financial difficulties.

Her take-home pay is R8000 a month but she has incurred so much debt, through two homeloans, vehicle finance, credit cards and personal loans - that her monthly payments to her creditors now total R35000 a month.

She is one of six million South Africans that are now dangerously over-indebted.

She is also one of a growing number of people registering for debt review and counselling to help them hang onto their homes and cars that are in danger of being repossessed.

In terms of the National Credit Act, if a debt counsellor finds a consumer is over-indebted, the counsellor will make a recommendation to the magistrate's court for the consumer to be declared over-indebted. The court can then make an order re-organising the consumer's debt by extending the term of any contract, postponing payments and recalculating unlawful fees or interest.

The young woman is one of 650 clients handled by Erna Scott of Consumer Assist.

"The largest problem was that credit was dished out like Chappies," said Scott. "Credit providers didn't do proper affordability tests.

"We take R6000 from her to pay her debts every month. She had to cut back on clothing, eating out, weekends away, her cellphone and petrol. Her parents live with her and they provide the food for the household," said Scott.

A year ago, Scott only had 30 case files but the numbers have surged in the past 12 months.

She said it's a myth that only the poor are suffering - many of her clients earn more than R20000 a month and financial difficulties are across the colour lines.

Consumer Assist chief executive André Snyman estimates that six million South Africans are over-indebted: "We get 60 new applications every day - that's 1200 applications per month."

He said the biggest problem for many clients was that they had not budgeted for rising interest rates. "If someone took out a R700000 bond two years ago their repayment has increased by R2500 over the last two years. Even if they got a good salary increase of 10percent, or R2000, their bond has risen by R2500."

Snyman said consumers whose debt was more than 85percent to 90percent of their income should approach a debt counsellor.