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Insight of the Day: Sharp rise in consumers seeking debt counselling

The Problem

  • Increasing Debt Counseling: There's been a 22% increase in debt counseling inquiries and a 30% rise in online debt management in the first quarter of 2024 compared to last year. This signals severe financial distress for consumers.


  • High Interest Rates: Interest rates on mortgages and other loans have risen significantly, increasing monthly payments for existing debt.

  • Inflation (Especially Food): Inflation, particularly on food, significantly reduces consumers' disposable income, pushing them to lean on credit to cover essentials.

  • Stagnant Wages: Salaries haven't kept up with the rising cost of living, meaning people are earning less in real terms compared to previous years.

Who's Affected

  • Over 40s: Older individuals with mortgages and asset-linked loans are hit hard by interest rate hikes.

  • Higher-Income Earners:  Even those with larger salaries are using credit to offset the combined effects of inflation and higher interest rates.

Key Statistics

  • Purchasing Power Decline: Purchasing power has fallen 47% since 2016 due to inflation.

  • Debt-to-Income Ratios:  For those seeking debt counseling, they use an average of 62% of their take-home pay on debt. This is much higher (127%+ ) for higher-income groups.

Expert Opinions

  • Debt Counsellors:  They confirm the surge in debt counseling and highlight the unsustainable reliance on short-term, high-interest loans to cover basic living costs.

  • Economists:  They point to broader economic mismanagement, a depreciating currency, and the Reserve Bank's continued focus on curbing inflation as main drivers of the crisis.


The situation is unlikely to improve quickly. High interest rates are expected to remain throughout 2024, putting continued pressure on indebted consumers.

In Summary: South African consumers are trapped in a cycle of falling purchasing power, heavy reliance on credit, and increasingly unmanageable debt burdens.

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