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Debt takeup by households remains flat

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AAP

2013-01-29

Australians appear to be swapping credit for savings, with a recent study showing intention for taking on debt at a three-year low.

Dun & Bradstreet's Consumer Credit Expectations Survey, released on Tuesday, shows only 18 per cent of respondents plan to increase their debt in the coming months.

That expectation for the March quarter is down from 22 per cent in the December quarter, and 26 per cent in the three months to September.

Applications for home loans, personal loans, credit cards and credit limit increases are set to be flat in the March quarter, while debit cards are becoming the banking method of choice.

More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of respondents said they had debit card accounts - the highest percentage since September 2009 (67 per cent).

Dun & Bradstreet chief executive Gareth Jones said the study was consistent with a more conservative mood among Australian households.

"Overall, we've witnessed a sizeable shift in the spending behaviour of the Australian consumer," he said.

"There is a greater degree of consideration being applied to each spending decision and a greater focus on spending within our means.

"The use of debit cards is becoming more common, as is a level of caution towards borrowing and debt in general, which has been evident in the increased level of credit card repayments shown in the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia)'s November 2012 figures."

Mr Jones said the aversion to spending - particularly on discretionary items - could hit Australian businesses, as reflected in recent data for retail spending and business expectations.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed retail spending falling by 0.1 per cent in November, lower than the expected 0.3 per cent rise.

Dun & Bradstreet's own business expectations survey for December showed executives anticipated negative results for both sales and employment.

That survey found that sales expectations fell by 12 points to an index level of 21, while the index for employment expectations fell two points to minus one.

Meanwhile, a frugal approach to finances and the paying off of debt, however, may be prompting a fall in people's concern over their financial position.

The survey showed a fall in the number of people concerned about their financial position - 49 per cent, compared to 59 per cent in the September quarter.

Caroline Smith