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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Credit card users repaying debts
Chip and pin machine
Debit cards have overtaken credit cards in popularity since 2003
Credit cards users repaid more money than they borrowed in August, for the first time since May 1994.

The net repayment of credit card debt, of 311m, was revealed in statistics from the Bank of England (BoE).

It means that the total amount of money still outstanding on credit cards fell to 55.4bn.

Meanwhile the number of new mortgages approved, but not yet lent, fell slightly in August, down by just 1,000 from July to 119,000.

Major British banks have been reporting the trend for net credit card repayment for the last four months but the BoE figures are the most authoritative as they include lending by smaller UK banks, foreign banks and building societies.

Howard Archer of Global Insight said: "Consumers have looked to find less expensive ways of financing their spending."

The last time people were paying back more than they borrowed on their credit cards was in the early 1990s in the wake of a steep economic recession.

Borrowing boom

Now it looks as if some borrowers have taken fright at the widespread publicity given to the rapid escalation of private debt in the last few years.

Sandra Quinn of the Association of Payment Clearing Services (APACS) said: "What this shows is that customers are realising they must be responsible and pay off their credit card debt."

Since the start of 2000 the amount of outstanding debt held by people in the UK has doubled to 1.25 trillion, though most of that has been in the form of mortgage borrowing.

Even so, it has only taken one year longer, since the start of 1999, for credit card debt to double also, to its current level of 55.4 bn.

One factor bringing this expansion to a halt has been that spending on credit cards has become less popular and was overtaken by debit card spending three years ago.

Sandra Quinn said she expected the trend for net repayments to continue.

"People have not stopped spending - they are reaching for debit cards more than credit cards," she said.

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