SYDNEY, July 4 (Xinhua) -- Australia's corporate regulator has warned that a growing number of Aussies are drowning in debt, finding that 18.5 percent of credit card holders are struggling to keep up with "persistent arrears."
Handed down on Wednesday, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission's (ASIC) new report found that while credit cards offer flexibility, they can quickly turn into a "debt trap" for more than one in six consumers.
With one of the highest levels of household debt per capita anywhere in the world, Aussies owe a total of more than 45 billion Australian dollars (33.25 billion U.S. dollars) on their credit cards.
Of the 21.4 million accounts reviewed between July 2012 and June 2017, ASIC found "in June 2017 there were almost 5400,000 people in arrears, an additional 9400,000 with persistent debt and an additional 435,000 people repeatedly paying small amounts," the report said.
While ASIC has urged consumers to be more careful, they also laid a large portion of the blame with the country's banks, who are currently in the midst of a Royal Commission Inquiry focused on unethical lending practices and misconduct in the financial sector.
"Consumers are also being provided with credit cards that don't meet their needs," the report said.
"Many consumers carry balances over time on high interest rate products, when lower-rate products would save them money."
ASIC estimates that this alone, would have collectively saved credit card holders 621 million Australian dollars (458 billion U.S. dollars) in interest between 2016 to 2017 if they had carried their balance on a card with a lower interest rate.
"Only a handful of credit providers take proactive steps to address persistent debt, low repayments or poorly suited products," the report said.
"The data shows that while many consumers reduce their credit card debt during the promotional period of transfer to a new card, a concerning number of consumers increase their debt."
When transferring a balance to a new card, almost one in three people raised their debt level by 10 percent.
"There are a number of failures by lenders to act in the interests of consumers and we expect them to respond swiftly to our findings," the report concluded.
"We will be following up to ensure the problems we have identified are addressed, including public updates later this year."
Among the new guidelines set to be introduced by the regulator, is a plan for lenders to assess credit cards based on whether the consumer can afford to repay the credit limit within three years.