Families in debt simply trying to make ends meet

Every Christmas the banks bring out more «smart» holiday loans and credit cards and Greek households get themselves further and further into debt – within a year, personal loans have increased by 67.5 percent. Some people borrow in order to cover basic needs, others to pay for their children’s private lessons, a few days’ summer holiday or for unexpected medical treatment. Some are even seeking the illusion of non-existent prosperity, particularly at Christmas time, which is all about the giving of gifts, paid for by credit card or consumer loans. In 2000, about 70 different credits cards were in circulation, now there are about 200. In 2001, only 200,000 stores accepted installment payments for purchases by means of credit card. Now that figure has tripled. Between 2000 and September 2004, borrowing in the form of credit cards, personal and consumer loans increased by 285 percent – from 5,511.4 million to 15,722.9 million euros – with the greatest increase in personal loans that are often used to pay off credit card debts. According to a survey by the European Union’s General Consumer Directorate, Greece has the third highest household debt rating – 24 percent of Greeks claim to be in debt, compared to a 16 percent average in the former 15-member European Union. Six percent of them get so far behind in their payments that they lose their homes. According to the figures, over-consumption and a nouveau riche lifestyle are not wholly to blame. The EU survey indicates that Greece and Portugal have the second highest percentage (20 percent) of people below the poverty line, with Ireland leading the list. A poor person in Greece is perhaps the poorest in the EU of the former 15 member states. A four-member family on the poverty line has an annual income of 8,955 euros, compared to 19,855 in Germany, 25,175 in Denmark and 29,113 in Luxembourg. At the same time, Greece is the second most expensive country in the former 15-member EU, behind Ireland, where the average income, however, is almost double that of Greece. Another Europe-wide survey by the European Commission found that Greece had the second-highest prices for 82 basic consumer items. No wonder 50 percent of Greeks resort to credit cards, even at the supermarket. No wonder they resort to holiday loans to pay for gifts at «Greek» (i.e. high) prices on «Greek» (i.e. low) wages. According to a survey by the National Center for Social Research in cooperation with the National Statistical Service, 45.28 percent of non-poor Greeks and 4.14 percent of poor Greeks have taken out loans to acquire goods and services. Another 15.86 percent have no credit rating due to low incomes. Just 36.8 percent of the population are not indebted to the banks.