Half of Greeks are in debt

One in two households have currently contracted some form of debt, usually a credit card or a home-owner’s loan, but the country’s borrowers are not considered to be in over their heads, according to survey results published yesterday. The Bank of Greece, the country’s central bank, said that a survey it prepared recently showed that 51.4 percent of households have taken out some form of loan, versus 47 percent in 2005, when the survey was last held. The figure also showed that the total amount borrowed reaches 45.3 percent of the country’s annual economic output, as opposed to 54.3 percent in the 15-member eurozone. «This indicates that the total of Greek households are not overborrowed,» the central bank said. «From the analysis of results, it can be seen that the direct financial pressure on the majority of households with debts is within boundaries that are considered to be acceptable, meaning that it does not cause difficulties in meeting loan payments,» it added. The report will help allay fears about the negative impact higher interest rates and an expected economic slowdown in Greece will have on the growing pool of borrowers. Consumers have been snapping up loans at one of the fastest rates in the eurozone for a number of years, taking advantage of lower interest rates after Greece’s entry into the eurozone. However, the Bank of Greece, which regulates and supervises the country’s banking system, warned banks to be careful about their lending practices. Some 16 percent of households spend more than 40 percent of their income on meeting their monthly loan payments. «This indicates there are significant margins for improvement in managing credit risk,» said the Bank of Greece, adding that the responsibility also lies with households to carefully weigh up their financial commitments. The survey questioned 6,000 households across Greece in cooperation with research company ICAP in the last quarter of 2007.