Waterford, Cavan and Leitrim are Ireland's most debt-laden counties
Louise McBride,Sunday Independent, 04.08.2013
Nationally, we owe four times more than we did in 2008, with an average figure of €10,600
The average consumer now owes more than four times what they did in 2008 – and most counties have sunk further into debt since then, new figures reveal.
The figures commissioned by the Sunday Independent from the company behind the debt defaulters magazine, Stubbs Gazette, found that the average consumer now owes €10,600 – almost a tenth more than last year's average debt of €9,800.
Five years ago, when the economic squeeze first started to dig its teeth into the Irish economy, the average consumer debt was only €2,442.
During the intervening years the average consumer debt recorded in many counties has also spiralled out of recognition.
In 2008, the highest debt recorded for an Irish county was €7,359 for Kerry. But today, the most indebted county in Ireland is in the sunny south east – Waterford – with an average debt of €30,225 versus just €8,819 in 2008.
Furthermore, in 2008, at the tail end of the Tiger years, the average debt of 21 counties was below the €3,000 mark.
Today, almost half of the Irish counties have an average debt of between €10,000 and €15,000.
Six counties – Kilkenny, Mayo, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon and Tipperary – have an average debt of between €15,000 and €20,000.
Waterford, Cavan and Leitrim are the most debt laden counties in the country with their average debt all climbing to between €20,000 and €31,000.
James Treacy, managing director of Stubbs Gazette, said the high debt recorded for Leitrim and Cavan could be linked to the abandoned ghost estates in those counties.
Some ghost estates have been sold for a fraction of their boom-time price and as a result, many of the developers behind those estates have been unable to repay the loans taken out to fund the original developments.
"Some of the judgements recorded in our figures would be based on developers defaulting on loans to NAMA," said Treacy.
The Stubbs figures track debts that have been chased through the courts after an individual was unable to pay telephone, fuel or tax bills, as well as payments on unsecured loans, such as credit cards, personal loans and credit union loans.
The average debt is taken as the figure mid-way between the highest and lowest debt in a particular county.
The debts built up by some developers are included in the Stubbs figures. "Some developers, such as civil servants or guards who got involved in property, would be sued as individuals," said Treacy.
Although Stubbs's figures do not include mortgage debt, the problems which homeowners have run into with boom-time mortgages could easily be behind the spike in consumer debt over the last few years, according to Noeline Blackwell, director general of the State's Free Legal Advice Centres, which offers legal advice to people in debt.
"People are under a lot of pressure dealing with mortgage debt," said Blackwell. "They're letting consumer debt slip as a result."
Last Wednesday, banks got back the power to repossess homes and investment properties from borrowers who the banks believe are not co-operating with them.
This could lead to a surge in the number of home repossessions and prompt people to let consumer debt slide even more – so they can meet their mortgage repayments and keep a roof over their heads.
"Juggling multiple debts is a huge problem," said Blackwell. "It's not surprising that people are managing their debts less and less. A lot of people who had savings or a redundancy lump sum are coming to the end of those savings or lump sums."
Mary Brophy, a data analyst with Stubbs Gazette, said the jump in consumer debt over the last year could be down to an increase in the value of debts chased through the court by credit unions and the Collector General.
Though Dublin has the lowest average consumer debt at €7,174, the proportion of Dubliners chased through the courts for unpaid debts is the second-highest of any county.
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