Three quarters (76%) of consumers are only just breaking even or overspending each month, according to the upcoming annual edition of the European Consumer Payment Report from credit management services provider Intrum.
Breaking this down by country, the figure rises to 79% of UK consumers overspending or just breaking even. Similarly, consumers are feeling economic the pressure more so in Switzerland (78%), Ireland (80%), Germany (83%) and Greece (87%).
Of those overspending each month, this equates to €232 across Europe on average, equivalent to £201.
Published today, findings from Intrum’s study lay bare the experiences of 20,000 consumers across 20 European countries. They paint a stark picture of the wellbeing of European consumers in the face of a dual shock of rising interest rates and high inflation.
With their personal finances under pressure, more than a third (35%) of consumers admit they have failed to pay at least one bill on time in the last 12 months. This is the highest proportion in Intrum’s annual study since 2019.
The main reason for failing to pay bills is simply not having the money required to pay (43%). Yet one in three people (31%) say they feel less guilt about dodging their payment due date than in the past. The finding suggests people believe reneging on payments is a natural, and necessary, consequence of a more challenging economic environment.
Half the population have suffered a disposable income drop while one in five have no savings
Consumers’ real earnings have stagnated or even declined as surging inflation and higher borrowing costs continue to be a problem for European households. As many as 49% of consumers say that have significantly or slightly less spending money after paying for essential items and bills than they did a year ago.
Many consumers’ resilience is hanging by a thread because they lack any ‘cash buffer’ to cover unexpected costs. Worryingly one in five (20%) admit they have no savings to fall back on, and a further 17% have less than one month’s income saved.
As a result, more than three in four consumers (78%) may demand a pay rise from their employer this year, while 41% anticipate taking on extra credit to make ends meet.
Consumers’ outlook on the future has also worsened, with just 45% expecting their financial situation to improve over the next 12 months, fuelling a wider sense of unease and discontent. On average, people believe that high inflation will last until early 2025.
Greedflation repels 71% of consumers
With greater pressure on their disposable incomes, consumers are drawn towards brands and businesses that show they understand the changing landscape. Half (50%) of consumers say they are more likely to spend money with businesses that offer flexible payment terms such as partial payments, multiple payment methods or flexible due dates. A bigger majority (67%) believe that companies should offer flexible payment methods to consumers during difficult economic periods.
Looking ahead, an overriding 71% of consumers say they would stop spending money with a business if they thought that it was guilty of ‘greedflation’ by raising its prices when costs go up, but choosing to not reduce them when costs fall.
Andres Rubio, President and CEO of Intrum, said, “It’s clear that consumers are under severe pressure when it comes to their personal finances. Millions of people across Europe are facing tough decisions every day about where they can and can’t afford to cut back.
“The harsh reality of missing bills is not that consumers won’t pay, but some of them simply can’t afford to pay. Businesses that take an unnecessarily aggressive stance and don’t demonstrate understanding and flexibility will not see any significant improvement in repayments.
“During times of volatility and uncertainty, people can easily feel overwhelmed and unsure where to turn. Businesses needs to find a solution that works for them and their customers for the long term.
“With a central focus on an ethical and fair approach to payments collection, Intrum and the credit management industry plays a crucial role in providing guidance to businesses. In fact, there is an opportunity to build customer trust and secure competitive advantage long term by taking a pragmatic and flexible approach now.”