Trap that’s crippling a generation
WE'VE all done it.
At some stage of our lives, all of us have overspent and found ourselves in debt. If we were lucky enough, the 'bank of Mum and Dad' bailed us out; if not, we paid the consequences.
But many people in their 20s and 30s today are faced with temptation their parents never had to deal with.
Easy credit is everywhere. And it's all too tempting to take it, especially when you feel you'll never be able to buy a house anyway.
Craig Garbler from Sterling Debt Advisory believes this credit is a trap anyone can fall into.
"Credit and credit cards provide opportunities to meet temptations and match peer pressure … and online shopping provides ease of access and anonymity" he told news.com.au.
Tony Ibrahim from Choice.com.au agrees: "There are concerns that Afterpay normalises debt", he said recently.
And that means many young adults are delaying responsibilities, by purchasing stuff they really can't afford, incurring crippling debt and delaying their real adulthood.
One of the people I spoke with for this article, Pippa, said she has been pulled into serious debt all too easily.
After dropping out of school as a result of mental health issues, she found herself depressed, anxious and with no real sense of purpose. Over-spending made her feel better about her situation.
"I was living each day to the fullest, doing anything to make Pippa happy because I truly believed that future Pippa wouldn't exist."
This included clothes, food, gifts for her family, Ubers, and paying for an extended holiday.
The combined cost put her so far in the red that she knew there was no way to climb out.
"I would wake up and find shopping confirmation emails of over $500 and hardly remember the transactions.
"When I applied for a new bank credit card, I requested a $1500 limit, but accidentally typed in $15,000. They rejected my request and offered me $4000 instead."
Pippa was fortunate when a payout as the injured party of a minor car accident alleviated her debt. Sadly, that's not how most of these stories end.
What is causing this dependency?
• Easy access - Services such as Afterpay, and certain banks offer easy credit to just about anyone. While there's a focus on home loans, and increased scrutiny with the royal commission, there's still easy access to much smaller amounts of credit. But these relatively small amounts can still trap people who aren't able to pay them back.
The ease of spending means if you've got a credit card with a large limit, you can pretty easily rack up the debt with a few taps on your phone or computer.
• Targeting - Young adults are bombarded by marketing from social media. Digital marketing is big business because it works, particularly with those customers with a sense of entitlement or who are vulnerable. Online shopping makes it feel like Christmas every day. Every other image on Instagram is an advertisement and our Facebook feeds are full of targeted ads.
• Compulsion - Some kids have a genuine mental health problem with spending. Oniomania and Compulsive Buying Disorder are now seen as bona fide medical conditions being diagnosed for people that spend compulsively: to cheer themselves up, as rewards, to reduce negative emotions. Overspending is much more common in girls and in kids with low self-esteem issues, personality disorders, poor impulse control and OCD.
• Disillusionment - Young people are feeling disillusioned that they can't have what their parents had - such as affordable housing and free education. Some visualise a bleak future that involves climate change, the improbability of ever owning their own property and the albatross around their neck of university debts. Spending makes them feel better.
The problem is that overspending discourages financial independence
'Helicopter' and 'lawnmower' parenting encourage these spending habits and discourage teaching young adults to live within their means. Aware that their kids are struggling to afford housing costs in the cities, many parents are enabling their kids by allowing them to live at home longer in order to save. But many of them aren't saving. They are spending their income on gyms, Ubers, new technology and eating out, acquiring a level of debt that will prevent them from ever being financially independent enough to pay rent.
And parents are picking up the slack. Their kids' debt is forcing them to cohabit with them beyond the normal length of time, meaning that they can't downsize and may even have to postpone their retirement. In the worst cases, parents are settling their kids' debts, which impacts their own future spending power.
Fortunately, there are services out there that can help people that find themselves in an unmanageable level of debt. As Craig goes on to say, 'Parents, or perhaps your parents' accountant or trusted and valued family members can help. You can also speak to in-house financial advisers, where an initial counselling service is often free.'
Communication is the key to resolving problems like these, rather than leaving them to fester in the hope that they'll disappear. It is important to keep the communication line open with your bank or your lenders.
As Lifeline says, "Many services are happy to give you payment extensions if you call them."
All of us have made mistakes in our journey to financial independence and most of us are lucky that they happen before serious legal and financial ramifications.
- Louisa Simmonds is a freelance journalist. She writes the blog My Midlife Mayhem