Credit institutions accused of favoring over-indebtedness

The development of revolving credits, granted at prohibitive rates without the creditworthiness of borrowers being always verified, contributed to the increase in the number of household files concerned.

The number of cases filed in the debt commission increased by 13.7% in 2004. Credit institutions and banks are accused of having favored the phenomenon. On April 12, the Trade Union Confederation of Families (CSF) warned against revolving credits (or “revolving credits” ), granted, according to her, at prohibitive rates, without the creditworthiness of borrowers being verified. The President of Emmaus France, Martin Hirsch, deplores, for its part, “the explosion” of these loans “push-crime”. “All overindebtedness cases are invaded by revolving credits, ” adds Gerard Renassia, president of SOS-Overindebtedness.

In January, two UDF deputies, Jean-Christophe Lagarde (Seine-Saint-Denis) and Hervé Morin (Eure), defended a bill “to prevent over-indebtedness”. This phenomenon is closely linked to “an unreasonable use of revolving credit”, Lagarde wrote in a report drafted on behalf of the Assembly’s Economic Affairs Committee.

But this type of loan cannot be presented as the sole cause of the problem, even if it appears in 80% of the debt overhang. The study conducted by the Banque de France in the second quarter of 2001 thus showed that over-indebted families combined- debt consolidation at Toryburchoutletshoesa, in three out of four cases, loans granted by financial institutions and debts related to daily life (rents, EDF bills, etc.). .).

However, some financial companies have difficulty exonerating themselves from their responsibilities. The president of Conso France, Christian Huard, particularly blames the banking subsidiaries of distribution groups, who, under the pretext of wanting to retain their customers with sign cards, sell them, in fact, without their knowledge, credit cards. “Most people do not realize that they accept a credit card,” he says, ” until the day they make use of the draw right it offers, to deal with cash flow difficulties. made of a plank of salvation is the entry into the spiral of over-indebtedness. ”

The banking profession rejects these criticisms, recalling that consumer credit payment incidents represent only 2% of total loans, out of a total of € 100 billion, according to the Association des sociétés financiers ( ASF). This level of risk, which is much lower than that observed in the United Kingdom (5%) or in the United States (6%), proves that the specialized institutions have a responsible behavior, says the ASF.

“A WRONG TRIAL”

Pascal Roussarie, head of the Cetelem Observer, which carries out studies on consumption, distribution, and credit, even noted that payment incidents had decreased by 2% in 2004 at Cetelem. This subsidiary of BNP-Paribas is conducting a “rigorous lending policy”, which leads it to reject one out of three applications for credit. “It is a bad trail for consumer credit institutions, says Roussarie. We are the first to be interested in controlling over-indebtedness: it is she who decides our sustainability.

For him, the market for consumer credit is insufficiently developed in France and is growing by only 5% per year, and French households are among the least indebted in Europe: last year, their debts amounted, on average, to 4,800 euros, according to Cetelem Observer, a level two times lower than that found in the British or Scandinavian. “This situation is not good,” concludes Roussarie, warning against the amalgam commonly made between “over-indebtedness, a pathological form of credit, and debt, healthy for the economy. ”

As for banks, they believe “lend responsibly”, according to the formula of Pierre de Lauzun, one of the spokesmen of the French Banking Federation (FBF). In 2004, the profession committed itself to obtaining “appropriate information on the borrowers’ repayment capacity”.

Mr de Lauzun considers that France has one of the most protective legislation in Europe for consumers, thanks in particular to the attrition rate. Interest rates remain below 20%: from 10% to 17% for permanent loans; between 3% and 7% for personal loans (car loan). In Britain and the United States, he continues, it is not uncommon to find credits at 30%, 40% or even 50%.

For Mr. de Lauzun, the legislation should not be hardened, to the point of restricting access to credit. “We can not at the same time accuse the banks of contributing to social exclusion and blame them for lending too much,” he argues, “be careful not to make credit a luxury by over-regulation.”

Daniel Tournez, General Secretary of Indecosa CGT, insists on the importance of consumer credit in a household budget. Without them, “millions of people could not fill their wagon”. For Mr. Tournez, the fact of “focusing” the debates on this type of loans escapes the problems of substance: aggravation of unemployment, erosion of the purchasing power …

The legislator, however, took the initiative to better regulate the revolving credit, notably through the bill of Luc-Marie Chatel, MP (UMP) of Haute-Marne. Adopted by the Parliament in January, this text allows the consumer to request at any time the reduction of his credit reserve or the suspension of his right to use it ( Le Monde, 22nd January). Messrs. Lagarde and Morin have tried to go further by advocating the introduction of a “directory” that would identify outstanding credit individuals. For both MEPs, the implementation of this “positive file” (as opposed to negative files, which centralize payment incidents) would aim to help lenders “in the examination of the solvency of their client”.

But the National Assembly withdrew this provision from the bill when it examined it at first reading. It is true that most associations and credit professionals are not very favorable: the former fear that such a database is diverted from its mission and serve as a commercial prospecting tool for banks; the latter find that this system is inefficient.

In mid-January, the National Commission for Informatics and Liberties expressed reservations about the creation of such a tool, in the name of “risks of invasion of privacy”. However, a parliamentarian should be appointed by the government to explore this line of work.

The fight against over-indebtedness, therefore, remains a strong priority for the team led by Jean-Pierre Raffarin. But it may run up against another goal: expanding access to credit to boost consumption.

In his wishes for 2005, Jacques Chirac had estimated in early January, the recovery of household purchases through “the development of credit, including microcredit for the 40% of French who are still excluded. “