Why do nearly half of Swiss households have debts?

Why do nearly half of Swiss households have debts?
Nearly half of Swiss households are in debt. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
New data shows that over 40 percent of the population lives in a household with at least one debt. Large families, the unemployed, and foreigners are the most affected.

Given that Switzerland is officially the most expensive country in the world it's perhaps no surprise so many households are in debt.

Payment arrears are the most common type of debt. Nearly one in five people falls into this category, according to a survey on income and living conditions published by the Federal Statistical Office this week. 

The figures cover the year 2017, but they are the most recent available.

Almost 10 percent of the population (9.9 percent) are in debt due to unpaid or late payments of taxes and 7.3 percent of the population are in arrears due to unpaid insurance premiums. These are the two most common forms of household debt in Switzerland.

These debts are the reason 9.9 percent and 7.3 percent of the population, respectively.

But arrears can also relate to rent, mortgage interest, loan payments, alimony, water, electricity, gas, heating, telecommunications, or other bills.

READ MORE: What does Switzerland spend all its money on?

A quarter of families are more indebted than households without children, which make up only 11 percent of the population.
And more than a third of people living in single-parent families had faced at least one late payment in the past 12 months.

After the arrears, vehicle leases constitute the most frequent debts — 14.6 percent of Switzerland’s residents have skipped on these car payments.

Next comes money owed to family or friends (10.3 percent) and consumer loans (9 percent).

In total, 42.5 percent of the population lives in a household with at least one type of debt, 18.4 percent with at least two, and 8 percent with at least three.

The latter category is more prevalent in the French-speaking cantons and in Ticino than in German-speaking Switzerland. Families with at least three children (17 percent), the unemployed (15 percent), and immigrants (13 percent) are the most affected.

It is also these three categories which are most often the subject of legal proceedings.

Overall, 7.6 percent of households have at least one person affected by a lawsuit or an act of default of property. More than one in four unemployed people are in this situation, as are 23.8 percent of foreigners and 18.3 percent of large families.

The study also shows that young people tend to be more likely than their elders to buy things they cannot afford. Again, that statistic pertains more to the French than German speakers.

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