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Cautious consumers' repayments on credit cards, loans and overdrafts outstripped new borrowing by �305m in February, figures show.

This safety-first approach had led to a contraction in borrowing through loans and overdrafts for more than three years, major banks said.

The figures, from the British Bankers' Association (BBA), showed a slowdown in activity in the mortgage market.

It said remortgaging levels were at their lowest for 13 years. 'Difficult economic times'

Despite their cautious approach, consumers still spent �7bn on credit cards in February - a similar level as the previous six months, the figures show.

Repayments outstripped new borrowing on credit cards by �39m in February. The repayment in unsecured lending was driven by weak demand, and continued payback, of loans and overdrafts.

Unsecured lending by the banks contracted by 1.8% in the 12 months to February.

" However, activity returned to more "normal" levels in February, said the group which represents the High Street banks.