UPDATE 1-Thai household debt level should ease gradually - chief

* Household debt/GDP at 79.9 pct at end-2016 vs 81.2 pct end-2015

*, banks launch project to resolve some consumer debt

* NPLs expected to peak later this year - (Adds details, ‘debt clinic’ programme)

BANGKOK, May 17 (Reuters) - Thailand’s high household debt level fell last year and should keep doing so gradually as the economy is recovering and people who bought cars under a state subsidy scheme are repaying their loans, the central bank governor said on Wednesday.

The ratio of household debt to gross domestic product (GDP) was 79.9 percent at the end of 2016 compared with 81.2 percent a year earlier, Bank of Thailand Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob told reporters.

“If the economy is recovering steadily without bumps, household debt will be on a downward trend but still slowly,” he said.

Kasikorn Research Center, part of a commercial bank, said 2016 was the first year in 11 years that the household debt-level declined.

Household debts have restrained consumption, traditionally a key driver of Thai growth. In recent years, Thailand’s growth rates have lagged those of regional peers.

The central bank has forecast the Thai economy will expand 3.4 percent this year, after 3.2 percent last year.

The median of per capita debt jumped to about 150,000 baht ($4,345) last year from 70,000 baht in 2010, Veerathai said.

One major factor pushing up debt levels was the car subsidy scheme that ended in 2012. During that final year, domestic auto sales surged 81 percent to a record 1.44 million cars.

Debts are a structural problem as Thais people take on loans and default on them at a young age, the governor said.

In a bid to resolve debt problems, the central bank and financial institutions on Wednesday announced a “debt clinic” programme to tackle some unsecured consumer loans that became bad credits.

About half a million borrowers with more than 100 billion baht in debt will be eligible to join the programme, Veerathai said.

According to the central bank, non-performing loans (NPLs) of Thai banks rose to 2.94 percent of all credits in the first quarter from 2.83 percent at the end of 2016.

The BOT said Tuesday it expected NPLs to “peak” later this year, but did not indicate what level it expects them to reach. ($1 = 34.52 baht) (Editing by Richard Borsuk)