Tauranga budgeting services clients are more than $30 million in debt - one of the highest debt levels in the country.

The Commerce Commission has released its annual Consumer Issues Report, which published data from the branches of the New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services.

This data showed Tauranga Budget Advisory Service clients were $32.9 million in debt - and this did not include debt to government departments or the courts.

Tauranga was the fifth most in-debt centre, following Wellington on $52.4m of debt, Poverty Bay/Hawkes Bay on $43.8m, Far North with $35.7m and Manukau on $34.7m.


Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Diane Bruin said the most common ways the service's clients got into debt was from excessive spending on credit cards, personal loans, hire purchases and using mobile truck shops to buy household goods, for which consumers often paid three times the value of the goods.

She said the service managed 1700 clients a year which accounted for about 70 per cent of the $32.9m of debt.

Mrs Bruin said mortgages also formed a large component of the debt racked up at the service, but this was good debt unlike the aforementioned debts, which were high interest.

She said arrears had become more common.

"Often the cause of debt is due to ill health, which can be difficult to manage on reduced household income.

"Most companies or finance companies will work with our clients and us to establish a repayment plan. However, if they break this agreement the finance companies are reluctant to give clients a second chance."

Mrs Bruin said credit was too easy to get and when people over committed themselves, it changed the dynamics of the household and could lead to ill health.

"My concern is that debt needs to be fair and reasonable interest rates and charges. The lender needs to see proof that the client can afford the debt they are committing to. Often, vulnerable clients need a second voice, but they don't get the chance with a demanding salesperson taking advantage of the situation. We support their applications to various complaint services for client assistance."

Increasing numbers of clients were attending the service's free "more about money" education classes to learn more about finance.

Tauranga had a high rent and house cost compared to income levels and credit was relatively easy to obtain. The high amount of seasonal work also contributed to Tauranga's high debt levels, Mrs Bruin said.

Welcome Bay Community Centre manager Anna Larsen said she often met with people who had "absolutely nothing" but money and goods were made accessible to them.

"These people just don't have the life skills to know that it's not a good deal, or the difference between good and bad debt."

Ms Larsen thought mobile shops were exacerbating the problem and did not think they should be allowed to exist. She talked about people buying appliances and goods from a truck and ending up paying three times what they were worth - and in the time it took to pay for the items, the goods had usually lost their value anyway.

"I think this predatory behaviour is getting worse and worse."

Ms Larsen recommended people make use of the "cooling-off period" right of five days that all borrowers had by law, not including hire purchases.

Tauranga Community Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said the foodbank often helped budgeting clients who were trying to "climb their way out of debt" by providing food parcels.

Mrs Goodwin said she was hearing that lenders and mobile shops were causing hardship, and that it took a long time for people to get out of that situation.

" . . . Sometimes it will take years. It's probably not a large amount of money in the scheme of things, but these people can't sell anything to pay it back.

"What I see is people have to pay their rent, have to pay power, have to pay debt. It comes out of things like their food budget, that is something that can be flexible."