When Matthew Fraher left for Australia in 2000, he says, he was required to pay back as much on his student loan as his entire income, within a year.
Now, after incurring penalties, his loan balance is six figures and could grow to almost $1 million by retirement age, even if he keeps up minimum repayments, he says.
Revenue Minister Peter Dunne this week announced plans to crack down on overseas student loan debt as "fundamentally a fairness issue". Mr Dunne's proposals related to missed and overdue payments.
Nevertheless, Mr Fraher told the Herald he did not want to be characterised as a sort of bludger even if his debt was among the highest.
He said many politicians would have got free education before the introduction of student loans - they "didn't pay a dime and they're having a go at us".
Mr Fraher said he contacted the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) when he first left NZ in 2000 with a student loan of about $70,000.
The requirement for him was to pay 15 per cent of the principal and all of the interest in a year, he said - about $15,000, though Mr Fraher recalled the amount was $23,000.
The income from his first job would not have covered it, even if he had lived homeless and ate at soup kitchens, he said.
Mr Fraher said IRD at the time would not consider any other payment plan despite the circumstances.
"A lot of people would have contacted IRD. And now we're made out to be low-life scumbags and that's just not the case."
After a degree in political science and a postgraduate diploma in commerce, Mr Fraher worked in insurance. He said he had done well in his career and wanted to repay his loan, but the system had made it difficult.
He returned to New Zealand in 2009 with his balance about doubled to $140,000, he said.
It is down to about $110,000 after three years of minimum payments - about $10,000 a year.
Now Mr Fraher is moving back to Australia, where he will be required to pay just $3000 a year - and incur more in interest than he has to pay.
The interest rate is adjusted every year but currently sits at a historically low 6.4 per cent. It was as high as 9 per cent in 1995-96. Mr Fraher will accrue more than $7000 in interest in a year.
"I was paying about $10,000 a year just doing the minimum amount for the last three and a half years.
"When I go to Australia I'll be paying back $3000 a year.
"They're actually making an incentive to leave the country.
"If anyone thinks that's sensibleor good policy, their head's notright."
At historically average interest rates, Mr Fraher's student loan debt could reach $1 million in the 2040s.
Overdue payments from overseas-based borrowers make up about 2.5 per cent of total student loan debts.
• Current loan balance $110,000
• Interest this year $7040
• Minimum repayment required while overseas $3000