New Zealand now owes almost half a trillion dollars in debt - and a growing chunk of it belongs to ordinary households, mainly borrowing to buy property.
But consumer debt - credit cards and hire purchase deals and high interest short term loans - is really crippling for some 735,000 of the most financially vulnerable, says Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell.
Kiwis officially have around $15.7 billion in consumer debt, Maxwell says it's actually much higher than that.
Reserve Bank figures don't cover debt owed to utility companies, councils, pay day lenders, mobile truck shops and the government for unpaid child support.
Adding those in could boost consumer debt levels by another $2.4 billion.
Maxwell, who heads up the Commission for Financial Capability, firmly believes New Zealand has a debt problem.
"Culturally we really are quite comfortable with debt."
But it's not just the amount of debt that is the issue she says but how much interest is being paid on that debt and who is paying that interest.
Based on qualitative research the commission has broken Kiwis down into three main areas - those in intensive care, those on the ward and people who just need GP visits.
It is the 21 per cent of Kiwis or roughly 735,000 people in "intensive care" that Maxwell is focusing her attention on.
She says those are the people who are least likely to have any assets to their name and be paying much higher interest rates.
Instead of paying 18 to 20 per cent interest on a credit card or 12 to 18 per cent interest for an unsecured personal loan at the bank they are paying 30 per cent plus interest on money they borrow.
"These guys who have no money are paying the most for money."
And she says it's that high cost of debt which is keeping them in debt.
Instead of following a traditional path of borrowing to buy a first car and paying back the loan, then saving a deposit for a house and paying off the mortgage in their 50s allowing time to save for a retirement - this group never gets out of the red.
They borrow for a car and then borrow for a stereo or other new technology.
Watch: Westpac Economist Satish Ranchhod on NZ's growing debt:
Then if they have a "messy life" moving houses and jobs or getting divorced between the ages of 20 and 40 and they don't have the resources to manage it or family that can bail them out it can be disastrous financially.
Maxwell says the group of people in intensive care have a high cost to the whole of New Zealand not just themselves.
"This group have a high cost to the taxpayer and when they reach 65 that cost will be even higher."
They potentially arrive at 65 with no house or savings and still in debt which means they are likely to need help with paying for accommodation and healthcare.
"And we know that when your money is out of control it is hard to be a good parent, do a good job at work. Everyone knows that.
"If your money is out of control your life is out of control.
So why do we like to use debt so much?
It's all about feeing good.
Maxwell says it's a mix of factors which it has categorised under society, life stage and emotion.
"And I really do believe it is about access."
"Within 30 minutes via your phone you can have $500. And then you can go and get "that thing" that gives you a rush and life is feeling terrible so why not? What have I got to lose?
"We underestimate the emotions behind that decision."
She says understanding the emotional pressure can help explain why people go to a mobile truck shop rather than a bank where the interest rates are much higher.
"We have talked to people about why they don't go to the bank and it was explained by one man that between the front door and the counter it felt like a walk of shame. He said: "People are looking at me and thinking they won't lend to me because I've got old shoes and clothes."
On the flip side a truck shop offers easy credit and means people can buy those new shoes, clothes and gadgets and feel good about themselves.
For many it's become a social norm to live in the moment and people believe they can't change.
What's being done about it?
To tackle the problem the commission has designed a programme aimed at changing people's behaviours and is rolling it our through numerous channels.
Government agencies like the Police and Defence force have taken it up as well as commercial businesses like the Warehouse which is offering it to both staff and customers.
It has also recently revamped its sorted website to make it more accessible.
Raewyn Fox, head of the Federation of Family Budgeting Services which provides free budgeting advice across the country, says rising costs and accommodation costs in particular are driving people to her service.
"The biggest thing we are seeing is that costs haven't gone up a lot but wages haven't gone up at all.
"Wages have been stationary which means that even if rent goes up by $20 a week and groceries $10 a week you are now $30 a week short."
While the number of people coming through the door of the budgeting service has fallen she says people's problems are more complex.
Last year the service saw 49,000 people many of which are living on a low income or benefit.
"People that were just coping until something went wrong to tip them over the edge."
Fox says that may be as simple as a car breaking down and having to borrow to pay for repairs so you can get to work or a change in circumstances like losing your job.
For a family on a benefit it may be as simple as one of the children losing their school shoes.
She believes wages need to go up and greater subsidies need to be put in place for low wage earners and house prices need to come down.
"You do have to be really careful about taking on debt as well.
"It's a temptation when you are in a mess - I will get a loan and sort it."
We owe how much?
• Consumer debt$15.7 billion
• Child support debt $1.6 billion
• Mobile truck shops $40 million
• Utility companies $28 million
• Motor vehicles $512 million
• Council debt $225 million
(Figures supplied by Commission for Financial Capability and RBNZ)