Credit reporting agency Dun & Bradstreet says with household debt levels mired at historic highs, many people are struggling to balance their income and credit commitments, meaning many New Zealanders are using credit in ways that could eventually harm them.

Against this backdrop, Dun & Bradstreet's New Zealand general manager John Scott said future interest rate rises could be "the trigger that causes distress for many households."

Scott's comments came as Dun & Bradstreet released its latest Consumer Credit Expectations Survey.

According to the survey, nearly one in three Kiwis believed they would experience some difficulty meeting credit commitments during the next three months.

And while 34 per cent of people surveyed nationwide expected to use their credit card to pay for otherwise unaffordable expenses, the number rose to 56 per cent in earthquake hit Christchurch.

Meanwhile, 27 per cent of people intended to apply for new credit during the June 2011 quarter.

"Overall the survey indicates that while Kiwis have a reasonably strong appetite for credit they are concerned about their capacity to effectively manage debt levels," said Scott.

"Expectations of relying on credit cards for otherwise unaffordable expenses and worries about meeting future credit commitments are the strongest indication of this concern."

Scott said the latest data points to the financial pressure many households are experiencing as a result of debt levels remaining at historic highs of about 150 per cent (as a percentage of households' disposable income), despite much talk of household deleveraging.

"Household de-leveraging has been a regular theme in economic commentary over recent months.

"However, debt levels remain at historic highs and many households continue to struggle balancing their income and credit commitments', Scott said.

"This survey shows that many Kiwis are using credit in ways that may eventually harm them and future interest rate rises later in the year may be the trigger that causes distress for many households."

The survey also shows 28 per cent of people anticipate difficulties in meeting their credit commitments, and 43 per cent believe a rise in interest rates will have a negative impact on their finances.

Scott said the solution to potential credit stress involved action by the government, lenders and borrowers.

"Lenders need to ensure they are conducting rigorous credit checks that examine a borrower's total credit exposure.

"Government can help in this regard by pushing ahead with its plan to introduce comprehensive credit reporting. This reform will ensure lenders have better information on which to base lending decisions", said Scott.

He noted that consumers too needed to be part of the solution.

"They need to think carefully about the credit they are seeking and how they are going to use that credit," said Scott.

"Any decision to apply for new credit or increase their credit card limit should begin with obtaining a copy of their personal credit report so they understand their current credit position."

Scott said in February that changes being introduced by the Privacy Commission, that see New Zealand moving to a more intrusive credit reporting regime where more information is made available about people, will reduce the number of bankruptcies and credit defaults.

Dun & Bradstreet's survey was conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres in March, examining peoples' expectations for credit applications, credit usage, and spending and debt performance in the June 2011 quarter.

It was conducted online with 1000 adults aged between 18 and 64 surveyed.