More than one-in-three New Zealanders is either struggling or only just getting by, according to new research on the financial wellbeing of Kiwis.

The ANZ Financial Wellbeing study is the first time the bank has extended its research beyond testing financial literacy and behaviour to study how people's socio economic background and psychological factors influence people's financial wellbeing.

The research is designed to test how well someone is able to meet their current financial commitments and needs comfortably and whether they have the resilience to continue doing so in the future, and was set up by UK financial capability expert Elaine Kempson.

It found that while the majority of people were either doing okay (40 per cent) or had no worries (23 per cent), 24 per cent were only getting by and 13 per cent were struggling.

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Those with no worries were more likely to be older, male, have a university qualification, earn more and be in a partnership.

Both partners were likely to be savers and the individuals had high levels of savings and low debt.

Those who were doing okay were likely to have secure employment and a steady household income. They had lower levels of consumer debt than those just getting by, although mortgage debt levels were similar.

For those just getting by it was tough to make ends meet.

Most could meet the every day costs of paying for food or bills, but 37 per cent said they did not have any savings and 38 per cent described their current financial situation as "bad".

Household incomes were more likely to be below average and most said a government payment or allowance was their main income. Of those who worked many had variable incomes.

Those just getting by had an average of $2600 outstanding on consumer debt and were more likely to borrow from friends and family and financial institutions like payday lenders. They also had lower savings.

Of those who were struggling 92 per cent said they sometimes, often or always ran short of money to pay for food and other regular expenses.

A further 79 per cent did not have any savings and 84 per cent could survive for less than a month without having to borrow if their income dropped by a third.

The research found that overall financial behaviours were a major factor affecting wellbeing at 43 per cent, with active saving and the ability to pay day-to-day bills by borrowing being key drivers in people's well being.

Antonia Watson, ANZ managing director of retail and business banking, said she had been surprised to find out how much behaviour drove financial wellbeing, rather than how much a person earned.

Those on a low income could have a high wellbeing score, while likewise high earners could also have a low score.

But people who were actively saving, and were able to avoid going into debt to pay day-to-day bills had higher wellbeing scores.

"The ability to start saving, even a small amount, is one of the biggest factors in people feeling higher financial wellbeing," Watson said.

Even having $1000 saved was enough to make people more secure about their futures.

Antonia Watson, ANZ managing director of retail and business banking, says it was surprising to find out how much behaviour drove financial wellbeing, rather than how much a person earned.
Antonia Watson, ANZ managing director of retail and business banking, says it was surprising to find out how much behaviour drove financial wellbeing, rather than how much a person earned.

Socio-economic factors also played a big part at 33 per cent of the driver for well-being, with a person's household income, variability of earnings and employment all playing roles alongside home ownership, age and health.

Watson said the research pointed to a strong divide between renters and home-owners.

"Renters are the most likely to rarely or never save and those who own their homes are the most confident in all aspects of their finances."

Mortgage-free home-owners had particularly high financial wellbeing scores.

Psychological factors also had an impact with people more confident in the day-to-day management of their money and belief in the power to control their own lives having higher financial wellbeing levels.

But detailed knowledge and experience of financial products and services was only of limited help.

New Zealand's average was 59 points out of 100, the same that came out of research by the ANZ in Australia, indicating New Zealanders have a reasonable level of financial wellbeing.

Men had on average higher financial wellbeing scores at 62 points versus 56 out of 100 for women. While people whose parents gave them money advice growing up also scored slightly higher than the average at 62 points.

Watson said part of the challenge was getting the message about good financial behaviours to be stronger, and education had a big part to play in that.

"To improve New Zealanders financial literacy we need to start with our kids at school. Learning the basics at a young age is important and financial education needs to be integrated into our curriculum."

The research surveyed 1521 adults as part of an online survey.