Around one in every four adults went into debt to pay for Christmas last year and some are still paying it off, research shows.

Young people - those aged 18 to 34 - were the most likely to go into debt to pay for the season with nearly a third of them doing so while 55- to 64-year-olds were the least likely, figures from a survey by the Commission for Financial Capability show.

Just over three in every 100 people were still paying it off when the research was undertaken in November - nearly a year after the prior Christmas.

Diana Clement: 12 ways of Xmas credit card debt
Kiwis' credit cards facing $100m debt
Get Sorted: The 12 tips of Christmas


A further 14.5 per cent of those surveyed took less than three months to pay off the debt while 6.3 per cent took three to six months.

Tom Hartmann, managing editor at the Commission for Financial Capability, pointed to Reserve Bank data which showed New Zealand's credit card spending peaks every December and has continued to rise.

"We are taking more and more and putting it on the credit card. The trend is not changing at all."

Hartmann said it was not surprising that young people took on more debt as they were typically starting out in their careers and their earning levels were lower.

"The natural thing is to pay it out of future earnings which is what debt is."

But he was surprised by the nearly 30 per cent (28.5) of 35- to 54-year-olds that went into debt to pay for Christmas.

Hartmann said using a credit card enabled people to spend more with research pointing to it being as much as 30 per cent more.

"Using a credit card is not just easier but we know the brain works differently when you pay by cash versus credit card."


"With cards it is all pleasure, the pain is postponed until you get the statement."

One is four Kiwis goes into debt to pay for Christmas. Photo/Getty images.
One is four Kiwis goes into debt to pay for Christmas. Photo/Getty images.

Hartmann said the unfortunate situation in New Zealand was that Kiwis were hit by the dreaded debt triangle at this time of year - Xmas, holidays and then back to school costs.

Often it took people until March to get on top of the debts. Hartmann said March onwards was a good time for people to plan ahead and start putting money aside for the "debt triangle".

"That will mean next time the debt triangle comes around you are much better prepared."

The research found 22 per cent of people put away a little bit each month throughout the year for Christmas and a further 17 per cent put money aside in the two to three months before.

But 37 per cent said they paid for Christmas and the Summer holidays from current income or borrowed.

Hartmann said that while it was too late to start saving now for this Christmas there were steps people could take to reduce the amount of debt they took on.

One suggestion was taking money out of the bank that you did have and only spending that cash.

"It will result in much more sharper decisions on what your choices will be."

Others ways include setting a dollar limit with friends and family or doing Secret Santa.

"There is also still a lot of time to do comparison shopping online."

Look at redeeming any rewards you have or consider making home-made vouchers which involve giving time for things like babysitting or a back rub, rather than a physical present.

Hartmann said if presents were going to be given it was often a good idea to get children something they needed like clothes, shoes or swimwear rather than a plastic toy that could end up in a landfill within a year.

"We are in a high-pressure environment where it feels like everyone else is spending more than you."

But he urged people to focus on making good Christmas memories rather than trying to keep up with what they believed others were doing.

How to ease the financial pressure at Christmas
• Agree on spending limits
• Agree not buy gifts at all
• Use Secret Santa so you don't have to buy a gift for every person
• Make the gifts yourself
• Give time not physical gifts
• Focus on what makes good memories