Former Shortland Street star Karl Burnett is bankrupt, despite years of earning a six-figure salary on the popular Kiwi soap.

Burnett, 30, who starred as bumbling accountant Nick Harrison, went into voluntary bankruptcy last week, filing a petition with the High Court in Auckland, declaring that he could no longer pay his debts. For the past year he has been working as a boom operator on Shortland Street, a job that pays around $40,000 a year.

The extent of Burnett's debts were not disclosed in the bankruptcy application, and he refused to discuss the matter with the Herald on Sunday last week. The only public record of the self-confessed petrol-head's debts are financing statements for a 1992 Audi, which he paid for with a loan from GE Finance and Insurance, and for a 2001 Honda motorcycle underwritten through Motor Trade Finances Ltd. Burnett, who reportedly earned more than $3000 a week in his final three years on Shortland Street, joined the show in 1992 at 16, eventually becoming one of television's most recognisable characters.

After being written out of the show last year, he moved from west Auckland to Taranaki but, unable to find work, he went to Melbourne, where he spent several months working at a call centre. He then returned to New Zealand shortly after to join the TV3 show Sing Like a Superstar and since then has been working as a sound operator with the soap he spent 12 years on. Last year, Burnett wrote and directed the splatter film Dawn of the Bread - a zombie movie with killer loaves of bread - and he wrote several articles for Performance Car magazine and TopGear. In an article in the Herald on Sunday last year he confessed to being "a big spender, even when I have no cash". He admitted that his greatest financial disaster was spending everything he had earned on Shortland Street.

Former Shortland Street star Shane Cortese said that while he was saddened to hear of Burnett's bankruptcy, it was not unusual for actors to find themselves in a financial predicament once they left a long-established show.

"I am gutted for him. For someone as identifiable as Karl, it must have been hard, once he came out of Shortland Street," said Cortese. "If you go into something as a child, life takes off pretty quickly.

"If you do not have good financial management behind you, things can get away on you."

Cortese said his advice to any Shortland Street actor was to put some money aside during the period of their contract, as like most soaps, the role would not always be there.

While bankruptcy will offer Burnett relief from most of his debts, he will now be subject to a number of restrictions and limitations, including having the Official Assignee now administering all his financial affairs.

Credit reporting agencies like Baycorp Advantage will also keep a record of Burnett's bankruptcy history for up to seven years, as well as other infor-mation that could affect his credit rating. Burnett will be automatically discharged from bankruptcy after three years.