More needs to be done to provide vulnerable New Zealanders with alternatives places to borrow money, say experts who see the down side of predatory lending in their day jobs.

Ronji Tanielu, an analyst and lawyer with the Salvation Army, said it worked with some of New Zealand's most vulnerable people in New Zealand and saw everyday the effects of getting into debt.

"Do our clients make bad decisions? Absolutely. But it is a lot easier to make bad decisions when there are only bad options in front of you."

The service gave out 60,000 food parcels last year and 15,000 budgeting sessions as well as 1000 low or no interest loans.

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He said it was too easy for people to go to an online third tier lender who may not do as many credit checks as a first or second tier lender.

And that was not helped by a society that was obsessed with debt.

"We live in a consumer driven materialistic society."

He said a lot of families were drowning in debt.

It was not just beneficiaries that came to it for help, working New Zealanders were also struggling with debt and around $3 million of the $22m of debt its clients had was mortgage debt.

He pointed to a 2015 report by the Commerce Commission which found 31 of the 32 mobile lenders it looked into were in breach of the law.

And it was difficult to stop them. In one case he knew a truck shop had been stopped from operating in Hamilton and so it moved into south Auckland and targeted residents of the mental health home signing them up to financial contracts for phones and playstations.

Tanielu said the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act needed to be "meatier." He also called for more prosecutions.

"We also need alternatives."

He called for innovation so people did not need to use the lenders.

Susan Taylor, chief executive of the dispute resolution service Financial Services Complaints, said it did not get many complaints about third tier lenders and it would like to see more brought to it if people had problems.

She said often people did not come to the service until they were in severe hardship through the loss of a job or other event which meant they couldn't pay for the debt.

Taylor pointed to a case where a retired woman went guarantor on her son's loans only to be left paying for a $20k debt while she was trying to live off superannuation alone.

"What was the lender doing asking an elderly lady with a low income to take on this debt?" she questioned.

Often the third tier lenders didn't even have a hardship claims process and in some cases the cancellation fees on contracts wiped out the amount that people had already paid off their loan so even when they wanted to pull out it cost them money.

Taylor called for more enforcement and oversight of the industry as well as education for consumers.

She said even though the responsible lending code had been in place for three years some lenders were still unaware of it.

Lezanne Gibbs from the Commerce Commission said it wanted to empower people so they had the confidence to act when something went wrong and knew what their rights were.

But she said for some people education was not enough.

"There is a group of people for whom life has just run over them," she said. "Information isn't going to help them."

Gibbs said that group were particularly vulnerable as they were permanently living in a crisis management mode.

"They are not in the right head space to make wise financial choices."

For them going to a faceless online platform to borrow money was just about solving today's problem.

"Their habitual reaction is to fill the gap with more credit." They were not thinking about what might happen if they couldn't meet the payments.

Lenders had a responsibility to ensure the loans were affordable and were the right products, she said.

Taylor said people in that situation were unlikely to notify the commission of a problem as they feared the credit would be cut off.

"They are more likely to protect that source of credit."

That was why the commission worked with budgeters and advisers because they could speak out for those people on what they saw going on.

Linda Ngata interim chair for the board of the Building Financial Capability Charitable trust - a group of 197 budget advisors who work in 300 locations around New Zealand, said it dealt with 46000 Kiwis in the year to June 2017. Of the $435m debt owed by those people $195.5 million was mortgage debt, $67.5m was bank debt that was not mortgage debt, a further $60.5m was government debt and $54m was finance company debt.

She also pointed to a case study of a woman that was struggling. The woman was a mother to nine children, four of her own, two by her current partner and three who were step children.

"This means they have a very full house every other week."

She said the family's income was very frugal and the mother also had schizophrenia and depression and had been estranged from her family because she gave evidence of sexual abuse against three of them.

Ngata said the woman presented at the Christchurch marae she helps run in a very bad state.

"This is what we are dealing with on a daily basis." She said the case wasn't unusual.

Tanielu said people struggling with debt wasn't just a "brown issue" or a poor issue but also included people who had lived beyond their means.

The four experts were speaking on a panel at a summit held by the Commission for Financial Capability.

Research from the Commission for Financial Capability showed middle income families were the biggest users of third tier lenders.

Ngata said solutions should include teaching people how to budget from an early age and said it shouldn't be a tapu subject.