Debt levels are almost at $40 million for Wanganui people accessing budget advice services.
As clients numbers continue to rise steeply, latest figures show that 2378 people accessed budgeting services last financial year in Wanganui and their average debt was $16,635.
Of that debt, an average of $3948 was overdue.
Mortgages comprised the top debt category for families, with $1.2 million owed. Second was money owed on finance company loans ($885,000), followed by debt to government departments ($788,000), and bank loans ($774,000).
Wanganui Budget Advisory Service co-ordinator Sandy Fage said client numbers had jumped by the hundreds in recent years, with more than 850 clients in the year to June 2013.
Clients referred by Work and Income were growing increasingly angry because of severe financial difficulties.
"They do tend to come here and let off steam, which is fair enough but it can be quite scary."
Money problems often contributed to family stress, which could lead to family violence.
"We need to start looking at what is causing the family to collapse and the violence."
She was assisting two to three clients per week with KiwiSaver hardship applications.
"The sad thing about that is they get the money and use it to pay the creditor that's jumping up and down the loudest or threatening court action, and their weekly budget is no better off."
Clients were also facing overdue power and rent bills, and did not have enough money left for food. Solo mothers on benefits were often driving unwarranted or unregistered cars, she said.
Tupoho Iwi Community Social Services Trust senior budget adviser Tina Johnston-Downs said client numbers had been increasing steadily and cases were becoming more complex.
Some indebted clients on benefits were paying rent first before trying to pay for power or food. "Sometimes there's not enough there to even cover your basic living costs and that's not even taking into account any of the debt."
The past two weeks have been the busiest in history for calls to the Federation of Family Budgeting Services' national free helpline, with the federation's single helpline adviser handling 300 calls.
Federation chief executive Raewyn Fox said that in 2009 it took two months to get that many callers.
"Up until 2009 our budgeting services saw about 30,000 client families a year, in total, and this was pretty steady. Since then our numbers have skyrocketed and we're now handling over 50,000 client cases a year."
Although clients were seeking help earlier, meaning their debt levels were lower, people now faced tougher financial circumstances, she said. "The basic outgoings of rent, power, food, petrol have risen ... and people's wages just haven't risen.
"The common thing we see is people that pay what they really have to pay [each week] and they've only got $50 left to feed a family of four."
Little disasters such as a car or fridge breaking down, or having to buy new school shoes, could blow out a family's debt.
"You have to get people off your back, you have to have coping mechanisms."
The worst affected areas were South Auckland and the Far North, because of extreme poverty, unemployment, high-interest third-tier lending arrangements and language difficulties.
The jump in demand related to the global recession, but also Work and Income's Future Focus legislation which required beneficiaries receiving multiple special needs grants to undertake budgeting, Ms Fox said.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the Government boosted budgeting services funding by $1.5 million in the last Budget and services were now under review.