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Consumer Watchdog: Delusions of financial savvy linger

Posted by Jorja Marion On Sep - 24 - 2017

New Zealanders still rate themselves as being good with their finances, despite latest figures showing our credit cards are straining under an average of $1400 of expensive interest-bearing debt.

New Zealand MasterCard manager Albert Naffah said there was sometimes a significant difference between how sensible people thought they were and the reality of their spending habits.

“There is still a gap between those who understand the need to budget versus those who do so,” he said.

A MasterCard study of 626 customers indicated people rated their financial literacy highly.

Seventy-eight per cent of respondents believed they should keep three to six months of savings on hand in case of emergencies or unexpected events, such as job loss, and 88 per cent said it was never too early to have a financial plan.

But just 28 per cent had looked far enough into the future to plan for retirement.

“This means just under three-quarters of respondents could be entering their retirement years without adequate resources to fund their desired retirement lifestyles,” Naffah said.

Meanwhile, Mangere Budgeting Services Trust chief executive Darryl Evans said many people were struggling to see as far ahead as the next month and were paying for power and groceries with their credit cards.

“We live in this world where people think, ‘Bugger the consequences’,” Evans said.

“Everybody accepts credit these days, it’s an easy trap to get caught in.”

Evans said he had clients who had six-figure debt spread across different credit cards.

“They borrow off the MasterCard to pay the Visa, then they strip the Amex to fix the Diners. Then it goes around again.”

However, Reserve Bank figures show New Zealanders are slowly reining in their credit-card debt. In June last year, the average interest-bearing debt was $1470 and in 2008 it was $1540.

Naffah said most MasterCard users paid the balance off in full each month.

“Many people use it as a payment tool rather than a debt tool. The banks did tighten their lending policies but consumers are also becoming more careful.

“They’ve changed their spending behaviour.”

MAXED TO LIMIT, 28% INTEREST

As a teller with the Bank of New Zealand in the 1970s, Brenda Brady was one of the first in the country to be issued a Visa card. A young thing in her 20s, she embraced this new freedom and spent up a storm on items well beyond what her tiny salary could afford.

“I had no financial literacy, no understanding of waiting until you could afford it,” Brady, 54, said.

The real trouble started a few years later when she won a cruise for being Avon’s top seller for the year.

With two young children and no savings, Brady and her husband treated themselves to all the added holiday extras, thanks to their plastic.

“I had the most wonderful time but I took the card right to its limit. That was back in the 1980s when interest rates were about 28 per cent,” Brady said. The couple spent the next year struggling to repay what was originally $2500 of debt.

“That was a lot of money back then.”

Brady, a member of the Henderson-Massey local board, cut up her credit cards earlier this year when she enrolled in Unitec’s Bachelor of Social Practice degree. Her husband has kept his for online purchases and emergencies.

“My values have changed since I was younger,” Brady said. “My life is centred around my family and my community now. You realise when you’re silly with debt you can cause harm to your family,”

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