New Zealanders not paying their bills hits seven-year high

Almost half a million people living in New Zealand are behind on paying their bills.

Data for January this year from consumer credit company Centrix shows arrears hit a seven-year high.

So far, 480,000 people across the country are behind - although Centrix points out that for many only one payment has been missed and they are likely to 'self-correct'.

Centrix managing director Keith McLaughlin said those under 25 years old are more prone to cash flow problems, due to lower incomes and limited savings.

However, "we are now starting to see the squeeze flow onto 30-40 year olds," he said.

Mortgage arrears are at their highest level since pre-COVID, with 1.47 percent or 21,800 accounts behind on repayments.

People not paying their cellphone and broadband bills has climbed the most, up 30 percent on a year ago.

Kiwi businesses are feeling the impact of less spending and payments being missed.

Business defaults were up 28 percent on last year, with company liquidations up 16 percent for the same period. Retail saw the biggest number of businesses going bust, followed by construction, hospitality and transport.

Accountancy firm Xero recently released its small business insights report for the last quarter of 2023.

It found that sales hardly grew over September, October and November.

It also calculated that small businesses have been selling fewer goods and services for 13 out of the past 14 months.

That included December when retail sales over the usually busy Christmas month fell 3.6 percent compared to the previous year.

Xero country manager Bridget Snelling said the weak sales growth is discouraging but not unexpected as high interest rates and cost of living pressures put financial strain on New Zealanders.

Wage growth in the small business sector has also slowed to 2.8 percent for the December quarter. In contrast, Stats NZ data shows private sector wages rose 3.9 percent for the period.

Xero also noted that the number of small business jobs grew at a rate more than double the pre-COVID average of 3 percent. However, the report said that increase was likely held up by New Zealand's strong population growth due to immigration in 2023.