Joyce to students: Time to pay up

Steven Joyce (file)
Steven Joyce (file)

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce says for every dollar the Government spends chasing down student loan defaulters, it gets back $15.

With an estimated $3.2 billion owing from ex-students now overseas, he's cracking down on those he says can, and should, pay.

"We would like that money back so we can invest in [the next generation's] education," he told Paul Henry on Thursday. "They've had the benefit of it -- they should pay up."

To get more of it back he's targeting Australia, where it's estimated two-thirds of Kiwis living overseas with outstanding debt are based. There's already information sharing through Customs, and debt collectors have recently been knocking on doors. But the next change is the "big one" Mr Joyce hopes will bring in the rest.

"We're going to have a matching service between the IRD in New Zealand and the Inland Revenue service in Australia. Anybody who pays tax in Australia who has a student loan in New Zealand which is overdue, that information will be passed across to IRD."

Mr Joyce says there's been a 33 percent rise in payments from overseas since 2010, when the Government decided it was worth chasing up.

"The only ones who risk arrest at the border are people that have deliberately avoided the IRD. They will know that they're on the list -- not necessarily for arrest at the border, but they know they're on the list and the IRD is chasing them."

There are about 20 people currently on the arrest list.

And if you've been avoiding paying your loan back on principle, Mr Joyce doesn't care.

"Some people consider it a point of principle, whatever that is… we're not going to tolerate that," he says.

"The student loan system was set up to give a whole lot more people access to a university and tertiary education. In the days before student loans, only a much smaller group ever was able to go. We're now trying to educate the next generation of kids that's coming through."

Student loan debt hit $15 billion earlier this year, and is rising about $1 billion a year. Ex-students have to start paying it back once their income reaches $19,084 a year. It's interest-free, but only if you stay in New Zealand.