ACT News

Debt manager says Canberrans over their heads despite high incomes

A debt management agency says Canberrans have the highest average debt in administration throughout Australia, with $34,279 of personal debt.

New Leaf agreement administrator Ben Paris says people might be surprised at the data relating to credit card and personal loan debts,  given the average Canberra wage is the nation's highest at $1707 per week.

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"While territorians are paid on average better than other Australians, this seems to have had the opposite effect in terms of enabling them to better manage their debt and savings," Mr Paris said.

"What we've found is that when people are well paid, sometimes they are more confident and comfortable in taking on higher levels of personal debt, from extra credit cards through to personal loans and in-store interest-free loans."

'There is no doubt we are a nation of borrowers, only because there are people out there willing to lend it.'
'There is no doubt we are a nation of borrowers, only because there are people out there willing to lend it.' Photo: Jessica Shapiro

Mr Paris says Canberrans also need to contend with high rental and property prices, further eroding their pay packets.

CoreLogic RP Data figures issued on Monday show Canberra's weekly rents average $497, third behind Sydney [$595] and Darwin [$510]. Year-on-year rental growth in the ACT was 1.9 per cent, the same as Sydney's year-on-year growth.

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Financial services firms and collection agencies in Canberra say the ACT's level of personal debt is no worse than other states or cities.

Capital Collection Service principal Peter Collins says lending institutions lend on a person's ability to service the debt, therefore people on higher incomes are more likely to borrow more money.

The average Canberra wage is the nation's highest at $1,707 per week.
The average Canberra wage is the nation's highest at $1,707 per week. Photo: Louie Douvis

But it is rare these days to see people losing their house for not being able to service their debt. When problems arise it is likely to be from fringe lenders who have loaned money to people with a questionable ability to meet repayment.

"There is no doubt we are a nation of borrowers, only because there are people out there willing to lend it, the number of people wiling to give credit has grown enormously in my lifetime," Mr Collins said.

"People don't set out to get into debt. Circumstances change, we have become a nation of no commitment. We don't commit to marriage, we don't commit to partnerships," Mr Collins said.

A change of circumstances was a frequent trigger to getting into debt. "If you become a one-income family, you've got problems, because we now have a society that relies on two-income families," he said. 

Mr Collins said this was evident in people not paying their school fees. The source of the problem was most often a breakdown in a relationship at home.

"They start in another relationship and it is likely to happen again," he said.

"The majority of people in Canberra get on with their job, pay their bills and do well. From time to time people get into strife, sickness or anything can happen, that can break a leg at work," Mr Collins said.

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