Former Kiwi student's struggle with depression, anxiety and resentment over loan debt
One Kiwi expat has started taking anxiety medication when visiting home due to fears over his mounting student loan debt.
On January 18 New Zealand arrested its first student loan defaulter at Auckland Airport.
After 20 years of avoiding the debt, Ngatokotoru Puna's loan had reached $130,000.
Following the arrest, which IRD has the power to make thanks to a 2014 law change, student unions spoke against the move, saying it would make others "scared to come home".
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This is the situation facing 33-year-old Brad, who did not want to reveal his last name due to the distress it may cause himself and his family.
Brad said he left New Zealand for Melbourne in 2007 due to a lack of employment opportunities, after gaining a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in performing arts.
His loan is now at $108,000, with interest accounting for more than half of the debt.
Brad said he made an arrears payment of $500 each month, an arrangement made with IRD, but can't afford the $5000 minimum annual repayment. This means his debt keeps building.
The Whanganui-born expat said while he earned $60,000 a year, at least 30 per cent of that went towards living costs.
Brad said his loan had caused him "considerable stress".
"I have been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety; the thought of my crushing student loan debt is constantly on my mind, and there are basically no options I have to remedy the situation."
While he has been in contact with IRD, constant threats to detain borrowers has made Brad too scared to return to New Zealand most of the time.
"I have returned to New Zealand twice in the last four years and each time I have had to seek anti-anxiety medication from my doctor simply to board my flight, and almost did not return last time, all because of the thought of my loan and being detained at Customs."
In order to meet various financial obligations Brad said he had taken out a couple of low-interest credit cards, "which now equally contribute to the struggle".
"I cannot even begin to think about owning a car or saving for property or anything else that I should be able to in my life at this stage - the thought of being able to contribute more to superannuation is laughable."
Brad said performing arts was a difficult industry to be in "but hindsight at age 33 is a lot different to foresight at 17".
"I was 17 years old when I went to university; I had little-to-no financial experience other than minor part-time jobs in high school.
"I certainly had no concept of the enormity of what I was undertaking, and nobody explained it to me in any way.
"The New Zealand culture was 'just take a loan, don't worry about it'."
The borrower said he believed interest should be frozen to help people like him get ahead.
"I am supposed to be out here in the world representing New Zealand, promoting it, and instead I feel like I'm being punished for that, and I am deeply resentful of my nationality as a consequence...
"In short, I feel like an economic refugee, and I'm made to feel like a criminal.
"I believe the New Zealand student loan system is incredibly destructive to lives and families."
On Friday, following the news of Puna's arrest Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said IRD were targeting those who were avoiding their loan.
"There are a lot of people who seem absolutely determined to avoid all contact with IRD at all costs," Joyce said.
IRD had tried to contact loan defaulters but last year gave ministers the heads up about 20 student loan defaulters who could be arrested.
Overseas-based borrowers accounted for $850 million in student loan debt, with 60 per cent of defaulters based in Australia.
Joyce said on average, people who stay in New Zealand following university earned 50 per cent more than those who worked overseas.
Those who were struggling to pay back their student loans, or found themselves in financial hardship, were able to work out a repayment scheme with IRD, he said.
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