Caution urged with personal loans

Financial services watchdogs have urged people taking out personal loans to be fully aware of what they are signing, in light of a Porirua family's debt that spiralled out of control.

Teresa Fesuiai and husband Lomitusi told The Dominion Post they had taken out six loans during 2003 with Finance Now, equalling about $17,000.

A seventh loan in December 2003 to consolidate their balance pushed the money owed up to $34,563. They now owe about $70,000 after they took Finance Now and debt collection agency Southern Receivables to court in 2011, and lost.

They face legal fees of about $18,000 for the court case and $41,000 in court costs, and have put their Ranui Heights home on the market to stave off bankruptcy or a mortgagee sale.

Mrs Fesuiai said their bank had been unwilling to help, but a person had reached out to the family's real estate agent to buy the property and rent it back to them.

"The bottom line is I don't want to sell. It's where my kids grew up, it's now 'Nana's house' to my grandkids. But if it comes down to it and we have to sell, then we have to sell.

"It's been 10 years. It's not right to put anybody through this, but here we are."

Susan Taylor, chief executive of dispute resolution firm Financial Services Complaints, said she heard of families in similar positions every week. "It's important people realise that all finance companies have to belong to an approved dispute resolution scheme, so there is always somewhere people can go if they have concerns.

"In cases where we can't negotiate a resolution, we can require the lender to take some remedial action and that decision is binding on them.

"There are alternatives to hiring lawyers and going to court, which can be exhaustive and emotionally draining for all involved."

Labour social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said a "social lending" scheme in Australia that partnered lenders with community groups would work well in New Zealand.

"I frequently hear terrible stories of families who just come across an extra unexpected cost such as needing new car tyres or their washing machine breaking down.

"It puts them into a cycle of borrowing they can't get out of."

Some finance companies were all too often found in low-income communities or where there were cultural pressures to buy gifts and attend family functions, she said.

"We need social lending to be available for those times when families just need an extra hand."

Offering low or zero-interest loans through community organisations, and offering free financial advice, could help.

"With those things in place, the family can still feel in control of their finances without stepping away from their responsibilities."

The Dominion Post