Kiwis are heading into the silly season with a quarter fewer unpaid bills than the same time last year - and many expect to keep a lid on their traditional Christmas splurge.
Latest figures from credit bureau Dun and Bradstreet show people had fewer overdue bills for debts such as credit cards and utilities in the September quarter than in the same quarter last year.
The amount of overdue consumer debt also fell by 12 per cent, although Auckland bucked the trend with an increase in the amount owed.
However the number of debts referred to the credit agency in the biggest city fell 14 per cent.
It remains to be seen how much the traditional pre-Christmas splurge will add to the pressure of overdue credit and bill payments.
An earlier survey of 930 adults by Dun & Bradstreet suggested people might be more cautious than last December. Just over half were worried about their current financial situation, and more than two thirds were less likely to splash out on non-essentials over the Christmas period, compared with the same time last year.
Overdue debt remains higher than it was in early 2011, said John Scott, general manager of D&B New Zealand. But: "Given the general financial pressures that New Zealand households have been under, it's encouraging to see that the volume and level of debt coming into Dun and Bradstreet have been coming down," he said.
Christchurch experienced the greatest fall in debt referrals (34 per cent) for the year to the September quarter, with Wellington decreasing by 17 per cent.
Stephen Koukoulas, Dun & Bradstreet's economic advisor, said the decline in debt referrals was part of a gradually improving economic picture.
But he said consumers were likely to remain cautious, especially with the unemployment rate still relatively high.
The majority of problem debt was being carried by the country's younger generations, with debtors aged 25–44 years accounting for approximately 50 per cent of the debt referrals made in the third quarter of 2012 and those aged 18–24 accounting for 23 per cent.