Credit cards, drought, bad loans create crippling debt for rural Australians

Hardly a word about the feds  …

Not much is said to indicate that they are doing very little.  We get it … they are not mentioned because the lights are on … but no-one is there!

Where are they?  Are they busy allocating money to places and communities that don’t need it?

Credit cards, drought, bad loans create crippling debt for rural Australians

By national rural reporter Caitlyn Gribbin


An elderly man looks at his bills on a glass table

PHOTO: Peter (name changed) says he is depressed as a result of his personal debt. (ABC News: Clint Jasper)

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“I sit and just think … I can’t get over this hill.”

In a small town in country Australia an elderly man, who we will call Peter, shares his “ongoing heartache” about his fight to make ends meet.

“It overwhelms you. I’ve never suffered from depression in my life. I didn’t really know what depression was. I do now.”

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Peter has asked not to be identified as he shares his story of significant personal debt, which comes in the form of loans and a credit card.

His strict household budget is essential to starting to pay some of those loans back.

“My allowance is $300 a fortnight, the rest goes into the budget of planning when the amenities come in. If I go over that $300, then something goes.”

It is a constant battle to deal emotionally with his financial situation.

“There’s no light, the only light would be if I drop dead and that would be a lifesaver.

“My father lived to 91. God forbid, I hope I don’t live to 91 because I’d be absolutely mental trying to work it all out.”

‘The bills still have to be paid’

The Australia Talks National Survey has found more than 40 per cent of rural Australians are struggling to pay off debts, compared with a third of their city counterparts.

The same proportion of rural Australians are having trouble making ends meet generally, compared with 27 per cent of people in inner metro areas.

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Double the number of rural residents have personal loans, at 14 per cent compared with 7 per cent of inner city-dwellers, and more rural residents are paying off credit card debt.

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*Drought is a big factor in this debt.

Debbie-Ann Wilmot, who owns a gift shop in Stanthorpe, said the drought had robbed her community of much of its income.

The town, three hours west of Brisbane, is due to run out of water by Christmas, but Ms Wilmot’s customer base has already dried up.

“People don’t have the money to spend, it depresses them. They can’t afford to shop so they don’t even want to look.”

A middle-aged woman in a yellow jumper looks downcast in a gift shop

PHOTO: The bills must be paid each week but business has dried up for shop-owner Debbie-Ann Wilmot. (ABC News: Caitlyn Gribbin)

That means it is not always possible to meet her small business loan repayments and monthly bills.

“Some weeks you’ve got to ring your suppliers and say I haven’t got a full amount.

“You’ve still got your rent to pay, your phone, your electricity, all the bills have got to be paid but there’s nobody coming through the door.”

Expensive stop-gap loans

Sandy Ross from the Financial and Consumer Rights Council says high-cost, short-term loans are partly to blame for the debt spiral.

“Our financial counsellors who work in rural and regional areas report some pretty horrendous stories about exposures to things like payday lending,” Mr Ross said.

“We suspect there’s a bit of targeting that goes on of people without many resources in rural and regional areas by payday lenders who are really unregulated and charge extremely high interest rates.”

A man in a suit looking professional

PHOTO: Sandy Ross has heard reports that payday lenders are preying on vulnerable rural residents. (Supplied: Patrick Rocca)

Mr Ross worries about the impact debt is having on rural mental health.

“Clients often express suicidal thoughts or extreme anxiety because of the hardship they’re in.

“They’re under significant stress and of course you need to also factor in things like the drought … those things affect what’s already pretty fragile in terms of rural and regional economies.”

If this story raises issues for you or a loved one, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Australians ranked household debt as the top problem facing Australia, along with cost of living and substance abuse, in the Australia Talks National SurveyUse our interactive tool to see more results and how your answers compare.

Then, tune in at 8.30pm on November 18, as the ABC hosts a live TV event with some of Australia’s best-loved celebrities exploring the key findings of the Australia Talks National Survey.