Bravery Trust Observations
Bravery Trust provides financial assistance to Australian Defence Force veterans who have experienced service-related injuries are in hardship and provides financial counselling to any veteran. 70% of those who receive financial assistance are aged 60 years or younger.
Bravery Trust frequently supports clients who are burdened by substantial debt with a notable co-occurrence of BNPL with other forms of high-risk debt (Payday/cash advance loans) and credit cards.
Bravery Trust has identified that clients are often provided access to BNPL when they are already struggling with these other forms of debt; and that BNPL repayments often have a disproportionately higher impact on the cashflows of clients compared to these other forms of credit.
It is not uncommon for Bravery Trust to identify upwards of six BNPL accounts for a single applicant. We are seeing applicants trapped in cycles, whereby automatic repayments across multiple BNPL accounts leave veterans with insufficient funds for basic living – and so groceries and essentials are increasingly being bought using BNPL.
Bravery Trust has identified a number of core themes and trajectories related to BNPL, noting often individual client cases will contain multiple examples of these core themes and trajectories. A number of case studies have also been provided illustrating the experiences of our clients with BNPL.
- Co-occurrence of BNPL along with other unsustainable debts
Most Bravery Trust clients with BNPL debt have also extended themselves across other debt platforms, including credit cards and payday loans. Typically, BNPL debt is being accessed when clients have lost access to other forms of credit (credit cards, personal loans).
Often for these clients, BNPL facilitates ongoing unsustainable spending behaviours when the behaviour is no longer supported by other financial institutions/products such as credit cards. BNPL options for this cohort continues to facilitate their spending/consumer behaviours longer, causing with additional debt (compared to if presenting when credit cards were no longer available) and the added burden of accumulating late fees on top of the principal amount owing.
- BNPL and mental health related impulse purchasing
Bravery Trust regularly works with clients who have trauma related diagnoses, most commonly PTSD. In addition, many of our clients experience a disconnect from their previous social support networks and loss of their sense of identity. This cohort is particularly vulnerable to using BNPL to support impulse purchases of material goods in response to their mental health needs and longing for return to a lifestyle they can no longer afford.
Clients in this cohort range from veterans traumatised by the separation from service where they felt a sense of belonging, to clients over-extending on BNPL for luxury products they could previously afford but no longer can due to their reduced income following medical separation, to clusters of impulse-purchases correlating to other control-related mental health conditions including anorexia and OCD.
- Incomes high enough to access multiple BNPL accounts and high levels of credit, but too low to maintain high debt
Veterans supported by Bravery Trust have often transitioned from a military wage, and military subsidies for living costs, to a pension based on their level of incapacity. The incomes of clients are typically above the low-income threshold (ie above Centrelink level incomes) but are well below their previous incomes, and often are below that of a ‘comfortable’ or middle-income level compared to the wider community.
Due to their income level, our clients often feel overly confident in their ability to manage BNPL. Once patterns of consumption using BNPL are established by using one account with lower credit limits, our clients have reported increases to the credit limits and becoming more inclined to use additional accounts simultaneously. Taking out multiple accounts becomes particularly prevalent when the client is at the point of requiring the additional BNPL credit to secure necessities like groceries due to the automatic payments on their already existing accounts leaving them less than needed for daily goods.
Once multiple accounts are taken out and the total BNPL amount owing has increased, the debt quickly becomes unsustainable and outstrips the ability of clients to maintain repayments and still support their daily costs of living.
- BNPL as means to securing essentials
Clients encumbered by debt and high costs of rent are using BNPL to purchase groceries and other essentials. It is common to identify in bank statements that automatic BNPL deductions are timed to coincide with clients’ pay days. With income quickly being absorbed by repayments, clients are forced to pay for essentials using BNPL platforms.
Bravery Trust has identified that BNPL is masking unsustainable debt and preventing clients from realising and extent of their financial problems until such time that they default and attracting late fees, or such time that they are left with insufficient funds to pay for other essentials, most commonly rent. During this cycle, clients are regularly having to use BNPL to fund basics such as groceries due to not having the cash on hand to do so.
- Disproportionate repayment amounts
In many cases BNPL co-occurs with other forms of debt, such as credit cards and personal loans. However, BNPL is often over-represented in the level of repayments compared to other debt.
When automatic deductions from accounts are combined and noting the ease with which late fees are accrued, BNPL accounts have a disproportionately high impact on the cashflow of vulnerable clients. This impact on cashflow drives a high number of clients to Bravery Trust when they can no longer address costs such as car repairs, utilities or groceries.
Client 1, aged 55
When first reaching out to Bravery Trust, she was drowning with debt, mostly accrued via BNPL.
She has a complex set of physical injuries and mental health needs stemming from over a decade of military service. She advised that she makes online purchases “to make (herself) feel good” but is struggling with the related debt. During the extended lockdowns she developed impulsive shopping habits. These habits have persisted following lockdowns, resulting in re-presentation.
On coming to us, she had a fortnightly income of $1912, her rental costs were $620 a fortnight and her debt payments totalled $1,110 a fortnight. This included $560 per fortnight going to minimum BNPL payments (18 separate accounts totalling almost $4,950), in addition to $350 a fortnight for a pre-existing credit card debt of $5800 and $12,000 car loan.
Notably, whilst BNPL represented only 20% of her total debt, the BNPL accounts amounted for 49% of total fortnightly minimum debt payments. This disproportionate repayment requirement and the varying due dates often resulted in rescheduling payments due to insufficient funds after basic expenses had been paid.
Client 2, age 39
A Military veteran with a decade of service resulting in serious injuries.
The household fortnightly income was $2,830 with minimum debt payments of $461 a fortnight, due to $4,360 of debt across three BNPL accounts. The household income was sufficient to cover rent and living necessities until debt repayments were factored in.
The BNPL debt was accrued whilst already holding $22,944 in credit card debt and a small personal loan against total assets of approximately $18,000 (car & furniture).
Despite accounting for 15.9% of total debt, the payments to BNPL accounted for almost 35% of total debt repayments. The automatic deductions of debt were increasingly forcing the family to purchase essentials on BNPL accounts creating an unsustainable cycle.
Client 3, age 28
A young man with a partner, he has a relatively low income due to being a recent recruit to the ADF.
He holds debt worth $65,800. In addition to a car loan of $35,000 and existing personal loan of $16,250 he had already accrued a debt of almost $7,000 across two credit cards prior to accruing a further $5600 debt across four BNPL schemes and with a $1500 Payday loan.
BNPL had resultingly become the only means of purchasing groceries, creating a rapid spiralling of repayments which outstripped total family income.
When he initially presented, the client’s total minimum deb repayment per fortnight totalled $1,767 against a fortnightly income of $1,489 – prior to any payment for rent or living expenses.
Whilst BNPL accounted for only 8.5% of total debt, BNPL repayments were 19.2% of total fortnightly debt repayments.
Whilst casework continues with this family, hardship applications to creditors have reduced their fortnightly deficit by $639 and complaints against the lending providers are continuing.
Client 4, age 53
He first came to us in December 2021, following a decade of service in the military prior to discharge for medical reasons. He has considerable depression and PTSD. Since abstaining from alcohol, he has increasingly relied on subscription TV streaming services and online shopping as a coping mechanism.
Due to his mental health and the desire to avoid alcohol use, he is particularly vulnerable. A large amount of his purchasing related to the BNPL debt appeared to relate to ‘memorabilia’ which is advertised as being ‘collectable’.
BNPL debts total $5,601 across six BNPL accounts and he has additional debts of $11,509 across three providers (Payday lender, phone provider and a bank). BNPL debt has a considerable impact on his ability to meet daily living expenses. The impact of automatic payment on his cashflow has resulted in him presenting to Bravery Trust for assistance with essential cost such as utilities and vehicle costs.
His fortnightly income is $2,113. He has minimum payments amounting to $413 per fortnight (25% of income), plus rent is $796 per fortnight (37% of income).
Bravery Trust has assisted with multiple hardship actions and Financial Counselling support, allowing him to focus on paying off specific bills. Considerable headway was made initially, however he returned after six months having re-accumulated similar debt levels. His debt once again related to BNPL where, during a period of poor mental health, he had found himself once again engaging in online impulse purchases.
Client 5, age 47
Receiving both Defence pensions and Centrelink payments, this couple receives $3,415 per fortnight, which is sufficient to cover rent and reasonable living expenses were it not for $1,226 each fortnight for minimum debt payments.
The debt has amassed across three BNPL accounts ($201 in payments with a total of $1,134 owing), eight Payday lender accounts, cash advances from Centrelink, and two fine repayment programs ($350 in payments against debt of $7,000).
Case work continues to identify full owing amounts, however the BNPL impact on cashflow is highlighted by BNPL requiring 17% of principal to be repaid compared to the 5% required to service the family’s accumulated fines.