While the increased access to consumer credit has helped many families improve their welfare, the rising repayment burdens upon a background of chronically law savings rate have generated concerns that South African families are becoming ever more financially fragile and less able to meet their consumer debt repayment obligations. Using data from the Cape Area Panel Study (CAPS), this paper investigates whether consumer debt repayment problems are better explained by excessive spending which leaves households financial overstretched or by negative income shocks. The results indicate that households are significantly more likely to be delinquent on their financial obligations when they suffer negative events beyond their control rather than due to the size of the expenditure burden. This suggests that some consumers will experience repayment problems even when they borrow within their means. Thus regulatory efforts to improve mechanisms for debt relief might be more meaningful than restrictions on lending.