According to a World Bank report last year we borrowed more than any other country as most people sought loans to cover daily living costs.
This might be why we shun financial institutions, preferring to take loans from family, friends and microlenders.
Worldwide, 40% of people took out a loan in the year, reported the Global Findex database.
In South Africa, 86% of people borrowed money, with Iran trailing at 80% in second place. In Zimbabwe, so often the butt of economic jokes, only 62% of people took out loans.
More than 71% of borrowers in South Africa turned to family and friends, the World Bank said, 18% to microlenders and only 12% to a formal financial institution.
Only 9.2% of these borrowers bought houses with the money, with 7.5% investing in a farm or business; 18% needing a loan for school fees or education and 18% paying for healthcare.
Neil Roets, the CEO of debt-counselling firm Debt Rescue, said one of the reasons for the high level of borrowing was that the cost of living was high relative to income.
“On the average income of a police officer it would be difficult to meet basic household needs without having a second income. And many workers in South Africa earn far less than a police officer does,” he said.
About 81% of South Africans use ATMs to access their money, and 55% use debit cards.
Sub-Saharan Africa leads the world in mobile money accounts, with 12% of people having one, six times the global average.
The World Bank report said that 62% of adults worldwide have bank accounts, a number growing at more than 200million a year.
But there are still 2billion people who are “unbanked”. Some 30% of South Africans do not have accounts at a financial institution.