The Families Commission says culture and the church are major contributors to Pacific communities getting into trouble with debt and loan sharks.
The commission's report Pacific Families and Problem Debt, released on Saturday, says Pacific families are going into debt to fulfil cultural obligations to churches and extended families.
It says some churches add to the pressure through tithing and donations, including reading out what each family gives.
Families Commissioner James Prescott says churches need to be at the forefront of helping Pacific families out of debt, not getting them into it.
"Church leaders, for instance, need to be aware of the financial constraints that many of their parishioners face so that they're not asking them to contribute beyond their means."
Dr Prescott says Pacific families also need to learn to say no, and to offer food or other help instead of money.
The commission's report also found low incomes, easy access to finance with high interest rates and language barriers when it came to understanding contracts were factors in financial strain.