If you’re in debt, you’re not alone. Canadians are buried under a heap of consumer debt that exceeds $477 billion, says Statistics Canada.
And it could get even worse if the economy picks up steam causing interest rates to rise.
The best thing you can do right now is simply stop spending money you don’t have, says Michael Carson, managing partner of Ottawa-based Surgeson Carson Associates Inc., which is part of the Personal Bankruptcy Canada network.
“Getting credit these days is like getting free money [so] people don’t think about repaying debt and the cost of repayment,” he says. “They’re getting million-dollar homes at historic low mortgage rates. But what happens when rates rise, effectively doubling your monthly payments?”
Experts such as David Smith, president of Personal Bankruptcy Canada, put it down to Canadians “losing their cognitive connection to cash.”
The latest data from the Canadian Bankers Association shows a staggering $301 billion was charged to over 74 million Visa and MasterCard credit cards in Canada. This far surpasses the $606 million in cash withdrawals from bank machines during the same period.
“Before, you either had cash or you didn’t,” says Smith. “Plastic payment methods allow, and even encourage, people to spend absent-mindedly because they have no tangible reminders of how much they are spending and when they spend more than they earn.”
The Bank of Canada and personal finance pundits have long been warning Canadians about burgeoning household debt relative to disposable income.
The solution, says Carson, lies with every one of us.
“It’s about lowering expectations,” says Carson. “We are a fairly free-spending society. Look at the malls—people are spending money like it’s going out of fashion. The only thing that can stop it is if [interest] rates start to go up.”
Although there’s strength in numbers, our growing debt is making us weak. Whether the solution lies in ditching our credit cards, lowering expectations or simply creating a budget and sticking to it, the first step is acknowledging that debt isn’t okay.
Vikram Barhat is a financial writer based in Toronto, Ontario.