Canada’s household debt keeps rising to uncontrollable levels. At the end of the second quarter of 2018, 70 percent of Canadian households faced a debt of $1.77 for every $1.00 of disposable income. That number rose to $1.78 per dollar by the end of the third quarter. This includes all credit card and mortgage debts. According to Canadian newsmagazine Macleans, ten percent of Canadian household have a debt of 350 percent in comparison to their income. Canadian income is simply not keeping up with its mounting debt as Canadians struggle with repayment. In fact, Canada has the unpleasant distinction of having the highest debt of any country in the world.
Borrowing has decreased from $18.3 billion in the third quarter, compared to $20 billion in the second quarter. The demand for mortgages has decreased by $1.2 billion, and non-mortgage borrowing is down by $100 million. Yet 45 percent of Canadians surveyed say they need to borrow more to pay ordinary living expenses. The Bank of Canada has hinted at a rate increase, making it even more difficult to borrow.
According to Global News Canada, almost half of Canadians have a financial safety cushion of $200 or less. In a survey conducted during the fourth quarter of 2018, 31 percent indicated their income didn’t stretch enough to pay their day-to-day bills. This is a 4 percent increase from the third quarter. There is simply no financial wiggle room, and any unexpected expense can bring about a financial disaster.
Canada’s total household debt exceeds $2 trillion, an amount equal to its economic output. Borrowing was easy during the time of easy credit and artificially low-interest rates. The country’s citizens enjoyed the good life with new homes, vehicles, and fine dining – all on credit. The debts have come home to roost, and it’s time to pay the piper.
Canadians can no longer ignore their soaring debt. They will either need to change their lifestyle or face unpleasant consequences. The Bank of Canada’s interest rate rose by half a percent to 1.75 percent in 2018. If the bank were to raise its rates to a more normal level of 3 percent, which may happen in 2019, households with mortgages, student loans, lines of interest, and other non-fixed interest rate loans will face a crippling rise in their minimum payments each month. Meeting ordinary living expenses will become even more difficult and making simple interest payments on loans a greater struggle. Even a minor interest rate hike may force some households into default.
One option is for Canadians to sell assets to pay off debts. Total household assets of stock and other investments total $550 billion. However, the Canadian stock market lost seven percentage points in 2018. That means that assets to be sold to pay off debt will maybe have to be sold at a loss. This will certainly affect many retirement accounts in a negative way.
Canada has enjoyed a good run with its easy credit policy. However, the debt bubble is ready to burst at any time, and when it happens, many Canadians will suffer the consequences of loose credit and easy spending.