June 21, 2018

The Facts Behind Our Rising Debt Levels

We are continually being reminded that Canadians are overextended and in too much debt. So much so, the Ministry of Finance has made getting a mortgage more difficult and changed the rules to qualify for financing.

What has recently been discovered is that while this may be true, we have generally borrowed wisely to build our net worth to record levels. Warnings about household debt often ignore assets and skew the picture.

The $10.3-trillion in net worth of Canadian households is the result of debt accumulated to finance assets such as real estate and investments, according to a Fraser Institute report. “When looking at debt levels it’s important to consider the degree to which Canadians are also using it to increase their net worth.”

Canadian household debt has topped $2 trillion but two-third of that is in mortgages (the rest is made up of credit card and other debt) and a new report says that helped fuel unprecedented levels of household net worth.

Canadians are not being irresponsible with household debt. Household assets, such as real estate, pensions, financial investments and businesses, have grown from $2.2 trillion in 1990 to $12.3 trillion in 2016.

It chastises governments for cautioning about household debt when their own finances are less favourable. “Governments across Canada have been racking up debt, particularly since 2007, but the net worth of governments in Canada has actually decreased,” said Di Matteo. “It’s somewhat hypocritical for governments to warn Canadians about rising household debt levels given the state of their own finances.”

Those without mortgages are seeing a declining trend in their average credit scores that began in 2015, along with an increasing likelihood of bankruptcy. As well, mortgage delinquencies for consumers over 65 are the highest of all age groups and rising, and higher delinquency rates for auto loans persisted throughout 2016. BMO Wealth Management reported that millennials say their top financial priority is paying down debt. It beat out finding meaningful and better-paying work, purchasing or upgrading a home and upgrading education.

“We may be borrowing, but we’re doing it in a pretty savvy way,” said Pattie Lovett-Reid, CTV News chief financial correspondent.

Colleen Saunders is a 20 year veteran in the mortgage industry, serving Mississauga, Burlington, Oakville and Toronto and offering all mortgage related services such as 2nd mortgages, private mortgages and more.