Putting Household Debt into Perspective
Canadian households currently owe more than $2 trillion. Our average debt to income ratio increased to 170%, making us number 1 among the G7 countries. 🙂
But do we actually have too much debt? Well perhaps not. Comparing Canada to the G7 group conveniently omits other highly developed countries. Australia’s national broadcaster claims its country has a household debt to income ratio of 200%. And reports of Netherlands, Denmark, and other Nordic countries are even higher than that! So in reality Canada is far from being the most indebted country in the world.
The cost of borrowing also affects the degree to which people will go into debt. For example, in the U.S. a typical mortgage today would cost about 4.5%. But in Canada you can get a mortgage for only 3.0%. If the debt is cheaper to service then people will be naturally inclined to borrow more. 🙂
There’s a whole slew of other economic, legal, and political variables that make it nearly impossible to accurately compare household debt from one country to another. These kinds of comparisons would never be published as a scientific study because you have to correct for way too many variabilities. But they make for intriguing headlines nonetheless. 🙂
Separating Facts from Fiction
Here’s another debt related article that has recently attracted plenty of attention. 😀
Apparently nearly half of households are on the brink of financial turmoil. But how valid is this claim? Let’s do a little digging.
First, we can ask who is behind this poll? According to the CBC article, the survey was commissioned by MNP Ltd. A quick internet search reveals that it’s an accounting company that offers debt consolidation and consumer proposal services. What would happen to MNP’s business if more Canadians reach out for financial help because they become more worried about their debts?
We can also look at the evidence that backs up this claim. The results of the poll were self reported by consumers. And it’s not even a random sample of the population. The conclusion ends up being very subjective, especially when the term, “financial insolvency” isn’t clearly defined in the context of the survey. The Financial Post says that delinquency rates of Canadians have ranged between 1.6% to 1.1% over the last decade or so. Even credit card delinquencies (90 days late) have been relatively low, currently under 1% of debt balance. Consumers can be highly elastic with their spending. So the best we can gather is that many people are feeling the pinch, but that’s about it. We certainly don’t have 46% of Canadians are on the brink of filing for consumer proposal with a bankruptcy trustee on a monthly basis.
Finally, we’ll look at a headline from last month stating how unaffordable the housing market is.
Wow. “Crisis Levels,” eh? Once again, these kinds of titles are designed to attract attention and clicks. But as everyone knows, real estate is local. We can’t condense a diverse segmented market into a single generalization. Other than 2 major cities, the rest of Canada looks quite affordable. For example, the typical house costs less than $350,000 in Montreal, which is one of the top cities to live in according to The Economist. So you can enjoy a high quality of life and not be house poor. 😀
Don’t always believe extravagant sounding headlines. There are lots of fake news out there so we should take them with a grain of salt. We need accurate information to make wise financial decisions. Practicing a little bit of independent thinking can give us an overall better picture of the world than what’s only promoted in the news at face value. Navigating digital information can be challenging. But with a little skepticism and some original research we can usually find the truth. 🙂
Random Useless Fact: