“I really like new cars. I kept on trading and trading…and I was buying a lot of gifts for people and getting more and more into debt,” says D’Arcy George who lives in Lethbridge, Alberta. Eventually his spending habits caught up to him and D’Arcy was up to $70,000 in debt and struggled with a bank account constantly in overdraft. But D’Arcy’s experience is not unique.
In a province where the average wage is over $28/hour, a sustained period of low interest rates has caused consumers to become overconfident in the economy which has led to rising consumer debt. But now that oil and gas prices have slumped some people are forced to re-examine their financial situations.
D’Arcy has realized this reality and has taken dramatic steps to get his debt under control. He started a second job at Costco to make more money. He now works every day of the week, often more than 12 hours a day, and he drives a used car. “I feel more confident that I can save money and know how to handle it,” he says. “I always have a balance of $8,000 in the bank and I get worried if I have less.”
Canadians are getting the message when it comes to our consumer debt. A recent report from TransUnion shows the average Canadian individual owed $21,428 non-mortgage debt by the end of 2014. This number includes credit cards, lines of credit, student loans, and other types of credit products but does not include mortgages, home equity lines of credits, or margin loans.
$21,428 is up 2.3% compared to the previous year. However digging deeper into the number we see that Lines of Credits, which make up 40% of consumer debt, has increased by 4.4%, while credit card debt has actually fallen by 2%. In other words consumers are getting smarter about where they’re borrowing money from. People are familiarizing themselves with how credit works and are making better decisions about their spending habits overall.