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Questions to ask yourself before taking on more debt

Canadians seem to love borrowing money, Here are some tips to keep your finances in check.
Canadians seem to love borrowing money, Here are some tips to keep your finances in check. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Elise Amendola, File

Canada’s consumer debt is at an all-time-high, and that’s likely to tick higher as we approach the holiday season – often the most expensive time of the year.

“We’re up at record debt levels,” said personal finance expert Kelley Keehn.

“We have a skewed vision in 2016 of what’s a ‘want’ and what’s a ‘need.'”

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Living on borrowed money is a reality of life for many Canadians. Before you dig yourself deeper into debt, here are some tips to keep your finances in check.

Do you know where your money goes every month?

If it seems like your paycheque is gone before you even get it, you need to be real about what you’re spending every month.

“Financial stress actually affects your health,” said Keehn. “Canadians that have a financial plan have less financial stress, they don’t worry as much about money, and their well-being increases.”

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READ MORE: Unemployment worries keeping Canadians up at night: Ipsos poll

Regardless of your financial status, having a budget is an important tool to keep your finances in check. This can be done by using online tools or by getting help from a professional such as a financial planner. A little savvy can go a long way to helping you figure out where your money is going, or how it can be better used.

WATCH: Canadians hit a new record for household debt 

Canadians hit a new record for household debt
Canadians hit a new record for household debt

“Maybe you’re putting money into a TFSA, when you should be putting it into a RRSP, which could be netting you a tax deduction that then could be paying down your mortgage,” said Keehn.

One in five Canadians would run out of money within a week if they lost their job, a recent study by the Financial Planning Standards Council found.

For some people, getting their finances in order means starting at the bottom and contacting a credit counsellor.

“They’re swimming in debt, they’re getting calls, they’re scared to call their banker, they’re scared to call their credit card company… Get your financial health in order. Figure out what you need to do.”

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Keehn said talking about money issues is the “last taboo,” but reaching out for help is often the only way to begin to turn things around.

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Do you really need that new purchase?

Trying to keep up with friends and neighbours’ lavish trips and new vehicles can lead to a debt trap, Keehn warns.

“The number one question I get – in secret – across the country is, ‘How is everybody else making it?’ And the answer is they’re not.”

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Rock-bottom interest rates make borrowing money these days all too easy, but just because you can get a purchase through financing doesn’t mean you should.

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Money Smarts: Tips for paying down debt
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“It’s pretty tempting and pretty hard for us to not over-spend,” said Keehn. “[People think] ‘Why not remodel the kitchen, it’s only $200 a month to service the line of credit.'”

There are serious risks to piling on that near-zero per cent interest debt. A recent report found that even a small rise in interest rates could force 700,000 Canadians into financial turmoil.

READ MORE: Simple tax tips to help couples score big on their tax returns

“For some, a $50 increase in their obligations… may mean they would not be able to fill their gas tanks to get to work,” Jason Wang, TransUnion’s director of research and industry analysis in Canada told The Canadian Press this fall.

Is this the best deal?

You shop around for jeans, shoes, a new vehicle – so do the same for your financial needs.

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“A lot of people are loyal to their banks and they shouldn’t be, they should be shopping around,” said Kerri-Lynn McAllister, chief marketing officer with RateHub.ca. “They’re leaving sometimes thousands of dollars on the table.”

WATCH: Getting the most out of your credit cards

Services such as RateHub.ca, RateSupermarket.ca, and CreditCards.com compare thousands of credit cards, loans and bank accounts, often tailored to your wants and needs.

The same goes for mortgages – visit your bank, but also ask your friends for referrals. And while you’re shopping for a house, be sure to lock in the current rate in case it goes up by the time you’re ready to buy.

READ MORE: How to avoid overspending during the holiday season

“Anyone considering getting a mortgage… they should be getting pre-approved, they should be getting locked in,” president of mortgage brokerage CanWise Financial James Laird told Global News last week. “We do think that rates are going to continue to push up.”

Is your credit in good standing?

Though some people are scared to look at their credit score, knowing what it is – and working to improve it – can actually save you money.

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“When lenders look at your eligibility for financial products they look primarily at three things: your credit score, your income, and your debt relative to your income,” said McAllister.

READ MORE: 6 clever tricks to help break the paycheque-to-paycheque cycle

RateHub has a new tool that offers you a free credit score, which is factored into finding a consumer the best product for which they are eligible.

WATCH: Understanding your credit score

You can sometimes leverage good credit to get a better deal.

“A lot of financial products are negotiable,” said McAllister. “Anything from a mortgage rate to a GIC is negotiable, so you can use that to your advantage.”

You can get a full credit report from one of Canada’s two national credit bureaus: Equifax or TransUnion.

If your credit score is under 680 there is room for improvement. Read more about improving your credit score here.