Staggering share of Canadians fear bankruptcy if interest rates rise much more

Click to play video: 'Why 1 in 3 Canadians say they’re not able to cover monthly bills'
Why 1 in 3 Canadians say they’re not able to cover monthly bills
WATCH: Why 1 in 3 Canadians say they’re not able to cover monthly bills – Jan 15, 2018

Over 30 per cent of Canadians say they’re concerned that rising interest rates could push them close to bankruptcy, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of MNP, one of the largest personal insolvency practices in the country.

READ MORE: Your debt in 2018: The economic trends that could hit your pocketbook

The result is just one of a number of findings signalling that household budgets have become significantly tighter since the Bank of Canada (BoC) started raising interest rates in July. Even though rates have risen by only half a percentage point since the summer, several measures of financial distress in MNP’s Consumer Debt Index went up considerably in the last three months of 2017, compared to the June-to-September period.

Here’s what the survey shows:

  • One-third of Canadians say they’re now unable to cover their monthly bills while keeping up with their debt repayments, up eight points on the index since September.
  • Households that are still making ends meet have around $630 left at the end of the month, down nearly 30 per cent from over $890 in July.
  • And overall, almost half of Canadians (48 per cent), say they are within $200 of not being able to meet their financial obligations, up six points since September.
  • Over 40 per cent are worried they’ll be in financial trouble if interest rates keep rising, with one in three afraid they may face bankruptcy.

“The results highlight just how financially vulnerable Canadians are. Even small interest rate increases result in escalating financial strain and anxiety,” MNP’s Grant Bazian said in a statement.

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The central bank is widely expected to hike rates by another 0.25 per cent on Wednesday, Jan. 17, after a December jobs report that revealed unemployment has now fallen to the lowest level recorded since the 1970s.

READ MORE: Will the Bank of Canada hike rates next week? It looks more and more likely

But if the prospect of climbing rates is feeding Canadians’ anxieties, it still isn’t doing much to change households’ financial behaviour, the survey suggests. Nearly half of those who took the poll said they expect to get deeper into debt this year to cover their expenses.

“While Canadians say they are heeding rate increase warnings, they are still reliant on credit to make their household budgets work. The result may be a dangerous debt trap that will be impossible for some to ever get out of,” said Bazian.

WATCH: There is Good Debt and there is Bad Debt

Click to play video: 'There is Good Debt and there is Bad Debt.'
There is Good Debt and there is Bad Debt.

Millennials and gen-Xers are particularly vulnerable to rising debt-servicing costs, the survey suggests, with 50 per cent of respondents in both age groups saying they’ll face financial difficulty if interest rates go up much more. That’s almost 10 percentage points higher than the share of those who said across all age groups.

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“We have a whole generation of Canadian consumers who have never experienced anything but rock-bottom interest rates, and many of them have financed everything in their lives —  from education to houses to cars, and even everyday purchases —without really putting much thought into debt servicing costs. On top of that, low returns for savers has undermined the notion that saving is a worthwhile activity so most young people don’t have a cushion to handle any kind of unexpected expenses,” said Bazian.

WATCH: How online shopping is making it easier to rack up debt

Click to play video: 'Online shopping and growing debt'
Online shopping and growing debt

A separate survey released Monday also puts the spotlight on the money struggles of younger Canadian households. A Leger poll conducted on behalf of Credit Canada and the Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) found that those between the ages of 18 and 44 are especially likely to feel blue about their financial situation.

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The survey found that 25 per cent of Canadians do not have enough funds for an escape vacation; 20 per cent have credit card balances larger than their savings account; 21 per cent believe they overspent during the holidays. Six per cent of respondents also said they’ve already broken their new year’s financial resolutions, while an equal percentage said they are receiving calls from bill collectors.

The poll also shows that younger adults were much more likely to say they are experiencing one of the above financial afflictions compared to Canadians aged 45 and older (68 per cent versus 41 per cent).

Ipsos conducted its poll for MNP between Dec. 8 and Dec. 13, 2017. A sample of 2,001 Canadians from the Ipsos I-Say panel was interviewed online. The results are accurate to within +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had all Canadian adults been polled. 

The Leger poll for Credit Canada and FPSC surveyed 1,550 Canadians between Jan. 2 and Jan. 5, 2018, using Leger’s online panel, LegerWeb. The margin of error for this study was +/-2.5 percent, 19 times out of 20.

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