Pattie Lovett-Reid: The pandemic brought financial lessons, but did Canadians notice?
Many households have made inroads in building up their net worth. Savings levels have soared and household balance sheets have improved.
A new report out on the latest insolvency statistics by MNP Ltd. for the month of November 2021 found the total number of insolvencies decreased by 8.9% year over year.
Consumer insolvencies decreased by 8.7% over the same period, and consumer bankruptcies by a whopping 18.2%.
However, my fear is that this might be a case of that was then and this is now. Here is why I am so worried.
Prior to the pandemic, the debt level of Canadians was skyrocketing. Spending beyond our means had become the norm.
I cautioned on more than one occasion that the day of reckoning was fast approaching, that cash-strapped Canadians barely making ends could force delinquencies higher, should higher rates lead to larger payments and in turn compromise their ability to pay to their debt obligations.
Well, the pandemic hit and rates didn't go higher. In fact, they went lower.
The day of reckoning never transpired for households that were racking up debt and spending as if there was no tomorrow.
However, what did happen was that the pandemic led to job losses and the government stepped in to prop up household balance sheets. Based on lack of insolvencies. this strategy proved highly effective -- and for some households, the ability to experience financial flexibility was welcomed.
Fast forward to today. According to MNP Ltd., given the already shaky ground Canadians were standing on before COVID-19 crisis and the magnitude of the pandemic's economic impact, it won't be at all surprising to see insolvencies increase nationwide. At best, they believe, insolvency numbers will return to the pre-pandemic baseline as federal subsidies and stimulus dollars dry up.
Bottom line: creditors will come crawling back while consumers ignore the financial lessons and flexibility learned during the height of the pandemic. The reality is that many Canadians may very well return to their pre-pandemic levels of spending.
Before you capitulate and throw in the towel, here are a few tips if you are struggling with debt.
- There is no shame in asking for help
- To the extent you can make the minimum payment on outstanding debt obligations, do so
- Reach out to your creditors. Work with them and don't hide from them
- Talk to family and be real about your financial situation
Shut the spending down today.
I've learned that people will change their spending habits once they know better or hurt enough.
Rates are headed higher, and you shouldn't be caught off guard. Now is the time to take control. You don't have to become a statistic.