Many Canadians are taking risks with their financial security and some of those that say they know better are building up higher levels of debt.
A new survey shows that 67% of respondents said that they are financially literate but when tested two thirds are not repaying credit cards in full each month (30% believe making the minimum payment stops interest charges); 72% are not saving on a regular basis; and 43% are not tracking their monthly expenses or spending habits.
The survey from loan search and comparison platform Loans Canada also reveals that 46% of respondents are ‘loan stacking’ or taking on multiple loans from several lenders for emergency funds or just to cover everyday expenses.
When arranging a loan 60% do not call the lender and 38% don’t compare lenders.
Almost half of the credit-constrained Canadians carry high-interest debt in the form of payday loans (45%) and credit cards (55%).
“The purpose of this survey was to learn more about credit-challenged Canadians and the role their financial literacy plays in the financial decisions they make.” said Loans Canada CTO Cris Ravazzano.
Source: Real Estate Professional – by Steve Randall 24 Jan 2020
That’s the takeaway from a national survey released this week by Rates.ca, which found half of Canadians aren’t aware of the mortgage options available to them.
Not only that, but Canadians are lacking in some other basic mortgage trivia, with an astounding 9 out of 10 respondents not knowing that mortgage interest is charged semi-annually:
28% think interest is compounded monthly;
17% think it’s bi-weekly;
17% think it’s annually;
28% just have no idea.
Should we be concerned?
Dustan Woodhouse, President of Mortgage Architects, and a former active broker who has written multiple educational mortgage books, thinks so.
“Sounds about right. We know about what we pay attention to, i.e., The Kardashians,” he wrote to CMT. “The material concern in this is how easy it makes it for the government to over-regulate the industry, with clients blaming the banks—rather than the appropriate parties. This disconnect is deeply concerning.”
Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that only four out of 10 Canadians (39%) know they can avoid paying default insurance on their mortgage if they make a down payment of 20% or more.
With default insurance running anywhere from 4–5.85% of the mortgage value, we’re talking some serious dinero being spent—potentially unknowingly and unnecessarily.
So, what can be done? Woodhouse admits there are no simple answers, but says making mortgages more tangible to borrowers would be a good place to start.
“The root issue is making mortgages interesting and relevant to clients more often than when they need one,” he said. “It needs to be all about housing, not simply mortgages.”
Paul Taylor, President and CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada, agrees.
“Unless you deal in mortgages, you only talk about them, generally, once every five years,” he said. “I’m sure at the time of signing, the borrowers understood what their payment obligations were and the schedule; after that, the rest of the information provided was likely filed under ‘nice to know but not relevant enough to me to retain.’”
Making the Case for Mortgage Brokers
With a growing trend towards “do-it-yourself” online mortgage shopping, we wondered if these survey results reinforce the need for mortgage brokers in guiding uninformed borrowers about their mortgage options.
“Big time…more than ever brokers are required,” Woodhouse said.
Taylor added that the stats “clearly demonstrate the need for professional and impartial advice at the time of purchase/renewal/refinance. And while some may suggest they are comfortable purchasing online without counsel, I think we can see that is inadvisable in almost all cases.”
Taylor pointed to the UK as an example. Following the crash of 2008, he noted the country adopted several policies by 2014, including disallowing borrowers to be able to self-declare income, and requiring mortgage consumers to be provided mandatory advice on mortgage products.
“The last point, I think, would likely begin to receive international discussion/attention if online sales begin to increase too quickly given the data this survey demonstrates,” Taylor said. “Given the size of these loans, the personal liability and the potential interest-cost difference for as little as a quarter-point in interest, I expect there may be some scrutiny on consumer outcomes for these self-serve options.”
Additional Survey Tidbits
The Rates.ca survey revealed some additional interesting findings about Canadians’ knowledge gap when it comes to financial products, including:
Nearly 7 out of 10 Canadians (68%) aren’t aware that interest on credit cards is calculated daily.
30% admitted they are unlikely or somewhat unlikely to make the minimum monthly payments on their credit cards.
40% of respondents admitted to not knowing their credit score.
43% said they felt comfortable negotiating their mortgage over the internet.
And 94% believe schools should place greater emphasis on teaching financial literacy.
Whether through ads or our own experiences dealing with banks and other lenders, Canadians are frequently reminded of the power of a single number, a credit score, in determining their financial options.
That slightly mysterious number can determine whether you’re able to secure a loan and how much extra it will cost to pay it back.
It can be the difference between having a credit card with a manageable interest rate or one that keeps you drowning in debt.
Not surprisingly, many Canadians want to know their score, and there are several web-based services that offer to provide it.
But a Marketplace investigation has found that the same consumer is likely to get significantly different credit scores from different websites — and chances are none of those scores actually matches the one lenders consult when deciding your financial fate.
‘That’s so strange’
We had three Canadians check their credit scores using four different services: Credit Karma and Borrowell, which are both free; and Equifax and TransUnion, which charge about $20 a month for credit monitoring, a plan that includes access to your credit score.
One of the participants was Raman Agarwal, a 58-year-old small business owner from Ottawa, who says he pays his bills on time and has little debt.
Canadian company Borrowell’s site said he had a “below average” credit score of 637. On Credit Karma, his score of 762 was labelled “very good.”
As for the paid sites, Equifax provided a “good” score of 684, while TransUnion said his 686 score was “poor.”
Agarwal was surprised by the inconsistent results.
“That’s so strange, because the scoring should be based on the same principles,” he said. “I don’t know why there’s a confusion like that.”
The other two participants also each received four different scores from the four different services. The largest gap between two scores for the same participant was 125 points.
The free websites, Borrowell and Credit Karma, purchase the scores they provide to consumers from Equifax and TransUnion, respectively, yet all four companies share a different score with a different proprietary name.
Credit scores are calculated based on many factors, including payment history; credit utilization, which is how much of a loan you owe versus how much you have available to you; money owing; how long you’ve been borrowing; and the types of credit you have. But these factors can be weighted differently depending on the credit bureau or lender, resulting in different scores.
So, which credit score is giving Agarwal the clearest picture of his credit standing?
Marketplace learned that none of the scores the four websites provide is necessarily the same as the one lenders are most likely to use when determining Agarwal’s creditworthiness.
We spoke with multiple lenders in the financial, automotive and mortgage sectors, who all said they would not accept any of the scores our participants received from the four websites.
“So, we don’t know what these scores represent,” said Vince Gaetano, principal broker at MonsterMortgage.ca. “They’re not necessarily reliable from my perspective.”
All consumer credit score platforms have small fine-print messages on their sites explaining that lenders might consult a different score from the one provided.
‘Soft’ vs. ‘hard’ credit check
The score that most Canadian lenders use is called a FICO score, previously known as the Beacon score. FICO, which is a U.S. company, sells its score to both Equifax and TransUnion. FICO says 90 per cent of Canadian lenders use it, including major banks.
But Canadian consumers cannot access their FICO score on their own.
To find out his FICO score, Agarwal had to agree to what’s known as a “hard” credit check. That’s where a business runs a credit check as though a customer is applying for a loan.
Lenders are contractually obligated not to share a copy of the report FICO provides with the customer. They can only discuss the information and provide insight.
A hard check comes with risk. Unlike the “soft” check Agarwal agreed to from the four websites, a hard check could negatively impact his credit score.
As Credit Karma’s website explains, “Multiple hard inquiries in a short period could lead lenders and credit card issuers to consider you a higher-risk customer, as it suggests you may be short on cash or getting ready to rack up a lot of debt.”
Mortgage broker Vince Gaetano offered to do a hard credit check for Agarwal, as if he was applying for a loan, so he could learn his FICO score.
Agarwal took him up on the offer and was stunned to learn his FICO score was 829 — nearly 200 points higher than the lowest score he received online.
“Oh my god!” Agarwal said when he heard the news. “I am really happy, but totally surprised.”
Doug Hoyes, co-founder of Hoyes, Michalos and Associates Inc., one of the largest personal insolvency firms in Canada, was also surprised by the disparity between Agarwal’s FICO score and the other scores he’d received.
“How can you be poor somewhere and fantastic somewhere else?”
Marketplace asked all four credit score companies why Agarwal’s FICO score was so different from the ones provided on their sites.
No one could provide a detailed answer. Equifax and TransUnion did say their scores are used by lenders, but they wouldn’t name any, citing proprietary reasons.
Credit Karma declined to comment. However, on its customer service website, it says the credit score it provides to consumers is a “widely used scoring model by lenders.”
‘A complicated system’
The free services, Borrowell and Credit Karma, make money by arranging loan and credit card offers for customers who visit their sites. Borrowell told Marketplace the credit score it provides is used by the company itself to offer loans directly from Borrowell. The company could not confirm whether any of its lending partners also use the score.
“So there are many different types of credit scores in Canada … and they’re calculated very differently,” said Andrew Graham, CEO of Borrowell. “It’s a complicated system, and we’re the first to say that it’s frustrating for consumers. We’re trying to help add transparency to it and help consumers navigate it.”
From Agarwal’s perspective, the credit companies are simply using the scoring system as a marketing tool.
“There should be one score,” he said. “If they are running an algorithm, there should be one score, no matter what you do, how you do it, should not change that score.”
The FICO score is also the most popular score in the U.S. Unlike in Canada, Americans can access their score easily by purchasing it on FICO’s website, or through FICO’s Open Access Program, without any risk of it impacting their credit rating.
FICO told Marketplace it would like to bring the Open Access Program to Canada, but it’s up to Canadian lenders.
“We are open to working with any lender and their credit bureau partner of choice to enable FICO Score access to the lender’s customers,” FICO said in an email.
Hoyes, the insolvency expert, suggests instead of focusing on your credit score, a better approach to monitoring your financial status would be to shift attention to your credit report and ensuring its accuracy.
All four websites Marketplace looked at provide credit reports to consumers.
A credit report is the file that describes your financial situation. It lists bank accounts, credit cards, inquiries from lenders who have requested your report, bankruptcies, student loans, mortgages, whether you pay your credit card bill on time, and other debt.
Hoyes said consumers are trying too hard to have the perfect credit score. The fact is, some activities that could boost a credit score, such as getting a new credit card or taking on a loan, aren’t necessarily the best financial decisions.
“My advice is to focus on what is better for your financial health, not what is best for the lender’s financial health.”
He said paying off debt and increasing savings is a better idea than focusing solely on the factors that can increase your credit score.
You focusing on this one metric, that isn’t the same thing the lender is using anyways, is really pointless, and I think it leads to bad decisions.– Doug Hoyes, Hoyes, Michalos and Associates Inc.
He points to billionaire investor Warren Buffett, the third richest person in the world, as an example.
“Would you rather lend to Warren Buffett, who’s got … cash in the bank but has a lousy credit score because he’s never borrowed and hasn’t built up any history, or some guy who has five credit cards and he constantly … moves the balance from one to the other and keeps his utilization under 20 per cent?”
The real estate, mortgage and auto lenders Marketplace spoke with said they look at more than just your credit score before making a lending decision. They also consider things like your income, your history with their company, the size of a downpayment, and other factors not reflected in your score.
For Hoyes, those factors are much more important than a three-digit number.
“You focusing on this one metric, that isn’t the same thing the lender is using anyways, is really pointless, and I think it leads to bad decisions.”
The good news, according to Borrowell CEO Andrew Graham, is that if you’re doing things like paying your bills on time and not maxing out your credit cards, you will see improvement in whatever credit score you track.
Brokers must be willing to take on the role of educator when preparing the next generation of homebuyers to apply for a mortgage. A recent survey by Refresh Financial found that only 41% of Canadians know their credit score, and 20% are too scared to even find out their score.
Millennials (those born between the early ’80s and mid-’90s) and generation z (those born from the early ’90s to mid-2000s) are particularly anxious about their credit history and uninformed about how to build good credit. Thirty-nine per cent of millennial and gen z respondents said they were more stressed about their credit score than they were a year ago, and 25% admitted they’re not sure what makes up their credit score. In addition, a third of 18- to 34-year-olds said they believe their credit score is holding them back from making important life choices such as purchasing a home.
Most Canadians know their credit rating is a number, somewhere between 300 and 900, that generally reflects your credit-worthiness and is used to secure approval from lenders. But the fact is, nobody outside of the ratings agencies knows exactly how they work.
Canada’s two credit rating agencies — Equifax and TransUnion — do not publicly reveal the exact formula used to calculate your score in order to keep people from gaming the system. However, there are some basic indicators you can use to improve your standing.
Personal finance coach David Lester joined CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday, to clear up some misconceptions and outline some simple steps you can take to increase your score.
Credit ratings, he explains, are broadly determined by five weighted factors:
Payment history (35 per cent)
Amount owed (30 per cent)
Length of history (15 per cent)
New credit (10 per cent)
Types of credit used (10 per cent)
Here are four things Lester said you need to know about how to improve your credit rating:
Having a zero balance on your credit card can have a negative impact
Lending money is a business, and financial institutions want to make sure they make money by charging interest.
“If you pay off your debt all the time, and you don’t pay any interest, that actually hurts your credit rating because they want to know that you are going to pay a little bit of interest,” Lester said.
He said it is important to remember that a credit score is a measure of how much lenders want your business. They are designed with banks in mind, not you. While that zero balance may help you sleep at night, avoiding as much interest as possible does not necessarily win you any favours.
Keep your first credit card
Remember that credit card you signed up for in your first year of university while wandering around campus on frosh week? It’s probably the genesis of your credit managing history, so keep it active to show lenders you have been responsibly managing debt since your college days.
“They (lenders) like that you’ve been borrowing money and paying it back for a long time,” Lester said.
Credit diversity is a good thing
So you have a car loan, outstanding student debt, a mortgage, and a few charges on your credit card. How will this impact your credit score? The answer depends on how well you are managing all those debt obligations. But, broadly speaking, diversity is good.
“They like a plethora of types of loans. If you have all of those under control, and you are doing well on all of them, then it will affect your score (positively),” Lester said.
Do your homework, because credit ratings are prone to errors
Don’t be surprised if you pull your credit report and discover an error. Lester estimates about 30 per cent contain mistakes, some of which could saddle you with a higher interest rate or see you denied credit all together.
If you find something wrong, flag it with the credit agency as soon as possible and stay on top of your records on an annual basis.
“It’s really important to do that every year. Just go through and make sure there aren’t any little mistakes on your credit rating,” Lester said. “You want to make sure that you clear those up, and it will boost your rate.”
There has been an awful lot of noise in the media recently about the increasingly high levels of debt the average Canadian is carrying around on his or her back. And rightfully so: According to a recent report from Statistics Canada, our total national debt load, including mortgages, sits at around $1.8 trillion. (Why does that number always make me think of Mike Myers?). That’s more than $50,000 for every Canuck. But amid all the commotion are some surprisingly difficult-to-answer questions: Is all this debt bad? Is any of it good? And how can we determine what debt is good, what debt is bad or should we just try to avoid all debt like the plague? The answers aren’t always clear-cut. Clearly, further insight is required.
Economic types traditionally describe debt as being either good or bad, depending on what it’s used for. The good stuff is generally defined as money borrowed to buy something that will appreciate in value, like a house. Conversely, bad debt is described as money borrowed to buy something that will depreciate in value, like Buddy using his credit card to borrow $2,000 for a new set of golf clubs (they’re on sale!), because everyone knows you’ll play like Tiger Woods once you have a $2,000 set of his Nike golf clubs.
Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Not all good debt is good and not all bad debt is bad. (Warning: This is going to get wordy.) Yes, I am saying that there is such a thing as bad good debt and good bad debt. An example of bad good debt is when Buddy goes out and buys an oversized house that exceeds his needs. And to make matters worse, Buddy buys the house before he is financially ready. He puts down a too small down payment on his too big house and as a result, he ends up with a too big mortgage—which he amortizes over too many years. Given enough time, the house will likely appreciate, and this technically makes Buddy’s big mortgage “good” debt. However, it’s unlikely the house’s value will increase enough to cover the cost of the interest he’ll end up paying, let alone the larger expenses the house is going to generate: heating, upkeep, taxes and so on. To boot, there is a real possibility that this “good” debt will interfere with Buddy’s ability to properly save for his future. Broadly speaking, if Buddy’s housing costs (mortgage, utilities, insurance and taxes) exceeds 32% of his gross income, and if he will be paying those costs for more than 25 years, then it’s bad good debt.
On the other side, when Buddy’s sister Buddy-Lou takes out a two-year loan to help her pay for a gently used Honda Civic, that loan is technically bad debt since the car is going to depreciate. However, borrowing this money makes more sense than borrowing for a new car and it certainly makes more sense than leasing a new vehicle. (We’ll save that discussion for another time.) Assuming she takes care of it, Buddy-Lou’s car will still have value for years after the loan is paid off. Sure, it would be nice if she had the money in her bank account to buy that Civic when her old car died, but it would also be nice if George R. R. Martin didn’t kill off all of the best characters in Game of Thrones. Life happens. The loan needs to be manageable, without putting pressure on Buddy-Lou’s ability to save for her future. If that’s the case, it’s good bad debt.
It’s important to understand there is a big difference between accepting that you likely will incur some debt as you go through life and accepting debt as a way of life. It’s also a good idea to occasionally remind ourselves that even good good debt, like a properly structured mortgage is debt nonetheless and, as such, the interest you are paying on it isn’t doing you any favours. All debt, good, bad or anything in between, costs money and we should always be on the lookout for ways to pay it off as quickly as reasonably possible.
As a nation, we have become far too comfortable with personal debt. Today’s low interest rates are certainly a contributing factor, but the “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome plays a part too. In some circles, it has become acceptable, even fashionable, to rack up mountains of high-interest credit card debt and then borrow more money to make the payments. Do not buy into this thinking. Pun intended. Credit card interest rates are anything but low, with many cards charging up to 29.99% interest. Even a “low interest” credit card will charge you around 12%. If you’re carrying a balance on your cards and you’re struggling to pay it down, you should transfer the balance to a low interest line of credit while you work it off. That would at least be better bad debt.
There is an inherent danger in describing debt as good. Sure, some types of debt are obviously better than others but that’s not the same thing as being good. Maybe we should further refine the two traditional definitions of debt into “bad debt” and “responsible-debt-that-I-thought-about-carefully-before-I-took-on-but-I-still-need-to-eliminate-as-quickly-as-reasonably-possible debt.” Because really, the only good debt is no debt at all.
Source: Money Sense – Robert R. Brown is a personal finance speaker and the author of Wealthing Like Rabbits. Follow him on Twitter @wealthingrabbit
Despite holding multiple credit products (like credit cards or lines of credit) many Canadians don’t understand how debt and their behaviour around it affects their credit score in the eyes of the credit bureau—or why it’s important; on top of that, 47% of Canadians don’t know where to check their credit score.
Your credit score is a three-digit number, between 300 and 900, that measures your creditworthiness. The higher your score the better, as it’s used by lenders and financial institutions to determine whether your credit-worthy or not. In general, a low score could mean you’re declined on a loan or receive a higher interest rate, while a higher score allows for lower interest rates and better options when it comes to things like getting a mortgage and borrowing money. Your credit score number essentially indicates how likely your are to repay money you borrow, based on how you’ve handled past financial obligations.
How is your credit score determined?
Most lenders want to see two forms of active credit for at least two years. The longer the history reporting, the better.
Your credit score is made up of the following:
35% payment history. It’s important to make your payments on time. Missing a $4 dollar payment on a credit card could be as bad a missing a $400 payment, so don’t skip the minimum payment. This also includes collections. Some creditors (even city parking ticket collectors) may report that you haven’t paid them to your credit bureau, or even use a third-party collection agency to get their money back. These collections on your credit bureau can lower your score.
30% utilization ratio. This is your level of indebtedness, or how much of your total available credit you’re using.
15% length of credit. The longer you have an account open, the better. It shows you’re capable of managing credit responsibly.
10% types of credit. It’s good to have a mix of different types of credit (revolving credit like credit cards and lines of credit are riskier than personal loans so it’s better to have fewer of those in your mix) to show that you can handle your payments.
10% inquiries. These happen every time you agree to a “hard credit check”. Hard checks usually happen even when opening a chequing account with a bank or a new phone plan.
3 things that can help improve your score:
1. Practice good utilization ratio habits
A relatively fast way to improve your credit score is to start practicing good utilization ratio habits. Once you start doing this, it could improve in as little as 30-60 days. If your credit card limit is $1,000 and your balance is $1,000, your utilization ratio is 100 per cent — and this not good in the eyes of the credit bureau. Credit bureaus base credit scores on behaviour with credit. If you’re constantly maxing out your credit cards, it could imply that you’re not far away from defaulting on your minimum payments. It looks like your income is stretched. Set an imaginary limit of 70 per cent and don’t go over that. Doing this will keep your credit score healthy. For example, if your credit card limit is $10,000, don’t borrow over $7,000.
2. Think twice about closing an unused credit card
It may seem like a good idea to close a credit card that you’re not using, or have paid off and are trying not to use. But, closing a card, or leaving it inactive can negatively affect your credit score. This goes back to the length of credit factor that the credit bureau reports on which makes up 15% of your credit score. Rather than closing the card, consider using it for a monthly subscription, like Netflix or Spotify, and set up an automatic monthly payment from your bank account to ensure it’s covered. This trick will also improve your utilization ratio and payment history, since you’ll be staying far under your limit, and making on-time payments.
3. Consolidate credit card debt
Credit cards are considered revolving debt; meaning when you pay them down you can keep borrowing against them. This type of debt is psychologically proven to keep people in debt. Many revolving credit products allow you to pay back only the interest, which is a major reason why so many people find themselves stuck in what feels like an endless cycle of debt. If you’re like 46% of Canadians* and you carry a credit card balance every month, you could benefit from a personal instalment loan to help get out of the revolving debt cycle. Unlike credit card debt, an installment loan has a specific term and requires you to pay back interest and principal in every payment, which means you have a set deadline for paying it off and getting out of debt.
The first step in improving your credit score is knowing it. Mogo offers Canada’s only free credit score with free monthly monitoring. Check your score at mogo.ca.