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
It was his fourth in 10 years, during which time he had relied on Canada’s insolvency system to rid him of more than $100,000 in debts.
This time, the buck was going to stop. The judge overseeing the case had had enough. Nantel, she ruled, did not deserve yet another fresh start.
“He’s shown no reluctance of using bankruptcy to be freed from his debts,” the judge, known as a registrar, wrote in a 2012 decision. “His past conduct demonstrates a contempt for the rights of his creditors.”
Discharging Nantel of his fourth bankruptcy — liberating him of the debt that led him into insolvency — would undermine the integrity of Canada’s bankruptcy system, the registrar said. She denied his application.
Nantel, who refused to comment for this article, persisted.
Four years after the 2012 ruling, Nantel, now working as a mechanic and living 120 kilometres east of Montreal, went before a different registrar and received a discharge from that same bankruptcy.
And eight days after that, he declared bankruptcy for a fifth time, owing more than $37,000 in new debts.
Nantel is one of a staggering number of Canadians who are washing themselves of their debt by re-using a bankruptcy system meant to rehabilitate honest but unfortunate debtors, a joint investigation by the Toronto Star and La Presse has found.
Bankruptcy system insiders and observers are surprised at the magnitude of the nationwide problem revealed in the investigation’s data analysis.
One in five Canadians who filed bankruptcy in 2018 was doing it for at least the second time. That works out to 11,500 debtors who filed their second, third, fourth or even fifth bankruptcy, according to data obtained from the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.
“One fifth-time bankrupt is probably one too many,” said Thomas Telfer, a law professor at Western University who has authored the country’s most detailed research on repeat bankruptcies.
“It shows that the bankrupt has not received the message.”
In cases of repeat bankruptcies, the courts have said focus is expected to shift from rehabilitating a debtor to protecting the public and the system from being abused.
Yet, despite the courts’ stern rhetoric, government data shows the vast majority of completed proceedings end with the person released from their debts.
The Star and La Presse have interviewed dozens of debtors and insolvency experts, including the trustees that administer bankruptcies and retired court registrars who previously presided over bankruptcy cases.
Many repeat bankrupts are people marred by bad luck, their lives sideswiped by job loss, divorce, illness or other tragedies that catapulted them back into insolvency.
Others, however, rack up the same kinds of debt over and over, then turn to bankruptcy for what the courts have called a “fiscal car wash.”
“In some segments of society, it’s become almost a game. People take advantage of the system and they take advantage of the leniency of the registrars,” said Yoine Goldstein, a retired Canadian senator and lawyer who led a task force advising the government on potential reforms to Canada’s insolvency laws.
Unpaid taxes owed by repeat bankrupts make up a portion of the nearly $4 billion the Canada Revenue Agency has written off since 2009 because of consumer and commercial insolvencies. In Quebec, the provincial tax agency has lost nearly $2 billion to insolvencies in the last five years alone.
Meanwhile, credit card lenders absorb the cost of bankrupts who do not pay their bills by charging high interest rates to their customers who do pay their debts.
The Star/La Presse investigation has also found the problem of repeat bankruptcies is greater in Quebec, home to an overwhelming number of the country’s third-, fourth- and fifth-time bankrupts.
In some cases, such as Nantel’s, four- and five-time bankrupts have shed their debt more quickly and easily than had it been their second bankruptcy.
When a person declares bankruptcy, a trustee sells whatever assets are available and distributes the proceeds to creditors (some assets, such as clothing and registered retirement savings that are more than one year old, are protected).
In some cases, when the bankrupt’s income exceeds what a government formula deems necessary to maintain a reasonable standard of living, the debtor must make “surplus income” payments, increasing the amount of money creditors recoup.
The bankruptcy is over when the person gets discharged — a release from the legal obligation to pay back what was owed, though it does not cover certain debts such as child support or alimony.
Unless someone such as a creditor opposes, a first bankruptcy is automatically discharged in nine months or 21 months. The second bankruptcy can be automatically discharged in two years or three years.
Subsequent bankruptcies go to court, where the judge can grant a discharge or refuse it. If granted, the discharge is completed after a delay, known as a suspension, or with conditions, such as the debtor having to prove he is up to date with his taxes. Often, a discharge comes with both a suspension and conditions.
Although the total number of consumer bankruptcies is going down year over year, the percentage that are repeat bankrupts has steadily climbed.
Third-time bankrupts have become common in some provinces. Fourth and fifth bankruptcies, once almost unheard of, are now “a scourge,” registrars have said, and “a clarion call to systemic integrity and to the court’s role in it.”
Repeat bankrupts include real-estate agents, roofers, restaurateurs, tax lawyers and drywallers.
With each bankruptcy, they are required to take two financial counselling sessions. Some debtors, however, take away the wrong lesson.
“They go through bankruptcy and they learn, frankly, how easy it is and how forgiving it is. Then think, ‘Gosh, why don’t I do it again?’ ” said John Owen, whose previous business helped credit lenders pursue claims against insolvent consumers.
Owen testified in 2003 before a Senate committee reviewing Canadian insolvency laws, and he warned of the country’s disproportionately high rate of repeat bankruptcies.
At that time, about 10 per cent of bankruptcies filed were repeats. That rate has now doubled.
“There’s a cost to it. No question. There is a societal cost,” he said.
It’s unknown how much lost tax revenue can be attributed to repeat bankruptcies. One thing, however, is clear: The government, sometimes, only recoups pennies on the dollar, if it gets anything at all.
Three-time bankrupt Jacques Bélanger has racked up mountains of tax debt to the CRA and Revenue Quebec. After the Laval man’s meagre assets were picked over in his most recent bankruptcy, filed in 2014, the CRA, owed more than $101,500, received just $59.20 — less than Belanger spent a month on cigarettes.
“I want to make clear that I never exploited the system. I was just unlucky,” Bélanger said in an interview.
There are few debts more important than the payment of taxes by those enjoying a good income, said registrar Nathalie Champagne in 2017 when faced with Charles Rotenberg, a former Ottawa tax lawyer. Rotenberg, who surrendered his licence after the law society found he misappropriated a client’s funds, was on his third bankruptcy, this latest leading the CRA to write off $313,000. “The Bankrupt before me has enjoyed a good income and he has not paid his fair share of taxes which is unfair to the rest of the tax-paying public.” She refused his discharge.
Rotenberg travels every year and lives in a five-bedroom house bought by his wife and works as a consultant, Champagne noted in her decision, adding “his life and lifestyle have been seemingly unhampered by his third bankruptcy.”
Rotenberg told the Star he drives a Honda. The other car in the driveway, a dark grey 2018 Cadillac sedan, is registered to his wife, vehicle records show. He said that when he travels, it is to visit family. The money that the law society found he misappropriated has been paid back, he said. His consultancy’s website says he helps clients with “Dispute resolution with the Canada Revenue Agency.”
Rotenberg said he assumed substantial liabilities from a business partner who had been managing the books which, coupled with serious health problems, left Rotenberg unable to work and continue to pay creditors and led to his third bankruptcy. He said the court will not let him re-apply for his discharge until 2021.
The courts can refuse a discharge when the debtors’ behaviour has been particularly reprehensible.
In 2015, a Quebec court decided it was the best way to handle the fifth bankruptcy of Stéphane Flynn. In an interview, Flynn blamed his bankruptcy on runaway costs in his construction business and clients who didn’t pay on time. In reviewing the case, the judge saw a man with more than $500,000 in debts who treated bankruptcy as a way to escape his debts.
“It is extraordinary that he has been allowed to do so multiple times without opposition to his release,” registrar David Cousineau wrote in his decision to refuse Flynn’s discharge.
Except it was not extraordinary. Discharge has become routine for repeat bankruptcies.
Of the 395 proceedings involving fourth- and fifth-time bankruptcies that were completed between 2011 and 2018, just 21 resulted in a discharge being refused, according to federal data. That’s five per cent.
In every other case, registrars gave a conditional or suspended discharge. (The majority of fourth- and fifth-time bankruptcies filed during these years have not yet had a discharge ruling, according to the data).
The willingness to grant discharges marks a notable shift from how courts historically treated repeat bankruptcies, their decisions guided by an often-quoted judgment that a “third bankruptcy is one too many.”
“Third-time bankruptcies are of grave concern, often demonstrating a degree of irresponsibility that justifies simply refusing a discharge,” Manitoba Justice Colleen Suche said in 2012 in upholding a decision to deny a three-time bankrupt a release, forcing him to re-apply in a year.
Michael Bray, a retired registrar in New Brunswick who presided over insolvency hearings from 1999 to 2013, said the stigma surrounding bankruptcy has diminished. He said stiff sanctions can be used to dissuade a debtor from returning to insolvency.
“It used to be that most people that came for their first-time bankruptcy…a lot of them never wanted to be here again. I think that feeling is gone now,” he said.
“If the courts don’t impose a good sanction, then it’s not difficult to be a three-, four- or five- (time bankrupt).”
Canada’s Superintendent of Bankruptcy, whose office regulates and supervises the insolvency system, would not be interviewed for this article.
In written answers, her office said insolvency laws contain “safeguards against potential abuse,” and the decision to discharge a debtor with three- or more- bankruptcies is a matter of judicial discretion based on the circumstances of each case.
Some trustees say the court’s shift stems from repeat bankruptcies becoming more common and, as their shock value dissipates, registrars are growing more sympathetic to how financially tenuous many Canadians have become.
Another theory is that registrars, aware that creditors almost never attend court to oppose discharges, are asking: If the people owed money don’t care enough to be here, why should I dole out a harsh penalty?
“That was the frustrating part of that job. You’re supposed to be somewhat of a gatekeeper but no one is complaining,” said Scott Nettie, a registrar in Toronto bankruptcy court from 2005 to 2012 with a reputation of coming down hard on debtors who misused the system.
“I know there are registrars across the country who, in those situations where no one is there (opposing discharge) and no one is complaining, they’re like, ‘go forth and sin no more,’ ” Nettie said. “Then there are others, and I was one of these, who struggled with: ‘But it’s not right.’ ”
Among the least engaged creditors, according to Nettie and other trustees and registrars, are credit card companies.
Credit lenders rarely oppose a discharge and once discharged, many repeat bankrupts have little trouble securing more credit.
A Nova Scotia man filing his fifth bankruptcy had amassed more than $20,000 in credit card debt, even though two of his earlier bankruptcies remained on his credit report. A businessman from Collingwood, Ontario, had 10 cards in his wallet and owed more than $64,000 when he filed his third bankruptcy in 2014.
Those credit card companies may only recover a portion of what they’re owed.
“They don’t care,” said Nettie. “They’ve already costed the price of losing that part of the business completely into what they charge the rest of the paying customers. Why would they pay good money after bad to pay someone to come (to oppose in court).”
A spokesperson from the Canadian Bankers Association said the country’s banks are prudent lenders that only offer credit to borrowers they believe can and will repay the loan.
Losing money to a four-time bankrupt was not something Dieter Gauger could easily absorb. In 2013, Gauger, a retired millwright, and his wife Edith hired a Hamilton contractor to renovate their Stoney Creek townhouse.
The contract said the work would cost $65,000. But after collecting $60,000, the contractor, Stephen Monahan, left the house unfinished and unliveable, Dieter said. The Gaugers drained thousands from their retirement savings to pay someone else to complete the renovations while they stayed in a Super 8 Motel. The Gaugers took Monahan to court, where in 2015, they got a default judgment for nearly $36,400.
But Gauger does not expect to see any of that.
Two months after the court order, Monahan filed for bankruptcy, his fourth. Described by one registrar as “a menace to credit system,” Monahan told the court his first three bankruptcies were his own fault, the consequences of poorly managing his business. His latest, with nearly $93,000 in debts, was the result of cancer, he said. He said his prognosis is grim.
“I’m very sorry to the people I owe money to and I’m sorry for my failures,” he told the court at his October hearing. Citing his poor health, the court issued Monahan a suspended discharge. He can be free of the debts as early as summer 2020, as long as he pays roughly $1,600 in outstanding administration costs.
For Gauger, it doesn’t feel just.
“I lost $36,000,” the 76-year-old Gauger said. “The system worked for Monahan but not for me.”
The problem of repeat bankruptcies is particularly prominent in Canada’s eastern provinces.
Since 2011, Nova Scotia has had the most repeat bankruptcies per capita in the country with 75 for every 100,000 residents — more than double the national average.
The high rates are likely fueled by a combination of low wages, an unstable job market and a high cost of living, especially in places like Cape Breton, said Rob Hunt, a trustee with Grant Thornton based in Nova Scotia.
“We find people have then relied on credit to bridge their income,” he said. “People finally get to the boiling point where they’ve exhausted their credit and they can’t afford to keep making the monthly payments.”
More than half of the roughly 9,360 Canadians who filed their third bankruptcy between 2011 and 2018 lived in Quebec. For fourth-time bankruptcies, Quebec’s portion climbs to 74 per cent.
And of the 88 Canadians who declared bankruptcy for a fifth time, almost all of them — 90 percent — lived in Quebec.
Insolvency experts within Quebec say they are stunned by the numbers but offer a variety of possible reasons.
Quebec is the only province going back to the late 1980s that has consistently had higher rates of consumer bankruptcy per capita than the national average.
The province has among the lowest rates of disposable income per resident in the country, which could mean fewer Quebec debtors can afford to settle their debts through scheduled payments under a consumer proposal and instead opt for bankruptcy. A consumer proposal, another form of insolvency, is a settlement in which a debtor repays a percentage of what is owed and is an alternative to bankruptcy.
Research has found French-speaking Canadians scored lower on financial literacy than their English counterparts.
The Quebec numbers are also partially due to inconsistencies in the sanctions imposed on bankrupts from courthouse to courthouse and province to province.
How it is supposed to work is spelled out in the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. A first-time bankrupt will be automatically discharged after nine or 21 months, unless there is opposition. Changes introduced in 2009 allow for automatic discharges for unopposed second bankruptcies with a waiting time of two or three years. Subsequent bankruptcies must go to court where a judge decides on sanctions.
This is where the system’s consistency unspools.
In Toronto, trustees say the court will postpone the discharge hearing of a third-time bankrupt for at least three years, then delay a discharge for another nine or 12 months.
“The court is of the opinion that a third-time bankrupt shouldn’t be able to get out faster than a second-time bankrupt,” said trustee Mark Morgan from David Sklar & Associates.
But that’s not how it works across the country. In 2018, a labourer living in small-town Quebec was discharged from her third bankruptcy just two years after she filed it. A year later, she again declared insolvency, this time filing a consumer proposal.
Consumer proposals have overtaken bankruptcies as a preferred way to handle debt, particularly in provinces such as Ontario. However, the federal government says it does not track repeat proposals, meaning the rate of repeat insolvencies may be much higher than the data suggests.
The government’s 2009 changes also inadvertently softened oversight, shielding debtors from the scrutiny of the courts until they arrive before it for a third time, according to some trustees and one former registrar.
“This may signal that going bankrupt twice is not as serious as it is. This may be in part what’s led to an increase in recidivism,” Morgan said.
Joseph Cloutier is a 48-year-old drywaller in Toronto who, at his peak, could bring in $4,000 a week. But he never put money aside for taxes. When he filed his first bankruptcy in 2008, he owed the CRA $22,000; during his second, in 2011, he owed $60,000. He received automatic discharges both times.
In 2016, Cloutier again filed for bankruptcy. His CRA debt: $124,000.
“I’m terrible at managing money. I’ve been terrible all my life,” Cloutier said. “I’m one of these people with an addictive personality. If you’re going to give me a million dollars, I’ll spend it all by next week.”
In November, a Toronto court ruled that Cloutier could be discharged from his third bankruptcy in 15 months with conditions, including that he first pay the CRA debt that had been mounting since he filed his latest bankruptcy.
Law professor Thomas Telfer said the law should be tightened so cases like this, in which a second bankruptcy is filed within three years of the first one being discharged, do not qualify for automatic discharge. Instead, the debtor would go to court where a registrar can determine whether the debtor is honest but unfortunate or abusing the system.
A decade ago, trustee Mark Morgan co-wrote an article about “the revolving door of bankruptcy” and the rising rates of recidivism. Still, he says it “blows his mind” to learn from the Star and La Presse that 88 Canadians have declared bankruptcy five times since 2011.
“It shouldn’t be that easy,” Morgan said. “They’re basically thumbing their noses at the system. I know you can’t do anything to me because you haven’t the first, second, third or fourth time.”
His article outlined strategies to stem what he saw as a growing problem. They included more financial education for youth and new Canadians, more consistent sanctions and expanded counselling, as the two sessions required under the Act aren’t enough to fix “a lifetime of bad” financial behaviour, he said.
“Recidivism will continue to be a problem as long as society, creditors, the courts and the insolvency community allow it to be,” Morgan warned.
In May 2016, seven years after Morgan’s call to action, Kenneth Nantel was again seeking to get liberated from more debt.
It was Nantel’s fifth bankruptcy in 16 years, filed just eight days after he was discharged from his fourth. Much of the $37,000 he owed was to the government, and he blamed his money problems on a loss of income.
He was earning roughly $3,300 a month as a mechanic, enough for him to make surplus income payments to increase the amount of money his creditors would receive.
“If it was his second bankruptcy, the debtor would have to pay a total of $17,748 over 36 months,” Nantel’s trustee noted in his submissions.
Even though it was his fifth bankruptcy, the registrar ordered Nantel to pay only $5,916.
When reached by phone, Nantel refused to comment. “I’m not really interested in talking about what happened in the past,” he said before hanging up.
Nantel can be discharged from his fifth bankruptcy as early as September 2020.
Source: Toronto Star – JESSE MCLEANDECEMBER 09, 2019
This investigation was done in partnership with Katia Gagnon and Marie-Eve Fournier of La Presse.Data analysis by Andrew Bailey.With reporting contributions from Bryan Meler and Jaye Williams of the Ryerson School of Journalism
After you file a consumer proposal, the last thing on your mind might be a new mortgage, but you may be a lot closer than you think.
Maybe you wish to buy a home, or you own a home and are interested in refinancing your mortgage. Let’s first talk about purchasing a home.
When Can You Buy A Home After A Consumer Proposal?
Actually, this question comes up often. People want to know how soon can they buy. Sometimes they ask right after they file their consumer proposal, and other times it’s more than five years later, after they’ve paid it off in full.
First things first: pay off your consumer proposal completely before you take on major new mortgage debt.
If you have at least a 20% down payment, you may even be able to buy as soon as you complete your consumer proposal! As in, immediately.
You will almost always be working with either a B-lender or a private lender, but it is doable. But it’s more than just a matter of having finished your consumer proposal. Make sure you have been rebuilding your personal credit history—with new credit facilities and by cleaning up reporting errors. (There are ALWAYS reporting errors after you file a consumer proposal)
If you have less than 20% down payment, you will be looking for a high-ratio mortgage, which has default insurance, from one of CMHC, Genworth or Canada Guaranty.
In that case, you will need at least two years of clean, new credit since you completed your consumer proposal. But it’s best if you have at least two tradelines (credit card, loan, line of credit, etc.) with limits greater than $2,000.
Worst case scenario, three years after you completed your proposal, or six years after you filed your proposal (whichever comes first) it will fall off your credit report and whether or not you qualify for a mortgage to purchase a home will depend on the usual mortgage qualification criteria we all face.
When Can You Refinance Your Home After A Consumer Proposal?
This, too, can happen very quickly—in fact, we have helped numerous homeowners refinance their homes so they could complete their consumer proposal early. In some cases, it was as soon as the terms of their proposal were ratified in court.
This is what we call a lump-sum consumer proposal, and can be a very attractive way to settle your debts if you are a homeowner.
Should You Pay Off Your Consumer Proposal When You Refinance?
Actually, there are a few private lenders who will allow you to leave your proposal unpaid while you extract equity from your home. But unless there are specific, logical reasons to doing this, it’s not something I recommend.
I prefer refinancing to completely pay off the remaining balance owing on the consumer proposal. There may also be other things you need money for at the same time—like a home improvement project or a child’s higher education, or other family debts.
CRA debt crops up quite a lot too, particularly for those who are self-employed. You can take care of all these at the same time, provided you pay off the consumer proposal.
Why Would You Pay off Your Consumer Proposal Early?
1) Fear of the mortgage renewal. This concern is very real if your mortgage lender had a credit card or loan product included in your consumer proposal. They might have no interest in offering you a renewal when your current mortgage matures. So, you need to get in front of this issue as soon as you can, if your situation allows for it.
2) A strong desire to rebuild your personal credit history. Once you file your CP, your credit score is going to take a major beating. All debts included in the proposal will be reporting as R7s on your personal credit report.
Worse than that, some of them will be erroneously reporting as R9s—written off completely.
And some credit cards may say they were included in a bankruptcy, even though that is not true.
A few credit cards even report ongoing late payments after the proposal was filed. And sometimes even after the proposal is completed!
If you want to fix the damage to your personal credit report resulting from your consumer proposal, you are going to have to wait until it is paid in full and you have a completion certificate from your trustee. Here is additional information on rebuilding credit after a consumer proposal.
3) Wish to be normal. When you have bad credit, everything in life seems tougher and more expensive. Even if you wish to rent a home, not buy one, the landlord will usually ask for a copy of your credit report.
And if you want a new smartphone, or lease or finance a new car, bad credit will make all this that much harder.
If you allow your consumer proposal to run the full five years, that means it could be in your credit history six years altogether. It falls off three years after you complete, so keep that in mind. You can significantly shorten the waiting time by paying the consumer proposal off early.
4) Improve cash flow. In nearly all cases when we refinance a home where the owner is paying off a consumer proposal, they see an improvement in their monthly cash outflows. In a society where half of us are living paycheque to paycheque, this is attractive.
How Do You Refinance To Pay Off A Consumer Proposal?
First, your mortgage broker will do a thorough assessment of whether or not this is even doable. S/he will assess the marketability of your property, the amount of untapped equity, the reasons behind you filing your consumer proposal, as well as all the normal stuff lenders look at when reviewing a mortgage application.
An important consideration is your current first mortgage. Was it just renewed, or is it nearing maturity? Which lender is it with, and what might the prepayment penalty be if you were to break it and refinance to a new first mortgage with a B-lender?
Another consideration is whether or not your first mortgage is registered as a collateral charge, and if so, to what amount is it registered? We wrote about this a few months ago— it can make things difficult.
If refinancing the current mortgage makes sense, your broker will present your application and a presentation to the B-lenders most likely to entertain a file like yours. And s/he will bring back quotes for your consideration. If you choose to proceed, most of the time the entire process can be wrapped up in four to six weeks.
We actually see that happen less often than the other approach,which is to first apply for a private second mortgage.
In this scenario, the first mortgage is left intact and a new lender is found who will lend enough money to cover the proposal balance, any other debts and needs, and all the expenses associated with the mortgage.
During the term of the second mortgage (usually one year), we take the opportunity to cleanse all the reporting errors from the credit report, and also to strengthen the borrower’s credit profile with new healthy credit.
After a year, (longer if that makes sense) we then refinance the two mortgages into a single first mortgage.
It would be normal to expect this new replacement mortgage to be with a B-lender, since the consumer proposal is still fairly fresh. Here are some insights into how to do this.
Ultimately, the goal is to take the homeowners back to the world of A-lenders. That is usually possible after three years, but we have seen instances where it happened much sooner.
But it was never going to happen if the clients didn’t first make the decision to pay off the consumer proposal ahead of schedule.
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.
Not all consumer debt is bad but it’s wise to be cautious: expert
Increasing the amount of consumer debt isn’t necessarily bad as long as it’s affordable, according to Matt Fabian, director, research and industry analysis, at credit research company TransUnion.
TransUnion studies Canadian debt and produces a report every quarter. Their latest report is for the second quarter, ending June 30. In an interview, Fabian said the study is providing an overview of debt in relation to how fast income rates are rising and household net worth is increasing.
“Our study this quarter suggests that Canadians are still increasing their debt, up 3.9 per cent in the second quarter, compared to the same quarter a year ago,” he said.
“A couple of things that we note are, although debt continued to go up, the rate with which it increased has started to slow for the past couple of quarters, when you compare it annually,” said Fabian.
“It might be too early to say we’re at … an inflection point but the combination of interest rates increasing and some economic uncertainty in different regions of Canada are giving people pause and maybe they may not be accumulating as much debt as they were, at the rate they were,” he said.
There is some good news coming from the Atlantic region, Fabian said of the quarterly study.
Although the economy can be volatile in the Atlantic region, he said, TransUnion sees provinces like Nova Scotia performing much better than the national average.
The average non-mortgage consumer debt in Nova Scotia is about $28,400 and only went up about 1.24 per cent on a year-over-year basis, said Fabian. New Brunswick is similar, even slightly less, at $27,300 and it went up about 2.37 per cent. Prince Edward Island had average non-mortgage consumer debt of $28,426, which is up 2.16 per cent in the second quarter, compared to the same quarter in 2017.
Newfoundland and Labrador came in under the national average in the second quarter as well, he said, with average non-mortgage consumer debt landing at $30,169, up 2.16 per cent when compared to the second quarter of 2017.
Generally, the Atlantic provinces are well below the national average non-mortgage debt, which increased by 3.87 per cent in the second quarter, said Fabian. From a delinquency perspective, however, the region scored “a little bit higher” than the second quarter national average of 5.33 per cent.
New Brunswick’s consumer delinquency rates on non-mortgage debt in the second quarter – 90 days past due – was 8.37 per cent, the highest in the region.
According to TransUnion, Newfoundland and Labrador’s consumer delinquency rate was 6.88 per cent, Nova Scotia’s delinquencies were 6.87 per cent and P.E.I. had a consumer delinquency rate in the second quarter of 5.74 per cent.
“Newfoundland (delinquency rate) trended up .32 per cent while Nova Scotia went down about 0.7 per cent,” Fabian said. “Halifax among the major cities has amongst the lowest consumer debt, about $26,000, and it was the only major city in Canada that had negative consumer debt growth (in the second quarter).”
When one takes into context growing household net worth consumer debt is not necessarily a bad thing, Fabian said. “I think the fact that delinquency rates are a little bit higher might be a little bit concerning from a risk perspective but they’re not way out of whack and delinquency rates tend to have a long tail. So, some of the Atlantic provinces for sure are coming out of a little bit of a slump economically and it takes, sometimes, 12 to 24 months to manifest itself in delinquency rates.”
Fabian said as the economy bounces back it leads to jobs and increased salaries, so it seems reasonable to be optimistic about the debt situation.
“We tell people, generally, there’s two things to keep in mind. Understand how much you can afford. So, from a delinquency perspective there’s the notion of stress testing and you should kind of stress test yourself.
“When you’re looking to take out debt or increasing your credit card payments, by putting something on your credit card or taking out a line of credit for a renovation, or whatever it might be, don’t just consider the position you’re in right now and say, ‘Yeah, I can afford that $300 monthly payment.’ But kind of consider your cash flow and maybe, take into account your circumstance to say: ‘Could I cover that payment in the event that I lose my job.’ Or, ‘Can I cover that payment for three months while I’m looking for another job.’ This is what we call … stress testing yourself to see if you can absorb that shock should there be some unforeseen event.”
By taking a realistic view of debt and one’s ability to manage it, Fabian says it will provide a little bit of comfort for an individual to realize they really are comfortable taking on some additional debt, he said.
“From a balance perspective, as long as you feel like you can take that on, I don’t know if taking on credit debt is necessarily a bad thing, it depends on what you’re doing it for. If it’s a mortgage or a line of credit to renovate your home or something like to improve the value of an asset or property for investing then that might be a good use of your debt. If it’s to buy new shoes or go on a vacation because you just want to, might not be the best use of your debt,” Fabian concluded.
Source: Cape Breton Post – Roger Taylor Published: Sep 24, 2018 at 3:34 p.m.
3 million Canadians have home equity lines of credit, but half of us don’t know how they work
A survey suggests 35 per cent of Canadians have a home equity line of credit and 19 per cent said they’d borrowed more than they intended. (Canadian Press)
Over the past 15 years, home equity lines of credit have emerged as the driver of mounting non-mortgage debt in Canada — yet many Canadians don’t understand what they’ve signed up for and are not moving to pay them off, a new survey suggests.
The more than three million Canadians holding a HELOC owed an average amount of $65,000, the study released Tuesday by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) found. About one quarter of HELOC holders had a balance of more than $150,000.
Yet 25 per cent of respondents said they only made the interest payments month to month.
Ipsos conducted the online survey of 4,800 Canadians, most of them homeowners, from June 5-28, 2018, on behalf FCAC, a federal agency that promotes financial education.
HELOCs are revolving credit products secured against the equity in a home. Banks can lend up to 65 per cent of the value of a home. Such lines of credit have been easy to get and banks offer them as a default credit option to anyone with home equity.
Of the homeowners surveyed, 54 per cent had a mortgage and 35 per cent had a HELOC.
Cheap source of credit
“You can’t deny the fact that for the consumer it is a cheap source of credit. However, you have to use it well,” said Michael Toope, communications strategist for FCAC.
The problem is that people borrow more than they intended and end up struggling with the debt, he said.
The survey suggested there is a lack of understanding among consumers of how these lines of credit work.
Only half of respondents knew basic facts about the terms of HELOCs, such as:
Banks can raise the rate of a HELOC at any time.
The bank can demand the balance of a HELOC at any time.
There are fees to transfer a HELOC to another institution.
The bank can raise or lower the credit limit on a HELOC.
Interest rates began climbing in 2017 and 2018 and are likely to rise further this year. That affects the interest cost of these loans and the overall cost of paying them off. Your HELOC is more expensive than a mortgage as the interest rate is higher.
“Each bank sets its own prime rate based on the Bank of Canada rate and HELOCs are usually set at prime plus a premium, but the bank can change that premium at their discretion,” Toope said.
For some, HELOCs are risky
Almost two-thirds of respondents said they used their HELOC only or mostly as intended, as a revolving line of credit.
Yet for some, HELOCs are a risky product that eats away at their ability to build wealth, Toope said.
The equity they build in their home as they pay off a mortgage is a way for Canadians to build wealth over time, but that won’t happen if they have a debt secured by the house.
“In the end, you’re losing the long-term value of the mortgage you have in your home,” Toope said.
In a 2017 report, FCAC found home equity lines of credit may be putting some Canadians at risk of over-borrowing.
That report found most consumers do not repay their HELOC in full until they sell their home.
About 19 per cent of respondents to the new survey said they’d borrowed more than they intended.
How much do I owe?
And 18 per cent said they did not know the full balance on their HELOC.
Among those who paid only the interest on the debt, the majority were young Canadians, aged 25 to 34. That’s not unusual, as people at that stage of life tend to have lower incomes and may be burdened with student debt as well as a mortgage, but it still indicates a lack of understanding, Toope said.
About half of respondents said they used their HELOC for a renovation, but another 22 per cent consolidated other debt. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)
The survey found 62 per cent of those who paid only the interest expected to repay their HELOC in full within five years, a plan Toope called a “mathematical impossibility.”
Half of Canadians borrowed against their HELOCs for renovations, but another 22 per cent dipped into it for debt consolidation, with vehicle purchases and daily expenses also common uses, according to the survey.
“People should know what they are going to use it for and how to pay it down, so it doesn’t become an eternal revolving debt,” Toope said.