Tag Archives: credit issues


African American girl puts money in piggy bank

One thing that traditionally hasn’t been a strong suit in the Black family – and simultaneously, a detriment – is passing down healthy money habits to ensure financial stability for future generations.

In the technology age, however, that is beginning to change as more Black parents are building a foundation for their children to learn financial responsibility at an early age, hoping it’ll drive their decision making in adulthood.

“There is nothing righteous about struggling for your financial security,” Sabrina Lamb, a financial literacy educator, explained in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. “It is actually a perfect storm of low self-esteem, lack of knowledge and generational conditioning.”

In order to break bad generational habits of spending money, parents must first take an introspective look to see how they’ve been holding up financially – only then can a parent truly impart wisdom on their child about good spending habits.

Here are some tips to start the conversation with your young ones.

Save, save, save!

It’s never too early to show your child the importance of saving money. On birthdays and holidays, for example, teach your child to put at least 30 percent of the cash they received into a piggy bank  – or, an actual bank savings account.  This will become routine so every time your little one gets some extra cash as a gift, they’ll immediately think to save it.

Teach the value of money.

So many children actually think money just appears into their parents’ pockets. Be direct in teaching your child that that’s not the case. Think about ways to make your child work for the money they’re seeking to purchase toys, video games or anything else they like – perhaps, a weekly payout for chores. This way your children will feel some type of way when spending the money that they actually worked their butts off for.

Discuss bills and budgets openly.

Now, it’s typical in many traditionally Black households that adults frequently tell children to stay out of “grown folks business.” Because of this, Black parents tend to never discuss any financial hurdles they may be facing – such as problems making mortgage payments – or even the growing costs of bills. It’s important to show your children how bills work. Like, for example, how leaving the lights on in every room translates into how much money the family owes on the monthly electricity bill.

Practice what you preach. 

Children mimic everything they see their parents do. So, if you recklessly use your credit cards to buy clothes, jewelry and other non-necessities at the mall, your children will adopt that behavior without understanding the consequences of it. Be the financially responsible person that you want your children to be.


Source: BlackDoctor.org – 

African American girl puts money in piggy bank

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How new mortgage rules hammer indebted households

The Toronto housing market’s rotten January has thrown a scare into veteran mortgage broker John Cocomile.

A lot of Mr. Cocomile’s business in recent years has been mortgage refinancings, which are like a financial-stress reducer. When your household debt gets too high, refinancing takes the pressure off by folding all your borrowings in with your mortgage. What worries Mr. Cocomile is that the latest developments in housing make it much harder to refinance.

We’ve seen household-debt levels push ever higher in recent years, with no evident repercussions in terms of more people being unable to repay what they owe. Now that refinancings are no longer an easy fallback, Mr. Cocomile thinks we’ve hit an inflection point where more people will find their debt unmanageable. This could be the year debt gets messy.

A big reason why Toronto home sales fell 22 per cent compared with January, 2017, was the introduction of new mortgage regulations designed to make the housing market more stable going forward.

The rules include a stress test that applies to anyone with a mortgage that isn’t insured against default. Typically, this means people with a down payment of 20 per cent or more and people who are refinancing.

The stress test is designed to see if borrowers can afford interest rates that are higher than the abnormally low levels of today. At Mr. Cocomile’s office, a lot of people are flunking the test. He’s had 10 people contact him about refinancing this year who did not end up qualifying. “All 10 would have qualified a year ago,” he says.

Meanwhile, debt loads are getting heavier to carry. The Bank of Canada has increased its trend-setting overnight rate three times since last summer, and the cumulative rate increase on some kinds of debt is a hefty 0.75 of a percentage point.

In the past few years, Mr. Cocomile would do roughly 60 refinancings a year for people with an average $70,000 in non-mortgage debt that he summarized as “a smattering of credit-card debt, plus lines of credit.” The usual procedure was to put them in a new mortgage that included credit-card and line-of-credit debt. The logic here is that the mortgage has a much lower interest rate than other forms of debt, and payments are manageable because they’re stretched over the life of the mortgage.

Even so, Mr. Cocomile finds that clients usually have to go with a 30-year amortization in their refinanced mortgage. Paying off your mortgage over 30 years isn’t possible when you have an insured mortgage, but you can still do it with a down payment of 20 per cent or more.

Refinancings in which people increased the amount they owe accounted for 21 per cent of the one million or so new mortgages issued in 2016, the most recent numbers from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. show. That’s an increase of 3.8 per cent over the previous year.

You’re usually allowed to refinance no more than 80 per cent of the value of your home, a modest limitation in hot real-estate markets where rising prices have steadily handed people more home equity to work with. “People could refinance because the value was there,” Mr. Cocomile said. “They call me and say, ‘My neighbour’s house just sold for $1.7-million, can I pull some equity out? I want to do a refi.'”

Toronto real estate’s rotten January suggest people may be a bit disappointed in what their homes are worth now. The price of detached homes in the city fell 9 per cent on a year-over-year basis, even as condo prices rose 14.6 per cent. Mr. Cocomile finds that home appraisers are reacting to the current environment by getting more conservative with their assessments of how much homes are worth.

Refinancing your mortgage by folding in other debts makes sense in theory because you’re converting higher-rate debt into a mortgage, which typically has a very low rate. But a refinance does nothing to address the behaviour that leads people to over-borrow. In fact, some people have exploited rising house prices by doing multiple refinancings over time to ease their debt loads.

It’s arguably a good thing that refinancings are harder to get in 2018. With rates rising, it’s time for households to attack their debt, not accommodate it.

Preet Banerjee examines the pros and cons of switching to a fixed-rate mortgage.
Source: Globe and Mail –
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How to improve your credit score



A credit score of 700 gets you the best lending rate from the banks. But if you’ve missed some bill payments—or worse, filed for bankruptcy—you’ll have to work strategically to build your score back up. These tips will help you do it as quickly as possible.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS Try to keep your credit-card balance well below the limit. If your cards are almost maxed out, it suggests you’re overextended and more likely to make late or missed payments. The higher your balance, the more impact it has on your credit score.

CHECK YOUR SCORES—BOTH OF THEM Anyone contemplating a bank loan should check their credit score six months to a year in advance to ensure there are no surprises or errors. Just keep in mind that Canada has two major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax and TransUnion. This can lead to significant differences in scores, as these firms only synchronize their scores every two months.

STEER CLEAR OF RETAIL CARDS The next time you’re tempted to sign up for a Brick or Sears card, remember that each separate credit card application inquiry results in a ‘hard check’ that lowers your credit score by seven points. If your score is around 700 and you’re house hunting, signing up for a couple of retail cards could mean the difference between getting the best mortgage lending rate or a much higher ‘B-lender’ rate.

JUST PAY IT Paying off your debts quickly is one of the most effective ways to raise your score. If you’ve missed some bills and your score hovers around 600, it will likely take a year to boost it up 100 points to an optimal 700—assuming you’ve made good on all arrears. A score of 500, indicating bankruptcy, will take two to three years to repair.

HISTORY COUNTS If you have no track record of borrowing money and paying it back, chances are you’ve got a low credit score because lenders have nothing to gauge your credit worthiness against. So if you have a credit card but never use it, you can increase your score by making occasional purchases and paying them off. And think twice about closing an old account you don’t use anymore, as having a 10-year-old account actually helps you demonstrate a credit history.

MoneySense.ca – by   


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5 things your debt collector isn’t telling you

For starters, evening calls are off limits

1. You don’t have to pay me. In most provinces, there’s a two- to six-year statute of limitations for collecting debts that comes into play after you make your last payment. If the statute has expired, you don’t technically have to pay a cent. Be careful though: Making a new payment or a written acknowledgement restarts the statute.

2. My deadlines are bogus. “Whenever a bill collector gives someone a deadline, 99% of the time they’ve just picked it out of the air,” says debt expert and author Mark Silverthorn. He’s simply trying to create a sense of urgency to intimidate you. Your response? Keep calm and don’t rise to the bait.

3. I can’t contact you more than three times a week. After an initial conversation with you, most provinces forbid debt collectors from contacting debtors more than this—and phone calls, emails, even voice mails all count. So if a collector is exceeding this, inform him he’s breaking the law. Just the fact that you’re aware should spook him.

4. Evening calls are off limits. In most provinces, collectors can’t call early in the morning or late at night. Take Ontario, where contact between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. is forbidden. On Sunday, it’s limited to between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. If you’re getting contacted outside lawful hours, be sure to keep records of the phone number and time of call, and file a complaint with a provincial regulator.

5. I probably won’t be suing you. Original creditors usually decide to sue within six months and typically won’t do it for amounts under $4,000. (Worth noting: They are more inclined to sue home owners). Third-party collection agencies, on the other hand, collect commissions on the amount of arrears they can get from you, and generally aren’t in the business of suing, says Silverthorn. In fact, they pursue legal action on fewer than 10% of their accounts. “As long as you’re getting the collection calls, then you are probably not going to be sued.”


Source MoneySense.ca – by  

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Good debt, bad debt and good bad debt


Canadians owe more money than ever, but not all debt will kill you

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: MoneySense.ca – by  January 5th, 2016

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What’s his, what’s hers


When divorcing partners divide their assets, the split isn’t always as fair as it first appears. Here’s what you need to know.

Two weeks after his divorce, Phil Doughty received a blunt letter from his ex-wife’s lawyer. It informed him he’d contravened his settlement by not giving his ex her $100,000 share of his pension within 10 days of the divorce.

“It was a knockdown punch,” says the retired teacher from Montreal. “I had no idea I had to pay her right away, or that the money would come directly out of my pension fund.” Doughty thought his ex would simply get a share of his benefit after he stopped working. “I’d never heard of a company taking money out of a pension eight years before retirement.”

With his pension fund depleted, Doughty’s monthly cheques were reduced by over a third when he eventually retired, yet he was still required to pay spousal support from what remained, leaving him strapped. “I had to find another lawyer to help me get out of those support payments I couldn’t afford anymore.”

Doughty (we’ve changed his name, and those of all the featured subjects in this article) believes his pension arrangement should have been handled differently—at the very least it should have been explained to him properly. “I guess it was just something the lawyers worked out between them,” he says. “My lawyer and I never really talked about the pension.”

It seems hard to believe a lawyer would not talk to a client about how such an important asset would be divided, but Doughty insists he would have remembered such a conversation. His situation is just one example of how partners frequently get divorced without understanding all the financial implications.

“Divorce changes a person’s financial situation dramatically and often there is no planning for it,” says Debbie Hartzman, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst in Kingston, Ont., and co-author of Divorce Isn’t Easy, But It Can Be Fair. (CDFAs are planners with additional training in the financial impact of separation and divorce. See “Where to get help,” at the bottom of this page.) “I’ve had clients say things like, ‘I just spent four years fighting with my ex, I have this cheque for $400,000, and I have no idea what that means in terms of my financial future.’”

Surely part of a lawyer’s job entails discussing financial matters surrounding divorce. Apart from custody of children, aren’t money and property the big issues in divorce? “A family lawyer’s job includes giving advice about a number of financial issues, but we are not financial analysts,” says Bruce Clark, who observed many divorce-related financial problems during his 35-year career as a family lawyer in Toronto.

Lawyers may not anticipate the long-term implications of divorce-related financial matters. For example, Hartzman explains it’s possible to have different divisions of assets that all meet the 50/50 requirements of the law but have profoundly different financial consequences for the divorcing partners. Her book includes a case study that presents different ways to legally divide the assets of a middle-class couple. Both are 58 years old, and the largest assets are the house and pensions (his is four times more valuable than hers). In one scenario, the assets are split more or less equally, so the initial net worth of the two partners is about the same. However, her share of the man’s pension is paid out as a lump sum, and the support payments are not structured to reflect the fact his post-retirement income will be higher than hers. As a result, after age 65 the woman’s net worth and monthly cash flow flatline, while the man’s relative financial situation steadily improves. “The person with the pension can end up in a much better financial position than the person with the house, particularly if the pension is indexed to inflation,” says Jim Doyle, a CDFA with Investors Group in Vancouver.

Here’s a different scenario: she keeps the house and gets only a quarter of his pension. To the untrained eye that seems to be simply an alternative way of dividing the pie equally. Yet this arrangement ensures the woman’s net worth stays similar to the man’s for the rest of their lives, without diminishing his financial situation.

Of course, case studies do not translate into rules that ensure ideal financial arrangements for every divorcing couple. That’s why it’s a good idea to consult a financial professional as well as a lawyer if you’re going through divorce or separation.

Don’t assume every asset must be split down the middle. “People often want to split up each individual asset, but not all assets are created equal. It’s usually better to look at assets in terms of how to divide the whole cake,” says Hartzman.

Pinched pensions

Doughty is not the first divorced person to be subject to pension shock. Many people don’t even realize pensions have to be shared after divorce, says Clark. “In my experience, most people consider their pensions to be their personal property, as opposed to an asset that must be shared equally after a divorce. In a longer-term marriage the pension is often the single biggest asset.”

This was the case for Doughty and his ex-wife, who had sold their matrimonial home shortly before separating. By law his ex-wife was entitled to half the teacher’s pension that accumulated during their marriage.

“Pensions are very, very complicated assets,” says Sharon Numerow, a CDFA and divorce mediator with Alberta Divorce Finances in Calgary. “Defined benefit pensions must be independently valued by an actuary, and the rules about paying out a spouse vary from province to province.” For example, in Alberta there are no longer any provincial pension plans that allow monthly payouts to an ex-spouse when the member spouse retires. Therefore, the only option is to give the ex-spouse a designated value that is transferred into a Locked-In Retirement Account or LIRA (called a locked-in RRSP in some provinces). “This almost always has to be done after the separation agreement is signed, and not usually at retirement,” says Numerow.

On the other hand, Ontario recently adjusted its Family Statute Law in the opposite direction. Now a portion of a person’s pension payments can be made directly to an ex-spouse after retirement. Another possibility is for the spouse without the pension to get another asset equal to the value.

Bottom line, don’t underestimate the potential for misunderstanding pension division. It’s important to work with your lawyer to understand the legal issues, then talk to a financial planner who can help you appreciate the short-, medium- and long-term implications of the division of this and your other assets.

Close to home

Another key, says Hartzman, is determining whether it’s viable for one partner to stay in the family home. There are two main questions: Can one partner actually afford to keep the home? And how will keeping the home affect that person’s financial future?

“Most people I’ve worked with live in houses that require two incomes, so after divorce one person would be trying to maintain the home on half as much income, and often it just isn’t affordable,” Hartzman says. “Can you imagine how hard it is to tell someone already going through the emotional turmoil of divorce that they can’t afford to stay in the family home they and their children are so attached to?”

Sandra Baron, an Ottawa mother of two, did manage to stay in the matrimonial home after her divorce. A financial planner helped her figure out how to pull this off. “My first lawyer really didn’t seem to understand my financial situation,” Baron explains. “I went to see a financial planner and asked if I could afford to buy out the matrimonial home from my husband. He helped me work it out.”

Baron and her spouse had always lived within their means. They had no debt other than a mortgage with much lower principal than they qualified for. That, combined with support payments and Baron’s earning potential (she had been an at-home parent most of her marriage but began doing contract work after the divorce), meant she was able to keep the family home.

The financial planner also gave Baron some tax-saving advice on how to invest some money she had brought into the marriage. Since she had that money before the marriage and kept it in a separate account, it was not an asset that had to be shared equally. However, had she used that money to help pay down the mortgage, it would have become part of the value of the matrimonial home and therefore a joint asset.

This is also the case if one spouse receives an inheritance or gift during the marriage. In most provinces, as long as the money is kept in a separate account it does not have to be divided equally after a divorce. But if it is used to purchase a joint asset, such as a house, it becomes the property of both spouses. (In some jurisdictions growth in the value of the inheritance or gift may count as an asset to be shared.)

Perhaps the biggest factor in Baron’s situation was that she and her husband actually saved money for their separation. “It was almost five years from the time we realized the marriage was likely not able to be repaired that we saved for the eventual separation. Unless the relationship was harmful, I felt it was in the best interest of everyone—particularly the children, who are all that really mattered in the end—to plan and wait so things would be better for them financially.”

It’s a safe bet the path Baron and her ex-husband took is not typical of divorcing couples. Obviously they got along well, even after deciding to separate; they had no debts other than the mortgage and were both well acquainted with their family financial situation. The opposite is much more likely, says Numerow. “It’s common for one partner to know very little about the family finances, and they often don’t know the extent of their debts.”

Lady in red

When Anna Masters, of Taber, Alta., separated from her husband she moved in with her sister and started a new job at a bank. She also applied for a new credit card through that bank, so the person doing the credit check was one of her colleagues. When the Equifax credit report came through, the coworker quietly asked Masters to step into her office. “You are behind in all your bills and credit cards. Most of them are in collections,” the embarrassed colleague said.

“I was horrified,” says Masters. “Even the cell phone bills weren’t paid. I didn’t even know my ex had his own cell phone.”

That’s not the worst of it. Masters’ ex-husband had a line of credit she didn’t know about it, which listed her as a co-signer. Masters says he must have forged her signature on the application.

It’s not hard to find similar tales of woe. Alan Leclair of Winnipeg tried to remortgage his house not long before he and his wife split up. “When the credit check came in the banker said to me, ‘You’ve got debts you didn’t tell me about. You’d better go home and talk to your wife about it,’” says Leclair. These debts were considerable—between $30,000 and $40,000 in unpaid credit card balances. Fortunately, Leclair’s ex-wife eventually agreed to take responsibility for them.

Masters was less fortunate. She got stuck with a big chunk of debt—loans and credit cards her husband was supposed to pay off, but didn’t—as well as the line of credit he’d fraudulently put her name on. “I could only get part-time work at the bank, but I worked every other junk job I could find. It took me three years, but I paid off my share, and in a way I’m glad I went through the experience. I’m in control of my finances now,” Masters says.

The one smart thing Masters feels she did in the lead-up to her separation was to start setting aside money (“Omigod money,” she called it) so she’d have something to fall back on in an emergency. “Even before I realized the full extent of the financial mess we were in, I knew my ex was spending irresponsibly, so I started squirreling money away.” That money—about $3,500, which she kept in a sock hidden under a pile of towels in the linen closet—ended up being used to cover her living expenses during a spell of unemployment after moving to a new town after she was separated.

Leclair did something similar. “I had a friend who was going through a divorce and I asked him for advice. He said, ‘Put a few bucks away.’ So I did.” He hid cash in his house and even left about $500 at a friend’s house. “When the separation happened I was in scramble mode, dealing with all kinds of things. It was comforting to at least know that money was there,” he says.

Clark, the family lawyer, explains any money you stash prior to separation “will still be subject to division, but you will have the use of it while property issues are being sorted out. There is nothing illegal about this as long as you declare the amounts you have put aside.”

Other eye-openers

It’s hardly surprising that people have trouble working through issues like asset division and debt. But the path to divorce is laden with other potential financial mistakes.

One is trying to settle too fast. “People want it settled tomorrow,” says Jim Doyle, the financial planner. “Emotions often determine the choices rather than making the numbers make sense. I say to people, ‘Let’s slow down and do the math.’” He says it’s common for partners to make hasty, ill-advised decisions about asset splitting just to avoid conflict. “Sometimes in relationships where there is an imbalance of power, one person might simply capitulate, resulting in a financial decision that may have negative consequences down the road.”

Don’t ignore the tax implications. “One of the biggest items that is often overlooked in separation and divorce agreements is tax deductions, such as child-care expenses, and credits that may apply to separated and divorced parents,” says Numerow. For example, a divorced parent can claim one child as a dependent, but both parents cannot claim the same child.

Another dangerous road is trading property for time with children. “Big mistake—just don’t do it,” says Numerow. In addition, remember that spousal or child support and asset division are, for the most part, completely separate issues.

Finally, if you’re a common-law spouse, don’t assume the process is the same as it is for married couples. Generally, legal requirements regarding spousal and child support are the same, provided a couple has been living common-law for at least two years (three in some provinces). However, the division of assets is not automatic, as it is in a marriage, which comes as a surprise to many people, Numerow says. “Go to a lawyer and find out what you do and don’t have to share. Laws concerning common-law separations vary by province.”

One message Clark, Numerow and Hartzman all want to get across is this: both partners should always be aware of the family’s financial situation. If one partner is more hands-on with the money, the other at least needs to understand the big picture. “I’ve met a lot of spouses who weren’t involved in the finances and they’re ashamed,” says Numerow. “I tell them, ‘Don’t beat yourself up over it. Now is the time to begin your learning.’ However, if both partners were on top of the family finances it would make divorce a lot easier.”—written by John Hoffman

Where to get help

Certified Divorce Financial Analysts usually charge between $175 and $250 per hour. “If people do their homework and bring in all the relevant financial information, we can usually get a fairly good handle on the situation in two hours,” says CDFA and author Debbie Hartzman. “For an individual, it usually takes no more than three hours overall. With couples it usually takes three sessions of an hour or an hour-and-a-half each.” She notes that a better understanding of your financial situation can save your lawyer’s time, which is much more expensive.

To find a CDFA, do a web search for your town and CDFA, or visit the website of the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (www.institutedfa.com) and search by city, town or area code.

Source: MoneySense.ca – by  



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How Canadian homes became debt traps

underwater mortgage

Source: MoneySense.ca – by   November 13th, 2017

Houses have become another debt-laden income-stream for Canadians

In 1998, Ann bought a one-bedroom condo in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver. Gainfully employed at a printing company, she found the monthly mortgage payments were within her budget (Ann and others quoted in this story asked that Maclean’s not use their full names). The building was on the older side, and eventually she got the itch to update the decor. She intended to replace only her bathroom sink; she ended up renovating the entire bathroom. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, now that I’ve started…’ ” The kitchen came next, then the living room and finally the bedroom. Ann thought the renos, funded partly on credit and spaced out over a few months, would boost her condo’s value. She also wanted to keep up with her neighbours. “Everyone was doing something,” she says.

Finances became tight afterwards, and she only paid the minimum on her credit card each month. Every year, her condo fees rose while her salary at the printing company (where she still works) stagnated. She began relying on credit for everyday expenses, and later took out a second card.

Soon, one of her banks began calling with a solution to help manage her debt. She ignored the inquiries, preferring not to think about her finances, but she started to feel desperate: “I just wanted to do something, and that was the only thing coming my way.” The bank offered a loan at a low rate to pay off her high-interest credit card debt, and she ended up taking out a second mortgage for $80,000. The interest rate still wasn’t manageable. “It was a huge mistake,” she says.

Saddled with two mortgages, rising condo fees and a flat income, she continued relying on credit cards. Surprise expenses, such as dental work, added to her debt. Embarrassment kept her from seeking help. Three years ago, she decided to sell her condo. Despite Vancouver’s booming market, the sale didn’t solve Ann’s financial problems. She moved in with a friend and was able to pay off her mortgages, but she couldn’t make much of a dent in her credit card debt.

This year, Ann turned 64. She was carrying $70,000 in debt, and knew she couldn’t work another decade to pay it down. That realization prompted her to seek help, and she eventually met with an insolvency trustee. Earlier this year, Ann’s trustee filed a consumer proposal on her behalf. Less severe than personal bankruptcy, a proposal is an offer to all of an individual’s creditors to pay a portion of debt under a strict plan over a maximum of five years. The remainder is discharged. Creditors typically agree to these arrangements since they are guaranteed to recoup at least some of their money. For Ann, filing a proposal came as a relief. “I actually feel like I can breathe again,” she says.

Other Canadians are still suffocating. Earlier this year, the household debt-to-income ratio hit another record of 167.8 per cent. A long period of abnormally low interest rates has enabled Canadians to carry massive debts, since monthly payments appear manageable. Further, in cities with rising home values, particularly Toronto and Vancouver, homeowners can secure a home equity line of credit (HELOC) to pay other debts or simply fund their lifestyles. Last spring, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada warned that the increased use of HELOCs “may lead Canadians to use their homes as ATMs, making it easier for them to borrow more than they can afford.”

Insolvencies, though, are rare. As of the end of July, there were nearly 123,000 consumer proposals and personal bankruptcies filed by Canadians this year, a decline of 1.2 per cent from the same period last year. That might be a sign of fiscal prudence, but it’s also the result of record low interest rates that ease debt-carrying costs. Scott Terrio, an insolvency estate administrator and president of Debt Savvy in Toronto, calls this phenomenon “extend and pretend.” Canadians can extend their debt repayment terms and pretend to live a lifestyle they can’t otherwise obtain. He sees it all the time—couples with decent jobs carrying large mortgages, and putting daycare, cars and vacations on credit.

Some reach a trigger moment when they can no longer pretend—a job loss, say, or divorce or illness. But lately Terrio has noticed a change in his business. More clients are coming in because they’re simply tapped out. As with Ann in Vancouver, there is no trigger. “It’s a gradual realization for some people,” Terrio says. “They can’t do it anymore.” Lana Gilbertson, an insolvency trustee in Vancouver, has seen the same change. “Nowadays, they have jobs, they’re making money, they’re plugging along, but they’re just in over their heads,” she says.

The cost of borrowing is set to rise, adding strain to households. The Bank of Canada hiked rates twice this year, signalling more could be coming—depending, in part, on whether households can handle it. Economists at TD Bank Group believe two more rate hikes are likely next year. That will cause rates on everything from lines of credit to car loans to mortgages to tick up. At the same time, house prices are not rising as quickly as they once were in many Canadian cities. RBC Economics forecasts home prices in Canada will increase 11.1 per cent this year—and just 2.2 per cent in 2018. Canadians won’t be able to pull cash out of their homes so easily to get themselves out of trouble. “The insolvency business is cyclical, and we’re at least a year overdue for shedding blood in the system,” Terrio says. “If ever we were poised to hit that right on the head, it’s now.”

For some Canadians who struggle with debt, the problem can be traced back to real estate. In a survey TD released in September, 56 per cent of respondents from across Canada were willing to exceed their budget by up to $50,000 to purchase a home. At the same time, 97 per cent of homeowners said they wished they’d factored in other obligations before buying, such as property taxes, maintenance costs and “overall lifestyle expenses.”

The problem is not confined to Toronto or Vancouver, where huge price gains have enticed buyers to stretch themselves for fear of getting permanently priced out. In Regina, Joshua and his wife purchased a house in 2014 when expecting their first child. Both 24 years old at the time, they carried about $35,000 in debt between them, mostly tied to student loans. “We rushed into getting a house because we just thought it would be the right thing to do,” Joshua says. “It almost felt wrong to be renting and having a kid.” (Joshua’s mom pressured them to buy, too.) In one weekend, they viewed 16 houses. The very last one felt right. They put down five per cent and moved in.

But the couple was blindsided by maintenance costs. Their furnace needed repairs, and they later had to replace the water heater, which set them back hundreds of dollars. After expenses, the pair has virtually no cash to put toward their debt. Joshua’s card is maxed out, and his wife’s card is close to the limit. Joshua says they’re frugal (splurging means going to Subway) and live paycheque to paycheque. The situation became worse this year. His wife is on maternity leave with their second child and their variable mortgage rate ticked up. “Just the way the rate is fluctuating is killing us,” Joshua says, who works in sales at a telecommunications firm. “It can’t keep changing like this.”

Staring down tens of thousands of dollars in debt, rising mortgage costs and no foreseeable way to substantially boost their incomes, the couple decided to sell their house and rent. They’re not expecting a windfall. A while back, their basement flooded and they used the insurance money to repair the foundation. The basement had been finished, but there’s no cash to renovate it, so it will be sold in “as is” condition. The market in Regina is also soft, and the average home price is down slightly from 2014. Joshua hopes to at least get his down payment back, and their financial situation should improve when his wife returns to work as a massage therapist. “We’ll be able to really hack away at our debt,” he says, “but it’s going to take years.”

While real estate has led to financial distress for some Canadians, it’s been a saviour for others. The home equity line of credit has allowed millions of households to borrow against their properties, providing cash for everything from renovations to investing to debt consolidation. HELOCs have been around in Canada since the 1970s, but in the mid-1990s, lenders started marketing them to a wider swath of consumers. Between 2000 and 2010, HELOC balances soared from $35 billion to $186 billion, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, an average annual growth rate of 20 per cent.

The pace of growth has slowed since then, but balances still hit $211 billion last year. Lenders have been all too eager to dole out HELOCs, creating the perception of instant, easy money. An animated commercial for Alpine Credits, a lender in B.C., features a room full of employees rubber-stamping loans—even for a client who wants to install a four-storey waterslide. (The employees celebrate by cheering while one pops open champagne and another tears off his shirt.)

One common use of HELOCs is to pay off higher-interest debt. Last year, according to Scotiabank, Canadians used $11.6 billion (or 28 per cent of HELOC withdrawals) for debt consolidation. Doug Hoyes, a founder of licensed insolvency trustee Hoyes, Michalos & Associates, has witnessed the shift. The firm has offices across Ontario and in 2011, roughly one-third of the firm’s clients owned a home when they filed for bankruptcy or a consumer proposal. Last August, just six per cent of insolvent consumers were homeowners. “You don’t need to file a proposal to pay off your debt,” he says. “You just go out and get a second mortgage.”

If the pace of home price appreciation slows down—or worse, prices drop—there will be consequences for households that have been piling on debt. The slowdown in the southwestern Ontario real estate market is already creating stress. Hoyes recently saw a couple who purchased a home four years ago and accumulated $70,000 in unsecured debt. They bought furniture, hired landscapers and borrowed to finance a swimming pool. Before the slowdown, the couple might have earned $100,000 by selling their home. Now they might get $70,000, which would barely cover their debts. They’re also reluctant to sell and move to a different neighbourhood. And because of the softening in the market, they haven’t been able to find a lender willing to issue them a HELOC large enough to cover their unsecured debt. Their solution? Convince one set of parents to take out a second mortgage, and borrow from them. “It’s the bank of mom and dad,” Hoyes says.

And while debt consolidation is an effective strategy if consumers don’t fall back on bad habits, Terrio says recidivism is a problem. “They go ka-ching out of their house and pay off their credit card debts, but they go and run up their cards again,” he says.

Borrowing against her home wasn’t enough for Charis Sweet-Speiss to pull herself out of debt. A registered nurse, she divorced and moved from Ottawa to Oliver, B.C., a town south of Kelowna, in 1998. Her then-boyfriend (now husband) wasn’t working at the time, and the couple used the divorce settlement to start building a new life; they bought a used car, a place to live and furniture. “Then that money was gone, so I just started using credit cards,” she says. “And it was so easy.” Their debt started building, and their income wasn’t sufficient to pay more than the minimum. New credit cards she’d never asked for arrived in the mail, and Sweet-Speiss started using them. She had 13 on the go at once, and eventually they were all maxed out. “I’ve always been employed. I make a good salary. But just paying the minimum every month was a lot of money,” she says. Every six months, she phoned each credit card company to wheedle them into reducing her interest rate. She caught some breaks, but never enough to make a big difference: “It was a horrible way to live.”

Sweet-Speiss says she wasn’t frivolous with her spending, but in retrospect, she made questionable decisions. When her daughter would run up a large balance on her own credit card, Sweet-Speiss sent her money—even though it meant sinking deeper into debt herself. Sweet-Speiss borrowed against her home at one point and withdrew money on two separate occasions to consolidate her debt, but was still left with $40,000 on her cards, and it built up again.

After more than a decade of amassing debt, Sweet-Speiss turned to the Credit Counselling Society for help ridding herself of nearly $67,000 spread across 13 cards. Once enrolled, her interest payments stopped and she was put on a plan to pay down principal. She completed the program this year. She still has a mortgage and a line of credit, but is finally free of high-interest credit card debt.

Sweet-Speiss says her mortgage would have been paid off a decade ago had she never borrowed against her house. Indeed, one of the problems with home-equity loans is that they cause debt persistence. HELOCs are marketed with little or no obligation to repay in a timely manner. For years, one of the main advantages of owning a home is the forced saving effect—paying the mortgage, combined with rising property values, builds equity. A HELOC undermines that dynamic, tempting consumers to access cash now rather than build wealth over the long term.

It marks a fundamental shift in the way Canadians think about homeownership. “Whatever happened to getting to the end of a mortgage and owning your home?” says Gilbertson, the trustee in Vancouver. “It’s less about truly owning our homes today and more about having another revenue stream to fund our lifestyles.”

That Canadians are carrying record amounts of debt is not in dispute. But the magnitude of the problem is contested. “I think the fears are overstated,” says Paul Taylor, CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada. “Canadians are incredibly prudent, and history will show that.” As the head of an industry association for mortgage lenders, brokers and insurers, Taylor isn’t exactly impartial on the issue. But he points to a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer released earlier this year showing that, since 2009, the debt service ratio—a measure of income spent to pay debt—has remained steady at around 14 per cent, not much higher than the long-term average. That’s a sign that even though we have more debt than 20 years ago, we’re not overextending ourselves, Taylor says.

But the same PBO report projects the debt service ratio will rise to an all-time high of 16.3 per cent by the end of 2021. Taylor says the premise is a “little bit flawed” because it presumes Canadians will make no changes to their finances owing to higher interest rates. “I’m certain people will become prudent again to ensure they retain that [historical] expense ratio,” he says. Already, brokers have been fielding calls from Canadians about locking in their mortgages to guard against future increases, for example.

Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter also contends that too much emphasis is placed on the debt-to-income ratio. “We have long been of the view that much of the commentary on this topic has been overwrought,” he wrote in a research note this month. The savings rate is close to the 25-year average of five per cent, which doesn’t point to a consumer debt apocalypse. Rather, Porter expects spending to “gradually moderate” as borrowing costs rise.

Still, numerous surveys show Canadians are worryingly close to the edge. A report from MNP Ltd., an insolvency trustee, released in October found 42 per cent of Canadians said they don’t think they can cover basic expenses over the next year without going deeper into debt. An earlier survey this summer found 77 per cent of respondents would have trouble absorbing an additional $130 per month in interest payments. And as organizations such as the IMF and the OECD have constantly warned, high household debt renders the country far more vulnerable to economic shocks.

When a downturn does hit, even a high income won’t necessarily provide enough protection. Gene moved from the U.S. to Calgary 12 years ago to take a job with a major oil company, earning more than $300,000 annually. He purchased a home for close to $1 million and supported his wife, two kids and mother-in-law. In 2015, Gene lost his job when the price of oil crashed, and was out of work for nine months. He took out a home equity loan for $30,000 to make ends meet, and eventually found another job at a pipeline company, but for half his previous salary. A six-figure income would be more than enough for most Canadians, but Gene and his family were accustomed to their lifestyle. The kids were enrolled in extracurricular activities, and housing costs added up to $4,100 every month.

A year later, Gene was laid off again. “It was just devastating for us,” he says, adding that he began questioning his self-worth if he was unable to provide for his family. He eventually found another job, but at a still smaller salary. On top of the mortgage and the line of credit, Gene had another $20,000 loan. When he first purchased his house, he didn’t quite hit the 20 per cent down payment threshold; his bank offered him a loan to cover the difference. He had a couple thousand in credit card debt and a small, high-interest loan from EasyFinancial he’d taken to cover an unexpected medical expense for a family member. Finally, he faced a $90,000 tax bill, since he opted not to pay after he lost his job. Gene sought help from an insolvency trustee earlier this year. “I just wasn’t making enough money, and I had to protect the family,” he says. Gene submitted a consumer proposal, but one of his creditors rejected the terms. In October, Gene filed for bankruptcy—just over two years after making a salary most Canadians can only dream of.

This sort of precariousness worries some experts, who fear wider implications for the Canadian economy. “We continue to see the household sector as accident-prone, with a complacency toward debt which could prove disruptive to the economy,” wrote HSBC Canada’s chief economist recently. The result is Canada is at “some risk” of a balance sheet recession—a period of slow growth or decline caused by consumers saving and paying down debt rather than spending. David Madani, an economist with Capital Economics in Toronto, doubts the growth Canada has seen in exports recently will be enough to offset the decline in consumer spending. “Canadian policy-makers have allowed household debt to rise above the disturbingly high levels reached in the U.S. in 2007, raising the risk of a similar potentially disastrous deleveraging down the road,” Madani wrote.

Statements like that could be dismissed as fear-mongering, but the reality is Canada hasn’t been in this situation before, and the outcome is impossible to predict. Canadians ignored warnings from policymakers about piling on debt for years because low interest rates were too enticing. Now households will have no choice but to dial it back. The only question is how bad the fallout will be.

underwater mortgage

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