Tag Archives: credit issues

10 most common bankruptcy myths

 

“The Act permits an honest debtor, who has been unfortunate…” to “…make a fresh start…”.

So reads page two of the 1,841 page annotated Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) regarding a person who files bankruptcy. The legal process of bankruptcy effectively assumes one’s ‘innocence’ and is intended to be financially rehabilitative rather than punitive in nature. The days of debtor’s prisons have been assigned to the scrapheap of history.

Yet bankruptcy—and legal insolvency generally—is one of the more mercurial and misunderstood areas of personal finance. Recently I wrote an article arguing that unsustainable debt loads have become the new normal in Canada, in which I drew on my first hand experience with people struggling with debt trouble. As such, I have personally met with thousands of clients and have fielded every type of question imaginable about debt, assets, income, investments, businesses, taxes and just about anything else you could conjure up.

Myths about bankruptcy abound. Licensed insolvency trustees and their staff, such as ours, spend a lot of time dispelling misinformation when we are asked about what is involved with bankruptcy.

From what I’ve seen there are three possible explanations for the myths that exist about bankruptcy. Firstly, the majority of people will simply never have any personal involvement with it; secondly, our proximity in Canada to our giant neighbour, the U.S., from which we get most of our TV, film and even news consumption, means we hear tales of “Chapter 7” or “Chapter 13,” yet Canadian bankruptcy law differs greatly from the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. And thirdly, we have that font of unending opinion masquerading as fact known as the Internet.

Faced with such formidable competition for legal knowledge, it’s worth taking some time to address the most common bankruptcy myths in Canada, ones we hear on a daily basis in our offices. Canadians should be aware of their rights and options in the event of financial trouble.

Here are the top 10 bankruptcy myths (in no particular order):

1. I will lose my home

Very few people who file bankruptcy in Canada actually lose their homes these days. The net equity in your home is what is of interest to the creditors, specifically. And there are even exemptions for this depending on the province you live in ($10,000 in Ontario).

If there is non-exempt equity in your house when you file for bankruptcy,  you make a settlement payable to the estate (via the Trustee). Upon discharge, the trustee would release its interest in the property. Or you could file a Consumer Proposal as an alternative to bankruptcy (in which case your assets are yours to keep, anyway). Either way, you would keep your home. Or you can choose to have the Trustee sell the home and use the proceeds to pay the creditors only the amounts they are owed by proven claims.

2. I will lose my possessions

Personal effects, furniture and household goods are exempt in bankruptcy. Exceptions would be made if you had items of extraordinary value such as fine art, which you would be asked to declare on your sworn Statement of Affairs to the creditors. You can exempt one car with a net value of $6,600 or less. So if you have a fully encumbered car (financed or leased), keep it if you wish, provided you continue to make the payments in the normal course of business. Keep your stuff.

3. I will lose my job

It is illegal for an employer to terminate employment simply for filing a bankruptcy. In fact, unless there is a wage garnishing order in place, your employer will not be informed of your filing. Some professions have rules in place precluding your filing a bankruptcy, such as having a broker’s license in which trust accounts are managed. In that case, a proposal could be filed instead as it does not include such restrictions.

4. I will go to jail

Laugh if you like but we get asked this a lot. I hesitate to even mention it, but it is possible to be imprisoned under s. 198 of the BIA for Bankruptcy Offenses, but it is rare and you’d have to work hard to get there. Example: fraudulent sworn statements or conveyances (transfers of property) without disclosure. In well over two decades of practice, we’ve never had a bankrupt person go to jail.

5. My spouse’s credit will be affected

An almost universal question for married people who file bankruptcy. You cannot affect another person’s credit by filing a bankruptcy, period. If you have joint debts with your spouse and he or she does not also file, they are 100 per cent liable for those debts and only those debts.

6. I will not be able to get future credit/buy a house

As stated earlier, bankruptcy is intended to be rehabilitative in nature, not punitive. It would not be fair to punish someone forever for filing a bankruptcy, so the record of it stays on your credit report for six years following discharge for first-time bankrupts. After that, it is gone. Your ability to buy a house will always be governed by your financial circumstances: your income, your assets, your spending and obligations. Many former bankrupts have been taught budgeting by their Trustee as part of the process and are now, of course, debt-free. So on paper, as long as they have the downpayment, many look pretty attractive as a lending risk. Even while the bankruptcy is still on your report when you apply for a mortgage, most still get approved in our experience. CMHC will guarantee a mortgage within three years of your discharge from bankruptcy depending on your financial situation.

7. I will not be able to renew my mortgage

Everybody who has an existing mortgage has asked this, and we’ve never had one client not get renewed, provided they remain with their existing lender and are current with the payments. Most are set up for auto-renewal.

8. I cannot include the taxes I owe in bankruptcy

Absolutely untrue. All taxes owing are unsecured debts fully dischargeable by bankruptcy (and proposals). This includes not just personal income tax but HST and, in the case of a business, payroll tax, which is a director liability and would trail you personally. The myth about taxes not being dischargeable in bankruptcy likely derives from the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, in which only certain tax debt for specific periods are dischargeable and only in certain situations. Canadian bankruptcy law discharges all tax debt universally, unless the Canada Revenue Agency has taken steps to secure it (a lien on a property) or in the case of fraud or tax evasion.

9. I will not be able to keep any lottery winnings

Despite how few people actually win the lottery, almost everyone asks about this. Any unexpected windfall of money during a bankruptcy is considered a non-exempt cash asset of the estate that vests in the Trustee for the general benefit of creditors. In normal parlance: the Trustee would pay out all proven claims by unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy in full, and the remaining lottery winnings would be returned at the time of discharge.

10. My trustee will restrict the income I can make

The bankruptcy act sets out surplus income standards, updated annually, which govern the portion of the bankrupt’s income which should be paid to creditors. The standards are based on the number of people in a given household. So a bankrupt is technically not restricted in what they can make, but they must pay more if they make more above these levels. The bankruptcy would also be longer (before discharge) if there is surplus income.

Bonus Myth (11): Mortgage shortfalls can’t be included in bankruptcy in Canada

Wrong. Mortgage shortfalls certainly can be included in a bankruptcy (or consumer proposal). But it only matters in the provinces with power of sale legislation: Ontario, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and PEI. Let me explain by way of some background.

In Canada, certain provinces have power of sale legislation in place. In that system, a lender will commence proceedings when the homeowner defaults on their mortgage. The borrower remains responsible for any losses the lender may incur from the sale, and the lender will then commence legal action to recover the shortfall.

By contrast, a foreclosure (also the prevailing law in the U.S.) is undertaken by a lender when the homeowner defaults on their mortgage, but in this case the borrower is not liable for any loss incurred by the lender. In the U.S., many homeowners walked away from their properties during the 2008 housing crisis and were not liable for the shortfalls.

A bankruptcy (or a consumer proposal) stops or prevents any legal action taken against a homeowner for the shortfall incurred by the lender. It becomes a debt fully dischargeable in bankruptcy or via a completed proposal. This includes any type of mortgage (first, second, HELOCs, privates). The secured debt gets paid out as much as possible from the property’s sale, and any shortfall is unsecured, and therefore eligible for discharge in any insolvency proceeding.

So if you are upside down on your mortgage (you owe more than the home’s value), you could file a bankruptcy or proposal and include that shortfall amount amongst your other unsecured debts in that insolvency. That is a sizeable advantage to a debtor versus being on the hook for any loss in a foreclosure.

Source: MoneySense.ca – Scott Terrio is an estate administrator at Cooper & Co. Ltd, a licensed insolvency trustee in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter at @CooperTrustee

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Credit ratings 101: Four factors that determine your creditworthiness

Most Canadians know their credit rating is a number, somewhere between 300 and 900, that generally reflects your credit-worthiness and is used to secure approval from lenders. But the fact is, nobody outside of the ratings agencies knows exactly how they work.

Canada’s two credit rating agencies — Equifax and TransUnion — do not publicly reveal the exact formula used to calculate your score in order to keep people from gaming the system. However, there are some basic indicators you can use to improve your standing.

Personal finance coach David Lester joined CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday, to clear up some misconceptions and outline some simple steps you can take to increase your score.

Credit ratings, he explains, are broadly determined by five weighted factors:

  • Payment history (35 per cent)
  • Amount owed (30 per cent)
  • Length of history (15 per cent)
  • New credit (10 per cent)
  • Types of credit used (10 per cent)

Here are four things Lester said you need to know about how to improve your credit rating:

Having a zero balance on your credit card can have a negative impact

Lending money is a business, and financial institutions want to make sure they make money by charging interest.

“If you pay off your debt all the time, and you don’t pay any interest, that actually hurts your credit rating because they want to know that you are going to pay a little bit of interest,” Lester said.

He said it is important to remember that a credit score is a measure of how much lenders want your business. They are designed with banks in mind, not you. While that zero balance may help you sleep at night, avoiding as much interest as possible does not necessarily win you any favours.

Keep your first credit card

Remember that credit card you signed up for in your first year of university while wandering around campus on frosh week? It’s probably the genesis of your credit managing history, so keep it active to show lenders you have been responsibly managing debt since your college days.

“They (lenders) like that you’ve been borrowing money and paying it back for a long time,” Lester said.

Credit diversity is a good thing

So you have a car loan, outstanding student debt, a mortgage, and a few charges on your credit card. How will this impact your credit score? The answer depends on how well you are managing all those debt obligations. But, broadly speaking, diversity is good.

“They like a plethora of types of loans. If you have all of those under control, and you are doing well on all of them, then it will affect your score (positively),” Lester said.

Do your homework, because credit ratings are prone to errors

Don’t be surprised if you pull your credit report and discover an error. Lester estimates about 30 per cent contain mistakes, some of which could saddle you with a higher interest rate or see you denied credit all together.

If you find something wrong, flag it with the credit agency as soon as possible and stay on top of your records on an annual basis.

“It’s really important to do that every year. Just go through and make sure there aren’t any little mistakes on your credit rating,” Lester said. “You want to make sure that you clear those up, and it will boost your rate.”

 

Source: Jeff LagerquistCTVNews.ca 

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Can’t Get a Bank Mortgage? How Do Private Mortgages Work?

Not everyone can qualify for a mortgage these days. Government regulations targeting down payments, investment properties and high-ratio buyers mean that more Canadians won’t qualify for a home loan.

It’s often said that housing is the bedrock of the Canadian economy. But for years, federal regulations have clamped down on the ability to qualify for a mortgage. The self-employed, individuals living in rural areas and those with past credit troubles have long struggled with home financing. Now that struggle is extending to other segments of the population.

Against this backdrop, more and more Canadians are turning to private mortgage lenders for their home financing needs. Although many borrowers think of private mortgages as a last-resort option, they are a viable option for many people.

Private Mortgage Lenders Operate Differently from Banks

A private mortgage is simply a home loan offered by an individual or company other than a bank or traditional finance provider.

One of the biggest benefits of working with a private lender is they operate differently from traditional banks on many levels. Since they get their money through individual investors or groups of investors, they have the freedom to set their own lending criteria. This means they are more flexible in the application process and don’t have to deal with the stringent guidelines set forth by the major institutions. This means that if your situation falls outside conventional lending guidelines, a private mortgage could be your best bet.

Private mortgages are often suitable if you:

  • Are self-employed
  • Want to purchase raw land or unique property
  • Have less than ideal credit
  • Want to invest in real estate
  • Need access to equity in your home, but don’t want to refinance your first bank mortgage due to excessive penalties
  • Need to consolidate high interest rate debt
  • Are looking to renovate existing property
  • Looking for a short-term loan

How Private Mortgages Work

If you’re exploring a private mortgage, the first step is to seek out a broker who provides alternative lending services. The broker will assess your situation and determine if you are eligible for a loan. In particular, they will assess your ability to make the loan payments on time.

From there, the broker will then search for the best mortgage solution that meets your specific needs. They will then structure the deal and put in place an exit strategy so that you know how long the private mortgage will last.

It’s important to note that private lenders usually lend on location. That’s because private mortgages are uninsured, which means the lender falls back on the property should a default occur. That’s why location of the property is extremely vital in determining whether you qualify for a private mortgage and the rate that you’re offered.

Broker fees and legal fees generally apply when securing a private mortgage.

Private mortgages are growing in popularity as more borrowers fall outside the traditional lending guidelines set forth by the major banks. The good news is there are plenty of options for those looking for an alternative lending solution to finance their next property or major purchase.

Source: Canada Mortgages Inc. – 1 September, 2017 / by Sam Bourgi

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Good debt, bad debt and good bad debt

There has been an awful lot of noise in the media recently about the increasingly high levels of debt the average Canadian is carrying around on his or her back. And rightfully so: According to a recent report from Statistics Canada, our total national debt load, including mortgages, sits at around $1.8 trillion. (Why does that number always make me think of Mike Myers?). That’s more than $50,000 for every Canuck. But amid all the commotion are some surprisingly difficult-to-answer questions: Is all this debt bad? Is any of it good? And how can we determine what debt is good, what debt is bad or should we just try to avoid all debt like the plague? The answers aren’t always clear-cut. Clearly, further insight is required.

Economic types traditionally describe debt as being either good or bad, depending on what it’s used for. The good stuff is generally defined as money borrowed to buy something that will appreciate in value, like a house. Conversely, bad debt is described as money borrowed to buy something that will depreciate in value, like Buddy using his credit card to borrow $2,000 for a new set of golf clubs (they’re on sale!), because everyone knows you’ll play like Tiger Woods once you have a $2,000 set of his Nike golf clubs.

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Not all good debt is good and not all bad debt is bad. (Warning: This is going to get wordy.) Yes, I am saying that there is such a thing as bad good debt and good bad debt. An example of bad good debt is when Buddy goes out and buys an oversized house that exceeds his needs. And to make matters worse, Buddy buys the house before he is financially ready. He puts down a too small down payment on his too big house and as a result, he ends up with a too big mortgage—which he amortizes over too many years. Given enough time, the house will likely appreciate, and this technically makes Buddy’s big mortgage “good” debt. However, it’s unlikely the house’s value will increase enough to cover the cost of the interest he’ll end up paying, let alone the larger expenses the house is going to generate: heating, upkeep, taxes and so on. To boot, there is a real possibility that this “good” debt will interfere with Buddy’s ability to properly save for his future. Broadly speaking, if Buddy’s housing costs (mortgage, utilities, insurance and taxes) exceeds 32% of his gross income, and if he will be paying those costs for more than 25 years, then it’s bad good debt.

On the other side, when Buddy’s sister Buddy-Lou takes out a two-year loan to help her pay for a gently used Honda Civic, that loan is technically bad debt since the car is going to depreciate. However, borrowing this money makes more sense than borrowing for a new car and it certainly makes more sense than leasing a new vehicle. (We’ll save that discussion for another time.) Assuming she takes care of it, Buddy-Lou’s car will still have value for years after the loan is paid off. Sure, it would be nice if she had the money in her bank account to buy that Civic when her old car died, but it would also be nice if George R. R. Martin didn’t kill off all of the best characters in Game of Thrones. Life happens. The loan needs to be manageable, without putting pressure on Buddy-Lou’s ability to save for her future. If that’s the case, it’s good bad debt.

It’s important to understand there is a big difference between accepting that you likely will incur some debt as you go through life and accepting debt as a way of life. It’s also a good idea to occasionally remind ourselves that even good good debt, like a properly structured mortgage is debt nonetheless and, as such, the interest you are paying on it isn’t doing you any favours. All debt, good, bad or anything in between, costs money and we should always be on the lookout for ways to pay it off as quickly as reasonably possible.

As a nation, we have become far too comfortable with personal debt. Today’s low interest rates are certainly a contributing factor, but the “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome plays a part too. In some circles, it has become acceptable, even fashionable, to rack up mountains of high-interest credit card debt and then borrow more money to make the payments. Do not buy into this thinking. Pun intended. Credit card interest rates are anything but low, with many cards charging up to 29.99% interest. Even a “low interest” credit card will charge you around 12%. If you’re carrying a balance on your cards and you’re struggling to pay it down, you should transfer the balance to a low interest line of credit while you work it off. That would at least be better bad debt.

There is an inherent danger in describing debt as good. Sure, some types of debt are obviously better than others but that’s not the same thing as being good. Maybe we should further refine the two traditional definitions of debt into “bad debt” and “responsible-debt-that-I-thought-about-carefully-before-I-took-on-but-I-still-need-to-eliminate-as-quickly-as-reasonably-possible debt.” Because really, the only good debt is no debt at all.

Source: Money Sense – Robert R. Brown is a personal finance speaker and the author of Wealthing Like Rabbits. Follow him on Twitter @wealthingrabbit

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Indebted seniors among Canada’s most at-risk sectors

Indebted seniors among Canada’s most at-risk sectors

 

Indebtedness among Canada’s elderly population is on the rise, according to academics and financial experts at an international conference at Ottawa’s Carleton University last week.

Contributing to this trend—not just in Canada, but worldwide as well—are multiple pressures that include easy credit, unreliable pension plans, divorce among seniors, unmonitored spending by people with dementia, and financing the needs of younger family members.

Compounding the issue is a similar growth in the number of people in late middle age who are quitting employment or taking on even greater debt, either to care for their aging parents or to help their adult children buy their own homes.

“There is the worldwide phenomenon of older people who go into debt to help their children,” Carleton University School of Public Policy and Administration professor Saul Schwartz said, as quoted by the Ottawa Citizen.

Earlier this year, a global survey commissioned by HSBC found that 37 per cent of young Canadians who currently have their own homes used the “Bank of Mom and Dad” as a source of funding. Meanwhile, 21 per cent of millennial home owners moved back in with their parents to save for a deposit.

Schwartz, who was one of the conference’s organizers, added that Canadian seniors suffer from a lack of source that provides impartial advice.

“You can talk to your bank. But if the advice is free, it’s probably not unbiased,” he explained.

A study conducted by Equifax Canada and HomEquity Bank last year uncovered that 16.5 per cent of people aged over 55 were carrying mortgages. The average mortgage balance in this demographic swelled from $158,000 in 2013 to $176,000 in 2015.

Bankruptcy trustees Hoyes, Michalos & Associates Inc. have warned that seniors were the fastest-growing risk sector for bankruptcies.

“The share of insolvency filings for debtors aged 50 and over increased to 30 per cent in our 2015 study compared to 27 per cent in 2013,” the Ontario-based firm warned, adding that on average, debtors aged over 50 held unsecured debt of over $68,000 (over 20 per cent higher than the average debtor).

 

Source: Mortgage Broker News – by Ephraim Vecina15 Aug 2017

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Debt horror stories are ‘the new normal’ in Canada

On any given day now you can expect to hear at least one economist, public official or financial commentator express grave concern about the mountain of debt Canadians now carry. The bloated debt loads of Canadian households has become a pervasive topic in media. But for all the attention the subject has received, it’s a safe bet that most people still cling to very clichéd notions that only so-called “deadbeats” ever hit the debt wall. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is Canadians would be shocked if they could peer into the private financial lives of many of their closest neighbours and friends.

As a licensed insolvency trustee firm, our practice is on the front lines of Canada’s household debt binge and the bad personal finance habits that ensnare so many people. And what we see every day is that the majority of those grappling with serious debt trouble are the most typical individuals and families you could imagine.

Here is just a sample of recent files that have crossed our desks: A staff accountant with multiple lines of credit, several maxed-out credit cards, a big mortgage, a significant home-equity line of credit (HELOC) and two leased luxury cars; a TTC driver with two mortgages and $100,000 in unsecured lines of credit; a teacher with eight payday loans and a senior financial analyst at a chartered bank with seven credit cards, all carrying high balances. I could go on and on.

Those disturbing financial cases are no longer the extreme end of the spectrum that they were at one time. They are the “new normal” in our trustee practice. The real horror stories are far worse, albeit less frequent.

The normalization of excessive debt is reflected in the data that Statistics Canada regularly releases. The household debt-to-income ratio now stands at 169.4, up 23 per cent from a decade ago, and on par with what the U.S. saw at the peak of its housing bubble. Of course, such figures are averages. According to the Bank of Canada, close to half of all high-ratio mortgages originated in Toronto were to borrowers with loan-to-income ratios in excess of 450 per cent.

A growing number of the clients we see have all the trappings of a middle class lifestyle—they’re gainfully employed, own a home and from the outside seem fiscally responsible—but it’s built on a foundation of debt and bad financial decisions. Many cases involve large tax arrears, such as a real estate broker who owes $383,000 to the Canada Revenue Agency in unpaid income tax. Others involve failed businesses. Then there are the frequent cases where financial companies inexplicably lend vast sums to underemployed people, even as their debt loads balloon out of control—in one case, a senior who emigrated to Canada 15 years ago, had never worked and been on a very low disability pension since shortly after arriving, owed more than $200,000 in credit card debt.

While the causes for these horror stories are varied and obviously complicated, there is almost always a common detail: Most clients in significant debt trouble today would not be in that situations had they simply funded their lives by cashflow instead of credit.

And that may be the crux: a decade of low interest rates has fuelled habitual credit reliance by consumers. Two or three decades ago, it would have been unthinkable for people to hold the equivalent of $30,000 or $40,000 (or more) in credit card debt. Yet now that has crept into the Canadian psyche as just something one does.

(By the way, have you noticed the “Estimated Time To Pay” wording on your credit card statement? It is a calculation of how long it will take to pay off your credit card balance if only the monthly minimum payments are made. The record we’ve seen is 330 years and 10 months. Don’t forget, a credit card balance of as ‘little’ as $6,000 can take more than 40 years to pay off if only the minimum payments are made.)

A lot of credit card debt, of course, has in the last few years been shifted over to lower-interest lines of credit, usually unsecured. This Peter/Paul conundrum is interesting: we very often see examples where people have paid off their credit cards using available lines of credit, only to have their credit card balances swell back to where they were within a year or so.

Let me share a scenario of someone who is self employed, as it highlights how a debt problem can spiral out of control quickly. I met recently with a woman in her 50s who owns her own company that furnishes and decorates high-end businesses, like big law firms. Or at least it did. With big firms shrinking to meet reduced market demands and trimming costs, her business had dried up.

Her accountant brought her to me, and it was clear she had severely mismanaged her business and financial affairs, despite her accountant’s warnings. We see this all the time—small business owners are typically very good at what they do, but very poor at handling day-to-day administration.

Here are some specifics that show how misaligned her lifestyle and business expenses were with the actual cash she was earning:

• Owns a townhouse: mortgage $600,000, estimated value $650,000

• Mortgage payments: $3,600/mo

• CRA lien against house for personal income tax owing: $98,000

• She had previously refinanced her house to help fund her business

• She had a prior bankruptcy 15 yrs ago—discharged

• Leased car: $51,000 owing

• Credit card debt: $75,000

• Business loan (personally guaranteed with a high interest rate): $45,000

• Outstanding debts to suppliers: $80,000

• Business rent owing (seven months behind): $11,000

• Net self-employment income: $3,500 per month, or $42,000 per year

The CRA lien is the big problem here. She can’t sell or refinance her house with the existing lien unless she pays her back taxes, while in the meantime interest charges and penalties pile up.

Although this may seem hopeless, it is actually a straightforward personal bankruptcy scenario: She closes the business, any source deduction or HST owing is included in the personal bankruptcy filing, as are any personally guaranteed business debts. She walks away from her house and cannot be sued for any shortfall due to the creditor protection afforded by her bankruptcy. She will lose her house and business, but that almost certainly would have happened regardless.

I should point out that clients in this type of situation often insist on keeping their house, a reflection of the deep-seated Canadian devotion to home ownership, and it takes long and difficult conversations with family, friends and trusted advisors before they come around to the realization that they have to let go of their home.

Keep in mind that the above situation is very normal for us. This is something we see every week.

As stated earlier, the most troubling trend we see now is the flood of regular Canadians facing financial crisis. Households and individuals who are employed, have decent incomes, own homes and have done everything they feel they ‘should’ be doing now find themselves facing serious, if not insurmountable, debt problems. They are having to file insolvencies now, or will in the next few years.

There are possible alternatives to outright bankruptcy, of course. Often, if clients have serious debt problems but also decent incomes, they will attempt a consumer proposal to settle their debt legally through a licensed trustee. In effect, creditors agree to accept just a portion of what they’re owed (which is more than they might get if someone is forced into a personal bankruptcy situation). This allows people to keep their assets (house, vehicles, investments, cottage, etc.) while eliminating unsecured debt they would otherwise have little chance to pay off in the normal course of life. The credit impact in a proposal is easier than a bankruptcy, and one can rebuild credit in a few short years. It’s a growing option for debtors. In fact, about 50,000 Canadians file proposals every year, and that number is rising.

Increasingly, life has simply become too unaffordable for many. The temptation to spend is too great, and access to cheap debt too easy. When the gap between what people need or want, and what they can afford with their incomes becomes too great, credit is used to fill the gap. Interest kicks in, and the cycle begins. As credit card debt is shifted to readily available lines of credit, $5,000 becomes $15,000, and soon you’re facing a $50,000 or $100,000 debt problem. A person living at or below the median income range simply cannot handle this.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot more ‘normal’ than you think.

Source: MacLeans – Scott Terrio is an estate administrator at Cooper & Co. Ltd, a licensed insolvency trustee in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter at @CooperTrustee

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Why your credit score matters

And how to improve it

Despite holding multiple credit products (like credit cards or lines of credit) many Canadians don’t understand how debt and their behaviour around it affects their credit score in the eyes of the credit bureau—or why it’s important; on top of that, 47% of Canadians don’t know where to check their credit score.

Your credit score is a three-digit number, between 300 and 900, that measures your creditworthiness. The higher your score the better, as it’s used by lenders and financial institutions to determine whether your credit-worthy or not. In general, a low score could mean you’re declined on a loan or receive a higher interest rate, while a higher score allows for lower interest rates and better options when it comes to things like getting a mortgage and borrowing money. Your credit score number essentially indicates how likely your are to repay money you borrow, based on how you’ve handled past financial obligations.

How is your credit score determined?

Most lenders want to see two forms of active credit for at least two years. The longer the history reporting, the better.

Your credit score is made up of the following:

  • 35% payment history. It’s important to make your payments on time. Missing a $4 dollar payment on a credit card could be as bad a missing a $400 payment, so don’t skip the minimum payment. This also includes collections. Some creditors (even city parking ticket collectors) may report that you haven’t paid them to your credit bureau, or even use a third-party collection agency to get their money back. These collections on your credit bureau can lower your score.
  • 30% utilization ratio. This is your level of indebtedness, or how much of your total available credit you’re using.
  • 15% length of credit. The longer you have an account open, the better. It shows you’re capable of managing credit responsibly.
  • 10% types of credit. It’s good to have a mix of different types of credit (revolving credit like credit cards and lines of credit are riskier than personal loans so it’s better to have fewer of those in your mix) to show that you can handle your payments.
  • 10% inquiries. These happen every time you agree to a “hard credit check”. Hard checks usually happen even when opening a chequing account with a bank or a new phone plan.

3 things that can help improve your score:

1. Practice good utilization ratio habits

A relatively fast way to improve your credit score is to start practicing good utilization ratio habits. Once you start doing this, it could improve in as little as 30-60 days. If your credit card limit is $1,000 and your balance is $1,000, your utilization ratio is 100 per cent — and this not good in the eyes of the credit bureau. Credit bureaus base credit scores on behaviour with credit. If you’re constantly maxing out your credit cards, it could imply that you’re not far away from defaulting on your minimum payments. It looks like your income is stretched. Set an imaginary limit of 70 per cent and don’t go over that. Doing this will keep your credit score healthy. For example, if your credit card limit is $10,000, don’t borrow over $7,000.

2. Think twice about closing an unused credit card

It may seem like a good idea to close a credit card that you’re not using, or have paid off and are trying not to use. But, closing a card, or leaving it inactive can negatively affect your credit score. This goes back to the length of credit factor that the credit bureau reports on which makes up 15% of your credit score. Rather than closing the card, consider using it for a monthly subscription, like Netflix or Spotify, and set up an automatic monthly payment from your bank account to ensure it’s covered. This trick will also improve your utilization ratio and payment history, since you’ll be staying far under your limit, and making on-time payments.

3. Consolidate credit card debt

Credit cards are considered revolving debt; meaning when you pay them down you can keep borrowing against them. This type of debt is psychologically proven to keep people in debt. Many revolving credit products allow you to pay back only the interest, which is a major reason why so many people find themselves stuck in what feels like an endless cycle of debt. If you’re like 46% of Canadians* and you carry a credit card balance every month, you could benefit from a personal instalment loan to help get out of the revolving debt cycle. Unlike credit card debt, an installment loan has a specific term and requires you to pay back interest and principal in every payment, which means you have a set deadline for paying it off and getting out of debt.

The first step in improving your credit score is knowing it. Mogo offers Canada’s only free credit score with free monthly monitoring. Check your score at mogo.ca.

Source: Special to Financial Post | May 6, 2017 |

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