Today, Canadians continue to rack up debt at an alarming rate. Canadians are proud that we rode out the recession with minimal damage. We forget that it left us unscathed, mainly because we borrowed and spent our way through it. Most countries reduced household spending and increased savings.
Canada’s household debt at an astounding 153 percent of disposable income is headed for the tipping point of 160 percent that the United States personal disposable income hit before its crisis, over three years ago. Interestingly, these days, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are hoisting red flags about household debt, signaling that it is a huge risk to the financial system. However, they are part of the problem, and so consumers are not listening to them. Why should they? It is Canada’s record low-interest rate policy that is driving consumers to spend recklessly.
Sixty percent of Canadians polled recently by RateSupermarket.ca indicate that they are uncomfortable with their current debt level. A majority of the 2,929 respondents cited everyday expenses for their debt. Canadians continue to deflect responsibility for their decisions to credit, financial institutions, everywhere.
Mortgage rates are low and fueling excessive spending on residential homes. Average housing prices at twelve-times disposable income concerns me. In the previous housing crisis in the late 1980s, it was ten-times. What’s more, at the end of 2011, residential housing investment as a percentage of GDP was 7%, the same level as in the 1980s crisis; the 50 year average is 5.8%. In the U.S., in the mid 2000s, this ratio peaked about 6 percent, and housing crashed shortly after. As well, Japan’s housing market collapsed just after that ratio peaked in the 1980s. Will things be different here? I do not think so.
Many households are at risk, but few are doing anything about it. Still, they buy homes and consumer items with cheap credit. I suggest households embrace this DNA Household Strategy as the first step in behavior adjustment, before Canada’s impending personal financial crisis wallops many individuals.
Individuals in each household needs to declare detente, withdraw to the neutral zone, and then start to attack their debts.
Detente is the easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries. How does this apply to households? With whom do they have hostilities or strained relations? Individuals in households confront personal lifestyle choices daily. Cheap credit, seductive finances, fancy grown-up toys, tempt us continually. How can we resist unless we recognize this, and plan to deal with it?
That’s why I suggest each person should stand in front of a mirror to declare detente with him, her…you! You the spendthrift, you the impulsive buyer, you who like grown-up toys decide to stop hostilities against your credit. Stop it now! Agree to end the pulling and tugging, which credit wins every time.
Formalize this decision by signing a covenant indicating that for at least one year, you will refrain from using credit cards, credit lines; all credit forms. As well, agree not to buy consumer items unless you need them to fulfill a legal, moral, ethical, or health reason. Get a trusted friend to witness this agreement, and to hold you accountable to stay with it. This is the start of detente.
After signing this covenant, withdraw to the neutral zone to develop a new approach to lifestyle choices. First, cut up all credit cards and decide to start working with a spending plan. Next, resolve to use cash or checks only, and then, exclusively for items in your budget. In the neutral zone, you do not go shopping, respond to sales, deals, or tempting financing. When the urge to spend impulsively comes, read your detente statement, which you should have with you always. Remain in the neutral zone until you repay all consumer debts, and lower your mortgage to a comfortable level.
The third plank of the DNA strategy is the attack phase: start attacking your debts. First, prepare a debt repayment schedule, next, a material worth statement, and then, a plan to use to talk with your creditors.
A debt repayment schedule, as the name implies, lists your debts and shows this information: Amounts owing, creditors, interest rates, monthly, twice weekly, or other payment period, and expected dates when at current repayment, you will repay each debt.
Your material worth statement, akin to a balance sheet, lists all items you own at values someone would pay for each (market value), less your debts, to yield your net equity. Review this statement to see whether you could sell items to lower debts. You might conclude that you should sell your house to lower your debts and ongoing expenses and rent until your circumstances improved. These are major decisions. Discuss them with a trusted independent advisor; pray about them. Remember, you got in debt over an extended period, and so it is likely that you will get out over a long stretch. That’s why you must forget the home run, be patient, and stay with the program.
After doing these statements and your budget, you will know your financial health and will be ready to talk with your creditors about relief. Be humble, polite, and realistic. Financial institutions prefer dealing with you instead of debt collection agencies. If you are sincere, truthful, and have a well-thought-out plan washed in prayer, they are likely to give some relief on interest rates or amounts outstanding; most likely, interest rates.
No longer is the question, will we have a household debt crisis? It is, when will this happen? The answer is, probably in one to two years at the latest.
Canadians cannot continue the current rate of spending on consumer items with cheap credit. Housing activities cannot keep going at the present pace. Something must give. Interest rates must start creeping up. Are you ready for the storm?
The DNA strategy is a great defense, but only if you start now!