Seniors' debt level rising in N.S.

The average Canadian is carrying more than $27,000 in non-mortgage debt and in Nova Scotia, seniors are carrying some of the heaviest loads.
Credit cards can quickly add to your personal debt. (The Canadian Press)

The average Canadian is carrying $27,131 in non-mortgage debt and in Nova Scotia, seniors are carrying some of the heaviest loads.

The figures from credit-management firm TransUnion show total debt is up 3.47 per cent compared to this time last year.

"This points to Canadian consumers' continued appetite for credit as an instrument to make purchases. TransUnion forecasts total debt to continue to grow through the remainder of the year," said Thomas Higgins, TransUnion's vice-president of analytics and decision services.

He forecast debt levels will eclipse the record high set at the end of last year.

Retirement can cause problems

Senior Catherine Metzler had hoped for a better financial situation as she approached retirement age, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

"Actually I feel like I want to puke," she said. "All our lives we've had to make adjustments. And now we're in retirement age and here we are again, almost right back where we started."

Credit counsellors say the transition from working full-time to retirement can be tough. Even seniors who have saved their whole lives often get stuck with high credit card bills they can't afford.

Joe Wilkie of WBLI Insolvency Consultants sees those clients almost daily. He says senior debt is a growing trend.

"Going into retirement, they may have been working and having a certain income and now they're having perhaps a lower income coming in and maybe the lifestyle has been a difficult adjustment," he said.

Senior Dorothy Jay said the rising cost of living makes it harder to keep pace.

"Every day you open the paper and something else has gone up. Either the water bill, tax bill, the power bill," she said. "We don't even want to think about what oil is going to be this winter."

Her friend Shirley Hackett said cash flow is also an issue. "With a senior, you only get paid once a month," she said.

Family left on the hook

With no other income to rely on, many seniors resort to credit cards and bank loans.

Metzler said that can be a decision with long-term repercussions.

"If you do take out a line of credit, they won't insure you so that your family when you're gone, they have to continue paying off your debt, which is something none of us want," she said.

Most people walking through Wilkie's door are already desperate. He gives them stark choices: a consumer proposal, in which a person develops a proposal to pay creditors a percentage of what is owed, or to declare bankruptcy.