B.C. personal debts increase sharply
Canadians — and British Columbians in particular — seem to be ignoring calls to rein in debt levels, according to a new report that shows non-mortgage debt loads growing at their fastest pace in two years.
According to credit reporting agency Transunion, B.C. residents now carry on average of nearly $39,000 in consumer debt.
That amount does not include mortgages, but Thomas Davidoff, of UBC's Sauder School of Business, says it's likely connected to the housing market. "It sounds a lot like what we called in the U.S. ‘the home ATM.' You know, your housing wealth goes up, you pull out a home-equity line of credit, or you're just borrowing, feeling like you're rich enough to pay off in terms of an auto loan or credit card debt," Davidoff said.
Credit agencies and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has repeatedly warned about rising personal debt levels, but according to the Transunion study, delinquency rates are still low.
Davidoff warns that could quickly change if there is a significant dip in housing prices.
"If prices fall 20 or 30 per cent, this could absolutely happen, some people think it's in process already in Toronto and Vancouver, and if prices were to fall in the 20 to 30 percent range, these debt levels become difficult to sustain, because you don't have the asset wealth to pay off what you owe."
Davidoff said he believes, however, that Canada isn't at risk of a major collapse like which occurred in the U.S.
He also noted that debt isn't all bad because it acts as a mini-stimulus to the economy.
With files from the CBC's Kirk Williams and Robert Zimmerman