Nfld. & Labrador

Insolvencies in N.L. 'have gone from bad to worse': debt expert

A professional who deals with bankruptcy on a daily basis says it's been a busy year in his sector, and not in a good way.
Ian Penney says overspending, by buying large houses or racking up credit card debt, has helped push the insolvency trend. (CBC)

The province's gloomy financial situation is being mirrored by many Newfoundlanders' and Labradorians' personal experiences.

A debt expert says insolvencies in the province have spiked about 30 per cent in a one-year period, which ended this past June.

"Certainly, things have gone from bad to worse," said Ian Penney, a chartered accountant with the licenced insolvency trustee firm Janes Noseworthy.

Penney said much of that trend has involved a "massive increase in consumer proposals," a process where people can skirt bankruptcy by cutting deals with their creditors.

Penney added the people using this method may not be who you think of when it comes to dealing with financial troubles — they typically have higher incomes, stable jobs, and liquid assets on offer.

Fiscal update

5 years ago
Duration 3:43
The fiscal reality many individuals are facing right now, according to a St. John's insolvency trustee, has gone from bad to worse. Debbie Cooper spoke to Ian Penney of Janes and Noseworthy. 3:43

Another red flag for Penney is the number of seniors in dire financial straits coming through his firm's doors.

"We're seeing people now in their 60s and 70s still carrying massive amounts of credit card debt, lines of credit. As the income declines, as you get to the end of your working life, there's nowhere to turn."

Chronic overspending 

Personal finance problems are hardly limited to older Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Penney said a lot of younger people have a distorted sense of how much they should pay for big-ticket items.

"There's a lot of overspending. People's expectations are out of whack sometimes with what they can afford," he said.

"Younger people I speak to think a four or 500,000-dollar mortgage is normal. Maybe that's fine, but there's a big risk."

People's expectations are out of whack sometimes with what they can afford.- Ian Penney

While Penney typically puts mortgages into the "good debt" pile, here he finds it worrying. 

"Just because you can afford a mortgage payment on a half-million dollar house doesn't mean you can afford the property taxes, the heat, the lights, the repairs, the insurance: all those things," he said.

He hopes a new website his firm has set up will help clear the financial clouds. It takes people through various life scenarios in the hopes of educating people about warning signs, before bankruptcy strikes.

"Basically, we want to start a conversation about debt... I think it's important."

With files from Here and Now