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What you’re doing wrong that keeps you in debt

Don't turn a blind eye. Here's how to get out of debt once and for all.

Updated

Fact checked
Stressed woman looking at her bills

Many people view debt as a negative thing, but debt can often start out as something positive. Debt can help you get the things you want and need faster and can help you live a lifestyle you might not have previously been able to. As long as you can retain control of and stay on top of your debts, things can remain hunky-dory. It’s once this control is lost that debt can become a problem.

WARNING – Consider your own circumstances, or obtain advice, before you act on the general information contained in this article.

The reality of Canada’s household debt

In mid 2019, the Bank of Canada reported that the average Canadian has a household debt of 174% of disposable income. In simple terms, this means that the average Canadian owes around $1.74 for every $1 of income they earn annually after taxes.

Debt ranges from credit card debt to car loans, mortgages, personal loans, student loans and short-term loans.

Why do people struggle with debt?

A look at the numbers reveals that debt is a part of the majority of Canadian households, especially when it comes to mortgage loans. While some of us continue to struggle with debt, others manage their debts with complete assurance. A different approach and a different mindset make a big difference when it comes to dealing with debt responsibly. How do you deal with your debt? People who struggle with debt:

  • Do not monitor their income and expenses. This may be due to not knowing how to budget properly, or not sticking to their budget.
  • Have expenses that typically exceed their income.
  • Are experiencing financial distress brought on by conditions such as a reduced income, being unemployed, etc.
  • Engage in certain wasteful habits such as shopping for things they don’t need.
  • Lack proper money management skills.
  • Have little or no savings for dealing with unforeseen expenses such as emergencies or loss of income.
  • Don’t compare products or review their financial products to see if they could save.
  • Remain in denial and refuse to acknowledge that they have a debt-related problem on their hands.
  • Fail to pinpoint the real reasons that got them into debt in the first place.
  • Make only the minimum payments towards their debts.
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Debt consolidation loans

Name Product Interest Rate Max. Loan Amount Loan Term Fees Min. Credit Score Link
Loans Canada Personal Loan
Secured from 2.00%, Unsecured from 8.00% to 46.96%
$50,000
3-60 months
No application or origination fees
300
Go to site
More Info
Loans Canada connects borrowers to lenders offering both secured and unsecured personal loans in amounts from $300 to $50,000. Submit one application to get rates from multiple lenders across Canada.
LoanConnect Personal Loan
10.00%-46.96%
$50,000
6-60 months
No application or origination fees
N/A
Go to site
More Info
LoanConnect is an online broker that matches borrowers to lenders offering loans in amounts from $500 to $50,000. Get approved for multiple loan offers from different lenders in as little as 60 seconds with any credit score.
Marble Fast-Track Loan
19.44% – 31.90%
$20,000
36-84 months
Legal and admin fees of $295 - $1,500 (based on size of loan)
300
Go to site
More Info
Marble Financial offer credit builder loans in amounts from $5,000 to $20,000. Improve your financial health within 36 months. This loan is strictly for borrowers exiting a consumer proposal.
Fairstone Debt Consolidation Loan
19.99% - 39.99%. Varies by loan type and province
$35,000
6 months - 10 years
None
560
Go to site
More Info
Consolidate your debt up to $20,000 for an unsecured loan and $35,000 for a secured loan.
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A lender is asking for money upfront before giving me a loan. Should I pay it?

No, a legitimate lender should not ask you to pay any funds upfront. In many provinces, it is actually illegal for a lender to request any money upfront. If a lender charges an origination or processing fee for a loan, they will typically deduct it from the loan amount. If a lender is asking for a prepaid card loaded with funds or for you to pay loan insurance, you should look elsewhere for a loan – it’s likely a scam. You should also be aware that loan insurance is never required.

What debt consolidation methods are available?

If you’re struggling with your debt, there are strategies you can consider to reduce it. The most important step is to find the debt consolidation method that is going to work best for your needs and the type of debt you have.

  • Debt consolidation loans. If you’re juggling multiple repayments, you could consider consolidating them into a single loan. This can help reduce the amount you’re paying in interest, as well as fees on separate accounts. A debt consolidation loan can come in the form of an unsecured personal loan, or by you accessing equity you have available in your property. Keep in mind you’ll need to have good credit to qualify.
  • Balance transfer credit cards. If you have credit card debt across multiple accounts, you can consolidate it into a single card with a balance transfer offer. You will pay either 0% or low interest for a specific period of time (usually six to 10 months). Some credit card providers also let you balance transfer personal loan debt. For this method, you will also need good credit to be approved.
  • Consumer proposal. If you’re having trouble repaying your debt, you could enter into a legally binding contract that’s drawn up by a Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT). The LIT work alongside you to draw up an agreement that essentially offers to pay your creditors a certain percentage of the money you actually owe, and/or attempts to extend the time that you have to pay back your debts. Some creditors agree to accept less than the full balance for repaying your debt, but entering into this type of debt agreement shouldn’t be taken lightly as it is considered a form of bankruptcy and will damage your credit report.
  • Credit counselling. Enlist the services of a reputable credit counselling organization who can help you formulate a debt management plan. These services can contact your creditors and attempt to get an extended period of time to pay off your debt, and/or attempt to negotiate lower interest rates. They will also assist in consolidating your debts, which means you can focus on paying off one debt, as opposed to multiple. A credit counselling organization will usually handle the repayment to your creditors, however this all comes at a cost. While a credit counselling organization can be a helpful way to get your debt under wraps, it isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. This should only be entered into if you’re having difficulty repaying your debts on your own, as the help doesn’t come cheap.

Compare balance transfer credit cards

Name Product Purchase Interest Rate Balance Transfer Rate Balance Transfer Fee Annual Fee Minimum Income Reward Description
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
12.99%
3.99% for the first 9 months (then 12.99%)
1%
$20
$15,000
Take advantage of an introductory balance transfer offer, annual fee waiver in the first year, and low purchase and cash advance interest rates.
Get a rate of 3.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 1% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
1.95% intro APR for the first , 19.95% thereafter
1.95% for the first 6 months (then 19.95%)
3%
$0
$12,000
Earn 2% cash back in two categories of your choice (or three categories if you open a Tangerine Savings Account and directly deposit your cash back into the account), and 0.5% cash back on everything else.
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
No-Fee Scotiabank Value Visa Card
16.99%
3.99% for the first 6 months (then 16.99%)
N/A
$0
$12,000
Save with a low interest rate, no annual fee and a balance transfer offer.
Get a 3.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% balance transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by October 31, 2020.
BMO Rewards Mastercard
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Get 1 BMO Reward point for every $1 spent on eligible purchases, and get 2 BMO Rewards points for every $1 spent at participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car locations.
Get a bonus of 15,000 BMO Rewards points. Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Get 2 AIR MILES for every $20 spent at eligible AIR MILES partners, and get 1 AIR MILE for every $20 spent elsewhere. Get 5x the Miles at Shell until December 31, 2020.
Get 950 AIR MILES Bonus Miles (enough for $100 towards purchases with AIR MILES Cash). Plus, get 5x the Miles at Shell until December 31, 2020. Get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO CashBack Mastercard
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases.
Get 5% cash back on all eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership (up to a maximum spend of $2,000, and earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases thereafter). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers with a 1% balance transfer fee for nine months.
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard For Students
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Earn 2 AIR MILES for every $20 spent at eligible AIR MILES partners, and earn 1 AIR MILE for every $20 spent elsewhere. Get 5x the Miles at Shell until December 31, 2020.
Get 950 AIR MILES Bonus Miles (enough for $100 towards purchases with AIR MILES Cash). Plus, get 5x the Miles at Shell until December 31, 2020. Get a 1.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to balance amounts transferred.
BMO CashBack Mastercard For Students
19.99%
1.99% for the first 9 months (then 22.99%)
1%
$0
$15,000
Earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases.
Get up to 5% cash back in the first three months (up to a maximum spend of $2,000, and earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases thereafter). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months, with a 1% fee for every transferred balance.
Scotiabank Value Visa Card
12.99%
0.99% for the first 6 months (then 12.99%)
N/A
$29
$12,000
Save on interest for 6 months by consolidating your higher-rate balances with the balance transfer offer, and get an on-going 12.99% interest rate on purchases, cash advances and balance transfers.
Get a 0.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by October 31, 2020.
Scotia Momentum Visa Card
19.99%
2.99% for the first 6 months (then 22.99%)
N/A
$39
$12,000
Earn 2% cash back on all eligible gas station, grocery store and drug store purchases and on recurring bill payments (up to a $25,000 annual spend), and earn 1% cash back on all other eligible purchases (and on all eligible purchases once the $25,000 annual spend is reached).
Get a 2.99% introductory rate on balance transfers and a 0% balance transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by October 31, 2020.
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Staying out of debt

When it comes to staying out of debt, there are quite a few things you can do. You could look at developing an emergency fund by trying to save up to 15% of your income. If you find this number a bit high, or just want a way to ease the financial strain, you could consider ways to create alternate sources of income. There are a huge amount of ways to make money online with freelance work by charging people for your skills. You could also consider selling some of your unused items, or looking at your expenses and seeing ways you could cut back. As always, creating a budget and sticking to it is a surefire way to keep you on track.

Debt reduction strategies you can consider

If you’re considering tackling your debt head-on without taking out another type of credit, there are ways to help you take back control of your finances:

  • The “snowball” or “domino” method. This involves you writing down your total outstanding debt on each of your credit accounts, except for your mortgage. You don’t need to consider interest rates at this point. Whichever account has the smallest balance is the account you make additional payments into and you pay off first – then the next smallest balance, then the next smallest, and so on until you’re out of debt. This method helps get more accounts closed quickly, saving you interest and fees and gets you motivated by paying off debt. If two accounts have similar rates, pay off the higher interest rate account first. Remember to keep paying the minimum balance on all accounts and to consider early repayment fees for your personal loans.
  • Pay off your highest balances first. Another strategy is to pay your highest interest balances first. Paying off these accounts will save you money on interest repayments and have the same benefit as the “snowball” strategy in that it will help get your accounts closed. Start by writing down all your accounts, the balance outstanding on each and the interest rate. Remember to consider the balance of credit accounts when starting to pay them down and to keep making minimum repayments on all accounts.
  • Lose your loyalties. Finding the money to make additional payments can be a struggle. When was the last time you compared your savings accounts? Before making a purchase, have you looked to see if you could find it cheaper with a coupon code? Saving where you can and putting all your additional funds into your prioritized debt (according to the strategy you’ve adopted) is key to being debt-free.
  • Budget, budget, budget. Developing and sticking to a budget is of paramount importance when it comes to getting out of debt. There are a wide amount of budgeting websites and tools available that can help you track your spending, saving and expenses, so compare your options to see which one works for you.

If you’re stuck in a debt rut, picturing yourself finally getting out of it can be difficult. However, it is possible. With the right tools and the right strategy under your belt, you can be debt-free sooner than you think.

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