Debt Trap? MNP Consumer Debt Index reveals Ontarians are taking advantage of low interest rates to spend beyond their means

  • Six in 10 feel now is a good time to buy things they otherwise might not be able to afford.
  • Four in 10 say they’re more relaxed about carrying debt.
  • Three in 10 say they’ve taken on more debt as a direct result of the pandemic.
  • A quarter say debt keeps them awake at night.
  • One in five worry about how they’ll pay their bills or afford essentials for their family.

Toronto skyline at sunset with reflection of skyscrapers in the water

TORONTO, ON –January 18 , 2021 — As the pandemic-related economic turmoil and wage losses continue, there are signs some Ontarians may be setting themselves up for a painful debt reckoning. New research conducted by Ipsos on behalf of MNP LTD. finds six in 10 (63%) Ontarians feel the current low-interest environment is a good time to buy things they otherwise might not be able to afford. Four in 10 (44%) say they’re more relaxed about carrying debt than usual.

“Those who are already cash-strapped, saddled with debt, and struggling to navigate risk being lulled into a debt trap,” cautions Caryl Newbery-Mitchell, a Licensed Insolvency Trustee with MNP LTD in Toronto. “The results can be disastrous when individuals in financial trouble try to cope by taking on additional debt. It’s like trying to fill one hole by digging another.”

Three in 10 Ontarians (29%) say they’ve taken on more debt as a direct result of the pandemic. This includes using credit cards (17%) or lines of credit (8%) to pay off bills, borrowing money from friends or family (8%), taking out a bank loan (3%), or using a payday loan service (3%).

“Unexpected crises are the single greatest cause of serious debt trouble. It will be easy for debt to snowball with so much uncertainty still ahead and many households unprepared for any additional financial disturbances — especially for those taking on more credit just to stay afloat.”

Four in 10 (39%) Ontarians say they aren’t confident they can cover their living expenses for the next year without going further into debt, a three-point decrease from September. Around the same number feel concerned about their current level of debt (39%, -3) or regret the amount of debt they have taken on (46%, -1). Just three in 10 (31%, -2) are confident they could cope with life-changing events without increasing their debt.

The survey highlighted the risks of heavy reliance on credit: almost half of Ontarians (45%, -4) are afraid they could be in financial trouble if interest rates go up. Accumulating personal debt is also keeping some up at night, with one quarter (24%) indicating their debt is a major source of stress, up four points since June. Around the same number are losing sleep over how they’ll pay their bills (20%, +1) or afford essentials for their family (20%, +3).

Newbery-Mitchell says shame and pride often cause deeply indebted individuals to draw out their situation far too long. Some may face aggressive collections activity or debt-relief scams, resulting in more stress and more sleepless nights.

“Licensed Insolvency Trustees can guarantee legal protection from creditors and help people make informed choices to deal with their financial difficulties,” explains Newbery-Mitchell. “Anyone facing a pile of bills they know they can’t pay should get reputable, professional advice right away rather than taking on more debt.” 

To help severely indebted Ontarians understand their rights and determine the best path forward, Newbery-Mitchell and her team offer completely Free Confidential Consultations. During these sessions, they review an individual’s debt, savings, assets, income, and overall financial situation in order to make specific recommendations. They also provide information about each of the debt-relief options available — from debt reduction strategies and debt consolidation, to filing a Consumer Proposal or Bankruptcy — and explain each in detail.

“We are specifically trained to help people find a path out of debt. A Bankruptcy or Consumer Proposal may be necessary for some, but many simply need advice to develop a budget and plan to deal with their debt. Everyone’s situation is different, which is why it is important to speak with a federally regulated Licensed Insolvency Trustee,” she says.

About MNP LTD

MNP LTD, a division of the national accounting firm MNP LLP, is the largest insolvency practice in Canada. For more than 50 years, our experienced team of Licensed Insolvency Trustees and advisors have been working with individuals to help them recover from times of financial distress and regain control of their finances. With more than 230 offices from coast-to-coast, MNP helps thousands of Canadians each year who are struggling with an overwhelming amount of debt. Visit MNPdebt.ca to contact a Licensed Insolvency Trustee or use our free Do it Yourself (DIY) debt assessment tools. For regular, bite-sized insights about debt and personal finances, subscribe to the MNP 3 Minute Debt Break Podcast.

About the MNP Consumer Debt Index

The MNP Consumer Debt Index measures Canadians’ attitudes toward their consumer debt and gauges their ability to pay their bills, endure unexpected expenses, and absorb interest-rate fluctuations without approaching insolvency. Conducted by Ipsos and updated quarterly, the Index is an industry-leading barometer of financial pressure or relief among Canadians. Now in its fifteenth wave, the Index currently stands at 89 points, the lowest reading ever recorded, on the heels of a record-lows in March and September of this year. Visit MNPdebt.ca/CDI to learn more.

The latest data, representing the fifteenth wave of the MNP Consumer Debt Index, was compiled by Ipsos on behalf of MNP LTD between December 1-3, 2020. For this survey, a sample of 2,000 Canadians aged 18 years and over was interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to, coverage error and measurement error.

A summary of some of the provincial data is available by request.