The Sad News About our Savings and Debt Loads

US household debt to disposable income is still at 122% as of April. In normal times of the economy and employment levels, anything past 100% isn’t sustainable over an extended period of time. That is, you cannot continuously spend more than you earn. It is a recipe for financial trouble in the long term, and obviously means we can’t save. In Canada, even through the recession, we Canadians kept spending. Our household debt is now 146% of disposable income. We may be more conservative than Americans, we may have lower total debt levels but we’re spending a lot more, over and above what we earn, than our American friends.

On that same issue, the Bank of Canada says that, by 2012, one in 10 households will be spending 40% or more of their household income just paying debt. What does that leave to live on? Already 32% of households have no savings. So it stands to reason that, the more we pay towards our debts, the less money we have to live on, or save.

The National Foundation of Credit Counseling just released a study that, last year, the average person had over $2,000 in unexpected expenses! I keep talking about how critical it is that all of us have a basic emergency fund with two weeks of pay set aside – that’s another reason why. We all know there WILL be an emergency. We just don’t know when, what, or how big it’ll be. What an emergency fund does is to turn a panic and crisis into a minor inconvenience, because we have the money! If not, here we go again…using credit, and thinking that’s a solution, and going further in debt once again. Find a way to have two weeks worth of your pay in an emergency account that you don’t touch for anything else.

According to a company called RealtyTrac, foreclosures in the US, in the first quarter of 2010, are UP 35% over the same time period of 2009. And the credit bureau, Trans Union, found that mortgage arrears are rising, and not falling. In Nevada, 16% of homeowners are in arrears, it’s 15% in Florida, and 11% in Arizona and California.

In Canada, according to a report by the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals, there are about 375,000 people with mortgages who are challenged by their current payments. I don’t know what their definition of challenged means, but it sounds like a problem. If rates increase by just one percent, they expect another half million people could be in trouble. That goes back to what we talked about in the security of a fixed rate, instead of a variable rate mortgage.

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