Debt – a problem that takes the shine off your golden years.March 18, 2021
There’s an old saying that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. You could almost add a third category – debt – to that list, and Canadian seniors are dealing with more late-age debt than ever before.
Statistics Canada figures show that in 2019, “Canadian household debt represented 177 per cent of disposable income, up from 168 per cent in 2018. That means the average Canadian household owed $1.77 for every dollar they earned.
The same report found that while seniors are doing better with debt than those under age 65, a surprising 22 per cent say they are “struggling to meet their financial commitments.”
Similarly, reports the Financial Post, research from debt agency Equifax “found the average debt, not including mortgages, of Canadians 65 and over was $15,651 in the second quarter of 2017, still low compared to the Canadian average of $22,595. But senior debt grew by 4.3 per cent over the past year, outpacing every other segment of the population over 18.”
South of the border, the problems are similar. According to Forbes magazine, “the percentage of elderly households—those led by people aged 65 and older—with any type of debt increased from 38 per cent in 1989 to 61 per cent in 2016.”
“People who carry debt into retirement, especially credit card debt, confront more stress and report a lower quality of life than those who do not,” the Forbes article notes.
Debt relief expert Doug Hoyes of Hoyes & Michalos notes that carrying debt into your senior years will almost certainly be a struggle.
He writes that there are “many reasons why people carry debt beyond their 50s, and into their 60s and even 70s,” and he adds that it is “unrealistic to think it’s as simple as seniors living beyond their means.” Contributing factors to senior debt can include layoffs and benefit cuts, the challenge of supporting adult children, and caring for aging parents, he writes.
“Once retired, a fixed income takes its toll, unable to keep up with both debt payments and living costs,” writes Hoyes.
Hoyes says there are some debt warning signs you shouldn’t ignore:
- Your monthly credit card and other debt balances are rising
- You can only make minimum payments
- You use a line of credit to pay the mortgage, rent or other bills
- You think about cashing in your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) to pay off debt
He suggests several courses of action for seniors struggling with debt, such as consulting with a credit counsellor and working out a payment plan, or looking into a government debt relief program for seniors.
Don’t, he warns, tap your RRSP to pay off debt.
“Most registered retirement plans are protected in a bankruptcy or consumer proposal in Canada,” he writes. “We caution people against draining their retirement nest egg if this only partially solves your debt problem.”
Summing it up, while debt is easy to rack up – and we’re all used to dealing with it – it is far less manageable when you’ve left the workforce and are living on less. If you can’t pay off all your debts before you retire, at least pay off as much as possible – your retired you will thank you. Did you know that the Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers you a way to turn your retirement savings into a future income stream? By choosing from the many different SPP annuity options, you are assured of that income in retirement, no matter how long you live. That can be very helpful if you have debts to pay off along the way.
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Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.
Why people aren’t saving – an interview with Doug HoyesAugust 1, 2019
As co-founder of Hoyes and Michalos, a debt relief firm, and a commentator on personal finance, Doug Hoyes has seen it all when it comes to debt.
And he has a straightforward view on why Canadians aren’t saving much for retirement, telling Save with SPP that these days, “people don’t save for anything.”
The savings rate, he notes, was as high as 15 per cent in 1980 and has plunged to “less than one per cent” today. In other words, people are saving less than a penny of every dollar they earn.
“People don’t save anything; it’s just not a thing we do anymore,” he explains. “I think the cost of living is high and job security is low.” The old “job for life” days are long gone, and people now expect to have multiple jobs through their working career, he explains.
“You are seeing sporadic employment, contract work – it is hard for people to put down roots and save. And house prices are rising sharply, and everything costs more. We’re not able to save, and we are seeing more people using debt to make ends meet,” he says.
Those who do try to save tend to be punished for their efforts – savings account and GICs pay interest in the low single digits, and if savers look to invest in mutual funds “there are high fees, and they take on risk,” he explains. Since low-interest lines of credit are so prevalent, for many people, debt has replaced savings, a practice that Hoyes says just isn’t sustainable in the long term.
Save with SPP asked how this lack of saving affects retirement plans.
“It’s become uncommon to have a pension plan (a traditional defined benefit plan) at work,” he says, “unless you work for the government. It’s just not a thing newer companies offer.” He says that from an employer’s point of view, “it is a hassle to set them up, and there is a potential for liabilities that need to be funded, and more money needing to be put in.” Sears and Nortel show the potential downside for employees and DB pensioners if the parent company runs into financial trouble, he notes.
So traditional pension plans in the private sector have generally been replaced with things “like a group RRSP, where there is zero risk (for the employer).” Employees are satisfied with a group RRSP because they “know they are not going to be there, at the same employer, for 50 years,” and a group RRSP is portable and easy to transfer, Hoyes explains.
With more and more working people dealing with debt, it’s not surprising to Hoyes that more seniors are retiring with debt, a situation he says can lead to disaster.
“In retirement, your income goes down, and while some of your expenses that were related to work go down, others will go up,” he explains. “Your rent doesn’t go down when you retire, so your cost of living is about the same.”
Retired seniors, living on less and still paying down debt, face other problems, he says. It’s more common for retirees to divert savings to “helping their adult kids.” Examples of this might include a divorced child moving home, or college and university graduates, unable to find work, staying home instead of moving out. So the seniors may use up their savings or borrow to help the children, “as any parent might,” but that drives them into a financial crisis, he explains.
With debt to pay and possibly little to no workplace pension, many seniors are heading back to work. Others, Hoyes notes, are starting to have to file for insolvency.
“Maybe you only have CPP and OAS coming in, and you have a $50,000 debt that you can’t service – you may need to file for bankruptcy and make payments through a trustee,” he explains.
We thank Doug Hoyes for speaking to Save with SPP.
If you don’t have a pension plan at work, consider opening a Saskatchewan Pension Plan account. It’s like setting up a personal pension plan. The money you set aside is invested for you at a low fee, and when you are ready to collect it, it’s available as a lifetime pension with several survivor benefit options.
|Written by Martin Biefer
|Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22|