A new report shows interest rates are rising faster than income for Canadians — providing a wake-up call to consumers who are taking on unsustainable amounts of debt.
Soaring home valuations are inflating the average Canadian’s net worth, especially in the hot real estate markets of Toronto and Vancouver, but interest rate cost increases are expected to force spending restraint going forward, warned Environics Analytics in a report Monday.
“The overarching story this year is that Canadians have never been richer but, at the same time, they’ve never felt poorer,” said Peter Miron, Environics Analytics’ senior vice-president of research and development.
“Real estate’s way up, liquid assets are up decently, their pensions are up, everything on their balance sheet looks great but, all of a sudden, when you look at these rising interest rates, that’s going to start pinching their cash flow and is going to leave them with less money left over at the end of the year.”
The report also suggested homeowners in B.C. have the highest net worth in Canada at more than $1.1 million — but it also found they’re feeling the biggest financial squeeze because of the rising rates.
Last year, households in B.C. paid an extra $1,152 in interest — twice the national average.
“The affect of the interest rate increases in 2017 works out to be an extra mortgage payment per household no matter where they live. It just happens that in Vancouver, Vancouver households are already carrying much more significant levels of mortgages,” Miron said.
Much of wealth tied up in assets
Canadians overall paid about $9 billion more in interest charges in 2017 than they did in 2016, according to Environics Analytics statistics.
That’s about $544 more for the average Canadian household last year compared with 2016.
Household debt has been identified as a key vulnerability for the financial system by the Bank of Canada, which has raised its trend-setting interest rate four times since mid-2017.
Interest rates are far lower now than in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates peaked at more than 20 per cent, but the danger is just as real because houses are worth much more now, said Scott Hannah, president of the Credit Counselling Society.
“If you had a mortgage of $150,000 and the rates went up a quarter per cent, you’d barely blink,” he said in an interview.
“But when your mortgage is half a million dollars or higher, it has meaning, especially when [the rates] are projected to go higher over the long term.”
Because wages aren’t rising as fast as interest rates, consumers are augmenting their income with more debt, he said, which leaves them vulnerable if interest rates rise or their income falls.
The Environics Analytics report found that Vancouver’s 17.2 per cent rise in real estate prices in 2017 led to it posting the highest growth in household net worth in Canada, up 12.7 per cent.
But Vancouver also experienced debt growth of 8.5 per cent, more than double the national average.