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More than 7 in 10 individuals polled in the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study said overwhelming stress was how they knew their debts were becoming a problem. 

Findings from the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study were released today, presenting a unique exploration of consumer debt issues in the province. The eleventh annual study surveyed over 1,700 people from around the province who recently restructured their debts using a Consumer Proposal, or filed for Bankruptcy, inviting these individuals to share honest personal insights into their experiences dealing with debt, and finding solutions to these difficulties.

Conducted by Sands & Associates, the BC Consumer Debt Study series is the only study of its kind focused on BC and, according to Sands & Associates President and Licensed Insolvency Trustee Blair Mantin, the annual studies offer an opportunity to understand the realities of the financial challenges people across the province face, and the many facets of a debt problem. As Blair explains:

“As Canada’s debt help professionals, we know that when debt is unmanageable it carries impacts to a person that are far beyond account balances or credit scores. People’s mental health, relationships, physical health and more suffer seriously under this burden, and the emotional beating they take often causes them to struggle alone for months and even years.

In our current post-COVID, high inflation environment consumers are constantly facing a barrage of financial challenges and if uncontrollable debt is one of them, we know that things can deteriorate quickly. It is critical for people to have support, know where and how to access it, and have confidence in the resources available to help them resolve a debt problem and move forward with life.”

Click here to read the full 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study report

Click here to view and download the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study infographic

Consumer Debt Issues in BC – Highlights from the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study 

The largest proportion of participants in the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study (36%) said they had $25,000-$49,999 of debt (excluding vehicle loans/mortgages) when they started a formal debt relief process.

  • 30% of all study participants described their credit rating as ranging from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ at the time of making a Consumer Proposal or filing Bankruptcy.
  • Close to 3 in 5 people (58%) said credit card debt was the main type of debt they had, almost five times higher than the next debt type.
  • Roughly 1 in 8 individuals (12%) claimed payday or instalment loans was their main type of debt, the highest proportion of this type of debt in the BC Consumer Debt Study series history.

Other trends may indicate consumers have become less able to accumulate and maintain a large debt-load, and that the access to Consumer Proposals as a debt management alternative to Bankruptcy has increased substantially:

  • 2023’s study had the highest number of participants ever indicating their debt levels were below $25,000 when they started a Consumer Proposal or Bankruptcy, while the number of people who indicated having debt levels of $100,000 or more was the lowest ever.
  • The proportion of Consumer Proposal filings (over Bankruptcy) in BC has increased significantly over time. As illustrated by respondents in the BC Consumer Debt Study series, Consumer Proposals as the solution of choice rose from 20% of respondents in 2012’s study, to a whopping 81% of respondents in 2023. 

Behind the Debt: Economic Issues and More

Consumers appear vulnerable to a range of personal and economic issues outside their immediate control that may create financial strain that ultimately develops into a debt problem:

  • Just over a quarter of BC consumers polled (27%) said their debt was caused by overextended credit due to general financial mismanagement.
  • Closely following, the second-most reported cause of debt from 25% of consumers was using credit for essential costs of living income could not cover.
    • The proportion of individuals attributing their debt to a reliance on credit for living expenses increased from 20% in 2022’s study.
  • The remaining top six causes of debt identified by consumers were: Illness, injury or health-related problems (11%); Marital or relationship breakdown (7%); Job related issue (5%) and Pandemic-related job loss or reduction in work hours (5%).

95% of the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study respondents indicate their household has been impacted by recent inflation increases, with the largest proportion (88%) saying inflation has their household now spending more on necessities such as food and gas. Half (50%) also say their household is no longer able to accumulate as much savings, leaving consumers exposed to future challenges in meeting unexpected financial needs.

Signs and Symptoms of a Debt Problem 

More than 7 in 10 people polled (71%) said overwhelming stress was how they knew their debts were becoming a problem. 

  • Other top-identified signs of a debt problem as reported by consumers were: Only making minimum payments (60%); Seeing debt balances remain almost the same every month, despite making payments (55%) and Accumulating more debt on credit accounts (37%). 

Study participants disclosed a range of personal impacts to coping with unmanageable debt, including:

  • A constant worry about debt was present for over 4 in 5 people (83%).
  • Almost 4 in 5 people (79%) said their mental health suffered by being in debt, and 3 in 5 (61%) said their self-esteem suffered because of being in debt. Nearly half of respondents (49%) said debt caused their physical health to suffer.
  • 29% of people polled said the stress of debt caused them to alienate themselves from family or friends, and 30% said their relationships suffered due to debt-stress.
  • Over three-quarters of those surveyed (77%) said they experienced anxiety from the stress of debt; also 66% feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, and 61% depression.
  • Almost 1 in 6 people (16%) said they experienced suicidal ideation because of their debt-stress. 

Managing a Personal Debt Problem 

Although over 90% of people polled in the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study said they were ultimately satisfied with their decision to eliminate their debts with an insolvency process, arriving at this positive solution unfortunately often takes an extended time – over 96% of survey respondents did not seek professional help right away. 

  • Most respondents (64%) said they waited to seek professional debt help because I wanted to manage my debt on my own.
  • Other top reasons individuals waited to seek professional support were: I felt ashamed I couldn’t handle the debts I had incurred (56%) and I was embarrassed to ask for help (51%).
  • A lack of public awareness of debt management resources also remains a significant issue, with a third of survey respondents (34%) saying I thought there was no solution to my situation; over 1 in 4 (27%) I didn’t know where to seek help and 17% I had misinformation about how the Consumer Proposal and/or Bankruptcy process worked.

A variety of different tactics were used by BC consumers polled, as individuals attempted to solve their debt problems on their own, often turning to more borrowing as a solution:

  • Over a third of survey participants (36% and 34% respectively) said they applied to extend credit limits on existing debts and/or borrowed from family or friends to make debt payments.
  • A quarter of individuals (26%) applied for consolidation financing; 25% used payday or instalment loans, and 4% asked family or friends to co-sign a consolidation loan.

Outlooks and Attitudes Improved After Solving Debt Problems

In addition to positive sentiments around their choice of a Consumer Proposal or Bankruptcy to manage their debt, more than 4 in 5 participants (87%) said that filing a Consumer Proposal or declaring Personal Bankruptcy has helped them manage day-to-day finances despite noticeable rising costs.

Individuals polled additionally said their experience receiving professional debt help:

  • Improved their budgeting and/or savings skills (69%).
  • Has made them more confident in day-to-day financial management (59%).
  • Gave them a better understanding about credit and borrowing (54%).

Debt study participants were also invited to share their retrospective advice to others, and to provide words of encouragement to others who may be facing similar struggles. We highly encourage readers to browse these personal insights shared, as highlighted within the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study report. 

Click here to read the full 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study report

Click here to view and download the 2023 BC Consumer Debt Study infographic

2023 BC Consumer Debt Study infographic

2023 BC Consumer Debt Study infographic

View the BC Consumer Debt Study series here

For further details about BC Consumer Debt Studies or media inquiries contact Sands & Associates President Blair Mantin.

About Sands & Associates and the BC Consumer Debt Study Series

Sands & Associates was founded in 1990 and has grown to become an award-winning leader in the debt help industry, now BC’s largest firm of Licensed Insolvency Trustees focused exclusively on debt services for consumers and small businesses.

Taking a non-judgmental “debt smart with heart” approach to helping individuals deal with a debt problem is the foundation of Sands & Associates’ beliefs, and we feel that understanding the extent of a financial crisis is a crucial step in providing the right solutions and support to people in need.

It is our goal that the BC Consumer Debt Study series will continue to highlight challenges faced by individuals across the province and encourage members of professional and government organizations to take active steps to reach consumers in need early, and with the right support to achieve better outcomes.

Supportive debt relief services and debt restructuring solutions are available for BC residents via telephone, video, and in person at local offices throughout the province. Connect with a qualified local Sands & Associates debt expert today – book your free, non-judgmental debt consultation here.