Canadian borrowers are fast approaching a day of reckoning.
Lured by cheap money to buy up, buy in, expand and make over, families have pushed credit levels to a record high.
Now, mortgage rates are beginning to creep up and the Bank of Canada is poised to retreat from the record-low interest rates it adopted to fight the recession and spur recovery.
The end of the free-money era has left consumers more vulnerable than ever, and those who threw caution to the wind could soon face costs they can't handle.
Household debt has surged three time faster than income in recent years and now stands at a record high of more than $1-trillion. Put another way, Canadians owe about $1.47 for every dollar of disposable income. Even more remarkably, they took on more debt during the slump – a first for a recession – because borrowing was so cheap.
With debt levels this high, even a small hike in interest rates will be ugly for those whose incomes aren't rising fast enough to meet their day-to-day expenses.
Their woes could have a snowball effect: As debt-strapped consumers pull back, their credit woes spill over into the broader economy and risk putting a damper on the recovery.
For some, the trouble has already begun. John Silver, who runs Community Financial Counselling Services in Winnipeg, has seen his caseload increase 20 per cent from last year. “We re seeing more people coming in with more stress with regard to their debt,” he said.