Crushing Debt – Why You Should Pay Off Your Debt

Posted on: November 21, 2019

Posted in Debt, Debt Counseling, Interviews, Videos | Comments Off on Crushing Debt – Why You Should Pay Off Your Debt

Episode 4 Trahair final 1 updated ending

RichardToday we’re joined by David Trahair.

David Trahair is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CA), and a personal finance writer, trainer and e-Learning content developer. He is also an author of six books on personal financial issues including three national bestsellers. He was a columnist for CPA Magazine from 2014 to 2018.

His book Crushing Debt: Why Canadians Should Drop Everything and Pay Off Debt outlines the evils of debt and how easy it is for debt to spiral out of control with examples of real-life stories of debt disasters. If you are a Canadian who is already struggling with debt, Crushing Debt will motivate you to face your financial problems and will show you step-by-step the most appropriate solution to getting out of your personal debt hell. Filled with proven advice, Crushing Debt is a call to action on an urgent and debilitating problem for far too many Canadians.

In your book, Crushing Debt, you say that not all debt is the same. Can you provide us with an overview of that and perhaps just maybe pay some special attention to the type of debt that gets more Canadians in such financial trouble?

DavidSure. Well there’s two basic types – there’s installment debt and revolving debt.  Installment debt is any debt that requires a partial repayment of principal. So, a mortgage is an example of installment debt, a car loan is an example of an installment debt and what that means is that if you just stick to the payment schedule you automatically have paid off the debt at the end of the term for a car loan and the end of the amortization period for a mortgage. So, by definition, you’re forced to pay it down.
RichardThis includes both principal and interest, and everything gets paid off?
DavidThat’s correct, both principal and interest. So you’re paying the cost of borrowing as well as the original amount that you borrowed.

Revolving debt is different than that. Revolving debt just requires you to pay usually a small amount every month to cover the interest. So, for example, a line of credit, even if it’s a home equity line of credit, you get a certain amount of credit that you can borrow and all you have to do is make the monthly payments or whatever the payment terms are and you’re good. If you stay below the total amount you can borrow, you’re not required to pay down the principal. Credit cards are another example. You can borrow up to your credit limit and then you only have to pay the minimum payments every month and in some cases that’s not even enough to cover the interest, let alone pay down the actual debt. So, I believe that the real problem is with the ease of availability of this revolving debt, the ease of availability of getting credit cards, for example, because people aren’t forced to pay it off, they end up just trying to cover the interest, just paying the minimum payments, bumping up to that credit limit and then just staying there.  I think that’s the main distinction is those two types – the ease of availability of the revolving credit is the big problem today as I see it.

RichardYou mentioned in your book, the concept of “borrowing binge,” it’s the way you refer to it.
DavidYeah.
RichardIt would appear to me that the revolving credit as you described it, it lends itself more to this idea of a borrowing binge than fix credit.
DavidFor sure. For sure, because it’s essentially cheaper to get. You think about your cash flow you’re allowed to go and buy something that you don’t have the money to afford to buy and then all you have to pay is a small monthly amount thereafter. if you bought a car or a house, your payments are much larger because a good chunk of that is the principal that you’re required to pay back. The other interesting thing I find is that this concept of good debt versus bad debt. I guess it’s similar to the revolving and installment in some ways. I mean, good debt is generally seen as installment debt, for example, a reasonable mortgage to buy a home is usually considered good debt because you’re acquiring something that hopefully is going to appreciate in value, so you’re making a good investment as long as you can afford it. Another example of good debt is often student loans, you know, you’re borrowing to get educated so you can make more money in the future.  Bad debt often is revolving debt. So you get a credit card, you know you can’t afford to pay it back, and you go on a great vacation down the Caribbean that you want to go on but you can’t afford to pay off that credit card when you come back. It’s expensive revolving credit, without any associated assets, no investment that you’ve got, it’s just — just fun.
RichardYou mentioned in your book that the Canadian Bankers Association did a survey that indicated that 56% of people using credit cards pay them off monthly, leaving 44% that don’t. Which means they’re carrying debt from one month to the next, right?
DavidThat’s exactly right.
RichardDo these numbers surprise you in any way?
DavidYes, I would say they surprised me. I would have thought fewer people pay it off.  The problem with that statistic from Canadian Bankers Association, which is the spokespeople for the big banks, is that it’s based on survey data. So, they’ve surveyed people and asked them whether they pay off their credit cards. So, you must take it with a grain of salt. What I would like to see is, I would like to see the banks’ general ledgers showing me what the receivables are, and the banks will obviously know – it’s their business.
RichardYou want to see what produced those numbers.
DavidExactly I want to see the raw data. How many credit card revolvers are there? But if we assume that number is right, then 44 percent is a terrible number. I mean that’s approaching half the population can’t afford to pay off their credit cards. You know I’ve been writing about and thinking about personal finance for almost a couple of decades now and I can’t think of a worse investment than revolving credit card debt. It’s often at 20 percent or even more than that, it’s the worst investment you could make because that interest is compounding against it.
RichardIf it’s if it is debt. In other words, if it is not paid off.
DavidCorrect.
RichardIf it’s paid off at the end of every month, most credit cards don’t pay any interest at all.
DavidThat’s right. I mean, you know, if you can afford to pay it off every month, the credit card is a great thing. You buy something, you don’t have to pay for it for three weeks, there’s no interest charges. But if you can’t afford to pay it off, the table is totally flipped into, I would say, one of the worst investments you could possibly make. Great investment for the financial institution that you owe the credit card debt to because they’re recording interest receivable at 20% or more and compounded usually monthly. So compounding is great for them, it’s great for the investor- the person who’s advancing the money, but it works against you when you owe.
RichardPerhaps because I’m a simple country boy and all that, you could explain the idea of compounding to me.
DavidSure. I investigated this for an article I wrote for CPA magazine a couple of years ago and basically what it means is, say you’ve got a 24% interest rate on your credit card. Many credit cards use an average daily value method of calculating the interest. What they’ll do is, at the beginning of this credit card period, say you owed $1,000, then they literally calculate how much you owe them every day during that period. So, you buy something for a hundred bucks then your balance goes up to eleven hundred, you make a payment, it goes down.
RichardRight
DavidSo, they get the average daily balance for that month, then they multiply by the twenty four percent interest rate per year, times whatever the number of days and the period is, say, thirty thousand.
RichardEssentially a month’s worth if you’re right, two percent.
DavidYeah, two percent or thirty divided by three hundred and sixty-five and they add that to the amount you owe at the end of the month. So essentially this method means that interest is compounding monthly, because the interest gets added to the balance and in that next month it’s included in the balance that you’re paying further interest.
RichardAnd this becomes the famous story of paying interest on interest.
DavidIt’s interest on interest. It’s terrible when you owe, it’s great when you invest. Compounding interest is great when you invest in, like a GIC. In fact, you want a more frequent compounding period when you invest, but when you’re on the other side, it reverses. That’s the worst thing.
RichardThe GIC is where the bank’s paying you rather than you paying the bank.
DavidExactly
RichardMany of the people listening to this might very well be baby boomers like me and are more than a little interested in what happens with retirement. If during your working life, you’re in the habit and you actually over that time spend more than you’ve made, what’s the effect on retirement?
DavidWell the projection for retirement for people who are spending more than they make while they’re still working is a horrible thing to consider because if – I mean personal finances are pretty simple, right? You’ve got your take-home pay, that’s the money you get to put in your bank, and then you’ve got your spending. So, you’re offside if your spending is greater than your take-home pay and that results in credit card debt. If you’re in that situation and then you think about when your income gets cut off, i.e. when you retire, your income is going to go down significantly, often spending doesn’t automatically go down significantly when you retire. Many people continue to spend a similar amount after they retire or it might even go down a little bit, so if you haven’t saved anything then really you’re banking on the two main pension plans in Canada – Canada Pension Plan and old age security. So, let’s throw some numbers out right, Canada Pension Plan pays about thirteen thousand dollars a year if you’ve paid it enough over your max in your life.
RichardThe maximum.
DavidRight. But most Canadians come nowhere near that.  The average amount for people who turn 65 in 2019, beginning of 2019, was only about 7,000 from Canada Pension Plan.
RichardThat low, huh?
DavidYes. People can’t bank on the max because they might not have paid in enough for the required number of years. Let’s say seven thousand dollars from CPP.  Old age security, six hundred and seven bucks a month, right now, about seven thousand a year, so an individual must live on…
Richard thirteen hundred a month?
DavidYes, about fourteen thousand a year combined CPP average and old age security. If it’s a couple you double that. If you haven’t saved anything else you got to live off that, okay, and most people, it’s insufficient, it’s not enough money.
RichardSo, the part-time job at Walmart.
DavidThen that’s when you end up having to go back to work even if you didn’t want to. So I mean that’s why I think people like you and I need to try and educate people about the dangers of spending more than they make now and try and bring in how bad this is going to be in the future if they don’t get things back on track.
RichardThat’s very hard for us to truly imagine the future.
DavidThat’s the problem.
RichardOr make it real first.
DavidThat’s the problem.
RichardAnd if we don’t then I suppose it’s very hard to overcome the habits of a lifetime.
DavidThat’s right.
RichardI see this as you probably understand in my business, I see this a lot. People coming in to see us in their seventies and eighties and it’s largely because their lifestyle hasn’t changed. They may be able to change their lifestyle that much. Sometimes I find it’s beyond their control totally,  you know there’s all kinds of family demands and you know things like that still happen to people whom in spite of the fact that they’re now senior citizens. If their habits have been different earlier, they might be in better shape.
DavidYou know, it’s very much a personal thing. I like to say that you know we all lie on this big scale. We’re either very cheap and frugal, the other end of the spectrum are those that spend a lot of money. So all of us lies somewhere on this scale.
RichardLike any other bell curve.
DavidExactly like a bell curve. So you know, I think the best thing we can hope for is some sort of happy middle ground because the people, the ultra-frugal people who never spend a dime, never borrow, don’t have kids because it’s too expensive, don’t go on vacations, they’re going to die with a multi-million dollar portfolio.
RichardHow many kids do you have, David?
DavidI’m not on this end, I have two kids. What’s the point of that life, that’s too extreme? But the other end of the scale, which I used to think was really an American problem, it’s not. As you probably know better than me, there are lots of Canadians that are spenders.
RichardOh yeah. Let’s call it a universal problem.
DavidOkay the universal problem. So I think the best we can do is try and get these spenders to loosen up a bit and try and move up the scale closer to it, to this end. They don’t have to become this.
RichardMaybe like, maybe you mean tighten up a bit.
DavidI guess tighten up a bit with the finances.
RichardIt’s very very difficult to do.
DavidI know it’s difficult.
RichardToday’s world, we’re bombarded with everything and hardly anybody is bombarding us with the idea of saving money.
DavidNo, no I mean it is keeping up with the Joneses, advertising, this, you know, social media I think is the worst thing ever invented almost for personal finance because you see this ideal life of all these people who are perfect and rich who can afford all these things and you try and do that by borrowing.
RichardSo if a person is in financial trouble, what steps can you take to turn the situation around?
DavidWell the first thing I recommend is that the person or maybe the family we’re talking about is to start to track where their money is currently going. In my opinion, whatever you track tends to improve, like for example, your Fitbit or your fitness tracking watch, if you’re aiming for 10,000 steps in a day you’re much more likely to do that because you know how many you have done. Similar thing with personal finances, because we aren’t required to do this, there’s no government authority requiring us to track our personal spending. We’ve got to track our business expenses for tax purposes, but not personal spending and because we don’t have to do it, most people don’t. I think that’s a big mistake. I think if people just took the time to track even for a few weeks or a one-month period, ideally you do it ongoing every month, but just for one-month track where the money in your family went. Now this is harder for those people with multiple accounts, multiple credit cards, multiple bank accounts, that makes it very difficult because you’ve got so many different sources that you have to summarize.
RichardAnd you have to do this together too.
DavidThat’s right. You want a comprehensive summary. You don’t just want what you spent cash on, but what did you spend with your credit cards, your bank accounts and cash. I know its labor intensive, and most of your viewers aren’t accountants, but that information is golden because that’s your personal fingerprint, that’s very personal to you or whoever is doing the tracking. I think that’s step number one to try and convince people to sort of tighten up. Because if you see where the money’s going then you’ll know, okay here’s the big money drains then the next time it comes to spend that, it might twig you to say oh actually that’s going in this category this is an area we should cut back. So personal financial tracking whether it’s doing it manually, if you’re lucky enough to have a computer with spreadsheets maybe download your banking information. There’s a website called mint.com that I have no affiliation with, owned by Intuit, where you link your bank cards and your credit cards and it does the tracking for you. Any method you can use to get a summary of where your money’s been going, I think is step number one.
RichardEssentially in doing that you’re making it real for yourself, right?
DavidExactly.
RichardNumbers to a lot of people probably are just that — numbers. They become real when you translate the number into a large coffee at Tim Hortons or something like that.
DavidYeah and you know I’m all for cutting out the small things but really if you want to make significant progress it’s the big things that you should really be thinking about if you can cut them back. For example, those people that have a house with a mortgage, it might make sense to consult a mortgage broker to try and get a better mortgage deal the next time when your mortgage gets renewed. Think about the big expenses. Think seriously about your car strategy, cars are huge cash pigs for most people. Whether you buy or lease, they’re going to suck money out of your pocket for the rest of the time that you own that car. Think seriously about the car that you’re going to get. Do you need a car? Can you use the alternatives – ridesharing, things like that?  So yes, I’m all for thinking about the small things but personal financial tracking or detailing your spending will show you where the big opportunities are.
RichardDon’t you think that for a lot of people, perhaps to a lot of our viewers here, the concept of for instance, do I need a car? That’s not something they’re going to ask themselves. In a real way I think I understand this. If you’ve you got to get to work and you got to get there at 7:30 in the morning, I’m not saying it can’t be done by bus or anything like that. The reality is, if you’ve got kids and sometimes just doing the shopping and things like that, you may not need a Mercedes Benz to do it. But to say do I need a car? Most people are going to come away saying yeah, I do. Now if you live downtown and everything is generally footwork if you’re in the center of a city, that’s often a strong argument because of the cost of maintaining it. But if you’re in the semi-suburbs or suburbs and all that, having a car is almost a necessity.
DavidThat’s right, but then it becomes, okay well what car am I going to get? I think that that’s where a lot of people I think get into trouble. They need a car, no question right, then it becomes, well, how are they going to buy that car? Most don’t have $25,000 or whatever’s sitting around so it’s either a car loan to buy it or leasing.  I deal with this in one of my other books – the car lease versus buy decision. Leasing is not necessarily bad, it’s just more complicated than buying. There are more factors that you need to consider. I think the problem that people get into with leasing is if they go through the calculation they say okay I can afford a car with a car loan of say four hundred and fifty dollars a month and I’m going to pay that car loan off over four years, keep the car for eight years, they get four payment for years, brilliant, So they don’t go and lease that same car for say $300 a month, they go and lease a more expensive car for what they could afford to pay for months and then sentence themselves to lease payments for the rest of their life. That’s what I think gives leasing a bad name. But yeah, no doubt about the fact that for many people a car is a necessity, but it is a big item. If they track their spending and all the costs associated with owning and maintaining and running a car – oil, gas, maintenance, insurance – it’s often a big chunk of cash for most people and the bigger the car the bigger the cash outflow.
RichardIt certainly is one of the major items in a family budget, a monthly budget.
DavidYeah.
RichardOne of the things you are here about, let’s just segway off to something else here for a minute, the idea of a reward card or reward cards. You have some thoughts on them.
DavidYeah, well, basically for non-credit card revolvers, for people who pay off their credit cards every month, then as a myriad of options, a cash back card, travel card and you might as well get the card that’s best for you.
RichardIn other words, use the rewards.
DavidUse the rewards, right. It doesn’t cost you anything because you’re paying off that balance.

But the value of a rewards card is often around 1% of the amount that you spent. For a credit card revolver that is paying interest at 20% or more, that’s a terrible trade-off. My suggestion for credit card revolvers, if you can’t afford to pay out the credit cards, just get rid of any kind of, you know gold card or any kind of benefit card. Call the bank up and say replace my gold card with a base card, no bells and whistles. Often the interest rates are half or less.

RichardIs it?
DavidIt often is yeah because you know you’re getting tricked essentially by thinking you’re getting all these rewards right there.
RichardAnd you’re accepting the idea that the interest rates are offset by rewards and probably not paying any attention to it.
DavidProbably not, but if you sat down and did a pure mathematical analysis, a rewards card where you must pay them the twenty percent is a terrible investment. It just doesn’t make any sense.
RichardThe math doesn’t compute.
DavidThe math does not compute, no, no.
RichardAnother thing we hear a lot of and see some of certainly in my business is the balance transfer and offers.
DavidA balance transfer offer and the first thing with respect to that is it’s a very competitive market, these deals are always changing but a balance transfer offer will come from another credit card company. You might get junk mail from your credit card company asking you to transfer balances from another credit card and essentially what the new company will be doing is saying,  look you owe $10,000 on your other credit card and if you transfer that to us we’ll charge you 0% for six months. Sometimes it’s better at 12 months, sometimes it’s two percent. You immediately reduce the interest you’re paying, say it used to be 20 percent on the previous credit card is now down to three years zero percent. The problem is that period expires and that’s why these other credit card companies are offering that to the person because they know the person is unlikely to change their attributes, change their ways, their habits. After that six-month period that credit card company is going to be the one that’s charging twenty four percent. That’s why they will be willing to take that financial hit of offering them this seemingly great deal.
RichardWe just hit on something there – the idea of getting into that rut. I have had the same car and home insurer for the last 52 years; do you think I’m in a rut?
DavidWell, it may be worth shopping around once in a while.
RichardYeah but I have a tendency not to be interested in shopping around. I’m reasonably satisfied with everything. I don’t think I’m overpaying; I may be, I don’t know.  Some amount of inertia sets in, the same thing must happen with credit cards, right? And this is why the credit card company can afford to offer six months no interest because once you’re there for six months you’re not going to move.
DavidThat’s right yeah because I mean life is busy people have kids to raise and then driving everybody all over the place going grocery shopping and most people at the end of the day they’re beat. They don’t want to sit down in front of a computer and search for different credit card options or whatever it is and that’s the advantage the financial institutions have is this inertia among consumers.
RichardSneaky Devils
DavidWell, they know how to make money, right.
RichardWe’d like to hear your views on HELOC – home equity line of credit.
DavidHome equity line of credit are becoming very popular. Essentially it means if you own a house it’s worth one amount and you have a mortgage amount that is lower, there’s room that you could borrow on a home equity line of credit. Because the financial institution is lending you money and they have a claim on your house, if you default, the interest rate is lower than a regular unsecured line of credit. This is almost irresistible for many Canadians obviously. Because the housing markets been doing pretty well, they’ve got room and they borrow for who knows what. House renovations, maybe trips.
RichardIt seems to me very attractive to the senior citizen types, like me.
DavidWell for anybody with cash flow issues, it’s very attractive.
RichardBut it seems to me that as you get up in years that maybe you’d want to take those trips that you’ve never had a chance to take.
DavidWell, this brings up the whole area of reverse mortgages.
RichardWhich is the same thing, isn’t it?
DavidWell it’s not technically a home equity line of credit, it’s a different product. The problem is that it’s very expensive, interest rates are high, there’s many fees you have to pay and there’s no competition. It’s the home equity home equity bank, I think it is, is the only one that offers a reverse mortgage so you can’t shop around. The problem is, while it’s attractive to get that money up front, they’re charging you a higher amount of interest so that when you move or pass away that reverse mortgage is often a very high balance. It’s a very ineffective way or an expensive way to get cash out. It’s much better to apply for a standard home equity line of credit at a much lower interest rate, and again this gets into your credit score and your income and all that.
RichardHave you run across people beyond the age of 65 who likely have retired or about to retire. Certainly, their income is going to be heavily based on their pensions. These people seem to have a great deal of difficulty in getting any kind of credit, even with equity in a home. Have you run into that?
DavidYes, I know because the banks have their checklists and their ratios to look at with respect to your income usually according to your tax return. You got to conform to these ratios. I mean if we can recommend to people, I recommend to people, even before they retire while they still have a job is the best time to apply for a home equity line of credit. Then that’s much easier because as you say you go into retirement your income goes down you might not be eligible for it.
RichardI think there’s more to it than that. There’s the negative side of lending, not every loan will work out the way it was intended to. People will run into problems and all that, and the lender very often has to take action to recover his money which will take the form of collection calls and lawsuits and things like that. This is what I see every day when people come to me when these things are happening. One of the things that I’ve seen is the difficulty people have had to solve their problem through some form of consolidation. Because now they’re on the fixed income pensions and creditors are very reluctant to lend money to somebody with only that kind of income because that kind of income can’t be seized.
DavidGotcha, okay that makes sense.
RichardProbably not something that you see all that much at your end of all of this, but it does affect how people might look at a home equity loan type of thing or reverse mortgage or something, it may be the only place they can get money.
DavidYes, I think reverse mortgages even though it’s expensive and there’s many fees, if it means being able to afford groceries then go for it.
RichardOr that trip to Spain.
DavidPerhaps.
RichardDavid thank you very much. It’s been very, very informative and I’d like to remind everybody that you can get much more of this, you can find out all about David’s other books – Crushing Debt, which you didn’t explain to me – Are we crushing the debt or is debt crushing?
DavidYou can read it both ways, so it depends who you are whether debt’s crushing you or I’m telling you in the book how to crush your debt
RichardA lot of double entendre. I’m sure the rest of the book is just as good.
DavidYes, I think
RichardAlso, you operate a blog?
DavidI have a website, it’s www.trahair.com
RichardI never talk about hair. But anyway, thank you very, very much for all the information you’ve imparted to us and, well, thank you
DavidThank you.


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