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Debt Secrets: What Half of Canadians Are Not Telling Their Loved Ones

Canadians are becoming accustomed to hearing advice to take control of their household debt from the federal government and bank economists. With the national debt-to-income ratio hitting a new high, however, this advice is apparently not always being implemented. One has to wonder why this may be and what families are discussing at the kitchen table. Are families having honest conversations about their financial circumstances? Results from a recent poll sponsored by BDO Canada Limited suggests they may not be. According to poll results, only half of Canadians are telling the truth about their finances to loves ones and friends.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, revealed many surprising facts about how truthful Canadians are about their debt and finances. Click here to see an easy infographic that details poll results. Canadians that we spoke to acknowledged that the number one reason they don’t tell the complete truth about their debt and financial health is to protect loved ones from worry and stress. This is an interesting revelation, as a family would be unable to work together to lay out a plan to deal with any existing financial problems if they were not fully aware they existed. Indeed, withholding such information may likely lead to a continuance of the same patterns of behaviour that may have contributed to the financial issues in the first place, compounding them and leading to a worse situation. This desire to withhold the truth within families is worrisome. As a Trustee in Bankruptcy, I speak to families every day that would have had more debt relief solutions available to them had they come in a few months earlier.

What is striking is that bending the truth about financial challenges is not a reality faced only in Canada. A  2010 report conducted in the United Kingdom revealed that “secret debt” was an equal problem there, with one in three consumers admitting they hide financial problems from their family. This report quite accurately identified how covering up such ‘debt secrets’ can lead to “serious emotional and physical consequences” including “problems at work, sleepless nights and anxiety, to alcohol abuse”.

Is being untruthful about money issues and keeping ‘debt secrets’ perhaps more common than many would have thought? Why is this? Debt help professionals will often suggest that a need to ‘live up to expectations’ is a significant social contributor. This speculation is somewhat supported by the BDO poll, as it revealed that 18 percent do not tell the truth about their financial situation because of parental or family expectations. Another 18 percent cite the pressure to keep up, meaning that over one third of people who are being untruthful about their finances are doing so in an effort to live up to other peoples’ opinions and expectations.

It’s for this reason that we want to encourage Canadians to start talking about debt and finances. Only by having open and honest conversations within the family, can loved ones work together to develop strategies, end stress and prevent secrets from damaging relationships. Only by having a larger discussion on a national scale can we, as a society, identify the expectations that may lead to debt and financial problems. It’s important that we get people the debt help they need to help them take control of their future.

With our national debt levels hitting new record highs, learning that half of Canadians are not being truthful about their finances is cause for real concern. There are numerous debt relief options available. One can only hope that Canadians start talking about debt in a more open and honest manner, so that they can learn about these options and begin to reverse our historic debt loads.



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