Insight: Borrowing spree pushes Canada to edge of debt cliff

Tue Jan 31, 2012 12:03am EST
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By Andrea Hopkins

TORONTO (Reuters) - The two giant jars on Randolph Taylor's windowsill are filled with shards of credit cards, chopped up by the clients whose staggering indebtedness drove them to the front line of Canada's household debt crisis.

"I used to cut them up myself, but then I saw that having them do it themselves was a huge symbolic act," Taylor said, pulling out a pair of scissors from his desk drawer in the Toronto headquarters of debt counseling agency Credit Canada.

"I tell them this card is the reason they are here. This card is the reason they haven't been able to sleep."

The growth of household debt in Canada to levels approaching those seen in the United States before the 2008-2009 crash seems to be keeping a lot of people awake - from central bankers to economists, lenders, real estate agents and the indebted consumers.

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has warned that the ratio of debt to income will rise from the already alarming 153 percent record reached last year, and many think it will approach the landmark 160 percent hit by the United States before the U.S. tipped into crisis more than three years ago.


Graphic on Canada vs U.S. debt growth:

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<p>MasterCard and VISA credit cards are seen in this illustrative photograph taken in Hong Kong December 8, 2010. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>