Blog & News

Look out renters. The news is out. Rents are predicted to go up in Metro Vancouver.

An article in the Vancouver Sun today announced that low vacancy rates and unprecedented demand is pushing rents higher and higher. It appears that the high cost of home ownership (real estate) is kicking would be buyers down the food chain a couple of notches to expensive rental accommodation.

High rents have a tendency to keep people poor and out of the real estate market.

Once again a cry for affordable housing can be heard from an important part of the population - middle and low income families. This crescendo-ing sound of desperation comes at a time when consumer debt in Canada is at an all-time high at $535 billion dollars (excluding mortgages.)

Impossible rents and impossible mortgages combine to broadcast a very strong message to governments that something is wrong with this picture.  Middle and lower income families are being displaced to the suburbs and even worse, out of the real estate market entirely instead of being accommodated in some meaningful way.

The argument that nothing can be done because it’s a simple matter of the economic law of supply and demand has been made before. It was made for many years before the credit crunch of 2007-08 brought the world to its knees. What followed was massive government intervention to keep auto manufacturers, big banks and other corporate entities deemed too big to fail out of bankruptcy.

High rents have, in the past, led to rent controls and may once again if something substantive is not done to accommodate young, elderly, middle and lower income families with affordable housing.

Post-secondary school students also become victims of high rents because they do not have an income. They are students. Society needs a highly skilled and technically trained workforce so it’s not just the students that benefit from their studies but society at large. There is a public interest element to the cry for help for affordable housing.

There are solutions – new ones waiting to be discovered by innovative thinking and decisive public policy. There are also old ones like rent controls, wage and price controls and doing nothing - which ultimately leads to disaster for everyone.

I think it’s time for governments to act on affordable housing.

Before rushing into my usual tirade about banks doing surveys and leaving the impression their findings are indisputable facts, I just loved the reference quote in the article in the Vancouver Sun  today about a boomer who lived through double-digit interest rates in the 1980s and over the years missed more than one naïve financial goal.

Yes. How many naïve financial goals are we still being subjected to?

I have recently researched the top selling personal finance books and suddenly realized that pretty much all of them make the roadway to wealth and retirement sound far too easy.

Dave Ramsey, for  example, a zealot and leading spokesperson for debt freedom bulldozes everything in life aside to achieve this one noble pursuit of debt freedom. After you get the mortgage paid off and all of the other debts you can then, relax and enjoy life.

The lightbulb went on when I realized this is kind of the same message as other get rich quick, 9 essential steps to follow or 10 must do steps have. You forget about life until you reach your financial goals. Then go party on your yacht.  

I wonder about how many of these authors earn a minimum living wage or in some cases, even have children. I mean it costs around $200,000 to raise a child to the age of 18 (according to statistical studies from the Department of Agriculture) and that does not include post-secondary education.

So, this Vancouver Sun article that brings up the topic of naïve financial goals comes at a time when many pillars of financial wisdom have crumbled into fairy dust, like Freedom 55.

Unfortunately, not too many experts or journalists are pointing the finger at child poverty, the incredible discrepancy between the wealthy  15% of the population and middle and lower income families in terms of income and assets.

Many of the Freedom 55 financial plans from the past did the same thing as the financial freedom books – push all else aside – spousal entertainment – children’s extracurricular activities – vacations - and a few years later the fat RRSP’s were either cashed in early to meet basic living expenses and pay down worrisome debt levels, or used to pay family court lawyers to wind up broken relationships and families.

The figure cited in the Vancouver Sun of an average of $24,000 for non-mortgage debt for Vancouverites, really doesn’t tell us very much. We need to know a lot more -  who owes the debt,  the income groups, the family size, the age group, the assets or lack thereof, whether or not they have a student loan and on and on. Without these details, this figure of $24,000 is just a mathematical number upon which journalists and banks wildly editorialize about everything under the sun including who is optimistic, who worries and does not worry about debt and on and on.

I didn’t particularly like the comment that the troublesome non-mortgage debt figures are balanced by the finding that 29 per cent of Canadians don’t owe any money at all. Excuse me. Hello!!!

Nothing is balanced. This survey simply shines a little light on the probability that the wealthy don’t owe too much debt and the majority of working individuals and families do.

I find the rest of the hypothecating, philosophizing, opinion-izing or outright gossiping hard to take seriously as there are few demographic facts to back up the hot air. 

Attention to the student debt crisis in Canada received a headline today in the Vancouver Sun under the title of Growing Number of Students rely on Food Banks.

This is a special category of debt that highlights the financial struggle of those without wealthy parents or shall we say the overwhelming majority of students. It reminds me of the origins of student loan funding in the 1960s.

The student loan program originated in Canada partly because of the wave of social justice that swept through governments and society seeking out fairness and equality for all in the 1960s. It was noticed that only the wealthy were attending the publicly funded universities. The poor and  middle income families could not afford to attend.   

The early pioneers for a more just society, in many respects, embarrassed governments into realizing that publicly funded educational institutions should be affordable and available to basically everyone in society, not just the aristocracy. 

The birth of student loan program became a bit of a compromise between free post-secondary education for all and partially subsidized financial assistance by way of a student loan for the non-wealthy.

The compromise was this: the student loan was affordable, tuition was low and the cost of living was reasonable.

Bursaries and scholarships also played a significant role in the funding paradigm that helped so many attain a post-secondary education.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the debtor-creditor relationship first began to sour. A few student loan debtors didn’t repay the student loans. This irked an emerging debt collection mentality that held the belief that if you didn’t pay your debts then maximum punishment should be inflicted upon the debtor. No mercy should be granted to the debtor. No review of the extenuating circumstances was necessary. Just punishment. Harsh, severe and unforgiving punishment.

This was a time, the 1970s, when the total consumer debt in Canada excluding mortgages totalled $20 billion. Today it’s over $530 billion.

The debt collection mentality never seemed to mellow with student loan debt while in the wider society, commercial creditors balanced their very miniscule losses to their enormous profits. In fact, the banks and governments in the 1990s preferred to outsource the nastier collection problems to collection agencies.

The Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act was reformed in 1992 to, in part, to remove the punitive element to debt problems and insolvency, streamline the discharge process for both debtors and creditors, and encourage settlements and proposals. By this time, the old school notion that debt and debtors were bad and needed to be punished if they defaulted on their debts had undergone a societal overhaul. We had become a credit society where debt was a normal and a socially accepted part of our lives.

To make a long story short, in 1997-1998 the student loan debtor was isolated from all other debtors in bankruptcy and received punishment more severe than any other debtor in bankruptcy except for those who committed serious offences. Student loan debtors were denied a discharge from a bankruptcy for 10 years.

The early efforts of governments to provide affordable funding for the poor and non-wealthy families for post-secondary education had long since left the building. The student loan debt along with consumer debt had grown to almost $200 billion in the 1990s. The attitudes towards debt and  debtors had indeed changed in bankruptcy, in borrowing and in lending. The amounts lent to students had long abandoned the principle of affordability.

In the Vancouver Sun article, a picture is painted about hundreds of UBC students attending food banks who cannot afford to buy food. A similar phenomena unfolds at Simon Fraser University.

The cost of living, especially high rents and high tuition fees are cited as the primary causes for the financial struggles for non-wealthy students.

This precedes the mountain of debt that awaits many after graduation.

Despite the many differing opinions on student loan debtors, for sure, the pioneers of social justice in the 1960s did not foresee this outcome.

Starving students are a few good reasons to go back to our roots and rethink the costs of post-secondary education.  The mountain of debt that follows is another.

I am quite bewildered at why there has been no comments from the media or anywhere else at the impossible task for a debtor (Greece) to successfully negotiate a fair settlement with their creditors (European Union). I mean, the last time the debtor (Greece) had difficulty paying its creditors (the EU), the entire country (Greece) was in turmoil as a direct result of the harsh repayment terms from the previous loan.

This time, the President of Greece was brought before what looked like a gladiator arena lined with angry creditors yelling, belittling, humiliating and demanding what probably will turn out to be a pound of flesh.

This behaviour reminded me of the creditor meetings in a bankruptcy in the past where the debtor and their assets would be carved up into little pieces and punished to the full extent of the bankruptcy law. Sometimes it would be a single mother on social assistance or a student loan debtor being subjected to angry creditors who wanted to inflict pain and suffering onto the debtor. That ultimately, was more important to some creditors, more satisfying, than a realistic repayment plan that would help both the insolvent debtor and the creditors avoid a bankruptcy.

The difference in the comparison between individuals and an insolvent country above is that the insolvent person was shielded by a mediator like a bankruptcy trustee who had the authority to broker a fair and realistic deal to keep both the debtor and creditor out of bankruptcy, or pull the plug and end the negotiations for everyone if no agreement could be reached.

I don’t know why the European Union countries do not understood the rules of bankruptcy and the prudence of having a neutral third party – some agent from a country like the US or Canada skilled in corporate insolvencies – to review the circumstances and make recommendations that would benefit both the debtor and the creditors.

After subjecting Greece to angry and at times insulting reprimand by some creditors, an announcement was made today that harsh new conditions would be imposed on Athens in return for it to be allowed to keep the euro as its currency and avoid total economic collapse.

It looks like the irresponsible debtor has been blamed for all of the economic ills and the creditor has done nothing wrong. It even appears that the creditors are doing a big favour for the debtor by lending a further 86 billion euros in fresh loans on top of the 323 billion euros it has received from two previous bailouts.

What hasn’t been mentioned is how realistic the new reforms for debt repayment are and how a nation of individuals and families are being punished for everything that has gone wrong in the past. What hasn’t been mentioned is that both the debtor and creditor benefit from a solution outside of a bankruptcy, not just the debtor.

Essentially, it looks like Greece will be treated like a company in receivership. Assets will be sold for the benefit of creditors to pay down debt - Greece will be required to sell off public companies and property worth 50 billion euros. What could be labeled the creditor appointed receiver, Eurocrats and IMF officials, will be put into a position to ensure compliance with the creditor’s demands.

What troubles me is how creditors’ rights from foreign countries can transcend democratically elected parliaments and how the creditor can seize public property for the repayment of creditors.

As mentioned above, the debtor was all alone in a colosseum full of angry creditors, some wanting to punish the debtor, some wanting an economic death penalty-all creditors acting in the best interest of themselves without any consideration for the debtor, the individuals and families, the historical circumstances that caused the economic crisis or the viability of the demands being made for repayment.

The debtor had no chance. The debtor was outnumbered. As reported in the Vancouver Sun, one Greek businessman lamented, “Basically, we’re being told to sign everything. Whether we agree or not, I only know that I will be paying for this today, tomorrow and for many years. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

It seems to me that the cure may kill the patient. Perhaps more troubling. Nobody sees anything wrong with a creditor doing whatever it has to do to collect its debts. That is a big step back in history. Debtor’s prisons are not far behind.

This certainly qualifies as a Greek tragedy.

Recently an article in the Vancouver Sun got my blood boiling.

It was a story about a man in St. Catherines Ontario who lost his home, his car and many of his possessions. A fraudster emptied his bank account, mortgaged his home and in total stole $200,00 leaving the senior with $20 to his name. Although they could not provide any details, the police called it the worst case of elder abuse they had ever seen.

It seems that the fraudster was someone the senior knew and trusted – an employee of the credit union where he banked.

Abuse generally and financial abuse in particular against seniors often go undetected or unreported.  A press release posted a few years ago by the BC Association of Community Response Team’s  gave an unforgettable example of financial abuse against seniors:

 “I’m 91. Once I was an educator, and had a decent life. What I am today? An abused senior. Oh, please don’t tell anyone. If my kids find out I’ve been talking, there’ll be hell to pay. I don’t  want them to get into trouble. Everyday it gets worse—last month I had $300,000 in savings. Now there’s only $5000 left. It’s so hard to say NO to them. They yell and use the F word. I don’t know where they learned to talk like that. I’m so ashamed.”

 I thought I might share a few tips about how seniors can protect themselves.

1. If  you feel pressured or uncomfortable - hang up the phone.

2. 4. Never send money or give your credit card, account number or social security number to an unfamiliar party. Wait till you have received written material about any offer or charity.

5. Lock your Mailbox.

6. Have any contracts reviewed by a trusted professional on your side before signing anything.

7. Take your time making any financial decision.

8. When out, leave your purse, wallet, credit cards, and identification home whenever possible. Carry little cash.

9. Don't leave your purse in a shopping cart unattended for even a moment - including while you are loading packages

10. Arrange for government and pension checks to be directly deposited to your bank.

11. Examine your credit card bills and account balances to look for unauthorized charges or withdrawals.

12. Use a shredder to dispose of documents containing private information and pre-approved credit card offers.

13. Be stingy with information if someone calls or sends you an unsolicited e-mail.

14. Avoid strange ATM's.

15. Add password protections to your bank and brokerage accounts.

16. Monitor your credit report.

17. Enroll in an identity theft protection and restoration program

Danger Signals for Financial Abuse

  • Sudden removal of large sums of money from a bank account
  • Inability to pay bills, buy food or personal care items
  • Fear or anxiety when discussing finances
  • Visits by a family member only when check arrives
  • Inaccurate or lack of knowledge of personal finances
  • Unexpected revision of a will, or sudden sale of property

How can I Prevent Becoming a Victim of Financial Abuse?

  • Maintain a network of friends and acquaintances
  • Learn to recognize the signs of abuse
  • Be informed of personal assets, including property, bank accounts and possessions
  • Keep money in a bank, not in your home
  • Have pension checks deposited directly into bank account
  • Have Written repayment agreement before lending

The Better Business Bureau publishes a top ten list of scams to watch out for. Here is their most recent list.

1. Top Auto Scam - Automotive Online Pricing 
2. Top Emotional Scam - Disaster Charity Fraud 
3. Top Identity Theft - Remote Computer Repair 
4. Top Social Media Scam - Fake Facebook Friend Request 
5. Top Romance Scam – Catphishing/Online Dating scam 
6. Top Utilities Scam – Fake Billing 
7. Top Finance Scam - Online Affinity Fraud 
8. Top Sales Scam - Redirected Robocalls 
9. Top Big Data Scam - Big Box Breach 
10. Top Ad Scam - Fake Online Reviews

For further information go to

I’m happy to see that all the money I spent on art classes for my children may pay off in the future when robots take over. At least that’s one futuristic prediction flowing from Douglas Todd’s latest well-written article in the Vancouver Sun entitled, Robots are coming to work. Is a guaranteed income far behind?

In Canada, you are innocent until you’re proven guilty.  It would appear that our banking system has forgotten this simple fact.

Lyndsay Passmore (  had 4 credit cards stolen.  When she noticed them missing, she contacted the appropriate banks.  In the interim between the cards being taken and her reporting them stolen, the thieves had taken approximately $15,000 in cash advances and charges.  Her bank, while absorbing some of the charges, tried to put Ms. Passmore on the hook for $4000, citing the fact that her Personal Identification Number (PIN) was inputted correctly the first time (which it seems meant to the bank that the person(s) who took her cards knew her PIN).  Ms. Passmore’s example raises so many interesting points, but also so many questions:

Her 4 cards were stolen – did she have 4 separate PINs?  How often was she changing her PINs?  As a long term customer, did she have an advisor at her bank who could coach her on how to keep her accounts safe?  How did her cards go missing?  It seems her purse wasn’t stolen, so was the thief a person who knows her and knew where to find her cards?  Did her driver’s licence, care card, and other important cards go missing?  Did she open up a file with the local police to report her cards stolen?  Has she notified the credit bureau to put an alert on her accounts in case the thief tries to apply for more credit?  How long was the time between when her cards went missing and she noticed they were missing (this is also not clear from the article – was her cards missing for hours, days, weeks?)?  Is there any way to know that information? 

I’ve been advocating for years against using PINs as the sole identifier for debit and credit cards.  The use of PINs, as opposed to signatures or presenting identification, puts the onus on the customer, because the suggestion is that someone must have known your PIN to hack into your card (and by default, the customer must have supplied the PIN).  The bank’s logic behind the PIN is not only to prevent outside theft, but also to prevent localized fraud, which happens in surprisingly high rates (especially couple fraud, where a person steals their partner’s card – or sometimes where both partners are in on it).  The idea is to force the consumer to protect their PIN and not share that information with anyone, including spouses, children, other family members, or friends.  The conflict emerges when innocent consumers, who haven’t shared their PIN with anyone, become victims – through technological means (infrared technology, double swiping methods, PIN readers, etc.) or physical theft/loss. 

It would appear, then, that the bank’s attitude is that the consumer is guilty until they are proven innocent.  The assumption is that you’ve supplied your PIN to someone else, or that you’ve created a PIN that is too simple or easy to guess – both of which are explicit ‘No Nos’ in many debit or credit card agreements.  The shift from signing for our purchases and possibly showing our identification to entering  a PIN number into a pinpad and being gone in a flash – or worse – using ‘tap technology’ to avoid even inputting our PINs – is creating a flourishing environment for bank fraud.  Literally, without even trying that hard, a thief could find a debit card on the ground and use the ‘tap technology’ to buy themselves a full tank of gas, lunch, clothing – whatever they want (within a dollar limit).  And ultimately, who pays the price?  If you’re looking in a mirror, you’re looking at the right person.  You, the consumer pay the price of bank fraud.      

I am on the side of the consumer.  The consumer should not be on the hook because the bank is tired of paying for fraudulent charges.  The solutions are simple – increase penalties for people who are committing bank fraud and identity theft, or put procedures in place to prevent it, such as mandatory signatures and identification checks (or better yet, both solutions!).  Perhaps bank machines should have a secondary verification process in place to affirm your identification, separate from your PIN.

Since I believe that informing and protecting yourself is essential, here are a few tips to prevent bank fraud from happening to you:

  1. Don’t tell anyone your PIN and choose a unique code.  These are a ‘no brainer,’ but I would like to reiterate this.  No one should know your PIN, not even your partner or children.  In this day and age, where anniversaries and birthdates are shared on social media, creating a unique PIN can be challenging.  Choosing something from your past, especially childhood, is a great strategy.
  2. Have different PINs for each card.  Keeping a different PIN for each card seems irritating, but it’s worth it.  Rotating through your PINs can help (or maybe hurt) your efforts, depending on your perspective.  This way, if your cards are stolen, the thief may only have access to one card (if they know your PIN). 
  3. Change your PIN regularly (every 3-4 months).
  4.  Keep cards separate.  Chances are, you don’t need all of your credit and debit cards in your wallet!  Only take what you need for the day, and leave the rest at home in a safe spot.
  5. Use cash.  Leaving your cards at home forces you to only spend what you have on hand (no unplanned purchasing) and ensures that no one is privy to over the shoulder PIN stealing.
  6. If you are a victim of fraud, ensure that you do the following: Contact your bank(s) immediately; change your online banking passwords from a virus-safe computer; contact the two major Canadian credit bureaus (TransUnion and Equifax) to have them put a notation and an alert on your file; contact your local police department to place a report of your stolen items (**this is important in case your situation turns into identity theft or your fraud case worsens); monitor your credit bureau every few months to ensure that there’s no suspicious activity. 

Maura Drew-Lytle, a spokesperson for the Canadian Bankers Association, claims that stealing a PIN through thermal imaging “[…] would be a lot of work for [the thieves].”  Considering that stealing is their ‘job,’ I would argue that the payoff would be worth the work for thieves – and in this case, the payoff from theft was $15,000, so business seems good.  There’s something just as devastating about this case, and it’s not just the financial loss.  Ms. Passmore  laments that she’s frightened to use her cards in the future and she isn’t sure how to protect herself from future fraud; unfortunately, the answer is simple – pay in cash, keep your receipts, and leave the cards at home.  Until banks are ready to reclaim their stake in the fraud debate, protecting yourself from the bank is really your only option.  

Behold, judgement day is upon us, or more accurately, money judgement day.

When I first looked at the new law being proposed in BC about money judgements I almost cried. It’s terrifying to see how many bad things can happen to people if they should have serious debt problems. They even use the word execution.

Money judgements are the second last step in the collection of debts before the final solution for an impossible debt problem, a bankruptcy. Creditors must go to court, first, to get what is known as a judgement so they can begin to take property away from the debtor like seize assets or garnishee wages or both.

Some frightened but well-intentioned debtors will actually show up at the court to defend themselves. They believe the court should hear about their issues and plans to repay the plaintiff creditor when their finances improve. They plea before the judge that they are not bad people. They assure the court that they will pay when they have the money, when they have the financial ability to pay. And, after the court renders judgement in favour of the creditor, the judge typically explains that the debtor’s good intentions or past history as a good customer are not in question. All the judge can rule on is whether or not the money is owing and/or if the contract for the debt has been breached in some way, like missing a payment or two.

That is the depth and extent of the court’s decision making. Under these circumstances the judge or the court cannot refuse to give a money judgment to the creditor. The debtor(s) lose(s) because the issue of their integrity falls outside the bounds of the creditor’s pursuit of a judgement. The irony is this. In most cases the debtor missed their payments because they didn’t have any money.

Many debtors thought they had a good and honourable reason to ‘default’ in their creditor payments. They are surprised and disappointed that everything boiled down to just one thing – missing the payments and did not include their previous history as a good customer before the job loss or health issue or whatever drove the family into default. None of this mattered to the court.

For many people, this is the worst time and the worst outcome of the court action. A judgement really means giving the green light to bailiffs and creditors to seize assets and bank accounts.

I recall when Small Claims courts in the 1970s were called the people’s court. This court opened an inexpensive door to individuals caught in the emotional turmoil of being wronged in some monetary way. They could get their disputes resolved at a reasonable cost by a neutral and independent third party – a judge.

Unfortunately, the credit industry found the Small Claims court to be a great ally in the collection of debts. Financial institutions and collection agencies routinely utilized Small Claims court to not just get a money judgement but a default money judgement, better known as simply, a default judgement. At the time, if the debtor did not respond in something like 14 days – and most debtors would not go to court – the creditor automatically received a default judgement. They would then, for example, garnishee the debtor’s wages which would tell the debtor (kind of late in the day) what the true meaning of what a creditor could do to them with a money judgement.

By the way, people would not go to court for many reasons.

  1. They were intimidated by a court
  2. They didn’t know what to do
  3. They didn’t have the money to consult a lawyer
  4. They didn’t understand the consequences of a creditor obtaining a money judgement.

Some creditors only wanted default judgements. They really didn’t want to spend the money to send a representative down to the courthouse and argue the case. What they wanted was a fast cheap and easy default money judgement to get at the debtor’s assets.  Many creditors or their agents would abandon the court action if any debtor filed a defense.

Over time, it seems to me that Small Claims court has lost its original purpose and has become a money judgement dispensing machine whereupon creditors insert the necessary dues and fees at the top and the court ejects an automatic default judgement in favour of the creditor at the bottom.

The 2 year statute of limitations has put incredible strain on the court system because now the creditor has little choice but to sue to protect their liability from being wiped out. Increased litigation from all walks of life has resulted– from strata councils – doctors’ bills – dentist bills – utility bills – and a long long list of commercial creditors that do not want to let the debtor go free in just two years.

I think there should be a court for judgement of the integrity and past history of the debtor – to examine the circumstances giving rise to the default in the contract for debt and withhold the issuance of an asset grabbing money judgement against those debtors who have not abused the credit system. The honest debtors who merely struggle with an inability to pay their creditors – and not the intention to pay - should be referred to provincially licensed credit counsellors and federally licensed trustees in bankruptcy for help and advice. Perhaps they could respond to the court with a report within 90 days outlining the appropriate solution or recommended course of action to the debt problem.

Some cases truly need court intervention to referee a valid dispute between a debtor and a creditor ending in a well-reasoned judgment by an independent third party like a judge. Often these kinds of disputes involve the question of whether or not the debt is actually owing, or how much is owing or if default in the contract has occurred.

Debtors who have abused the credit system or have little intention of honouring their contracts should receive a well-reasoned decision and a “writ of execution” in the form of garnishees or the seizure of (exigible) assets being granted to the creditor.

That is the missing link in today’s debt collection process – separating honest but otherwise overburdened debtors from the dishonest and vexatious debtors who cause the most trouble.

More later on this and the new proposed Money Judgements legislation at

Nothing like waking up on a Friday morning to find out that the Bank of Canada governor says house prices are overvalued by 30 %.  As reported in the Vancouver Sun, Stephen Poloz, the Bank of Canada Governor said, “The vulnerability associated with household indebtedness is edging higher and the overall risk to financial stability in Canada is slightly higher… prices overvalued 30%”


Hidden behind the carefully worded text is another warning. As reported, “The bank continues to expect a constructive evolution of imbalances in the household and housing sectors as the economy improves and interest rates begin to normalize.”