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Sunday, February 25th, 2024

Once again: Pay down your debts before rates rise

ROB CARRICK | Columnist profile | E-mail

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail

The decade’s most ignorable piece of financial advice: Pay down your debts before interest rates rise.

You’ve heard this warning a hundred times, you ignored it and rates held steady at historic lows. Now, the Bank of Canada is signalling that borrowing costs could rise if economic conditions keeps improving. Here are 10 reasons not to tune out this time around:

1. Rates will eventually rise – it’s inevitable

Financial stress now seems a permanent feature of the global economy. Will China’s economy stall? Will Europe’s debt problems worsen? Can the United States address its debt problems and get its economy going again? These are all open-ended questions that suggest there’s a chance interest rates will need to stay low for longer. Not forever, though. It could be years until stability rules, but it could also be months.

2. Borrowing means you can’t afford the stuff you’re buying

Borrowing is okay when buying houses and cars because few of us can pay cash for such large expenses. But using a line of credit to finance your lifestyle is like living on other people’s money. Exception: If you use your credit line strategically to acquire things that are paid off quickly without immediately running up your debt again. Question for you: How often are you using your line of credit? If it’s more than a few times a year, you’re likely overspending.

3. Cutting debt gives you a buzz

I paid off a five-year car loan three years early in 2011. What a high. Better than buying the car.

4. Less stress

I can tell from reader e-mails that people are stressed about debt and wondering what to do. Try taking your tax refund and using it to pay down your credit card or line of credit balance. Stop contributing to your registered retirement savings plan or tax-free savings account for one year and use the money to lower your debt. Get rid of that second-car loan.

5. Your next mortgage renewal could be scary

People who bought homes in the past couple of years have benefited from historically low mortgage rates. As recently as last month, you could get a fully discounted, five-year, fixed-rate mortgage for about 3 per cent. That compares with an average of roughly 4.5 per cent over the past decade and a high of about 5.5 per cent.

Use this calculator to look at scenarios showing how much more your mortgage will cost if you renew at higher rates: (you’ll need to find out what your balance on renewal is).

And don’t tell me that future pay increases will help you afford larger mortgage payments. Big raises are scarce these days and, when you get one, you’re not going to want to see it eaten up by your mortgage.

6. Your kids need help affording university

One of my pet peeves is that parents are not saving enough in registered education savings plans. Cut debt and you have some free cash flow you can put into a regular monthly RESP contribution plan.

7. You get more control over when you retire

Reduce your debts and you can also increase your retirement savings. The more you save for retirement, the less likely it is that you’ll have to continue working in some capacity after you turn 65 to generate income.

8. You won’t retire with debt

People over the age of 45 are among the biggest debt fiends in the country. What are they thinking? That it would be fun to be on a fixed income while trying to cope with rising borrowing costs on lines of credit or mortgages? It’s hard to believe this even needs to be said, but a financially secure retirement starts with zero debt.

9. You’re covered for emergencies

People without debts are better able to afford a health or dental emergency, a basement flood, a leaky roof or a major car-repair bill. If you don’t have an emergency fund, pay off a debt and use the monthly payments you were making to build up your savings.

10. There’s no down side

No one has ever told me: “I really regret paying off my debts.” There’s always a use for the money you save, even if it’s to rack up more debt.

For more personal finance coverage, follow me on Twitter (rcarrick) and Facebook (Rob Carrick).


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