Major Pandemic Concerns in Canada: Debt, Housing and Mental Health
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Major Pandemic Concerns in Canada: Debt, Housing and Mental Health

Major Pandemic Concerns in Canada: Debt, Housing and Mental Health

Many Canadians polled during the COVID-19 pandemic say their mental health and financial well-being have been negatively impacted, and dreams of homeownership are slipping out of reach, according to Manulife Bank's latest Debt Survey.

More than a third of respondents (36 percent) said they worry significantly about saving for a home, suggesting that many are getting priced out or on the verge of getting priced out of the market. Many Canadians are also concerned about supporting their children through post-secondary education (28 percent) or saving for retirement (28 percent).

On average, Canadians have been allocating nearly half of their income to essentials like food and housing since COVID-19 began, and 58 percent of homeowners and 54 percent of renters worry about making their payments.

"Debt can negatively impact mental health and leave Canadians feeling like their financial goals are unachievable. The pandemic has made that even more pronounced," said Rick Lunny, President, and CEO, Manulife Bank. "It's so important to have financial flexibility, especially when one looks at purchasing a home – it's easy to feel stressed. Financial conversations are essential to identify opportunities, what matters most, and help you stay on track, no matter the financial environment."

Infographic Attribute: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the financial goals and overall well-being of millions of Canadians. / Source: CNW Group/Manulife Financial Corporation

Infographic Attribute: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the financial goals and overall well-being of millions of Canadians. / Source: CNW Group/Manulife Financial Corporation

A financially unprepared population

One-third (35 percent) of Canadians admit they were financially unprepared for the pandemic. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) acknowledge their financial situation has been impacted as a result of the pandemic and more than two-thirds (69 percent) within that group say the impact has been overall negative. In fact, of those respondents, 42 percent think it may take them over a year to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels.

One-quarter of Canadians are struggling to keep up with their bills. A staggering one in six Canadians has been laid off due to COVID-19, with equally as many saying they would have been laid off had it not been for the wage subsidy provided by the government.

A tale of two realities

The survey revealed a sharp disparity in terms of how the pandemic has impacted Canadians – some have flourished, while others have been left devastated – demonstrating evidence of a K-shaped recovery narrative. On the one hand, while Canadians, on average, appear to be saving more compared to a year ago (16 percent of after-tax income, on avg. vs. 14 percent in Fall 2019), almost one-in-four (24 percent; +5 pts) have been saving zero percent of their after-tax income compared to the same period last year. Within the indebted population, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of those who say everyday living is the cause of their debt (24 percent). This suggests that more Canadians who are in debt are struggling to make ends meet, even if fewer Canadians (27 percent debt-free vs. 21 percent in Fall 2019) are now in debt overall compared to a year ago.

Younger Canadians – aged 40 or under – from lower-income households, especially those who have a mortgage or are in debt, appear to have been hit the hardest financially during the pandemic. Indeed, this group tends to be more likely to report that their financial situation or debt load has been severely impacted by the pandemic, are generally having more difficulty paying their bills due to the pandemic, and are less likely to have been financially prepared for it.

Mental health and finance

Survey results show the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental well-being of Canadians. Almost half (46 percent) of indebted Canadians say debt is having a negative effect on their mental health – a 10-point increase from two years ago. In fact, indebted Canadians are far more likely to note that their debt load is causing them stress (53 percent; +5 pts) or keeping them up at night (35 percent; +7 pts) compared to two years ago.

"COVID-19 pandemic is causing many Canadians to experience higher levels of anxiety and fear. Debt is amplifying that, making us feel more vulnerable to uncertainty," said Dr. Georgia Pomaki, Leader, Mental Health Specialists at Manulife. "One way of strengthening our resilience and sense of security is to think about how we can better prepare ourselves for unforeseen expenses, which will allow us to respond more effectively to issues as they arise."

Competing priorities can make it hard to manage your finances. Should you focus on managing cash flow for the short-term, focus on retirement contributions, or budgeting for a down payment on a house? Sorting out financial goals and identifying what matters most is a smart way to create an actionable financial plan.

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