New West families are seeing their debt rise due to rent and food prices


Family Services offers financial workshops and one-on-one financial empowerment coaching

People of all ages are using credit – or accessing payday loans – to pay their rent and put food on the table.

Murray Baker, financial empowerment manager at Family Services of Greater Vancouver, said rising inflation and interest rates are impacting everyone, especially low-income and vulnerable people. He said it had a “huge impact” on people in Metro Vancouver, as some of the areas seeing the biggest increases are food and rent.

“It would be different if it increased on luxury cars – it won’t impact the customers we see,” he said. “It’s the food and the rent that hits these people hard.”

Baker said people with low incomes, unstable jobs, or who are elderly or disabled can access credit just to make ends meet.

“They don’t have access to credit to buy luxury items or discretionary items; they need to access credit just to live day to day,” he said. “Food on the table, feeding their families, making sure they have money at the end of the month for rent.”

Baker said people who don’t have good credit or who have instability in their jobs can find it very difficult to get credit from banks or other financial institutions, so they are often pushed to access to credit through “predatory” lenders who may charge 45 to 60 percent interest on loans.

“This is one of the areas where we are seeing an increasing number of people being affected,” he said. “And once people get trapped in this downward debt cycle, it’s really hard for them to get out of it.”

Baker said he deals with some “heartbreaking” cases, such as a senior on a fixed income who accessed a loan to help a family member, and was then paying $1,000 a month to repay these loans.

“When you access it, you have to pay. And if you miss payments, there are penalties involved. And the interest rates are prohibitive,” he said. “Quite honestly, I was worried about his mental well-being because he was so stressed about it. Imagine an elderly person in his 60s, not living an exorbitant life, and all of a sudden struggling to…find that money to repay those loans.

Family Services was able to help the man get a loan through a credit union, which reduced his payment to $350 per month.

“Some of the most difficult people I see are struggling people, older people who may have worked all their lives, who haven’t lived an extravagant lifestyle or anything, and who are struggling with homelessness or food security,” he said. “So those are some of the most heartbreaking customer stories I see.”

Baker told the story of a customer with a disability who had taken out payday loans, but was confused about what he was signing.

“He thought the interest he was paying was 6%, but it was 46%,” he said.

Some people, Baker said, feel like they have no choice but to get payday loans because they can’t get credit from a bank.

“They choose the predatory lender because in fact the bank is closed to them. They cannot access credit through the bank. So it’s a forced decision that attracts people there,” he said. “And then, unfortunately, when the economy is tough, some of these places really thrive because people – it’s a case of, do I take a payday loan or do I not pay my rent or do I have a bare table for dinner?”

Financial Literacy Month

November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada, a month aimed at strengthening financial literacy across the country. This year’s theme is Making Change That Matters: Managing Your Money in a Changing World.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada said this year’s theme reflects a complex and changing financial landscape. In the face of rising costs of living, rising interest rates and record levels of household debt in Canada, FCAC is putting the spotlight on debt management.

According to Family Services of Greater Vancouver, the number of people affected by inflation and the rising cost of living continues to rise in the Lower Mainland: nine out of 10 Canadians are tightening their household budgets as inflation and high prices persist; high inflation has pushed record numbers of Canadians to food banks in 2022; and nearly half of Canadians say their finances are worse than a year ago.

Baker said financial empowerment is about providing education to individuals, so they can make better, more informed financial decisions. When they have solid financial information, he says they are able to make good decisions and ask the right questions.

“If you have basic knowledge and ask well-thought-out questions, you’re probably less likely to be financially exploited,” he said.

Baker said he always wondered why financial empowerment wasn’t taught to students in school.

“A life skill, such as financial empowerment, is something that you’re going to use all your life,” he said.

If people have an understanding of budgeting, setting financial goals, saving, Baker said, it can have a huge impact on their lives.

Help is available

Family Services offers general workshops on topics such as: money basics (financial skills, budgeting, credit and debt); make your money work (saving and investing, saving for retirement, registered disability savings plans) and registered education savings plans); money and you (money and relationships, consumption, frauds and scams); advantages of navigation; and tax declaration. Services are offered in English, Spanish, French, Farsi, Cantonese and Vietnamese, and some workshops are offered at local public libraries.

“The message we want to get across is that if people are in trouble, there is help available,” he said. “Of course, our workshops are good for general information. But our individual coaching is really helpful.

While workshops and one-on-one coaching can’t immediately solve people’s financial problems in a single session, Baker said they often leave an hour-long session less stressed than when they arrived.

“They realize that there are options available, whereas when they first arrive they think there is no hope,” he said. “They leave knowing, ‘Hey, we talked about different strategies or things I can do. “”

Through one-on-one coaching, family service staff will work with a person on their personal situation.

“Our approach is very much a trauma-informed, client-centered approach,” Baker said. “We support and provide the information, strategies and options, but ultimately it’s up to the client to decide what action they want to take. We find that’s really beneficial because it gives them control, and they gain that confidence knowing they’re making the decision.

Baker said there was increased interest in post-pandemic programs. It is also picked up as inflation has increased.

For people who are struggling financially, the first step in family services is to see if there are ways to increase their resources, which could include using the benefits finder tool that provides a list of potential benefits they may receive.

“A lot of times we have customers come in, and they’re not even aware that they’re missing out on a particular benefit,” Baker said. “So one of the things we do is make sure their taxes are filed and up to date, which sometimes low-income people don’t file taxes, because their rationale is ‘I don’t earn enough. , it’s not worth me filing .’ But by not reporting, they often miss out on many government benefits.

Family Services also helps people learn about community benefits they may be eligible for, such as grants that can help seniors pay for housing or affordable internet services. Other actions could include finding ways to reduce expenses and providing information about food banks and other food programs if food insecurity is an issue.

Baker said single parents are a group that finds it particularly difficult, as are older people who may not be able to accept a job or other employment. He said college and university students are accessing food programs in increasing numbers, having seen “very significant” increases in rental rates.

“It’s an area, in fact, I’ve spent most of my career working in that area, writing books for students on how to fund colleges and universities. So it’s an area that I’ve been studying and writing about for many years. And it’s, you know, it’s probably one of the worst situations in terms of current students.

Baker is the author of the book, The Debt-Free Graduate: How to Survive College or University Without Breaking the Bank. He was inspired to write the book after seeing the “huge debt” of students after graduation and the impact it had on their lives for many years after graduation from college. including their ability to get married, to start a family, to start their life. own business, to buy consumer goods (which has an impact on the whole economy) and to set aside money for their own financial future.

“It’s really had a huge effect,” he told the Registration.

Debt impacts people’s lives — from their relationships with family members to mental health issues, Baker said. He emphasizes that there is no shame in asking for help.

“People don’t have to feel stigmatized if they’re in debt,” Baker said. “We do our coaching without judgment – ​​we don’t care how people got to the situation; our concern is how can we help you out of this situation? »

The Family Services team works with a variety of clients, some of whom earn six-figure incomes but are at risk of losing their homes to debt.

“People look around the Lower Mainland and you see nice homes and people driving fancy cars. Or you’re on social media and people are sharing their new purchases and things like that. There’s the perception that “everyone is fine except me,” Baker said. “And sometimes you compare it to an illusion rather than a reality. You don’t know all these people who drive nice cars, how much debt they have.

For coaching appointments, contact Family Services of Greater Vancouver at or call 1-800-609-3202.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus


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