15 percent of Canadians are ‘underbanked’ — here’s what that means and why it’s a barrier to equitable recovery

Research shows that 15 percent, or close to five million Canadians, are underbanked, and three percent are completely unbanked, meaning that they have very limited or no access to financial services within the traditional banking sector. 

Ironically, underbanked individuals often come from low-moderate income backgrounds which put them at a higher need for accessible financial services. However, factors like low credit scores, high credit card fees, and non-sufficient fund fees are major barriers that shut Canadians out from banks.

Instances of explicit racism while banking, which include being handcuffed when trying to open a bank account, have further diminished the trust in banks for many Black, Indigenous and people of colour.  



The Role of Credit Unions in Providing Alternatives to Payday Lending

High levels of household indebtedness in Canada has been a concern for policymakers at all levels of government over the past decade. As the economic costs of COVID-19 grow, household indebtedness becomes a faster growing and increasingly more serious concern.
 
While responsive government policy, such as the federal government’s Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), has curbed some short-term impacts on indebtedness, the program was developed to fill a temporary gap. The most vulnerable households are low-income households with limited access to credit, who frequently turn to high cost payday lending for financial relief. While regulations on the payday lending industry have increased substantially, low-income Canadian households remain left with few, if any, practical alternatives.
 
The low-income households in greatest need of alternatives are the financially excluded, specifically the underbanked and the unbanked.
 
At the same time, it is important to recognize that not all payday loan clients are in low-income households. A 2016 report by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada states that close to 40% of payday loan borrowers have household income of $55,000 or greater and 20% having income of $80,000 or greater.
 
Thus, payday loan borrowers are not a homogeneous group.
 
Some Canadian credit unions have developed payday loan alternatives for the financially excluded, however, these more reasonably priced loans are only accessed by a very small portion of would-be payday loan clients.
 
The objective of this research is to review the alternative payday loan products currently offered by Canadian credit unions, to identify the barriers to offering more payday loan alternatives, and to make recommendations to expand the offerings.



National Report on High Interest Loans

ACORN Canada undertook a study focusing on high interest loans, especially when taken online. For the purpose of the study, high interest loans were defined as loans such as payday loans, installment loans, title loans etc. that are taken from companies/institutions that are not regular banks or credit unions.

The study was conducted to examine the experience of lower-income consumers in the increasingly available online high-cost credit markets.

The study was divided into three phases - conducting a literature review and webscan which was undertaken by Prosper Canada; legislative scan to understand the regulatory framework; and a national survey to capture experiences of people who have taken high interest loans, especially online.



Does State-Mandated Financial Education Affect High-Cost Borrowing?

Using pooled data from the 2012 and 2015 waves of the National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), this research finds that young adults who were required to take personal finance courses in high school were significantly less likely to borrow payday loans than their peers who were not. These effects do not significantly differ by race/ethnicity or gender, suggesting that financial education may be useful regardless of demographics.



High-Cost Alternative Financial Services: The Customer Experience

In early 2017 Momentum reached out to over 50 community members and participants to better understand local experiences with high-cost alternative financial services. In addition to connecting with individuals through interviews, Momentum hosted community consultations in partnership with Poverty Talks! and Sunrise Community Link Resource Centre. The following document summarizes what we learned from these conversations and the loan contracts that borrowers shared with us. It also identifies several themes that emerged from these discussions.



Summary Brief: High-Cost Alternative Financial Services

Many Albertans turn to high-cost alternative financial services when they need a short-term fix for a financial issue. Though these services are expensive and unsafe, they are often the only option for low-income individuals, particularly those who struggle to obtain credit at mainstream financial institutions. High-cost alternative financial services contribute to a two-tiered banking system, in which the poor often pay more for inferior services.

Without more stringent regulation, and in the absence of safe and affordable short-term credit options, Albertans living on lower-incomes will continue to experience financial exclusion and take on heavy debt loads – both of which are major contributors to long-term poverty.



High-Cost Alternative Financial Services: Policy Options

Many Canadians turn to high-cost alternative financial services when they need a short-term fix for a budgetary issue. Though these banking and credit alternatives are a convenient choice for individuals in search of fast cash, particularly those who face barriers to obtaining credit at a bank or credit union, access comes at a steep price and with a high degree of risk. On its own, one high-cost loan has the potential to trap a borrower in a cycle of debt, not only amplifying their short-term problem, but also limiting their ability to secure the income and assets needed to thrive in the long term.

The policy recommendations presented in this brief, and summarized in the chart on page two,  are inspired by the regulatory initiatives across the country, and reflect ways in which all three levels of government can contribute to better consumer protection for all Canadians.

 



High cost lending in Canada


This webinar, "High cost lending in Canada: Risks, regulations, and alternatives," is about why high cost lending products are concerning, especially for financially vulnerable Canadians. Speakers discuss what is driving the use of these products, what kind of regulations are involved, and what advocacy and financial product solutions could look like. The speakers are:

  • Jerry Buckland from Canadian Mennonite University
  • Courtney Hare from Momentum.

Read the presentation slides for this webinar.




Small-Dollar Credit – Protecting Consumers and Fostering Innovation

Predatory Lending: A Survey of High Interest Alternative Financial Service Users

Payday Loans: Market Trends

Canadian Consumer Finance Association: Filling the Gap – Canada’s Payday Lenders

Short-Term Gain, Long-Term Pain: Examining the Growing Payday Loan Industry in B.C.

Fringe Financial Institutions, The Unbanked, and the Precariously Banked: Survey Results from Prince George, B.C.

All In: Building the Path to Global Prosperity Through Financial Capability and Inclusion

Payday Loan Facts and the CFPB’s Impact

Debt and the Racial Wealth Gap

Why It’s So Hard to Regulate Payday Lenders

Adopting Effective Banking Practices. Ontario Edition

A population-based study of premature mortality in relation to neighbourhood density of alcohol sales and cheque cashing outlets in Toronto, Canada

The Real Cost of Payday Lending

Since the early 1990s payday lending businesses have become increasingly prolific in most parts of Canada, including Calgary. Social agencies and advocates working to reduce poverty view payday lenders and other fringe financial businesses as problematic for those looking to exit the cycle of poverty. Payday lenders charge interest rates that, when annualized, top 400%. The industry justifies this by stating that comparisons to an annual rate are unfair as loans are not meant to or allowed to last longer than two months. However, the fact remains that these businesses charge far more for credit than mainstream financial institutions and are more prevalent in lower income neighbourhoods.



Considering A Payday Loan? 10 Questions To Ask


If you’re short on cash, a payday loan may seem like a quick way to get money, but there is a high cost. Fees on payday loans are generally much higher than those on other forms of credit, and they will take a big bite out of your budget. Make sure you have all the facts about a payday loan by asking the following questions.


Payday Loans: An Expensive Way to Borrow

2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households

Fair Financing: Expanding Small-Dollar Short-Term Credit for Albertans

Dealing with Dollars NL: A look at financial literacy gaps and barriers

How Should We Serve the Short-Term Credit Needs of Low-Income Consumers

CFPB Proposal for Payday and Other Small Loans

How the CFPB is Proposing to Regulate the Small Dollar Lending Industry. Understanding and Supporting the Payday Lending Rules.

Supplemental findings on payday, payday installment, and vehicle title loans, and deposit advance products

Banking on the Margins: Finding Ways to Build an Enabling Small Dollar Credit Market

Consumer Experiences in Online Payday Loans

On Policy Summer 2016

Banking the Poor: Policies to Bring Low-Income Americans Into the Financial Mainstream

Choosing Financial Services Where the Options are Limited: A Report on a Survey of Financial Service Choice of Residents in Inner-city Neighbourhoods in Toronto, Vancouver & Winnipeg

Does Community Access to Alternative Financial Services Relate to Individuals’ Use of These Services? Beyond Individual Explanations