Albertans in mounting debt struggle to get help: “Things just get right out of control.”

Between the pandemic, soaring utility costs, the price of just about everything going up, and rising interest rates, more and more Albertans find themselves in a deep financial hole with one in three saying they don’t know how to dig themselves out.

A poll conducted by Ipsos on behalf of MNP shows 35 per cent of Albertans saying they don’t know how to get themselves out of debt or where to turn to for relief.

Zaki Alam, licensed insolvency trustee, says people are becoming increasingly concerned about their debt levels.

“People sometimes get a bit embarrassed about their level of debt, the stress involved as well, thinking about it, and also who to turn to regarding getting proper financial advice on how to manage their debt situation,” Alam said.

The study also finds 51 per cent of Albertans polled have difficulty trusting professionals to help them with their financial situation.

Alam says to overcome financial anxiety people should reach out to a licensed insolvency trustee.

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But almost half of Albertans who responded to the survey say if their financial situation is bad enough to consider bankruptcy, they’re too embarrassed to seek help.

Bradley Lafortune, executive director for Public Interest Alberta, says getting help with your debt isn’t a shameful matter.

“If you’re worried about seeking help, you’re not alone,” Lafortune said. “A lot of people in Alberta and in Canada are struggling to make ends meet, and so, it’s nothing uncommon and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Lafortune adds Albertans haven’t been getting enough relief from the province.

“Everything that the provincial government could be doing and has said they will be doing has not happened, they’re not taking the opportunities they can to make life more affordable for working people,” Lafortune said.

Marnie tells CityNews she’s been in a deep financial hole due to dental debts as she doesn’t have coverage.

“[Every time] I get close to getting out of debt, I go to the dentist and I’m thousands of dollars in debt again. So, I haven’t been totally out of debt since I don’t know when,” she said.

“To actually get out of debt and stay out of debt would be such a blessing.”

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She says she’s had to borrow from friends and use credit cards to afford dental work and it’s made an impact on her mental health.

“I do have very, very long-term situational depression and situational anxiety,” she added.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get this paid off this year — whether I can manage it. Every year it’s like OK, this is the year I’m going to get out of debt, and this year I was really close and then I went to the dentist [again] and so much for that.”

CityNews spoke with Teresa, another Albertan who says she’s been stuck in a never-ending cycle of debt.

“I got kicked in the head by a 392-pound ostrich and wasn’t able to work, so I’ve been on AISH dealing with chronic pain and whatever else. So, when something like that happens in your life, [everything] changes in an instant and you find yourself in debt,” she explained.

“You end up borrowing from friends and family, and things just get right out of control.”

She says she was in debt after her accident and managed to pay it all off during the pandemic but is now back in debt again due to high utility bills.

“Initially, I was debt-free at the end of the pandemic but now I’m now in arrears with Enmax and Direct Energy, but I’m working towards paying that off as well,” she added.

She says she took several free savings and financial education classes to help get her out of debt the first time around.

Her advice to people in similar situations:

“[Your debts] are payable, there’s lots of programs out there that are free for people who are low income, on disability, or for seniors,” she said.

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Meanwhile, the office of the finance minister tells CityNews that Alberta has done more on affordability than any other province.

“Alberta has taken steps to address affordability by cutting the gas tax, saving Albertans 13 cents per litre of fuel, providing $150 in rebates for electricity, and establishing a consumer protection program for natural gas prices,” the statement read.

The government also points the blame at the feds.

“Provincial government alone cannot address the root cause – inflation – without the federal government taking action on their spending habits,” the office added.

“It is our hope that the federal government will return to fiscal responsibility, re-establish fiscal anchors that ensure [the] appropriate use of taxpayer dollars, and invest in key infrastructure projects that encourage private sector investment.”

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