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Tying the knot: Four in 10 Canadian marriages begin in debt

The average new family starts off with an average of $21,503 in debt on its wedding day, according to a recent poll conducted for consumer proposal and trustee in bankruptcy Hoyes, Michalos & Associates.

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As Valentine's Day approaches, couples thinking of tying the knot might want to take note of the following: four in 10 Canadian marriages begin in debt.

The average new family starts off with an average of $21,503 in debt on its wedding day, according to a recent poll conducted for consumer proposal and trustee in bankruptcy Hoyes, Michalos & Associates Inc.

"It's scary that before starting a new life together many Canadians are already burdened with debt," said Douglas Hoyes, a bankruptcy trustee with Hoyes, Michalos.

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"How can you buy a house, start a family and live the Canadian dream when you are already in debt?"

The poll found that 47 per cent of respondents aged between 25 and 34 years old brought debt into their relationship, while those in the 45-to-54 age group started off with the highest level of debt of all at an average of $19,488 per partner.

Current students had the highest level of debt at $33,045, according to the survey results, unveiled Monday.

"Of greatest concern is the apparent lack of communications," said Ted Michalos, a bankruptcy trustee with Hoyes, Michalos.

More than one in three – 36 per cent – said they did not talk about their debt with their spouse prior to getting hitched, the results indicate.

"If you don't discuss your debt you can't make a plan to deal with it," said Mr. Michalos.

On the brighter side, 61 per cent of respondents said they have paid off their pre-relationship debt, but 46 per cent said they added new debt – excluding a mortgage – since being married.

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Those who failed to discuss their debt situation were more likely to have only added to their debts, according to the poll.

Among Hoyes, Michalos' tips for managing debt and marriage:

* Discuss your debts and your repayment plan before marriage

* Prepare a family budget

* Postpone major purchases, and even perhaps a family, until after the debt situation is under control * Consider carefully before co-signing on your spouse's pre-marital debts

* Don't open a joint bank account at the same bank where one spouse owes any debt

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* Discuss any decision to take on new debt jointly

* Consider a pre-nuptial agreement to protect any assets in the event of a break-up

The survey was conducted by Harris/Decima using their national telephone omnibus. A total of 613 surveys were completed between Jan. 3 and Jan. 6. A probability sample of this size has a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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