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Control your debts, central bank tells Canadians

Growing pessimism, rising interest rates.

That's the odd reality today for Canadians trying to make sense of what's happening in the financial world. On one hand, there's a growing sense that global economic growth is slowing. On the other, there's the Bank of Canada's decision to nudge its trendsetting overnight rate higher by one-quarter of a percentage point Tuesday.

The net result is a gift to people with debts. They'll have to pay more in interest on their lines of credit, variable-rate mortgages and floating rate loans, but the increase is mild and the pace of further increases will be muted. It could be a lot worse.

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In fact, lots of market watchers thought it would be worse last year when they looked ahead to 2010. They saw all the government stimulus pumped into the economy during the recession producing a significant uptick in inflation, which in turn would send interest rates marching higher.

Take a look at our live blog now.

Now, there's talk of deflation, or falling prices. The Bank of Canada's not outwardly concerned about this, but it did throw a mention into its latest statement on rates about how it expects economic growth to slow next year and in 2012 from the 3.5 per cent growth of 2010. Back in April, the bank expected 3.7 per cent growth this year.

More on debt:

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  • Family finances: Flying solo or with a co-pilot?
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  • A plan to cope with a debt cloud
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  • Improve your money skills

Borrowers would undoubtedly say that no rate increases would be ideal. But keeping rates steady at current levels promotes an unhelpful complacency with borrowers. Rates are still close to the emergency lows they hit in the financial crisis and recession. By increasing rates by a quarter point in June and then another quarter point on Tuesday, the Bank has signalled people that it's time to get control of their debts.

This seems to be working. The latest research on household debt from CIBC World Markets shows that growth in the use of lines of credit has hit the lowest level since 2007. The housing market is showing a more dramatic slowdown, with sales in June down almost 20 per cent from the same period of 2009.

The Bank of Canada is trying to normalize interest rates these days, and Canadians seem to be on their way to normalizing their use of debt after a binge in the past decade.

Videos on debt and how to deal with it:

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  • Common mistake: Too much real estate debt
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  • Managing student debt: How to do it best
  • Hitting the wall with credit troubles?
  • Got a debt headache? You're not alone

That's exactly the right way to play the current economic environment. Get your debts in hand before the economy really turns around and decisively higher rates are needed.

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About the Author
Personal Finance Columnist

Rob Carrick has been writing about personal finance, business and economics for close to 20 years. He joined The Globe and Mail in late 1996 as an investment reporter and has been personal finance columnist since November 1998. Rob's personal finance columns appear in The Globe on Tuesday and Thursday, and his Portfolio Strategy column for investors appears on Saturday. More

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