Canadians using their homes as ATMs in a swooning housing market put financial system at risk: DBRS

Borrowing on Helocs to fund everything from home renovations to car purchases has grown faster than residential mortgages since 2017, and undrawn commitments at the large Canadian banks stood at $120 billion./Thinkstock

Canadians are ramping up borrowing against their homes even as the real estate market slumps, exposing the country’s financial system to vulnerabilities, rating company DBRS said.

Home equity lines of credit, or Helocs, reached a record $243 billion as of Oct. 31, or 11.3 per cent of total household credit, the highest share since mid-2015, analysts including Robert Colangelo said in a report Thursday. Borrowing to fund everything from home renovations to car purchases has grown faster than residential mortgages since 2017, and undrawn commitments at the large Canadian banks stood at $120 billion.

“The flexibility of Helocs could increase financial system vulnerabilities,” the analysts said. “In the event of a correction, borrowers could find themselves with a debt load that exceeds the value of their home, which is often referred to as negative equity.”

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