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Survey analyzes debt, savings preferences among Europeans, Canadians and Americans

Mar 17, 2012 Walt Wojciechowski

With debt levels rising throughout North America, it's no wonder that consumers are willing to employ unusual tactics to reign in their balances and improve credit scores. In Canada, consumers appear particularly ready to dip into their personal financial health in order to pay off debts. According to a survey released this week by ING Direct, Canadians are more willing than both Americans and Western Europeans to use personal savings to pay down debt over the next year. Specifically, one-third of surveyed Canadians - 33 percent - claim they are prepared to dip into savings for such a cause. That figure drops to 29 percent among Americans and 18 percent among Western Europeans (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Austria.) Even so, the same number of Canadians feel uncomfortable with the amount of money they have saved, although respondents were even more disconcerted with their personal finances in Spain (48 percent) and the U.S. (36 percent). "Across the board, we are seeing that people's saving behavior has changed significantly following the global financial crisis," said Ian Bright, a senior economist at ING. "Several developed economies are struggling to regain previous rates of growth and levels of employment, and the long-run effects of the crisis have shifted people's attitudes towards how they live and how they view their financial future." More than one-thirds of Canadian respondents - 36 percent - agree that their financial position has weakened due to expenses rising faster than incomes, despite the fact that the country has fared better in its recovery than its neighbors in Europe or North America. In all countries, however, a majority of respondents claimed they are saving less due to current economic conditions. "The fact that Canadians are paying more attention to their spending is good news," said Peter Aceto, president and CEO of ING. "It's the first step towards reducing debt, which really, is an important aspect of building savings overall. As Canadians manage to scale down interest payments on their debts, more of their money can be put where it has the potential to grow." While banks, credit card issuers and alternative finance lenders have increased their lending to consumers, debt collection activity is likely to spike in coming months. In the U.S., student loan debts recently surpassed the total volume of auto and credit card loans for the first time in history.