One of the common emails and comments we get are from readers who find themselves wondering what will happen to debt if they move to another country. It isn’t always a plot to skirt responsibilities or rack up huge credit card balances with extravagant purchases and then flee the country. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to leave debt behind and more commonly, the question is posed because consumers genuinely want to have their finances in order before they move, and when moving or changing countries, the United States is just a common destination. In this post, we will look at the situation in Canada.
Credit Reporting in Canada
Credit reporting in Canada works a lot like it does in the United States with the same credit bureaus. In Canada, the main credit reporting agencies are Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada, which hold all of the credit records from banks and finance companies in order to keep track of everyone’s credit worthiness. Credit scores by Equifax and TransUnion range from 300 to 900 and determine all of the regular things like whether a borrower is high or low risk and the interest rate. In Canada, lenders ratings on a scale from 1 to 9 may also be included. A “1” would mean you bills are paid within 30 days of the due date, while a “9” would mean you never pay your bills. There is also a lettering system with “I” meaning installment basis and “O” meaning open line of credit. So, on the credit report, you may see I2 or O9, for example.
If You Don’t Pay Your Bills in Canada
It’s safe to say if you don’t pay your bills in Canada, you’re going to suffer much as you would in the United States. Bad credit may result in credit and loan denials, high interest rates and potential lawsuits. According to ServiceAlberta.ca, if your debt is less than $25,000, the creditor may sue you in the Civil Division of Provincial Court which can lead to property being seized or wages being garnished.
Statute of Limitations and Leaving Debt in Canada
If you are unable to pay your bills and plan on moving from Canada, you may want to look into the statute of limitations for the province in which you live. For example, in Alberta, the Limitations Acts allows the time for suing on a debt to 2 years. If there has already been a judgment against the debtor, the time period is 10 years and can be renewed by the creditor. The BC Limitation Act in British Columbia is set at 6 years and in Newfoundland and Labrador, 2 years. According to Section 32 of the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, things may be a little different when considering different debts such as student loans, child support, taxes and alimony.
Additionally, the Statute of Limitations time period may be reset when you start making payments or acknowledge the debt in the form of payment or something written. This would mean that if you move from Canada and completely forget about your debt, don’t make any payments and don’t correspond with the creditor past the statute of limitations, the creditor will not be able to take any legal action against you for the debt. The debt will remain on the credit report until 7 years from the date of last activity.
If you have any assets in Canada when you leave, the creditors may be able to seize those assets in Canada. This would include retirement accounts which can be used to pay off any debt you have left behind.
Will My Bad Canadian Credit Follow Me?
According to Experian, you cannot transfer your credit history from Canada to the United States. In order to establish credit in the U.S. , you would basically start over and obtain a credit account and build your credit with a positive repayment history or a secured account, much like you never had credit before. If you have an account with a multi-national lender, you may be able to transfer the account itself to the U.S. division to kickstart your credit history. American Express is one company that has been known to do this and sometimes banks can transfer payment histories on accounts. Depending on your situation, this can be either good or a pain in the neck as far as credit is concerned.
Angie Mohr, Canadian Chartered Accountant and author of a number of personal finance books, has personal experience with having to start over building credit in the United States. “The Canadian credit score doesn’t follow people to the U.S.- which is a huge issue for those who have stellar credit in Canada but get dinged in the U.S. because all of their U.S. credit is so new.” However, when you return to Canada, your credit score in the United States may be incorporated with your Canadian score.
What Happens If I Return to Canada
Unlike leaving credit card debt in a country like Singapore and returning, you won’t be declared “bankrupt” by your creditors. If you return to Singapore after having been declared bankrupt in the courts, you could have a difficult time finding a job and any of your belongings may be seized. In Canada however, returning could be less eventful with just a bad credit rating waiting for you.
It is always best to tie up any loose ends and see which accounts can be transferred before you move to another country. After all, you never know when you may want to return and it’s always easier if you left under good terms. It is also far less of a hassle to deal with your creditors than attempt to avoid them.