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Homeowners worried about paying down debt as interest rates go up

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This story is part of a series we’re calling Debt Nation, looking at the state of consumer debt in Canada. Look for more coverage in the coming days, including on car loans, mortgages and credit card debt.


Many Canadian homeowners are worried about rising interest rates and how they will impact their budget, a new CBC Research survey finds.

Thanks to years of access to cheap money, household debt has ballooned in Canada. Now that interest rates are rising, there are mounting concerns over how people will continue to pay down mountains of debt.

Out of 1,000 Canadian homeowners surveyed online between Oct. 5 and 11, almost three-quarters of those with debt on their home — mainly mortgages — confessed they’re worried about rate hikes.

It won’t take much for most of them to feel the pinch: 58 per cent of respondents said an increase of more than $100 in their monthly debt payments would force them to change their spending habits to make ends meet.

Certified financial planner Shannon Lee Simmons says many people who come to her for help are in a similar predicament. 

“I see that on a daily basis from clients who make relatively normal living wages, but everything is just budgeted to the dollar,” she said.

“If you were to ask them, ‘Can you save $100 bucks a month?’ they might fail at that.”

We want to hear your debt confessions. Post a short clip, maximum 15 seconds, to your Instagram Stories and be sure to tag @CBCNews and use the hastag #DebtNation. We’re looking to feature the most compelling on CBC News Instagram and CBC News throughout the week. Learn more here.

Simmons says part of the problem is some homeowners have never experienced a significant rise in interest rates.

“If you’re 40 right now and you bought your house at 30, you’ve pretty much had a decade of relatively low [rates] and that’s all you’ve experienced.”

Certified financial planner Shannon Lee Simmons says homeowners need to prepare for the true cost of rising interest rates. (Shannon Lee Simmons)

Indeed, a 40-year-old would have been a toddler in 1981 when Canadian banks’ prime lending rate shot up above 20 per cent. Conversely, since 2009, it has ranged between 3.70 and 5.75 per cent. Banks use the prime rate as a base to set their lending rates. 

Failing to budget for heftier mortgage payments could lead to even more hardships, such as homeowners digging into their savings or turning to credit cards to make ends meet.

“It leaves it rife for credit card debt,” said Simmons, founder of The New School of Finance, a financial planning firm in Toronto.

Not concerned — yet

The CBC survey findings come at a time when the Bank of Canada has already hiked the key interest rate four times since July 2017, from .50 to 1.50 per cent. The key rate influences the rate that banks charge for consumer loans and mortgages. 

Many homeowners likely haven’t yet felt the full effects of the rate hikes because they’re still locked into a fixed mortgage, the most common type in Canada. 

When their mortgage is up for renewal, “they might be in for a bit of a shock,” Simmons said.

The market expects another rate hike on Oct. 24, and some economists predict three rate hikes in 2019.

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz says he believes Canada’s debt risk can be managed successfully. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, the amount of debt Canadian households owe has been on the rise for about three decades, totalling just over $2 trillion in August. Mortgages make up close to three quarters of that debt. 

For years, the Bank of Canada has expressed concern over rising household debt levels. In 2011, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tried to temper borrowing habits with tighter mortgage rules.

They included lowering the maximum amortization period and requiring borrowers to qualify for a five-year, fixed-rate mortgage, even if they chose a variable mortgage with a lower rate.

But interest rates remained low and Canadians continued to pile on debt.

COMING UP IN THE DEBT NATION SERIES:

  • TUESDAY | Why long-term loans are the fuel that’s powering Canadian car sales
  • WEDNESDAY | Full news coverage of Bank of Canada announcement on interest rates
  • THURSDAY | CBC business reporter Peter Armstrong takes a look at the current state of household debt in Canada; Don Pittis analyzes what the Bank of Canada news means for Canadians’ finances
  • FRIDAY | CBC business columnist Don Pittis explains why credit card debt can be a dangerous trap

Wrong answer

According to credit agency TransUnion, Canadians owed an average $260,547 in mortgage debt in the second quarter of 2018 — a 4.76 per cent jump compared to the same period in 2017.

In the CBC survey, 36 per cent of respondents said they had no debt on their home. Forty-two per cent said they owed between $50,000 and just under $400,000 when combining both a mortgage and lines of credit. 

Most respondents said they are very or somewhat comfortable with their current monthly payments.

However, as the survey shows, for many, that level of comfort diminishes when faced with the prospect of higher rates.

And the impact could be more severe than some people think: When presented with a couple mortgage scenarios, less than a quarter of respondents were able to correctly estimate the added cost of a two per cent interest rate hike.

Take, for example, a $400,000 mortgage with a 20-year amortization and a fixed five-year rate of 3.3 per cent. With just a two per cent rate increase, monthly payments would go up by about $400 a month.

Simmons says many people find making the calculations daunting, but that homeowners need to understand the true cost of rising rates.

“Everyone is aware they’re going up, I just think that people aren’t necessarily prepared for how that impacts their daily life.”

It’s important to note that even with a projected rise in interest rates in 2019, they’ll still be relatively low compared to previous decades.

The Bank of Canada raises the country’s key interest rate to keep inflation in check, but governor Stephen Poloz said in May that the bank will make rate decisions cautiously, considering the amount of debt households are still carrying.

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U.S. Charges Chinese Tech Giant Huawei, Top Executive

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is filing charges against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

A 13-count indictment was unsealed Monday in New York charging Huawei, two of its affiliates and a top executive at the company.

The charges include bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

A separate case filed in Washington state charges Huawei with stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.

Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 1. Prosecutors allege she committed fraud by misleading American banks about Huawei’s business deals in Iran.

Prosecutors charge Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Huawei is the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies.

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24 Million Mortgage And Bank Loan Documents Leaked Online

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A trove of more than 24 million financial and banking documents, representing tens of thousands of loans and mortgages from some of the biggest banks in the U.S., has been found online after a server security lapse.

The server, running an Elasticsearch database, had more than a decade’s worth of data, containing loan and mortgage agreements, repayment schedules and other highly sensitive financial and tax documents that reveal an intimate insight into a person’s financial life.

But it wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone to access and read the massive cache of documents.

It’s believed that the database was only exposed for two weeks — but long enough for independent security researcher Bob Diachenko to find the data. At first glance, it wasn’t immediately known who owned the data. After we inquired with several banks whose customers information was found on the server, the database was shut down on January 15.

With help from TechCrunch, the leak was traced back to Ascension, a data and analytics company for the financial industry, based in Fort Worth, Texas. The company provides data analysis and portfolio valuations. Among its services, the Ascension converts paper documents and handwritten notes into computer-readable files — known as OCR.

It’s that bank of converted documents that was exposed, Diachenko said in his own write-up.

Sandy Campbell, general counsel at Ascension’s parent company, Rocktop Partners, which owns more than 46,000 loans worth $4.4 billion, confirmed the security incident to TechCrunch, but said its systems were unaffected.

“On January 15, this vendor learned of a server configuration error that may have led to exposure of some mortgage-related documents,” he said in a statement. “The vendor immediately shut down the server in question, and we are working with third-party forensics experts to investigate the situation. We are also in regular contact with law enforcement investigators and technology partners as this investigation proceeds.”

An unspecified portion of the loans were shared with the contractor for analysis, the statement added, but couldn’t immediately confirm how many loan documents were exposed.

TechCrunch has learned that the vendor is New York-based company OpticsML. Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful. Its website is offline and its phone number was disconnected from service.

In a phone call, Campbell confirmed that the company will inform all affected customers, and report the incident to state regulators under data breach notification laws.

From our review, it was clear that the documents pertain to loans and mortgages and other correspondence from several of the major financial and lending institutions dating as far back as 2008, if not longer, including CitiFinancial, a now-defunct lending finance arm of Citigroup, files from HSBC Life Insurance, Wells Fargo, CapitalOne and some U.S. federal departments, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some of the companies have long been defunct, after selling their mortgage divisions and assets to other companies.

Though not all files contained the highly sensitive and personal data points, we found: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and bank and checking account numbers, as well as details of loan agreements that include sensitive financial information, such as why the person is requesting the loan.

Some of the documents also note if a person has filed for bankruptcy and tax documents, including annual W-2 tax forms, which are targets for scammers to claim false refunds.

But the database stored documents in a random order, and were not easily followable or presented in an easy to read or formatted way, making it difficult to follow from one document to another, said Diachenko.

We verified the authenticity of data by checking a portion of names in the database with public records.

“These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report,” Diachenko told TechCrunch. “This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.”

Although the documents originate from these financiers, one bank — Citi, which helped to secure the data — said it had no current relationship with the company.

“Citi recently became aware that a third party, with no connection to Citi, was storing certain mortgage origination and modification documents in an unsecure online environment,” said a Citi spokesperson. “These documents contained information about current or former Citi customers, as well as customers from other financial institutions. Citi notified law enforcement, initiated a thorough forensic investigation and worked quickly to ensure the information could no longer be publicly accessed.”

Citi confirmed that “third party is a vendor to a company that had purchased the loans and we have found no evidence that Citi’s systems were compromised.”

The bank added that it’s working to identify potentially affected customers.

Dozens of other companies are affected, including smaller regional banks and larger multinationals.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson said the data was obtained by Ascension from other entities that purchased Wells Fargo mortgages. HSBC said it was investigating if any of its customers’ data, including past customers, and confirmed it had “no vendor relationship with Ascension since 2010.” When reached, CapitalOne did not comment at the time of publication. A Housing and Urban Development spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. The department is currently affected by the ongoing government shutdown. If anything changes, we’ll update.

It’s the latest in a series of security lapses involving Elasticsearch databases.

A massive database leaking millions of real-time SMS text message data was found and secured last year, as well as a popular massage service and, most recently, AIESEC, the largest youth-run nonprofit for working opportunities.

Updated at 5pm ET: with comment from HSBC and additional details regarding OpticsML.

Got a tip? You can send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755–8849. You can also send PGP email with the fingerprint: 4D0E 92F2 E36A EC51 DAAE 5D97 CB8C 15FA EB6C EEA5.

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Brandon Truaxe, Founder of Deciem Skin Care Company, Is Dead At 40

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Brandon Truaxe, the former CEO and founder of the skin care company Deciem, has died at age 40.

An executive at the company confirmed Truaxe’s death in an email to Vox, which also obtained the email sent by acting CEO Nicola Kilner to Deciem’s staff.

“I can’t believe I am typing these words. Brandon has passed away over the weekend. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to how I, and how I know many of you will be feeling,” read the email, which also indicated that the company’s “offices, warehouses, factories and stores” would all be closed Monday to “take the time to cry with sadness, smile at the good times we had, reflect on what his genius built and hug your loved ones that little harder.”

A spokesperson for the Estée Lauder Cos., a minority investor in Deciem, told HuffPost: “Brandon Truaxe was a true genius, and we are incredibly saddened by the news of his passing. As the visionary behind Deciem, he positively impacted millions of people around the world with his creativity, brilliance and innovation. This is a profound loss for us all, and our hearts are with Nicola Kilner and the entire Deciem family.”

Representatives of Deciem did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, but they did post a heartfelt message about Truaxe on their Instagram page.

“Thank you for every laugh, every learning and every moment of your genius. Whilst we can’t imagine a world without you, we promise to take care of each other and will work hard to continue your vision. May you finally be at peace. Love, (forever) your DECIEM,” they wrote.

The Toronto-based company, nicknamed “The Abnormal Beauty Company,” was called Deciem after Truaxe’s intention to launch 10 lines under the brand’s umbrella, though the brand has now exceeded that. Arguably its most famous line, The Ordinary, has gone on to achieve near-cult status for its affordable prices and ubiquity. The line is currently sold at Sephora.

As for Truaxe, he has had a multitude of highs and lows with the company. On the heels of a near-rave review in The New Yorker in early 2018, Truaxe began to appear erratic on social media and use the company’s pages to post bizarre messages and videos. By the end of the year, Estée Lauder took legal action against him, and Truaxe was ousted by a judge as CEO. Kilner has been the acting CEO ever since. Additionally, Truaxe was issued a restraining order by several executives at Estée Lauder.

While the cause of Truaxe’s death is currently unknown, a report published in Canada’s Financial Post in December 2018 indicated that he’d been previously hospitalized for mental health issues several times and had problems with drug use. 

The response on social media has been widespread, as many fans of his skin care brand mourn his death:

This article has been updated with comment from Estée Lauder Cos. and a message posted by Deciem.

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