About Margaret Johnson

Margaret's philosophy is simple: "Your credit rating is not a reflection of your personal worth, it is merely a credit industry tool." In 1999 after spending 25 years in the financial industry in both lending and collecting, Margaret launched Solutions Credit Counselling Service Inc™ and Women and Money Inc. to help those burdened with debt regain their financial independence. Since then she's helped countless individuals become financially literate in addition to recovering their financial health. Margaret is an Insolvency Counsellor registered by Industry Canada. She is the President of The Canadian Association of Independent Credit Counselling Agencies (CAICCA) Other memberships and activities: Member - Vancouver Insolvency Discussion Group Charter Member - Canadian Insolvency Foundation Member - Association for Financial Counselling and Planning Education Member - Association of Credit and Collection Professionals - ACA International Former Vice President of Credit Professionals International (CPI) Member of the CPI board - 9 years Former Director - Surrey Public Library Volunteer - The Union Gospel Mission Volunteer - The Elizabeth Fry Society Volunteer and Mentor - Dress for Success Vancouver Volunteer - Corrections Canada, Youth Secure Detention Centre Volunteer - HRDC Self Employment Entrepreneurial Development Society Volunteer - Womens Network to Work Program Margaret is a two-time nominee for Entrepreneur of the Year, and a dedicated community leader. Margaret in the Media Margaret is the leading thinker in the field of Independent Canadian credit counselling. As a popular and respected financial speaker, Margaret is regularly sought after by the media to comment on matters of debt and credit as they affect the Canadian consumer. She is the author of many articles on credit counselling, and writes a popular advice column to promote credit education as a part of healthy living. Margaret's columns are featured on the popular Canadian Websites MyTelus.com , Shaw: Finance and Canada Home Guide . Margaret's progressive thinking keeps her in demand for public speaking engagements. She is very proud to have been a presenter at the Chapters of Health national seminar series.

Budgeting has long been thwarted by pre-existing creditor obligations. I say pre-existing because the debt spiral begins early in life with the first car loan or student loans. Many young people get enticed into using student credit cards which are carried forward after graduation. Budgeting for many only begins after debt. Even worse, budgeting for many only begins after some kind of crisis develops.

Like dieting, budgeting is useful at any age and under any situation. However, it is very difficult for many to organize a retirement plan when they have significant consumer debt. It is also difficult to purchase a home, which is another central objective of financial planning.

Another obstacle to successful budgeting is the avoidance of debt or the dependency upon credit. Many people subsidize their income and budgets with credit cards and lines of credit. Often they have noble intentions – an RRSP loan as they rush to get the $500 rebate for their maximum contribution to RESPs*. Tax reduction is high on a financial planner’s to-do list.

*No matter what your family income is, HRSDC pays a basic CESG of 20% of annual contributions you make to all eligible RESPs for a qualifying beneficiary to a maximum CESG of $500 in respect of each beneficiary ($1,000 in CESG if there is unused grant room from a previous year), and a lifetime limit of $7,200.

If people put too much into RRSP’s or RESPs they will top up their family budgets with increased debt obligations. This inevitably leads to an early cash out and for RRSP’s this means yet another debt obligation in the form of a tax liability. If you cash in the RRSP early, this defeats the whole purpose of retirement planning. So, we must remember that retirement planning is very different from the short term high of increasing your tax return. Retirement planning is long term. We need to be modest and certain we can afford the contributions over the span of our working careers.

Budgeting must be realistic. I have developed this budget worksheet based on my 36 year banking and credit counselling experience, which you can dowload for free:


There are many ways to translate budgets into practice. More on this later. If you have any questions regarding my approach to budgeting don’t hesitate to contact me.

This does not quite fit the definition of an impulse buyer because they have known for a week or more that V day was coming. Why did they wait ‘till the last minute? I hate to say it, but I think many of these people fall into the category of the uncertain. Maybe their hearts are no longer beating as one with their spouses or partners. They’re definitely not the committed.

According to recent studies as reported in the Vancouver Sun, the average Canadian spends $135. on their sweethearts. If you add lingerie and chocolates to the price of roses you would be getting up to there.

Another interesting element to Valentine’s day is how many people want to prove themselves in public of their love by sending the dozen or more roses to the office for all to see. Not sure what that means, but there is an ostentatious quality to it. The recipient as much as the sender seem to want to prove beyond any doubt that their love is, well, you know, better than those who don’t get the roses at the office.

It appears that the majority of Canadian women prefer a restaurant dinner (according to Ipsos, 58%) over any other gift. Going to a movie ranks third at 33% . Meanwhile chocolates and flowers level off at 20 -25%.

What I like about Valentine ’s Day is how we stop the world for a few minutes and recognize our loved one in a romantic way. We say thank you in a grateful and amorous way. We remember that our spouses and partners really are our most significant other. For a few moments, we embrace love itself – caring and giving for the special people in our lives.

Cooking a wonderful supper at home qualifies as an act of love, too. So, Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone’s special person of love.

Denise Deveau asked the question in the Vancouver Sun today, “When does a university degree really pay off?”

Another TD study is cited that estimates the average cost of an undergraduate degree in Canada to be $84,000 (including tuition, books and living expenses). These expenses also go up every year. With the exception of engineering and medical degrees, society has done a poor job of linking the job market to the educational system.

To make matters worse, a recent Workopolis survey with senior executives reported that 67% had trouble finding candidates with the basic life skills like teamwork, a positive attitude, work ethic and communications.

This impacts the parents of the underemployed/unemployed youth as many stay at home longer and remain dependent upon their parents financially.

The drop in real estate prices and sales impede the ability for parents and seniors to access their equity while many young first-home purchasers have been squeezed out of the market by stiffer mortgage regulations for insured mortgages.

Mental illness came up this week in the Vancouver Sun, too. According to  Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco, a federal study showed there are as many as 800,000 well-educated workers in Canada who suffer from mental disabilities.

In many cases the illness prevents people from working. A 2011 study conducted by RiskAnalytica for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, reported that just absenteeism and presenteeism (being physically present but otherwise unable to be fully productive) due to mental health problems cost Canadian businesses $6-billion annually.

In addition to this lost productivity, employee assistance programs, Healthcare benefits and disability costs factor into the costs for mental health care as does the medication, psychologists and specialized treatments. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) appears to afflict a wide spectrum of people who are not covered by government-funded health care and approach their employers’ benefits programs for help.

According to many experts, mental health problems affect one in five Canadians every year. Most have led normal working and family lives, but also struggle daily to overcome the symptoms of their mental health problems.

This is a lot of information to digest in one week. However, money issues dominate the social and economic discussion today. We need to realize that more and more people will need relief from impossible debt problems that predictably will result from unemployment, underemployment and mental health issues.

Credit Counselling can help!