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Executive Summary

Our study reveals the financial struggles many vulnerable Canadians face amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Results show that 30% of respondents financially affected by COVID-19 are ineligible for the CERB package and nearly half of respondents who have turned to their banks for financial support are being turned away. This wouldn’t be as concerning if these individuals had some savings to fall back on, however, data shows that only 12% of respondents have the government-recommended three months’ worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund. With a lack of savings and a low income, these consumers are, unfortunately, more vulnerable to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some key findings:

  • 78% claim they would have difficulty covering their necessary expenses if the COVID-19 situation continues through the summer
  • 63% of respondents expect to miss paying at least one bill in the next 6 months
  • Nearly 50% of respondents who have turned to their banks for financial support are being turned away
  • 20% of respondents have already taken on a loan (new debt) to cover their expenses due to COVID-19
  • 32% of respondents expect to add more debt to their credit cards
  • 80% of respondents have experienced a fall in income, 30% of whom did not qualify for government assistance
  • 73% of respondents think their credit score will be negatively affected
  • 88% do not have an emergency fund that can cover 3 months of expenses
  • Of those who have lost their jobs, 70% think it will take 60 days or longer to find new employment


No matter your age or where you live, COVID-19 has caused much financial distress for all Canadians. In an effort to measure the financial impact COVID-19 has had on consumers, we surveyed 956 financially vulnerable Canadians. That is, Canadian consumers who rely on lower incomes, who have limited access to credit, and who have little to no savings to fall back on. Our survey gives a detailed overview of the financial stress caused by COVID-19 and the effects it has had amongst Canadians more likely to face hardship as a result of a deteriorating economy.

Industries And Job Loss

Temporary closures of non-essential businesses have caused a disruption in cash flow for many. Despite interest-free loans, wage subsidies, and other financial support provided by the government, these closures have led to an alarming number of job losses in the country. Based on our data, Alberta and British Columbia had the highest number of respondents who experienced a loss in income due to COVID-19. 

Percentage of respondents from provinces who experienced the greatest amount of income loss:

  • Alberta (87%)
  • British Columbia (88%) 
  • Ontario (82%)
  • Quebec (80%)

As a result, nearly four million Canadians have applied for either Employment Insurance (EI) or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) since March 15th. Our data shows that most survey respondents were employed in construction, retail or wholesale, transportation or warehousing, hotel or food services, and healthcare or social assistance. Of these five industries, construction workers experienced the largest loss in income (14%) due to job loss, income reduction, and other COVID-19 related reasons. 

Industries hardest hit by COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Construction (14%)
  • Hotel or food services (11%)
  • Retail or wholesale (10%)
  • Transportation or warehousing (9%)
  • Health Care or Social Assistance (9%)

With the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise across Canada, the number of nurses needed in the field has increased significantly. So much so, that the Colleges of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) has reached out to retired nurses in an effort to have them reinstated. Despite the surge in demand, our data revealed 8.6% of respondents experiencing job loss or a reduced income are in the healthcare or social assistance industry. According to a survey by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), almost half of the doctors and specialists with practices surveyed have laid-off workers and some even expect to close their practice due to COVID-19. Suspension of non-urgent medical services have caused a decline in patient volume which has financially affected many healthcare businesses.

We also noticed that workers in non-essential business industries like retail (55%), food services (71%), construction (63%), and warehousing (55%) experienced the highest number of job losses. On the other hand, the healthcare and social assistance industry had the lowest number of job losses but had the highest loss in income due to reduced hours (30%) and other COVID-19 reasons (46%) such as being quarantined, childcare, and caring for an ill loved one. 

Income Loss By Industry

Change In Consumer Spending Habits

With the dramatic change in income and closures of non-essential businesses, consumer spending habits have understandably changed. Many Canadians speculated that there would be an increase in consumer spending on take-out, alcohol, and entertainment, however, our data paints a different reality. Likely in an effort to combat the sudden decrease in income, 48% of respondents have cancelled one or more subscriptions such as Netflix and 55% of respondents have stopped ordering take-out

Change In Spending Habits

Often when faced with financial hardship, consumers will start to cut back on non-essential expenses. Given the fall in financial stability, low savings, and a sudden drop in income, we expect to see some changes in spending habits.

Our study shows that:

  • 55% of respondents have not increased spending on take-out
  • 48% of respondents have not increased spending on entertainment
  • 62% of respondents have not increased spending on other non-essential items
  • 46% of respondents have not increased online shopping

On the other hand, our data shows that 67% of respondents have increased their spending on groceries

A deeper look revealed that basic needs like food (groceries) and shelter (rent) were the main cause of worry. After that expenses such as utilities, loans, and credit cards came next on the list.

Expenses Respondents Are Most Worried About

Financial Support 

As previously mentioned, 80% of respondents have seen a loss in income due to COVID-19. As a result, many have applied for EI (20%) or the CERB program (35%). Yet, of those who lost income due to COVID-19, 30% of respondents did not qualify for government assistance. Of the respondents who did not qualify, 54% had an income of $2,500 or lower and 41% not only had a low income but also worked in one of the five hardest-hit industries as described above.

Percentage Of Respondents Who Have Applied For Financial Support

From our data, one can infer that 35% of those with reduced hours and 21% of those who lost their jobs do not qualify for the CERB due to its eligibility requirements. For example, in order to qualify, applicants must not earn more than $1,000 in income during the 4-week period they submit their claim for. However, our data shows that many vulnerable Canadians are facing reduced hours. This means that Canadians working more than twenty hours per week and earning minimum wage are not eligible to receive the government’s financial support. With so many Canadians falling through the cracks, it is still unclear how these consumers will cope. 

Payment Deferrals And Approvals

Some Canadians have looked to their banks for help. Amid the pandemic, six of Canada’s major banks have been working to provide Canadians affected by COVID-19 with financial support in the form of payment deferrals, reduced payments, and interest rate reductions.  

The graph below shows a little less than half of those who applied for financial support in the form of deferrals, payment reductions, and lower interest rates are being approved. Given that these individuals are already strapped for cash due to lack of savings and lower-income, it is surprising to see that so many vulnerable Canadians are being rejected. Meanwhile, many Canadians have expressed their concerns with delays, lack of clarity, and denials they have faced after requesting additional help from their financial institution.

Approval Rates For Financial Support Provided By Banks

Savings And Insolvency 

Life is unpredictable and can often throw curveballs that can leave one scrambling for cash. An emergency fund is a financial cushion that helps you cover unexpected expenses without affecting your financial stability. Moreover, it can prevent you from relying on high-interest credit products and protect you against taking on more debt than you can afford. 

With that in mind, it is concerning to find that almost 50% of respondents do not have any savings. Our data indicates that:

  • Only 12% of respondents have the government-recommended three months’ worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund
  • 78% of respondents claim they would have difficulty covering their necessary expenses if the COVID-19 situation continues through the summer

Percentage Of Respondents With An Emergency Fund


According to our data, findings show that approximately 20% of respondents have already taken on a loan (new debt) to cover their expenses due to COVID-19. Considering we may still be in the early stages of the pandemic, we can only imagine the debt some Canadians will end up taking on to continue covering their expenses will increase. In fact, 32% of respondents expect to add more debt to their credit cards and 63% of respondents expect to miss paying at least one bill in the next 6 months. In hindsight, we may find that the majority of additional debt incurred is due in part to the lack of financial support these vulnerable Canadians have access to. Again, 30% of respondents do not meet the eligibility requirements for the CERB program while more than 50% of respondents are being denied financial support from their banks. 

Percentage Of Respondents Taking On New Debt

With the government’s financial support only available for four months, these vulnerable Canadians may need to rely on credit products more heavily. When asked if they thought their credit score was going to be negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, 73% of respondents answered yes. This paints an even harsher picture for these vulnerable consumers. Not only will they be forced to take on more debt, their only option may be high-interest debt like payday loans or other financing options with lenient eligibility requirements but higher fees. The increased debt, accumulating missed payments, and the inability to find a job quickly are prime factors that could lead to higher insolvency rates.

Time It Will Take Respondents To Find A New Job

Future Outlook

Despite the government’s efforts to help those financially affected by COVID-19, additional help is clearly required for those who do not qualify for existing programs. Namely, Canadians who face reduced hours at work and those who have lost their job but are still do not qualify for CERB or EI. Despite the grim outlook, there is hope, as the government of Canada continues to look for new ways to fill in those gaps. It is just uncertain when or how they will implement it.  

Survey Methodology 

This survey was conducted by Loans Canada using a Google forms online questionnaire. From April 15, 2020, to April 23, 2020, 956 responses were collected from a convenience sample across Canada. A total of 17 questions were asked in relation to the respondent’s financial health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

These Results Have Been Featured On:

Priyanka Correia, BComm avatar on Loans Canada
Priyanka Correia, BComm

Priyanka Correia is a Marketing Coordinator and personal finance expert at Loans Canada. Priyanka completed her Bachelor's degree in Marketing at Concordia University and has published work that has been mentioned in various news media. She is passionate about money management and educating Canadian consumers about how to take control of their financial lives.

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