WINNIPEG -- Education is essential for Canadians struggling with debt or finances, according to a financial expert.

Canadians should consider getting financial support from non-profits, but many may either face stigma surrounding money issues or not be aware of their options, said Sandra Fry, a financial expert with The Credit Counselling Society.

The CCS 2020 Consumer Debt Report released Wednesday suggests most Canadians are in debt and 44 per cent have up to one month of emergency savings, although few people have sought outside help from credit counsellors with non-profits.

Seventy-three per cent of Manitobans are in debt, the report suggests, with those between the ages of 35 and 64 making up most cases.

"There are a lot of Canadians out there that are struggling with debt, but due to the stigma of reaching out for help, a lot of them are not," said Fry in a recent interview.

"There’s a lot of shame that I’ve encountered as a credit counsellor," she said. "When clients come to me, they’re often concerned that they’re going to be judged or they’re ashamed of ‘how did I get myself in this situation?’"

Fry said the onus is on society to reduce the stigma surrounding financial issues. In most cases, factors beyond a client’s control have exacerbated their financial problems.

She said 2020 has been a quiet year for her at The Credit Counselling Society despite the COVID-19 pandemic causing widespread business closures and job losses.

"My concern is that people are not dealing with their situation, and that it might get beyond their ability to have solutions to deal with it because the longer you wait to seek help, the less options you have," said Fry.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has proved trying for many Canadians, 50 per cent of respondents in the report said cutting back on non-essentials and keeping emergency savings were more important due to the pandemic.

"I think the pandemic has definitely brought to front of mind what’s important and what’s not," said Fry.

Heading into next year, Fry said Canadians should start informing themselves if they haven't already, and begin saving for taxes on CERB payments, among other things.

"Education is the key," she said.