The amount that Canadians owe compared to how much they earned ticked infinitesimally lower in the first quarter, Statistics Canada reported Friday.

The debt-to-income ratio of Canadian households ticked down three-tenths of a percentage point to 163.3 per cent in the first three months of the year. That's the first decline we've seen after three consecutive quarterly increases, something the data agency attributed to disposable income increasing by more than debt. Income was  up 0.9 per cent compared to 0.7 per cent for debt in the three-month period.

Canadian households now owe $1.841 trillion in various forms of debt, Statistics Canada says. Most of that, more than $1.1 trillion, is from mortgages, but there's also $519 billion worth of consumer debt on things like credit cards.

Despite the rising debt, that's much less than the value of Canada's collective assets which means the country's net worth increased. Per capita, the data agency says the net worth of every Canadian household increased 3.2 per cent to $241,800. 

Within that, real estate assets represented at 1.2 per cent gain, but financial assets like stocks, mutual funds and pension plans were up 6.2 per cent.

BMO senior economist Benjamin Reitzes said the size of the improvement in the debt-to-income ratio was a bit of a disappointment.

"The ratio fell in first quarter for the sixth consecutive year, but the average drop in the prior five years was 0.9 percentage points," Reitzes said.

Low interest rates have made it easier for Canadians to borrow, contributing to the rise in debt in recent years. However, many have raised concerns about what will happen when interest rates and the cost of borrowing start to rise again.

The Bank of Canada listed household debt and the persistently overvalued real estate market as key vulnerabilities in its financial system review earlier this week.


With files from The Canadian Press