The average level of personal debt in Canada rose 21 per cent this year to $15,910, with Albertans hardest hit with a 63 per cent jump to $24,271 in debt, according to a survey done this August for Royal Bank of Canada.
The third annual RBC debt poll, only measures non-mortgage debt such as credit cards, lines of credit and loans. Canadian personal debt averaged $13,058 in 2011 and ticked up in 2012 to $13,141, but the increase to 2013 is much sharper.
RBC offered no explanation for the rising debt levels, but job growth in Canada is lagging and income levels are rising only modestly.
About 24 per cent of Canadians report being debt-free, down from 26 per cent in 2012.
'The key to this is debt is a very personal thing Your level of anxiety and comfort is dependent on your individual situation' - Kim Taylor, RBC director of personal lending
Yet there is a noticeable trend to more responsible debt behaviour, according to Kim Taylor, director of personal lending at RBC.
Almost half of Canadians say they have postponed expensive purchases such as vehicles and foregone vacations in order to deal with their debts.
“Consumers have told us they’ve looked at their entire debt picture and they’re starting to make decisions with their purchases on the cost of their debt and making sure that the choices that they’re making fit within their current financial situation,” Taylor said in an interview with CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange.
About 38 per cent of Canadians are very anxious about the amount of debt they carry and are making an effort to reduce it and another 38 per cent are very comfortable, according to the survey.
“The key to this is debt is a very personal thing Your level of anxiety and comfort is dependent on your individual situation,” Taylor said.
She said a family with a mortgage and small children may have a heavy debt load – but if they have a plan to pay it down in the long term, they will feel more comfortable with their finances.
“The piece of advice we give our clients is, have a full picture of your debt situation and have a plan. Know what you can and can’t afford. That will help them address their level of anxiety,” Taylor said.
Western Canadians carried the highest levels of debt, with average personal debt loads in British Columbia up 38 per cent to $15,549 and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, up 32 per cent to $16,145.
In Alberta, hit hard by floods early in the summer, average debt loads jumped 63 per cent to $24,271.
Despite their higher debt levels, only 34 per cent of Western Canadians say they are uncomfortable with their personal finances, compared with 41 per cent of Eastern Canadians.
Among Eastern Canadians, average debt in Ontario was up 13 per cent to $17,416, in Quebec up three per cent to $10,458 and in Atlantic Canada, up 12 per cent to $15,243.
The results are based on an online survey by Ipsos Reid, that was statistically weighted by region, age and gender composition according to the census data. The sample of 2,108 would have an estimated margin of error of ±2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.