Canadians may say they’re serious about tackling their debt loads, but a national survey finds that many weren’t able to translate that desire into meaningful debt reduction.

In an online consumer lending survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the majority of respondents (63 per cent) said they intended to cut their debt levels last year. But fewer than a quarter of those who said they were making the effort to reduce their debt (23 per cent) actually reported that had any real success in doing that. More than a quarter (26 per cent) said they were completely unsuccessful.

Noting that the current debt-to-income ratio sits at more than 160 per cent, the consulting firm called the trend to higher debt levels "unsustainable" for consumers.

"Similar with any diet, saying you'll cut back and make better choices is one thing, while actually doing it is quite another," said John MacKinlay, a national financial services consultant at PwC.

"We advise Canadians to take a hard look at their discretionary spending and prepare to make some tough choices on where to trim the fat."

The survey found that more than half of Canadians (57 per cent) say they’re comfortable with their debt levels. But more than a third (35 per cent) said they have borrowed too much.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney have both hammered away recently on the need for Canadians to trim their debt loads as interest rates will eventually rise from their current record lows. Flaherty has repeatedly taken action to tighten mortgage lending rules to cool a housing market that appears to be overheated in some cities.

The latest insolvency figures, released Tuesday, show that 5,374 Canadians filed for personal bankruptcy in February — a slight drop from the month before. Another 3,905 Canadians filed consumer proposals. Those are formal offers to creditors from debt-laden consumers to settle their debts under terms that are more favourable to the consumer.  

The PwC consumer lending survey was carried out online by Leger Marketing. Just over 1,200 Canadians aged 18 and over were contacted.