Canadians are showing a strong ability to manage their debts even as housing prices rise, with arrears on CMHC mortgages at a low 0.34 per cent for the first quarter of this year, according to new figures from the federal housing agency.

That means there were 9,572  Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.-insured mortgages in arrears in the quarter, while it insures a total of 2.8 million mortgages. It had to pay just 588 claims.

The gross debt service ratio for Canadian homeowners – the percentage of housing costs to gross monthly income – sits at 26 per cent for the three months ended March 31.

That's almost the same as in the first quarter of 2014, but up slightly from 25 per cent in 2013.

The ratios are highest in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, where housing prices have been rising rapidly. New homeowners in those provinces are also more likely to need a CMHC mortgage, which is necessary when buyers do not have a 20 per cent down payment.

However, a small proportion of CMHC-insured homeowners – 12.1 per cent – have a gross debt service ratio of more than 35 per cent, meaning more than a third of their monthly income goes to housing costs.

Another 21 per cent of CHMC-insured mortgage holders are juggling housing costs of 30 to 35 per cent of their gross income.

As housing costs rise, more than a quarter of the mortgages insured by CMHC are for over $400,000.

However, the average insured loan amount was $238,630.

In its annual report the federal agency predicts today's low interest rates will continue to stimulate demand for housing.

It expects mortgage rates will not rise in Canada before the end of 2015.

The report comes after CEO Evan Siddall said CMHC's share of the mortgage market had dropped from about 90 per cent of new mortgages to about half of new mortgages.

Ottawa had encouraged the agency to reduce exposure to mortgage defaults for the Canadian taxpayer, saying it wanted private insurers to take over the risk.

In its annual report, CMHC said it insured mortgages worth $543 billion in 2014, down 4.1 per cent from 2012, and below the legal limit of $600 billion.