Consumer debt rose by 7.7% in 2014, Equifax report says

Canadian consumers are continuing to pile on debt despite economic uncertainty created by the sharp drop in oil prices.

Canadians continue to borrow, especially on credit cards, report indicates

The ease with which people can obtain credit cards - and buy to their heart's content - has contributed to personal debt levels, credit counsellors say. (CBC)

Canadians are taking on more and more debt, despite an uncertain economy, a report from credit monitoring firm Equifax says.

The company says total consumer debt including mortgages rose to $1.529 trillion at the end of 2014.

That was up 7.7 per cent from $1.42 trillion at the end of 2013, including a 1.1 per cent increase in the latest quarter alone.

Almost two-thirds of that $1.529 trillion figure consists of mortgage debt, as Canadians now collectively owe almost $1 trillion on their houses.

Overall, Canadians debt-to-income ratio — a closely watched metric that attempts to gauge how easy it is to pay down debt — sits at an all-time high of 163 per cent.

Compared with the same quarter last year, Equifax says national consumer demand for credit was driven mainly by credit cards. But two of the fastest growing types of debt were instalment loans and auto loans, which increased by 7.2 per cent and 5.8 per cent, respectively.

Delinquency unchanged

Meanwhile, the average debt held by Canadians, excluding mortgages, totalled $20,967 at the end of last year, Equifax says.

Despite concerns about consumer debt, the 90-day-plus delinquency rate has remained the same or declined in most regions, coming in at 1.09 per cent nationally in the fourth quarter, the lowest since 2008.

And yet, fewer people are declaring bankruptcy than ever before, possibly because low interest rates are making it possible for them to keep their heads above water.

"The bankruptcy rate has been decreasing since 2009," Equifax said. "Ontario continues to lead in terms of the rate of decrease of bankruptcies, while there is an increase in bankruptcies in Quebec and the Eastern region."

With files from The Canadian Press

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