Many seniors were busy racking up thousands of dollars in new debt in 2012, even as younger Canadians were able to keep new borrowing to a minimum, according to a new study from TD Bank.

Economists at TD took data from an Ipsos Reid financial survey of 12,000 households and found that younger and middle-aged Canadians seemed to be paying attention to the many warnings about piling on debt.

Older Canadians, on the other hand, increased their debt load by an average of 15 per cent from the previous year. The extra debt, which amounted to an increase of more than $6,000, boosted the average debt load among the senior set to $47,549.

Average household debt in 2012 (among those who have debt)

Age groupAverage debtIncrease from 2011
18 to 24$71,628$3,030
25 to 44$137,259$1,654
45 to 64$92,819($2,731)
65 and over $47,549$6,236 
Source: TD Bank, Ipsos Reid

While that debt load is the smallest of any age group, seniors are considered to be more vulnerable because many are on fixed incomes.

"The updated figures add credence to the recent theme that Canadians are entering retirement more indebted than ever," the report said. 

TD says seniors living in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec had the highest rates of debt accumulation in 2012. Seniors in Atlantic Canada, Manitoba and Saskatchewan managed to reduce their debt levels. 

The data suggest that younger Canadians — those with the highest debt levels —  "appear to [be] heeding the Bank of Canada’s warnings [about] taking on too much debt," according to the TD report, which was written by economists Craig Alexander and Diana Petramala. 

For instance, among those aged 25 to 44, debt loads grew only fractionally in 2012. Those aged 45 to 64 actually managed to pay down debt for the first time since Ipsos Reid began its Canadian Financial Monitor survey in 2002.

Statistics Canada says it's found that about one-third of retirees have debt. Among those 55 and over who are not yet retired, two-thirds are in debt. While half of retirees with debt owe less than $25,000, it found that about one-sixth of them say they're in hock to the tune of more than $100,000.