Consumer debt rising, but Canadians have a better handle on it

Canadians are deeper in debt than ever, but they’re getting better at handling it, according to a report from credit monitoring agency TransUnion.

Credit agency TransUnion says debt levels down in Alberta, but warns of credit card risk

Some 11.1 per cent of Canadians pay less than two times the minimum payment on their monthly credit card bill, according to TransUnion. (CBC)

Canadians are deeper in debt than ever, but they're getting better at handling it, according to a report from credit monitoring agency TransUnion.

The average debt balance for a Canadian consumer, excluding mortgages, was $21,028 in the second quarter of 2015, compared to $20,880 in the same period last year.

But TransUnion says debt payments overdue by 90 days are in decline by four per cent, with Canadians paying down much more of their lines of credit and instalment loans.

Low rates are helping, as lines of credit, which typically have floating interest rates, are making money cheaper.

"Delinquency rates of all credit products are relatively low, but even so we have observed a pronounced improvement in some of the most popular credit products such as lines of credit," Jason Wang, TransUnion's director of research and industry analysis, said in a news release.

"This is a positive sign that Canadians are both increasingly aware of the importance of making payments on time, and have the capacity to do so."

Even in Alberta, where the credit agency had predicted some people may soon be in trouble with credit card debt, the overall amount of debt has declined 1.15 per cent from last year to $27,945. That's still well above the national average.

About 10 per cent of Albertans pay less than twice the minimum due on their credit cards, better than 11 per cent in Ontario and 12 per cent in Quebec.

Paying the minimum due on a credit card, or only a small amount above that level, is a classic sign of credit trouble to come as credit card debt is expensive.

Wang said some pockets of the oil patch may soon see more debt delinquencies.

"Based on our research focusing on the immense and persistent oil price drop, we have observed deteriorating payment patterns in certain oil towns, and believe Alberta may be the first province to see a marked decrease in payment ratio, meaning more consumers in this area will have difficulty meeting their monthly credit card payments," Wang said.


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