Debt loads increased 2.7% this year to $21,348 on average, TransUnion says

The typical Canadian owed $21,348 in consumer debt at the start of 2016, a figure that has jumped 2.7 per cent in the past year and doesn't include mortgage debt.

Debt levels rising in places like Alberta and Saskatchewan but delinquencies still low

Consumers continue to build debt mountain

6 years ago
Duration 3:28
Jason Wang of TransUnion of Canada on rising consumer debt levels

The typical Canadian owed $21,348 in consumer debt at the start of 2016, a figure that has jumped 2.7 per cent in the past year and doesn't include mortgage debt.

That's the conclusion of a new report from credit monitoring firm TransUnion, which said Canadians now have more of virtually all forms of consumer debt, including credit card debt, instalment loans and car loans. The lone exception to the trend was lines of credit, the size of which declined by 0.54 per cent in the past year, TransUnion said.

"The story on the debt front is that average balances haven't moved much, if you consider all Canadians together," TransUnion's research director Jason Wang said. The national average figure is in fact a slight decline from the record $21,512 reached in the fourth quarter, but wide regional differences remain. 

The average Canadian owed $21,348 in January, and that figure doesn't include the mortgage, according to the credit monitoring firm TransUnion. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In Alberta, the average consumer debt load is $27,803. In Quebec, it's only $17,612.

And as Wang says, "once we segment by risk tiers, we find a gradual shift debt load relative to the low-risk population."

That's because the report found that so-called "subprime" borrowers — people who have to borrow at higher rates because their credit history is spotty — are borrowing even more than the rest of the population.

Subprime credit card holders saw their average monthly balance balloon to $6,601 at the end of March, an increase of 5.7 per cent. Most other borrowers saw their credit card balances decline.

"Although subprime consumers do not make up the bulk of Canadian credit users, we are going to keep a close eye on this trend," Wang said.

Delinquencies still rare

On the whole, however, Canadians are still managing to stay on top of their mounting bills. Delinquency rates ticked up three per cent, but the percentage of people who are more than three months behind on their bills is still relatively small, at 2.52 per cent across all forms of non-mortgage debt.

Indeed, the delinquency rate declined in large, populated provinces like Ontario and British Columbia, and is not above four per cent in any province.

"The largest delinquency rate increases occurred in provinces most impacted by the oil slump — Alberta and Saskatchewan," TransUnion said. "This regional difference is also consistently observed across different loan types."


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