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Canadians taking on more debt, but delinquency rate drops, report finds

Car dealerships advertising low interest rate financing at the Mississauga, auto mall on April 22, 2013.

J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

Consumer debt in Canada is ratcheting up again after a slowdown earlier in the year, but the national delinquency rate is at its lowest level in 6 years, says a new report.

The latest data come amid Bank of Canada concerns that household debt is overstretched.

As of the second quarter of 2014, Canadian consumers owe $1.44-trillion, up from $1.42-trillion in the first quarter and $1.35-trillion a year ago, according to credit monitoring firm Equifax Canada.

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The delinquency rate, which tracks bills overdue by 90 days or more, fell by 2.8 per cent.

It was at 1.11 per cent in the second quarter, the lowest level since the financial meltdown in 2008.

Meanwhile, consumer bankruptcies were down 5 per cent compared to the year-earlier period.

The average debt held by Canadians, excluding mortgages, is $20,759.

The Bank of Canada and finance ministry have expressed concern over the debt average Canadians have been taking on, warning that some consumers could find themselves in financial straits when mortgage rates eventually rise.

Equifax said on Thursday that the "consistent low-interest environment has been a main driver for the continued increase in consumer credit indebtedness over the past few years."

The Bank of Canada on Wednesday said it is leaving its key overnight lending rate at 1 per cent, a rate freeze that now goes back four years.

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"For the most part, Canadians are working within their means to manage their debt effectively," senior director of decision insights at Equifax Canada Regina Malina said.

"When stacking the regions up against each other, it's clear that Alberta remains the biggest driver of new credit. Demand for new credit has increase in the West for the five consecutive quarters."

Overall, instalment loans were up 10.8 per cent in the quarter, while mortgages increased 9.2 per cent.

The credit card sector rose 4.4 per cent.

"Demand for new credit is up, but has slowed significantly versus the first quarter when we saw a spike in credit card activity," Ms. Malina said.

"Credit card balances of new cardholders continue to increase, while credit limits and new card issuance have slowed. This may be an indication that promotional activity of credit card issuers is slowing down."

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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