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Debt burden climbs as older Canadians borrow more: report

A consumer pays with a credit card at a store in Montreal in this file photo.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadians continue to take on more debt, but a growing concern is the extent to which older consumers supposedly enjoying a worry-free retirement are resorting to credit, says a new report.

Total Canadian consumer debt rose by almost $77-billion, or 6.1 per cent, in the second quarter of 2013, compared with the year-earlier period, according to a study by credit-monitoring firm Equifax Canada.

But average debt for consumers aged 65 and over increased by 6.5 per cent, the greatest year-over-year increase in all age groups, says the report.

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"The traditional golden years that retirees anticipated have not become a reality as debt loads rise for those over 65," said Henrietta Ross, chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Credit Counselling Services.

"With reduced incomes, often coupled with increased expenses, these individuals are accumulating more debt to boost income through credit so that they can continue to enjoy a pre-retirement lifestyle that they may no longer be able to afford. They also may be accumulating debt in an effort to help their own grown children or their own parents who are struggling financially," she said.

The total debt increase of 6.1 per cent across all age groups in the second quarter was largely driven by an 8.6-per-cent rise in auto loan balances and a 7.4-per-cent bump up in outstanding mortgage credit, according to Equifax figures.

"The increased demand for credit outside of mortgages is positive for the economy in the short-term, but could limit the ability of over-extended consumers to react to any financial bumps in the road in the future," said Cristian deRitis, senior director of consumer credit economics at Moody's Analytics.

Officials from the finance minister on down have been warning Canadians for some time now to get their finances under control.

Record-low interest rates over the past few years helped fuel a dramatic increase in borrowing and home buying, but loans these days are getting more expensive.

The Equifax report, released on Monday, also says that serious delinquency rates are stable.

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The 90-day-plus delinquency rate for mortgages decreased by 19.2 per cent in the second quarter versus the same period last year.

Toronto has the highest delinquency rate among major urban centres at 1.56 per cent of non-mortgage balances but that is a huge improvement over the peak of 2.53 per cent reached in 2010, says the study.

"Stable home prices and improvements in the labour market should continue to support the market in the future, while the outlook for consumer credit remains positive. A sudden rise in interest rates or deterioration in fundamentals in key export markets are risks to this forecast however," said Mr. deRitis.

Mortgage portfolios rose 7.4 per cent in the second quarter.

Average mortgage balances were up slightly in the quarter, to $168,387 from $162,985.

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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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