Consumer debt continues to rise: Equifax

The average debt and consumer appetite for new credit are still on the rise, credit monitoring agency Equifax says. Credit/Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Credit monitoring agency Equifax is starting to see small increases in loan delinquency rates in Saskatchewan and Alberta as the fall in oil prices makes its impact felt on the economy of Western Canada.

Regina Malina, senior director of decision insights at Equifax Canada, said Tuesday that delinquency rates in the two provinces remain below the national average, but they are something to keep an eye on.

“Because it has only happened in one quarter, I wouldn’t call it a trend just yet,” Malina said.

Overall, the national 90-day-plus delinquency rate in the first quarter of this year was 1.12 per cent, up from 1.09 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The delinquency rate in Saskatchewan was up 6.2 per cent at 1.0 per cent, while the rate in Alberta was up 1.4 at 1.0 per cent.

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The creep higher came as falling oil prices took their toll on the energy sector and the big players in the sector slashed spending and cut thousands of jobs.

Malina says Equifax will be watching things like credit utilization rates and other measures for signs of change that might signal future increases in delinquency rates as it assesses the financial health of consumers.

“At the end of the day it will really come down to how long the situation will persist for,” she said.

“If the oilpatch situation heals itself fairly quickly, we may not even see significant changes in our numbers. But if it continues for a while, we might start seeing the patterns that we are now seeing in Alberta for one quarter.

The observation came as Equifax reported that Canadians generally continued to increase their borrowings for car and instalment loans in the first quarter to bring the country’s total consumer debt to $1.544 trillion.

That’s up 6.9 per cent from $1.422 trillion a year ago. The growth came as instalment loans were up 7.6 per cent and auto loans increased 4.2 per cent compared with last year.

The average debt held by Canadians, excluding mortgages, was $20,910, up 2.7 per cent from a year ago.

Low interest rates have been a key factor in Canadians accumulating record amounts of debt in recent years.

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While delinquency rates have remained low, some have raised concerns about what will happen once interest rates start to rise.

According to Statistics Canada, households held roughly $1.63 in credit market debt — which includes consumer credit, mortgage and non-mortgage loans — for every dollar of disposable income in the fourth quarter.

The federal agency is expected to release figures for the first quarter of this year on Friday.

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