High debt loads are catching up to Albertans

GETTY IMAGES/ Contributor

Albertans are reining in spending on everything from new trucks to perks at the supermarket these days to cope with the economic downturn sweeping over the province.

For some carrying big debt loads, however, it appears the belt tightening isn’t enough.

“Alberta has witnessed a clear increase in the number of consumer insolvency filings in recent months,” BMO economist Robert Kavcic says (see chart below).

At $27,490, Albertans carry the highest average consumer debt load per person in the country, according to Equifax, a credit-monitoring agency (see map). Consumer debt is defined as all debt excluding mortgages, such as auto loans, credit cards, lines of credit and student debt.

Debt hangover

The household spending boom that accompanied oil’s strong rebound off the lows of the last major recession is now being followed by a debt hangover, with consumer bankruptcies pushing to their highest levels in about five years, data shows.

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“Our credit counsellors in Edmonton and Calgary can certainly attest to the financial concerns Albertans are currently facing,” said Debra Pangestu, a spokesperson for the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit.

“Our call volumes from Edmonton, in particular, are well above those from the year before, with marked increases starting in September,” Pangestu said.

The pace of personal bankruptcies is still running well shy of levels seen during the Great Recession. “But with the jobless rate moving quickly toward 2009 levels, more Alberta consumers — who also carry more debt relative to income than other provinces — could run into trouble this year,” BMO’s Kavcic said.


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