The average Canadian owes $8,539.50 in consumer (non-mortgage) debt, but Canadians overall feel better about their financial situation than they did last year, according to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News.
The poll, conducted between Dec. 10-14, found that 12 per cent of Canadians report consumer debts above $25,000, while 14 per cent have debts between $10,000 and $24,999.
Nearly half of respondents (46 per cent) said they have no consumer debt whatsoever. While that makes for encouraging reading in isolation, it means that those Canadians that do have debts owe huge amounts of money.
Considering only those Canadians that report any amount of debt, the average amount of consumer debt lies at $15,473.
“That’s an awful lot of money to be carrying a balance on and paying consumer debt interest rates,” says Sean Simpson, VP of public affairs for Ipsos. “It could range from five or six per cent on a line of credit all the way up to 20 per cent for your credit card or even 30 per cent for a corporate credit card that you might get through a retail outlet,” he added.
The generation that appears to have the most consumer debt is that of the Gen Xers, or people aged 35-54, who report an average debt above $10,000.
“They’ve got kids, they’ve got parents and they’ve got a home, so not only do they have on average $10,000 in consumer debt, but they likely have the biggest mortgages as well,” Simpson explains.
“So they’re feeling the pinch, and that might explain why they’ve got the most amount of consumer debt, because they’ve got the most amount of responsibilities.”
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People aged 55 and over reported an average debt just over $9,000, while the consumer debt levels of millennials — people aged 18 to 34 — were far lower, at around $5,600.
Simpsons says there may be an array of factors that explain millennials’ relatively lower debts.
“We hear on a weekly basis from the Bank of Canada and other sources that we have too much debt, and that debt will eventually undo us, and the data suggests that millennials are perhaps receiving that message and they’re avoiding getting into too much consumer debt,” he said.
“Perhaps they’re doing that because they know that owning a home is going to be more difficult, and they can’t rely on equity in their home to bail them out if they need to pay off a significant chunk of debt.”
In this regard, millennials as a generational demographic appear to have something in common with Quebecers as a regional demographic.
When consumer debt levels in the different provinces is compared, Quebec wins out easily, with an average debt of less than $5,000. By comparison, average debt in Saskatchewan and Manitoba grouped together was over $14,000, while Albertans and Ontarians reported average debts of over $11,000 and $8,800 respectively.
Much like millennials, Quebecers are more likely to choose renting over home ownership, Simpson points out.
“There may be a belief in Quebecois society that you earn what you earn and you spend what you earn and no more, whereas in other places where home ownership is more prevalent, maybe people spend more because they’ve got a home that they can fall back on and draw equity on if they need to,” he says.
“So we see that Quebecers and millennials have by far the least amount of debt among all Canadians. And what do they share in common? They’re less likely to own a home.”
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The poll also gauged Canadians’ assessments of their online shopping habits, and their perception of how online shopping affects their debt levels.
Seventy-two per cent of of Canadians said they shop online, while 69 per cent said they believe that online shopping saves them money.
Given that people tend to use credit cards for online shopping, you might expect that consumer debt would be higher among people who do more online shopping, but the data suggested otherwise. Indeed the data shows that consumer debt is higher among people who only shop online occasionally.
“What might be happening is that those who use [online shopping] a lot are really skilled and they’re good at finding deals, and it’s saving them money as a result,” Simpson said. “But those people who are only casual shoppers online, with only the odd purchases, are the ones who have the most amount of consumer debt.”
Simpson cautions that this doesn’t necessarily imply that there’s a causal effect where occasional online shopping causes higher debt, but that there is a clear relationship between the two.
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Taking into account their different sources of debt, 81 per cent of respondents said they feel comfortable about their ability to meet their monthly debt-payment obligations. Seventy-eight per cent expressed confidence in their ability to pay down their debts in a timely manner, compared to 19 per cent who said they struggle to do so.
All this considered, Canadians rated 2017 higher than 2016 when it came to assessing their personal financial situation, with 64 per cent saying 2017 was a good year, compared to 60 per cent last year.
Simpson said there are numerous possible reasons for Canadians’ optimism.
“The Bank of Canada just came out essentially saying that things are firing on all cylinders, so that’s good news,” he noted. “Interest rates are going up, but they’re going up reasonably slowly so I think people are able to weather that increase in their debt service payments.”
“One of the biggest improvements between 2016 and 2017 when people were assessing the year was on the retirement savings. The markets had a really good last six months of the year, and the Canadian economy in general,” he added.
“People are convinced that things are going better this year than they were last year, and they see that momentum continuing.”
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between December 10 and 14, 2017, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 2,098 Canadian aged 18+ from Ipsos’ online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±2.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population.