credit card debt canada

Canada just set an all-time record for credit card debt

Have you been using your credit card more than usual lately to make ends meet? If you live in Canada, you're far from alone — and economists are concerned.

For the first time in history, the combined outstanding credit card balance of all Canadians has reached more than $100 billion (as of the third quarter of 2019.)

Consumer credit reporting agency TransUnion revealed the news in an industry insights report aimed at retailers and lenders this week, warning that the number is only expected to increase alongside delinquency rates.

By the end of 2020, TransUnion predicts that the the average Canadian's non-mortgage debt will have risen by roughly 1 per cent, year over to year, to $31,531 per household.

Credit card delinquency rates (read: the proportion of consumers who fail to pay their bills on time, or at all) are expected to rise as well, from 2.8 per cent as of September 2019 to 2.9 per cent as of December 2020.

Inflation, employment, interest rates, the global economy and wage growth (or lack thereof) all factor into why credit card debt is on the rise in Canada, but so too does the mindset many Canadians hold when it comes to "putting in on plastic."

"TransUnion research studies have shown that, when faced with economic pressure, consumers often have a payment hierarchy around which debt payments they make and in what order," notes the report.

"These analyses have shown that, for financially distressed Canadian consumers with credit cards, auto loans and mortgages in their wallets, the credit card payments are generally the first that will be missed, as consumers prefer to keep payments on auto loans and mortgages in good standing if they are forced to choose."

More and more customers are using credit cards to finance their essential living expenses as well, according to TransUnion, as opposed to just retail purchases.

"The continued increase in card balances could be a sign of the growing pressure on personal finances," reads the agency's report, noting that "regional economic shocks across Canada" — specifically Western Canada — could be contributing to a slight rise in overall delinquencies as well.

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