Three-quarters of Canadians polled have personal debt: RBC survey

MONTREAL – As many as three-quarters of Canadians recently polled say they are in debt and owe an average amount of nearly $16,000, according to a new survey.

The average personal debt load, which doesn’t include a mortgage, jumped by $2,779 to $15,920 this year compared with last year, says RBC’s annual debt poll released on Tuesday.

Kim Taylor, the director of personal lending at the Royal Bank of Canada (TSX:RY), said consumers may have increased their personal debt — which includes credit cards, loans and personal lines of credit — after putting off vacations or big ticket items in recent years.

Debt is also indicative of where people are in their lives, she said.

As a result, young people between the ages of 18 and 34 who were surveyed were quite worried about how much money they owed, but that could also because they’re not earning as much money as someone older, and may have student debt and other expenses.

“Debt is very personal,” said Taylor. “There could be a client who owes $1,000 and can be very anxious about that $1,000 and there could be a client who owes $100,000 and they don’t feel as anxious about it.”

Those over 55 seemed to be the most comfortable with their debt because many said they had savings and were at ease with their plan to pay it off, she added.

Albertans experienced the biggest jump in their personal debt load, with the average amount owing coming in at more than $24,000 — up from $14,881 in 2012.

“We truly believe it is based on the flood situation and that has impacted Alberta,” said Taylor, noting that many were waiting for insurance payments or didn’t have insurance and had to take on debt to cover damage by last summer’s flood.

Quebecers surveyed saw the smallest increase in their personal debt this year — up only $287 — to $10,458.

The survey found that 24 per cent of Canadians surveyed indicated they were debt-free, down from 26 per cent in 2012.

Canadians were also basically split about their attitudes toward debt, with 38 per cent being very anxious about it, up from 34 per cent in 2012. The same number of Canadians surveyed — 38 per cent — were also comfortable with their personal debt.

The poll was conducted online by Ipsos Reid between Aug. 22 to 27 with a sample of 2,108 Canadian adults. The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.