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The Canadian Debt Hole Deepens

Nov. 26, 2019
3 mins
A man sits on his bedroom floor drinking a coffee with lots of paperwork and ideas surrounding him

Gen-Xers and millennials seem to be struggling with debt more than baby boomers ever did.

New data from Manulife Bank suggests that more of them have loaded up on debt in just the last six months. The degree of increase is almost baffling in such a short time—if one takes the numbers at face value.

Of all the generations, baby boomers are in the best financial shape. They’re lucky in that they’ve had a head start and have been able to acquire real estate before the post-2000 boom. And they still know how to save.

Here’s a deeper look at the numbers:

On Debt Loads

  • 55% of Canadians say they have “some” or “a lot of” debt
    • That’s up from 46% in the spring survey
    • Here’s the breakdown by generation:
      • 62% for millennials
      • 64% for gen-Xers
      • 41% for baby boomers
    • Manulife says Canadians’ deteriorating balance sheets coincide with more people spending more than they earn, fewer people saving and more people uncomfortable with their mortgage debt
  • 21% of Canadians report having no debt
    • That’s down from 28% in the spring
  • 11% describe themselves as being “in over their head” and “needing help controlling the situation”
    • 14% female vs. 6% male
  • 40% say the situation is under control and don’t need help, but admit they could use help or are already getting it

On Types of Debt

Credit card debt is the most common form of debt and there’s been a significant increase in the percentage of Canadians who are carrying a card balance—60% of us now do. That’s up from 48% in the spring.


  • 48% of us have mortgage debt (down from 53% in the spring)
    • If we had to guess, this kind of drop in six months probably reflects some sort of sampling error (as does the debt increase above). It’s hard to fathom a five-percentage-point drop in mortgage holders in just ~180 days
  • 39% have a car loan (up from 35%)
  • 36% have a line of credit (LOC)
  • 22% have a personal loan
  • 16% have a home equity line of credit (HELOC)
    • That’s down from 22% in the spring (again, a drop that seems odd intuitively)
  • 11% are carrying a student loan

On Comfort Level with Mortgages

Of all their debt obligations, Canadians feel most comfortable with their mortgages, despite those debts typically being the largest of all.

  • 22% of Canadians said they feel “very comfortable” with the amount they owe on their mortgage
    • 73% said they feel “somewhat or very” comfortable, down from 78% in the spring survey
    • Those in the Atlantic (85%) and Quebec (79%) were more likely to feel comfortable about the amount they owe on their mortgage compared to those in Alberta (67%) and the Prairies (68%)
  • 28% of Canadians said they feel “very comfortable” with their mortgage payments
    • A full 82% said they feel “somewhat or very” comfortable, down from 85% in the spring
  • 72% said they feel “somewhat or very” comfortable with their HELOC, up from 68% in the spring
  • Comparatively, just 43% feel comfortable with their credit cards that carry a balance and 42% are comfortable with the student loans

On Savings

  • Canadians save just 14.0% of their after-tax income on average
    • Down from 14.7% in the spring
    • This number is hard to reconcile with Canada's 1.7% household savings rate
    • It's certainly skewed to some degree by big savers
  • More Canadians (19%) now report saving zero percent of their after-tax income
    • This is up 4 percentage points from the spring

On Technology

  • 53% of millennials want their financial advisor to be a mobile phone app
    • They are the most likely to express interest in this concept, vs. 31% of those 41–69
    • Might the same hold true for mortgage borrowers eventually?
  • 60% of millennials are focused on building their credit score (vs. 40% of those 41–69)
    • Apps that focus on building good credit, like Borrowell, are “tremendously appealing” to this cohort, Manulife noted

On Living Situations

  • 42% of Canadians own a house or condo and pay a mortgage
    • Down from 46% in the spring survey
  • Over the same period, the proportion of Canadians renting and living with a partner/roommates has increased to 20% from 16%
  • The highest percentage are millennials at 31%

The RATESDOTCA editorial team are experienced writers focused on sharing stories and bringing you the latest news in insurance and personal finance. Our goal is to provide Canadians with the information and resources they need to make better insurance and financial decisions.

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