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Three Quarters of Canadians Are in Debt: RBC Poll

Oct. 30, 2013
5 mins
A man looks over a woman's shoulder as she calculates the monthly expenses

Oh, the lingering sting of debt. It’s there when you tally the cost of your groceries in your head as you wait in line at the supermarket. It’s there as a pit in your stomach in the lead up to Christmas – that sacred day of consumerism. It’s gut-wrenchingly isolating at times – a dose of decapitating fear to start the morning with and enough to keep you up at night.

Most of the time, debt feels like a personal prison, something unfathomable by those around you. But it seems many Canadians are in the same place, according to the third annual RBC Debt Poll. Less than a quarter (24%) of Canadians surveyed are living debt free, compared to 26% in 2012 – pushing the national personal debt average to $15,920 in 2013. Last year’s personal average stood at $13,141.

Who has the most debt?

Looking at Canada as a whole, Albertans carry the highest average personal debt of $24,271 – mostly as a result of the devastating flood the province experienced earlier this year.

In Ontario, the average debt is $17,416, followed by British Columbians who carry $15,549. In Atlantic Canada, the average personal debt in 2013 is $15,243, while Saskatchewan and Manitoba follow close behind at $15,165. Quebec seems to be the most frugal at $10,458.

Half of respondents say debt levels cause anxiety

The poll shows that anxiety surrounding debt is an even split among Canadians. While 38% admitted they were very anxious (a rise from 34% in 2012), 38 per cent said they were comfortable with the level of debt they had reached.

“Despite the rising debt figure, there is a noticeable trend to responsible debt behaviour over the past year,” says Kim Taylor, director of personal lending at RBC. “We are also seeing that others need to take a step back to better manage the debt they are carrying.”

Taylor likens hashing out a plan for beating debt to establishing a fitness regime.

“Before you start on any new routine, it is always best to set goals and have a plan in place,” she says. “Marathon training often begins with a 5k race, and a financial plan with a path to debt repayment is key to your financial fitness success.”

How to break the debt cycle

Want to get financially fit? Here are a few tips:

Put it on paper. Write down exactly what you owe. Tally up your line of credit, outstanding credit card payments and loans – student-related or otherwise.

Have a plan. Once, you can see the full scope of what you owe, decide what monthly payment you can comfortably make and stick to it. It helps if you have a budget blocking out your monthly expenses including rent/mortgage, bills, groceries and entertainment costs.

Stick to it. When the plan is in motion, stick to it. Re-evaluate in a few months to make sure you’re balancing your needs and your payments.

If you’re having trouble making it all flow, contact a financial planner for advice. And remember, debt doesn’t need to be a secret -- be transparent and seek out support when needed.

Andrew Seale

Andrew Seale is a freelance writer with an absurdly hyperactive mind and predilection towards the obscure and eclectic. He frequently shares his personal finance experiences and mishaps with TheDot readers but has also been known to profile business leaders ranging from financial savants to bootstrapped entrepreneurs. His work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Yahoo Canada Finance and News, Profit Magazine, The Toronto Star, Enroute Magazine, and on the back of napkins sometimes tucked into the pockets of strangers. He can be found at

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