Key Survey Findings: High Debt O.K. Say Many Canadians

Detailed statistics from the Hoyes Michalos/ Harris/Decima poll published September 24, 2012.

Canadians are very confident financially

Other surveys, such as the Harris/Decima consumer confidence index, indicate that Canadians are confident. In our survey 65% of Canadians are very or somewhat comfortable:

Question:“How comfortable are you with your financial situation?”


  • 11% Very comfortable
  • 51% Somewhat comfortable
  • 24% Somewhat uncomfortable
  • 12% Very uncomfortable
  • 2% Don’t think about it

The overwhelming majority are confident they can pay their bills:

Question:“You are confident in your ability to meet your monthly financial obligations”


  • 81% Agree
  • 10% Neither Agree nor Disagree
  • 9% Disagree

Canadians are very comfortable with high levels of debt

Numerous studies show that Canadians are carrying the highest level of personal debt in history; some examples:

  • Household Debt in Canada, published by Statistics Canada (excellent summary of Canadian debt levels, indicating that the ratio of household debt to personal disposable income has increased from 66% in 1980 to over 150% today).;
  • TransUnion Study: Personal Debt Levels Shifting Back to Growth Mode, published August, 2012, concluding that Canadian consumer debt levels are at all time highs
  • The Canadian Bankers Association attempts to put a positive spin in their August, 2012 report on Household Borrowing in Canada, concluding that 64% of Canadians pay off their credit card balance in full each month (which implies that over one third of Canadians are incurring high credit card interest rates each month).

Despite these studies proving that our debt levels continue to increase, only 26% of the random Canadians we surveyed believed that their debt levels are higher than last year:

Question:“Your debt level is higher than a year ago ”


  • 26% Agree
  • 17% Neither Agree nor Disagree
  • 57% Disagree

To further understand perceptions, we asked this question:

Question: “How confident are you that you could come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need were to arise in the next month?””


  • 40% Extremely confident
  • 15% Very confident
  • 17% Somewhat confident
  • 14% Not very confident
  • 14% Not at all confident

Analyzing this further:

  • 55% Extremely/very/somewhat confident they can raise the money within 30 days
  • 17% Somewhat confident they can raise the money in 30 days
  • 6% Would require 31 days to 2 months
  • 15% Would require 2 months or longer to raise the money
  • 7% Would not be able to raise the money, regardless of the amount of time available

In summary, while most Canadians are confident they could raise $2,000 in the event of a financial emergency, there is a significant segment of the population that could not raise the money, regardless of the amount of time available.

When asked to give the top three sources to raise the $2,000 within the next 30 days, 92% of Canadians listed some form of debt, including:

  • 56% Line of credit
  • 47% Credit card
  • 39% Borrow money from friends or family
  • 22% Bank loan

NOTE: Numbers add to more than 100%, as these are the total for all three responses.

A Tale of Two Canadas: Those With Debt, and Those Without

The confident Canadians in the survey tended to be older and more affluent. Of the 55% in the survey that were extremely or very confident that they could raise $2,000 in 30 days:

  • Western Canada excluding the Prairies are most confident (65%)
  • Those who are 55+ years are most confident (55-64 years: 67%; 65+ years: 69%)
  • Retirees are most confident (68%)
  • Canadians with household income of $100,000 or more are most confident (81%)

Clearly demographics plays a role in Canadian’s levels of debt, with “middle aged” Canadians carrying the greatest amount of debt. This is understandable, since a 20 year olds tend not to have the work history or income to qualify for significant credit, and retirees have had a lifetime to pay down debt and save. The most likely borrowers are, according to Household Debt in Canada, published by Statistics Canada :

  • parents with children at home (Individuals under 45 made up 45% of the population, but 54% of borrowers).
  • Married people with children accounted for 30% of the overall population, but 39% of debtors
  • Higher incomes allow for greater debt-carrying capacity, and can lead to more debt (those with at least $100,000 in household income accounted for 37% of all debtors, but held 56% of all household debt).

These statistics agree with the profile of the average person who files bankruptcy in Canada. In a study by Hoyes Michalos called Joe Debtor, the average insolvent person in Canada is male, 41 years old, and has about $60,000 in debt. Comparing Joe Debtor to the average Canadian reveals that Joe Debtor is very similar to the average Canadian, but with more debt.

The research also reveals that while 45% of Canadians say they have never faced a debt problem, 70% admit to needing immediate help with day-to-day financial matters, including paying down debt (20%), increasing savings (16%), and improving cash flow (13%).

The Harris/Decima survey was completed online using Harris/Decima’s proprietary online panel. This data was gathered in a sample of 1,010 Canadians between August 15th and 23rd, 2012. A probability sample of this size has a margin of error of +/-3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

Similar Posts:

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  3. Presentation: What Triggers Insolvency?
  4. Why Doesn’t the Federal Government Consult Their Own Debt Literacy Experts?
  5. Grey Divorce Darkens Senior Years

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