Household debt hits fresh record, with Canadians owing $2 trillion by the end of 2016

OTTAWA — Canadian household debt as a share of income rose to a fresh record in the fourth quarter, data from Statistics Canada showed on Wednesday in a report likely to underscore concerns consumers are becoming overly indebted.

The ratio of debt to disposable income rose to 167.3 per cent from an adjusted 166.8 per cent in the third quarter. That meant Canadians owed $1.67 for every dollar of disposable income.

Total household credit market debt, which includes consumer credit, and mortgage and non-mortgage loans, totalled nearly $2.029 trillion in the final quarter of last year.

Mortgages made up $18.9 billion of this, an increase of $1.2 billion, while consumer credit and non-mortgage loans were up $8.5 billion at $9.5 billion.

Years of low interest rates since the global financial crisis, as well as rising home prices, have prompted Canadians to steadily increase their debt.

The Bank of Canada has flagged the elevated level of household indebtedness as a potential vulnerability for the financial system as consumers with large amounts of debt could find it difficult to adjust to a loss of income or other financial shock.

However, low interest rates have allowed consumers to pay down more of their mortgage principal, with payments split almost evenly between interest and principal in the fourth quarter, the statistics agency said.

Consumers' ability to pay their debt also remained relatively easy. The interest-only debt service ratio held at a record low of 6.1 per cent, while the household savings rate jumped to 5.8 per cent from 5.5 per cent.

The household debt service ratio, with its obligated payments of both principal and interest as a proportion of disposable income, edged down to 14.0 per cent from 14.1 per cent in the third quarter.

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