The past 18 months have been characterized by a steady stream of mostly bad news, relating to the pandemic and its harmful consequences. The human cost of the pandemic, in terms of illness and death, is paramount. But the reality is also that much economic and financial harm resulted, at an individual, community, and national level, as businesses closed and individuals lost jobs or saw their hours — and consequently their income — reduced.
However, an exception to that steady stream of economic and financial bad news came recently in the form of a Statistics Canada report on state of Canadians’ indebtedness.
The rise in personal debt over the past 15 years, as individuals and families took advantage of record low interest rates, has been a source of concern to both financial advisers and the government. One measure of the indebtedness of an individual or family is the debt-to-income ratio, which measures the amount of debt (secured and unsecured) as a percentage of household income. In 2005, the debt-to-income ratio of the average household was 93%. By the end of 2019 that ratio had climbed to more than 180%.
As well, in the two decades prior to the pandemic, credit card debt of Canadians had risen, on average, by 20.7% each year. By the beginning of 2020, the outstanding balance of credit card debt owed by Canadians had reached $90.6 billion.
As outlined in the Statistics Canada report, that picture changed dramatically from the beginning of 2020 to the start of 2021. Over that period, the outstanding balance carried on credit cards fell from $90.6 billion to $74 billion, an 18.3% decline in less than one year.
The StatsCan report, which can be found on its website at https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210823/dq210823c-eng.htm, attributes that change to two circumstances. As stated in the report “Canadian households began to see their disposable income rise during the pandemic, due in part to the limited opportunities to spend money during the lockdowns as well as the monetary support provided by governments …. to offset lost wages.” And, perhaps the best news of all is that the largest reductions in debt loads were seen in Canadians who had the lowest credit ratings.