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(Maciej Korzekwa)
(Maciej Korzekwa)

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Canadian consumer debt loads stabilize Add to ...

After years of whipping out their credit cards and tapping into lines of credit, there is further evidence that Canadians are thinking twice before taking on more consumer debt.

A quarterly analysis from credit bureau TransUnion showed that the average Canadian’s non-mortgage debt was $25,594 in the third quarter of 2011. That is down $9 from $25,603 in the previous quarter but $431 higher than $25,163 a year ago.

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While the quarterly drop might not sound impressive, it marks the third-consecutive quarter that debt loads have either declined or remained about the same following 26-straight quarterly increases.

TransUnion’s report pointed to a deceleration in total debt increases, which basically means Canadians are taking on more debt at a slower pace.

Thomas Higgins, TransUnion’s vice-president of analytics and decision services, said the latest data suggests “Canadian debt loads are stabilizing.”

He attributed the slowdown to global economic uncertainty. “In the third quarter alone, Canadian consumers witnessed major stock market declines, the European debt crisis and continued high unemployment,” Mr. Higgins said.

The latest TransUnion report comes on the heels of new analysis from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. that shows the rate at which Canadians are racking up new mortgage debt has also slowed.

Policy makers like Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney have been warning Canadians about excessive debt loads and their ability to repay the money they owe once interest rates rise from their current lows.

The average Canadian household has debt that is 150 per cent of income, and mortgage debt accounts for the largest chunk of credit that Canadian consumers hold.

Outside of mortgages, Canadian household debt levels have surged as consumers rely more on their credit cards and lines of credit. Lines of credit, which have lower rates than credit cards, now account for more than 40 per cent of all Canadian non-mortgage debt, TransUnion said.

TransUnion's data showed that average Canadian credit card debt fell 2.65 per cent from a year ago but rose 0.59 per cent on a quarterly basis as the holiday season approaches. But Canadian lines of credit debt rose 4.5 per cent from a year ago and 0.79 per cent on a quarterly basis.

While debt delinquencies have remained relatively stable, both increased unemployment rates and the upcoming holiday shopping season may weigh in over the upcoming months, TransUnion noted.

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