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Consumer debt swells to $1.4-trillion, but Canadians able to pay it: report

A consumer pays with a credit card at a store in Montreal in this file photo.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The love affair Canadians have with debt is still going strong, according to a new report by credit monitoring agency Equifax Canada.

Equifax said Monday that its figures show that consumer debt, excluding mortgages, rose to $518.3-billion through the end of November 2013. That was up 4.2 per cent from $497.4-billion a year earlier.

Despite the increase in debt, however, the overall delinquency rate — bills due past 90 days — declined to a record low of 1.12 per cent from 1.19 per cent in the same period of 2012.

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"The real pattern that we've been observing is that Canadians are taking on more debt, but they can handle it well and are making those monthly payments," said Regina Malina, director of analytics for Equifax.

Meanwhile, overall consumer debt, including mortgages, also continues to rise — up 9.1 per cent to $1.422-trillion from $1.303-trillion a year earlier.

Malina says the data shows that Canadians are willing to take on more debt — from car loans to credit card purchases — but are more aware of how important it is to keep their debt levels under control.

High debt levels are not a big concern in current conditions, which signal a stabilizing economy, improvement in the unemployment rate and an anticipated gradual increase in interest rates.

But Malina says if any or all of these conditions change, Canadians should reconsider how much debt they are piling on.

"That is the reason why we should remain vigilant," she said. "It's easy to get complacent. Even if the debt is up, and the delinquency is going down, it is no cause for alarm but as I said, we have to watch out for these other economic factors."

Equifax uses data from 25 million files on consumer credit history, including national credit cards, loans and mortgages in compiling the report each quarter.

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