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In a file photo signs for MasterCard and Visa credit cards are shown at the entrance to a New York coffee shop Friday, April 22, 2005.

MARK LENNIHAN/AP

Canadians consumers are reining in their debt burdens amid repeated warnings on household borrowing from Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and other policy makers.

The growth of consumer debt has eased as of March, rising at the slowest pace since 2002, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce said Wednesday.

"For the first time in more than a decade, consumer credit in Canada is rising more slowly then in the U.S.," said CIBC economist Benjamin Tal.

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"Soft credit card activity is largely behind the softening in overall growth in consumer credit," Mr. Tal said in a report.

"And here, we see increased optimization of the debt burden with active transfer of balances from credit cards to lines of credit. Term loans are still healthy due to strong demand for auto loans."

Having said that, there has been an increase in delinquencies where lines of credit are concerned, but it's still low.

As of March, he noted, outstanding mortgages climbed by 6.3 per cent compared to a year earlier, a pace well shy of the 7.3-per-cent average of the past two years and far less than the rate of the past 10 years.

"With personal disposable income rising by 1.3 per cent in the fourth quarter and household credit rising by 1.3 per cent, the debt-to-income ratio in the fourth quarter of 2011 was little changed," Mr. Tal said.

"Interest payments on debt have accounted for 7.3 per cent of disposable income, roughly the same ratio seen in the previous two quarters. And in all likelihood this ratio will be little changed in the first quarter. Note that mortgage interest payments as a share of disposable income are at the lowest point since late 2004."

Mr. Tal did warn, though, that the real estate market is "overshooting," though the nature of that is in question.

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"It appears that we are at a turning point in the real estate market," Mr. Tal said. "Recent signals from the market suggest that activity is slowing down. We continue to call for a gradual softening in the market, with prices potentially falling by around 10 per cent in the coming year or two."

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