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Survey says the main focus for Canadians in 2013 is to pay down debt.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Canadians appear less concerned about retirement planning than in years past as they continue to focus on debt reduction as their main financial priority, according to a new study released Wednesday by CIBC.

Over all, the poll done for the bank by Harris/Decima showed 17 per cent of respondents selected debt reduction as their main priority in 2013, unchanged from 2012 and the third year in a row that it has topped the list. Fourteen per cent chose debt reduction in 2011.

But while paying down debt topped the list, it remains to be seen how much progress Canadians will make in accomplishing that goal.

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Despite having the same priority last year, Statistics Canada says the household debt to income ratio actually rose to a record high 164.6 per cent in 2012.

Meanwhile, the poll involving more than 2,000 adults 18 years of age and over found that retirement planning was no longer among the top three on the list of priorities among Canadians surveyed.

It was selected by only seven per cent of respondents overall, down from 11 per cent last year and 13 per cent in 2011.

Second on the list — chosen by 10 per cent overall and unchanged from last year — was building savings. Managing day-to-day spending/budgeting came in third, selected by eight per cent of respondents and down from 14 per cent last year.

"A key finding of the poll is that age groups where retirement planning was traditionally a top priority have now shifted to a focus on debt reduction," CIBC said.

Two years ago, 24 per cent of respondents aged 45-64 named retirement planning as their top financial priority, which fell to just 12 per cent among that age group in this year's survey.

At the same time, debt management increased as a priority for that age group to 18 per cent from 14 per cent.

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"While it is important to address immediate financial needs such as debt reduction, it is equally important to keep long-term goals such as retirement in sight," bank spokeswoman Christina Kramer said in a comment accompanying the results.

"Even small contributions today can make it easier in future years to reach your retirement savings goals," said Kramer, executive vice-president, retail distribution and channel strategy.

Still, Ms. Kramer said the survey results highlight that Canadians are "well aware of the importance of good debt management."

"Having been named the top priority three years in a row, there is an opportunity for more Canadians to turn awareness of debt management into action and outline some clear steps towards paying down their debt in 2013," she said.

Ms. Kramer said that while it can be challenging to keep multiple financial goals top of mind "it is possible to make debt repayment a priority while still keeping up regular investments into your retirement plan."

Among other things, she said people should recognize that their finances are all connected and that making progress on one aspect of a person's financial goals can lead to an opportunity to improve in others as well.

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The Harris/Decima telephone survey, conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 4, involved 2,009 adults 18 years of age and over and is considered to have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

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