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Two-thirds of Canadians are worried that rising interest rates will impact their ability to make mortgage payments while another 62 per cent plan to retire with a debt load, according to poll results released Tuesday.

Low interest rates have helped push Canadian household debt levels to record highs, with an increasing number of households shouldering big mortgages. For people already struggling to meet their financial obligations, even a small rise in interest rates could translate into bigger payments and serious trouble.

A poll conducted by Investors Group found that Canadian mortgage holders may be overly confident that they can take higher borrowing costs in stride. When asked how much of an increase in mortgage rates would cause them to be concerned about their ability to continue to make mortgage payments, 41 per cent said that a rate jump of 3 percentage points or more.

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Another 24 per cent said rates would have to climb 2 percentage points or less to make them lose sleep while one-third said they would not be concerned, regardless of the rate increase.

The Bank of Canada kept its benchmark lending rate at an historic low on Tuesday morning, but signalled that it could raise interest rates as early as its next policy decision on June 1st.

Mortgage rates posted by the big Canadian banks have already started creeping higher, rising again last week. Experts agree that the era of historically-low interest rates is over and that the central bank will hike rates throughout the year, making it more expensive for Canadians to finance their home purchases.

House prices have skyrocketed across the country and many households are struggling to meet hefty monthly mortgage payments, as well as trying to pay down rising consumer debt loads.

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The Investors Group online survey of 1,006 people, conducted between March 30th and April 9th, found that the median outstanding mortgage balance among Canadians is roughly $130,000.

For a mortgage of that size with an amortization of 25 years and an interest rate of 4.5 per cent, a rate increase of 3 percentage points would add approximately $230 to an individual's monthly payment. That amounts to an additional $70,000 in interest costs over the life of the mortgage.

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The poll also found that 56 per cent of Canadians with a mortgage do not consider paying it off as an important factor in deciding when to retire. Nearly two-thirds, or 62 per cent, of those surveyed say they plan to carry debt into retirement or have already done so. For retired mortgage-holders, the median mortgage balance is $82,000.

The poll comes amid growing concern that many Canadians are taking on too much debt and will need to save more to achieve their desired standard of living in retirement.

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