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Manulife Bank of Canada survey found that more than a third of homeowners polled would face financial hardship if their mortgage payments increased by just 10 per cent.

Martti Salmela/iStockphoto

A survey by Manulife Bank of Canada says nearly half of Canadian homeowners are taking steps to whittle down their mortgage debt, but many would be in trouble if their monthly payments grew even slightly.

Manulife says 18 per cent of homeowners made extra lump-sum payments towards their mortgages in the past year, while 17 per cent increased their regular payments. Another 5 per cent of respondents did both.

In total, 40 per cent of the homeowners polled made extra mortgage payments during the past year, while 60 per cent did not.

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The average amount of additional mortgage payments was $6,300.

Manulife Bank of Canada's president and CEO Rick Lunny said it's encouraging that many homeowners are taking steps to reduce their mortgage debt.

However, the survey also found that more than a third of homeowners polled would face financial hardship if their mortgage payments increased by just 10 per cent.

"Having your payments go up 10 per cent sounds like a lot, but if you have a $200,000 mortgage and interest rates go up one per cent, that's a 10 per cent increase in your mortgage payments," Lunny said. "So there's not much room here for those people."

Meanwhile, another 15 per cent of homeowners said they couldn't handle any increases at all in their mortgage payments.

"It's inevitable that interest rates will go up, because they're at historical lows and have been for some time," Lunny said.

However, Lunny noted that 79 per cent of those polled said they would be willing to cut back on discretionary spending, such as eating out, in order to get out of debt – an indication that there is more wiggle room in their budgets than they may realize.

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"These people probably, better than they think, would have the ability to make their mortgage payments, but it would have an impact on their lifestyle," Lunny said.

Manulife polled 2,372 Canadian homeowners in all provinces between Feb. 10 and 27. Respondents were all between the ages of 20 and 59 and had a minimum household income of $50,000.

The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

The Manulife survey found that Canadian homeowners are carrying an average of $190,000 in mortgage debt, with Albertans carrying the heaviest debt load – an average of $242,300.

That's followed by $217,300 in British Columbia, $196,900 in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and $193,000 in Ontario.

Atlantic Canada has the lowest average mortgage debt, at $127,300.

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