Four in 10 Canadian marriages begin in debt, and the new family starts off with an average of $21,503 in debt on their wedding day, according to a recent Hoyes Michalos / Harris/Decima poll.

Almost half (47%) of younger respondents (aged 25 to 34) brought debt into their relationship, and those aged 45 to 54 started their relationship with the highest level of debt of any age group at an average of $19,488 per partner. Current students brought in the highest debts ($35,045).

“It’s scary that before starting a new life together many Canadians are already burdened with debt,” says Douglas Hoyes, a bankruptcy trustee with Hoyes, Michalos & Associates Inc. “How can you buy a house, start a family and live the Canadian dream when you are already in debt?” asks Hoyes.

“Of greatest concern is the apparent lack of communications,” says Ted Michalos, a bankruptcy trustee with Hoyes, Michalos & Associates Inc. More than one in three (36%) said they did not discuss their debt with their spouse prior to getting married. “If you don’t discuss your debt you can’t make a plan to deal with it,” adds Michalos.

The good news is that six in 10 (61%) of Canadians have paid off their original pre-relationship debt, but almost half (46%) have admitted to adding new debt (not including a mortgage) since being married. Those who did not discuss their debts prior to getting married were more likely to have only added to their debts.

The survey was conducted by Harris/Decima using their national telephone omnibus. A total of 613 surveys were completed between January 3 and January 6. A probability sample of this size has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%, 19 times out of 20.