stressed young couple worries about their finances

The amount Canadians owe relative to their income ticked higher in the fourth quarter of last year as the growth in debt slightly outpaced income growth, Statistics Canada said Thursday.

The agency reported that seasonally adjusted household credit market debt, as a proportion of disposable income, increased to 178.5% in the fourth quarter. That compared with a revised reading of 178.3% in the third quarter.

That means there was roughly $1.79 in credit market debt for every dollar of household disposable income in the fourth quarter.

Josh Nye, senior economist at Royal Bank, said the figures highlight the challenge consumers face.

“It will take a long period of household incomes outpacing credit growth to deliver meaningful improvement in the debt-to-income ratio,” Nye wrote in a report.

“We’re not seeing that yet.”

Nye noted the debt service ratio increased for a fifth consecutive quarter and matched a record high.

The household debt service ratio (DSR), the total obligated payments of principal and interest on credit market debt as a proportion of household disposable income, increased to 14.9% in the quarter compared with revised reading of 14.7% in the third quarter.

“While we expect the BoC won’t be raising rates again until later this year, the DSR is still likely to edge higher in the coming quarters as homeowners renew fixed rate loans at higher interest rates,” Nye wrote.

Helping fuel the rise in the two key debt ratios was an increase in borrowing in the fourth quarter.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, Statistics Canada said households borrowed $21.2 billion in the fourth quarter as mortgage loan demand rose $2.3 billion to $12.3 billion.

However, despite the increase in the fourth quarter, on an annual basis, household credit market borrowing fell 19.5% to $84.6 billion in 2018, the lowest level of borrowing since 2014.

Credit market debt, which includes consumer credit and mortgage and non-mortgage loans, totalled nearly $2.21 trillion in the fourth quarter.

Mortgage debt reached nearly $1.44 trillion, while consumer credit and non-mortgage loans combined to total $769.4 billion.

Earlier this month, Equifax Canada reported that consumer delinquencies climbed higher in the fourth quarter of 2018 and the credit monitoring company warned that rising delinquency rates are likely to become the norm this year.

It said the 90-day mortgage delinquency rate rose by 1.5% from the fourth quarter of 2017 to 0.18% at the end of last year.

The comparable non-mortgage rate was up 0.4% to 1.07%.

A survey released Wednesday from the Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) and Credit Canada found many Canadians are precariously indebted.

One in five said they would need to liquidate assets this year to pay off debt, and two-thirds anticipated taking on more debt.