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2024 Canadian Consumer Credit Card Report

Canadian credit card debt mounts amid a year of turbulent financial conditions.

By Shannon Terrell
May 2, 2024

In an economic environment battered by high interest rates and unrelenting inflation, it’s little wonder Canadians continue to rely on their credit cards for essential spending. 

Over two-thirds of Canadian adults (69%), approximately 22.4 million people[1], used credit cards to pay for essential purchases in the past 12 months, according to a new NerdWallet survey of 1,044 Canadian adults, conducted by The Harris Poll from April 1-3, 2024. Nearly the same proportion (70%) reported this behaviour a year ago

These findings underscore a broader trend in credit card habits across the country: Canadians have more credit card debt than ever1, and it’s taking longer to pay it off.

Key findings

Rising prices maintain their impact on Canadian credit card habits

Over the last couple of years, inflation has proven to be a resilient adversary whose unrelenting, wallet-squeezing pressure continues to impact Canadian credit card usage. 

Fifty-three percent of Canadians say their credit card habits have changed over the past 12 months. Among them, the most common reason given for the change was higher prices for goods and services (64%). When we asked the same questions a year ago, a similar share of those who changed their credit card habits in the past year (68%) cited higher prices as a cause.

But the tide of rising prices isn’t the only variable shaping the way we use our credit cards. Of those Canadians who answered ‘yes’ to a change in credit card habits, some additional reasons are cited: major unexpected purchases (30%), changes in employment resulting in reduced income (28%), living situation changes (17%) and rent or mortgage payments requiring more monthly income (17%).

The rising cost of shelter appears to exert pressure on younger Canadians, especially. Twenty percent of Millennials (ages 28-43) whose credit card habits have changed over the last 12 months attribute mortgage payments or rent requiring more of their monthly income as an influencing factor. Rising housing costs also impacted the credit card habits of other generational cohorts: only 17% of Gen Zers (ages 18-27) and 16% of Gen Xers (ages 44-59) whose credit card habits have changed over the past 12 months cite mortgage payments or rent requiring more of their monthly income as a reason.

Canadians are divided on providing their parents with financial assistance

Nearly one-third of Canadians (29%) say they currently assist or plan to assist their parents financially. But this gesture doesn’t resonate with the majority of Canadians. Thirty-nine percent of Canadians say they don’t assist their parents financially and don’t plan to start, while 32% say the question didn’t apply to their lives.

The decision to offer fiscal support to a family member requires the consideration of numerous factors and has significant implications. Even if you’d like to support your parents, it may not be in the cards, financially speaking. In fact, 10% of Canadians say they want to help their parents pay for expenses but don’t think they will be able to. Nine percent say that they find their parents’ financial situation stressful, and 7% say that they disagree with their siblings on whether to help their parents pay for things in retirement.

Nerdy Tip: Money decisions, especially those related to family affairs, can be tricky. If stress or anxiety has begun to weigh on your finances, there are professionals, like financial therapists, who can help.  

More than half of Canadians carry credit card debt

More than half of Canadian adults (55%) currently have credit card debt — up from 43% when asked a year ago. The repayment periods for credit card debt are increasing, too. Of Canadians with credit card debt, 51% say it will take six months or longer to pay it off, up from 40% a year ago. 

These trends dovetail with findings from Canadian credit bureau Equifax. Total balances for Canadian credit cards reached an all-time high in the third quarter of 2023, with the average balance rising to $4,119, according to an Equifax Canada Market Pulse report [1]. These staggering figures suggest that Canadian credit card debt isn’t just on the rise — it’s never been higher. 

These findings are understandable, given the year’s economic adversities. But just because they make sense in the current environment doesn’t mean we’re powerless to take control of our finances. 

“With credit card use on the rise for basic needs, many Canadians appear to be feeling the pinch of higher prices,” says Georgia Rose, credit card expert at NerdWallet Canada. “Treating your credit card like cash is a good rule of thumb. If you hesitate to use your debit card for the transaction, think twice before you put it on credit.” 

Managing credit card debt is a skill that can be built and strengthened. If your credit card debt has become unmanageable, consider a low-interest or balance transfer card, or consult a financial advisor. 

Fees and rewards matter most for Canadians comparing credit cards

Credit cards can increase your spending power and credit score, earn rewards, and offer a financial cushion in an emergency. There’s no shortage of card options on the market, and finding the right card is no small task for consumers. There are many features to evaluate when comparing credit cards.

Sixty-seven percent of Canadians say that no annual fees are one of the most important factors when choosing a new credit card. An equal proportion (67%) say credit card rewards, like points, miles and cash back, are also among their top considerations.  

Additional factors that are among the most important when selecting a new credit card include sign-up bonuses (33%), ongoing interest rates (22%), travel perks (20%) and card exclusivity (7%). 

Nerdy Tip: There’s no one-size-fits-all credit card. Consider your budget, spending habits and financial goals to help you choose the best credit card for your finances.

Many Canadians are trying to strengthen their credit score 

A strong credit score can help you qualify for top-tier credit cards and borrow at more competitive interest rates. So, it comes as little surprise that nearly 3 in 4 Canadians (73%) say they are trying to bolster their credit score. Among them, some roadblocks to a better credit score include having a low credit limit (21%), not being able to make debt payments on time (18%) and being unable to afford the deposit to open a secured credit card (12%).

A good credit score is typically categorized as 660 and above. You can strengthen your credit score by making on-time payments, diversifying your credit and changing your credit utilization ratio.  

Methodology

This survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from April 1-3, 2024, among 1,044 Canadian adults ages 18 and older. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval.  For this survey, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 3.8 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Bria Weaver at [email protected].

“Essential purchases” refers to purchases made to cover the cost of essential goods and services, like groceries, utilities, etc.

“Gen Zers” refers to Canadian adults ages 18 to 27.

“Millennials” refers to Canadian adults ages 28 to 43. 

“Gen Xers” refers to Canadian adults ages 44 to 59.

FOOTNOTES

  1. We calculated this number by multiplying the percentage of Canadians ages 18 and older who say they used credit cards to pay for essential purchases in the past 12 months (69%) by Statistics Canada’s estimate of the number of Canadians ages 18 and over (32,600,713) that was published February 2, 2024. ↩︎

Sources

Works Cited
  1. Equifax Canada, “Equifax Canada Market Pulse — Consumer Quarterly Credit Trends Report,” accessed April 25, 2024.

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