Understanding Debt Problems

An Overview of Canada’s Debt Situation

In recent years, the world economy has been through a series of challenges, including a global pandemic, inflation, supply chain disruptions, and political instability. The Canadian economy has managed to withstand these challenges, often better than other economies. However, Canada’s high levels of household debt, which is the highest among the G7 countries, leave the economy susceptible to any global economic crisis.

Not all debt is detrimental. It can be a useful instrument that allows households to acquire expensive items, such as cars and houses. Moreover, it provides a safety net for people experiencing a temporary income dip. The financial system offers a wide range of products that ease the burden of large-scale expenditures by spreading payments over time.

However, the risk associated with debt is substantial. The obligation of servicing debt persists even when individuals lose their jobs. This becomes a major issue during widespread job losses due to a global economic downturn and when people are unable to repay their debts due to lack of income. When many households in an economy are heavily indebted, the situation can escalate rapidly, as seen in the U.S. in 2007 and 2008.

The Impact of High Interest Rates on Canada’s Rising Household Debt

Over time, Canada’s household debt has been on a steady rise. During the 2008 recession, it was about 80% of the economy’s size. By 2010, it increased to 95%, and by 2021, debt had surpassed the size of the economy.

In contrast, household debt in the U.S. fell from 100% of GDP in 2008 to about 75% in 2021. While U.S. households were reducing debt, Canadians were increasing theirs, a trend that is likely to persist unless we address affordability in the housing market.

The chart below illustrates these figures, showing how debt burdens have increased for countries on the right of the chart while decreasing for countries on the left. Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have seen household debt rise from already high levels.

Understanding Debt Problems: The Role of Mortgages

Canada’s household debt problem is largely tied to mortgages. With the highest level of debt among G7 countries, three-quarters of Canada’s debt is mortgage-based. This situation is a result of the housing market’s dynamics and the financial system’s structure, which encourages large-scale expenditures.

Housing affordability is a serious concern in Canada. With high housing prices and low-interest rates, many households have taken on large mortgages, contributing to the high levels of household debt. This situation makes the economy vulnerable to any shocks, such as sudden interest rate hikes or housing market corrections.

Addressing Affordability: A Key to Alleviating Canada’s Debt Problem

Addressing affordability in the housing market is crucial to mitigating Canada’s debt problem. This can be achieved by implementing policies that promote affordable housing and regulate the lending practices of financial institutions. Additionally, financial literacy programs can help households understand the risks associated with debt and make informed financial decisions.

Understanding Debt Problems: The Way Forward

Understanding debt problems is the first step towards finding solutions. By examining the factors contributing to high household debt, we can identify strategies to manage and reduce debt burdens. This includes implementing policies to improve housing affordability, regulating financial institutions, and promoting financial literacy.

In conclusion, while debt can be a helpful tool for households, it comes with significant risks. Therefore, understanding debt problems and finding effective solutions is crucial for maintaining economic stability and improving the financial well-being of households.


  1. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  2. Bank of Canada
  3. Statistics Canada

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