A new survey indicates that more Canadians were able to pay off some of their debt obligations in the third quarter.

Credit bureau TransUnion reports that excluding mortgage debt, the average consumer's total debt load fell to just under $25,600 between July and September, the third straight three-month interval during which which debts declined or remained the same. Prior to 2011, consumer debt had risen on 26 consecutive occasions between the second quarter of 2004 and the fourth quarter of 2010.

Thomas Higgins, vice president of analytics and decision services, said the latest data suggests Canadians are gaining better control of their finances, despite economic unrest occurring throughout the world. In fact, it may have been a motivating factor, he asserted.

"Global economic uncertainty surely played a part in Canadians' move to further draw down their debt load," said Higgins. "In the third quarter alone, Canadian consumers witnessed major stock market declines, the European debt crisis and continued high unemployment."

According to Statistics Canada, employment in the country slipped in November by 19,000 jobs, as the unemployment rate rose to 7.4 per cent. However, compared to November 2010, employment is more than 1 per cent higher, boasting 212,000 additional jobs.

As for Canadians' debt obligations, unlike previous reports, where consumer debt was largely confined to only certain portions of the country, debt declines were widespread, as six of the 10 provinces stayed the same or dropped compared to the second quarter. However, on year-over-year basis, British Columbia and New Brunswick were the only provinces where total debt balances diminished.

Among specific types of debt, credit card borrower debt dropped more than 2 per cent year over year, but on a quarterly basis, it ticked up approximately six-tenths of a per cent. Also increasing was Canadians' use of lines of credit, which jumped 4.5 per cent on a yearly basis and eight-tenths of a per cent quarter over quarter.

The study also analyzed delinquency levels. Overall delinquencies fell but they increased slightly among auto loans. Higgins cautioned that they may rise even further in the coming months if unemployment rises as some economists anticipate.

"With the holiday shopping season gearing up, it wouldn't be surprising to see delinquencies rise in the next two quarters," he said.
 

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