Canadians Opening and Using Fewer Credit Cards, but Borrowing More on Existing Cards

Findings from newest TransUnion report may benefit consumers seeking more liquidity

The number of open and active credit cards in use by Canadians declined by over 800,000 during the course of 2016, according to TransUnion’s (NYSE: TRU) latest Canada Industry Insights Report. Despite fewer credit cards in the marketplace, more Canadians are actually using card credit, resulting in an increase in total outstanding balances of 3.3% in the last year, to $94.2 billion in Q4 2016 from $91.2 billion in Q4 2015.

TransUnion’s report found that the volume of credit cards dropped to 43.4 million at the conclusion of 2016, down a total of 814,000 from the 44.2 million total observed in Q4 2015. This is due in part to slack demand for new cards; in the first nine months of 2016, new credit card originations came in at 4.5 million, down 9.6% from the same period in 2015.

Even with fewer cards, the average credit card balance per borrower rose by 2.3% to $4,094 in Q4 2016 from $4,001 in Q4 2015. Moreover, the number of Canadians actively using card credit also rose to 20.6 million at the end of last year from 20.3 million in Q4 2015. In apparent response to this increase in card loyalty, lenders increased card limits about 3.41% on average over the course of 2016.

“Consumer loyalty is a cogent dynamic in the marketplace. We see it illustrated by the weakening demand for new credit cards in conjunction with the increasing use of the cards consumers already carry,” said Chris Dias, senior vice president of product innovation and analytics at TransUnion Canada. “The increase in card usage was universal across all consumer credit risk tiers, and as a result, some lenders appear to be increasing credit lines to their customers to capitalize on this loyalty effect. We may expect more lenders to evaluate increasing credit lines to cardholders in response to this higher demand. This is positive news for consumers, as they may benefit from increased competition for their business and greater access to credit.”

As debt levels rise, serious credit card delinquency rates increased modestly in each of the four quarters of 2016 over prior year periods. The 90+ DPD rate (the ratio of balances 90 or more days past due) for all of Canada stands at 4.21% as of Q4 2016, up 3.2% from the Q4 2015 reading of 4.08%. However, this gain can be attributed to the oil patch provinces, as both Alberta and Saskatchewan experienced yearly increases of more than 22%, while non-energy provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia saw declining delinquency rates.

 Q4 2016 Regional Credit Card Performance


90+ Day Credit Card Delinquency (DQ) Rate

Pct. Yearly Change

Average Credit Card Debt Per Borrower

Pct. Yearly Change











British Columbia




















TransUnion published a study in July of 2015 regarding the impact of falling oil prices on provinces heavily reliant on the energy industry, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan. The study forewarned both lenders and the public that double-digit delinquency rises for these areas would likely occur, a risk that current data confirm has indeed been realized.

Between Q4 2015 and Q4 2016, the serious credit card delinquency rate rose 3.2% for all of Canada, whereas it spiked 23.0% in Alberta and 22.7% in Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, for non-energy provinces collectively card delinquency rates dropped in each of the past three quarters. “Many lenders heeded our advice 1½ years ago and put more emphasis on extending new cards and credit limit increases in markets such as B.C., Ontario and Quebec. They’ve reaped the benefits of that strategy, as the credit performance of consumers in these markets has been strong,” said Dias.

Overall Canadian Credit Performance Remains Strong

The consumer credit picture in Canada remained sound to close 2016. Canadian consumers saw average non-mortgage debt balances rise by 2.18% between Q4 2015 ($21,444) and Q4 2016 ($21,912). As debt rose, consumer-level non-mortgage delinquency rates dropped nearly 2% in 2016 to 2.65% in Q4 2016 from 2.70% in Q4 2015.

“Canadian consumers performed well in 2016, supported primarily by an improving employment picture for much of the country,” said Dias. “Borrowing levels rose for non-mortgage credit products, indicating greater demand for credit, while delinquency rates for these products remained relatively stable. We have discussed that the current low interest rates are expected to rise at some point; however, this scenario has yet to deter the Canadian consumer, and we believe the far majority of them will be able to weather the impact of these increases.”

Q4 2016 Regional Credit Performance


Average Consumer Non-Mortgage Debt Levels

Yearly Debt Level Pct. Change

90+ Day Non-Mortgage Account Delinquency (DQ) Rates

Yearly DQ Change











British Columbia




















More information about the Q4 2016 TransUnion Canada Industry Insights Report can be found here. Among the details are more information about auto, installment and lines of credit balance and delinquency rates.

About TransUnion Canada Industry Insights Report

TransUnion’s Canada Industry Insights Report is an in-depth, full population-based solution that provides statistical information every quarter from TransUnion’s national consumer credit database, aggregated across virtually every active credit file on record. Each file contains hundreds of credit variables that illustrate consumer credit usage and performance. By leveraging the Industry Insights Report, institutions across a variety of industries can analyze market dynamics over an entire business cycle, helping to understand consumer behaviour over time and across different geographic locations throughout Canada. Businesses can access more details about and subscribe to the Industry Insights Report at

About TransUnion (NYSE: TRU)Information is a powerful thing. At TransUnion, we realize that. We are dedicated to finding innovative ways information can be used to help individuals make better and smarter decisions. We help uncover unique stories, trends and insights behind each data point, using historical information as well as alternative data sources. This allows a variety of markets and businesses to better manage risk and consumers to better manage their credit, personal information and identity. Today, TransUnion reaches consumers and businesses in more than 30 countries around the world on five continents. Based in Burlington, Ontario, TransUnion provides local service and support throughout Canada. Through the power of information, TransUnion is working to build stronger economies and families and safer communities worldwide. We call this Information for Good. Visit to learn more.