Consumer Resilience Shows Promise for 2021 Forecast

  • Lower delinquency rates and balance paydown demonstrate consumer resiliency
  • Lockdowns have impacted new credit growth for all products
  • Mortgages seem to be on a path of recovery due to pent-up demand and low-interest rates
  • Slow growth in balances and minimal increase in delinquencies forecasted for 2021

The latest Q3 2020 TransUnion Industry Insights Report found that Canadian consumers have adapted well to the ongoing economic crisis spurred by the pandemic, showing signs of resiliency. While consumer spending habits have yet to revert to pre-pandemic levels, delinquency rates continue trending downward and some credit markets, such as mortgages, are seeing an influx of new activity and improved performance.

“Over the summer we saw early signs that Canadian consumers were adapting to the new economic environment,” said Matt Fabian, director of financial services research and consulting at TransUnion. “While many Canadians remain cautious with their spending, there are early signs of recovery, particularly when noting an increase in the funding of major purchases such as homes and cars.”

Further, TransUnion’s 2021 forecast indicates market stabilization, with slight increases to delinquencies as government relief programs and payment holidays expire.

Consumers deleveraging to build resiliency

Several metrics point to Canadian credit-active consumers managing the impacts of the pandemic relatively well. Average non-mortgage consumer debt in Q3 3020 fell 4.2% from the prior year to $29,376 as consumers were active in paying down credit obligations. This drop was led by credit card balances, which declined by 11.6%. The decrease in credit card balances was partly due to lower spending and higher repayment activity. Public health measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a series of business closures, which reduced consumers’ ability to spend. Further, a recent Financial Hardship Survey by TransUnion from September 2020 revealed that many consumers deferred major purchases on credit cards, with 48% of consumers having delayed vacations due to travel restrictions.

Auto loan and line of credit total balances also decreased by 2.9% and 4.3%, respectively. Conversely, personal loan and mortgage balances increased by 4.2% and 5.6%, respectively. Mortgages, in particular, experienced higher growth and demand largely due to higher housing prices, which increased new mortgage average balances, and extremely low-interest rates benefitting refinance activity.

While unemployment rates reached their highest levels in a generation, the combination of government subsidies and payment holidays from most lenders supported consumers and helped manage cash flows during the pandemic. TransUnion’s September Financial Hardship Survey indicated that 48% of Canadian households reported experiencing negative financial impacts from COVID-19, down from a peak of 63% in April. Additionally, while just under half of the respondents reported a negative impact, 82% of consumers said their household finances were planned for the rest of 2020, with 43% indicating their finances were better than anticipated.

New credit growth slowing down

The unprecedented global nature of COVID-19 severely impacted the volume of new credit originations. New account openings were down 41% in Q2 2020—the most recent quarter for which originations data are available due to the reporting lag—as a result of lower consumer demand and lenders curtailing originations to mitigate unexpected risk. As lockdowns tightened and the economy worsened, lenders tightened risk and lending policies which have impacted new credit supply.

The largest decline was observed in credit card originations, where volumes were down 63% from the prior year. Auto loans also declined YoY by 38% due to reduced consumer demand and lockdowns that closed dealerships.

Amongst all credit products, mortgages experienced the lowest YoY decline of 2.2% in Q2 2020, as low-interest rates encouraged refinancing and as pent-up demand from the early spring lockdowns was released at the end of the second quarter when certain regional restrictions eased. “In the coming months, we expect slower origination volumes even as restrictions ease because lenders will continue to manage and mitigate risk,” added Fabian.

Credit Products

Q2 2020 YoY change in origination volume



Auto Loan


Line of Credit






Government subsidies and payment holidays supporting low delinquency trends

Delinquency rates remained low as consumers continued to take advantage of payment holidays on outstanding balances. Approximately 3.1 million Canadians have taken advantage of payment deferrals since the onset of the pandemic, a proactive treatment strategy executed by lenders to support consumers through record-high unemployment and financial hardship.

Consumers have used the excess cash made available by these payment holidays to pay down outstanding bills or debt, and in some cases have continued to pay down balances against products on which they have taken a deferral. As a result, Canada’s overall non-mortgage consumer-level delinquency rate fell 48 basis points to 1.44% in Q3 2020 from the prior year.

“Canadians have leveraged government programs and lender support to offset cash flow concerns as both the government and lenders continued to support consumers through this economic shock. This has helped keep delinquency rates at low levels,” explained Fabian. “Nevertheless, we do anticipate an increase in delinquency rates next year as deferral options expire and some consumers struggle to maintain payments due to financial impacts caused by a prolonged pandemic.”

Outlook calls for performance stabilization in 2021

TransUnion’s updated Canadian credit market forecast indicates continued consumer deleveraging and muted originations levels, which are both expected to result in a decline in outstanding balances by the end of 2020 for major credit products. TransUnion projects a 2% YoY drop in non-mortgage balances by the end of 2020, and expects a stabilization in 2021 with a slight 0.2% increase by the end of the year. As the government subsidies end, impacted consumers will experience income shocks and may have reduced liquidity to meet debt obligations. TransUnion anticipates an increase in overall consumer delinquency rates into 2021, with non-mortgage consumer delinquency increasing by 9 bps after a large drop in 2020.

The forecast suggests a slight increase in delinquencies for credit cards and mortgages. “While mortgage delinquency rates are forecasted to increase in 2020 and 2021, it is important to remember that rates are already relatively low at under one percent, so we expect they will remain at manageable levels through 2021. From an origination perspective, our forecast calls for continued low volumes through 2020, but a rebound for cards and continued demand for mortgages in 2021,” said Fabian.

Monthly & At the end of DEC


Average Consumer Balances

Consumer Delinquency (90+ DPD)

2019 YE

2020 YE

2021 YE

2019 YE

2020 YE

2021 YE

2019 YE

2020 YE

2021 YE





$ 30,287

$ 29,643

$ 29,691




Credit Card




$ 4,245

$ 3,701

$ 3,487


















$ 35,605

$ 37,433

$ 37,839




Auto Loan




$ 21,503

$ 21,489

$ 21,804




About TransUnion (NYSE: TRU)

TransUnion is a global information and insights company that makes trust possible in the modern economy. We do this by providing a comprehensive picture of each person so they can be reliably and safely represented in the marketplace. As a result, businesses and consumers can transact with confidence and achieve great things. We call this Information for Good.® TransUnion provides solutions that help create economic opportunity, great experiences and personal empowerment for hundreds of millions of people in more than 30 countries. Our customers in Canada comprise some of the nation’s largest banks and card issuers, and TransUnion is a major credit reporting, fraud, and analytics solutions provider across the finance, retail, telecommunications, utilities, government and insurance sectors.

For more information or to request an interview, contact:

Contact Fiona Bang
Telephone 647-680-2885