Snapshot of Canadians’ finances

This is super interesting. Also remember that less than 1% of Canadians work in oil and gas, and less than 20% of Canadians make more than $85,000 a year! It shows how well Alberta is doing.
Jason Heath Jun 30, 2012

Who is the average Canadian — financially speaking? According to the Association for Canadian Studies, our median household income is $68,560 per year. Personal incomes are lowest in Prince Edward Island at $21,620 and highest in Alberta at $36,010. We pay $11,000 per year in income tax, donate $260 to charity, contribute $2,790 to our RRSPs and carry a credit card balance of $3,462. Mortgage and household debt comes in at a total of $112,329

Our net worth per capita has continued to rise, most recently clocking in at $193,500 per capita according to Statistics Canada. Real estate gains have continued to drive the increase to our net worth, though many have suggested the Canadian market could be in for a correction — or at least a pause.

The Toronto Stock Exchange has risen 59% over the past 10 years, compared with a 3% gain for the MSCI World Index and a 4% loss for the S&P 500 (excluding dividends).

Our Canadian dollar has appreciated 47% against the U.S. dollar and 16% against the euro over the past 10 years. This has made global and U.S. stock market returns even worse in Canadian dollar terms.

Canada had a double-digit personal savings rate in the ’90s, but over the past two decades, this has dropped dramatically to the current 3.1% — one of the lowest savings rates of all OECD countries. The flipside of this coin is that our current personal debt to income has simultaneously reached an all-time high of 153%. So gains in real estate and stocks have been tempered by a corresponding increase in personal debt.

The Economist Intelligence Unit lists Canada’s government debt per person at about US$39,883 or 81.6% of GDP. This compares with the U.S. at $37,953 or 76.3%. Go figure! That said, Greece’s public debt is currently $35,874 or 141.0% and Japan is at $87,601 or 204.9%.

Canada’s federal government has been consistently posting budget surpluses of about 1% of GDP since the mid-1990s, a time when many people thought Canada was on the path to a sovereign debt crisis of its own. Quite to the contrary, Canada entered and emerged from the 2008 recession relatively unscathed. And this is the asterisk beside Canada’s 81.6% debt-to-GDP ratio when compared with the 76.3% figure for the U.S. — given our neighbours are currently spending US$1.50 for every US$1 of federal revenue. Call it a “Tale of Two Countries.”

Some people suggest the U.S. and Europe could learn something from the Canadian government debt experience of the 1990s. While many people in other Western countries are now suffering as a result of their government’s debt problems, our government is sitting pretty. Our personal debt is the one black spot for the red and white as we celebrate our country’s birthday.

Jason Heath is a fee-only Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and income tax professional for Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Toronto

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