Canadians are increasingly tapping the equity in their homes for loans as higher real estate prices and the loosening of pandemic restrictions encourage spending.

The seasonally adjusted balance of home equity lines of credit rose 1 per cent to $162 billion (US$128 billion) in February, according to aggregate credit data released Tuesday by Statistics Canada. That’s the fastest monthly increase since 2012, capping a fifth straight month of increases.

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It’s more borrowing for Canadian households, which are already some of the most indebted in advanced nations, primarily due to large mortgage debts. 

While interest rate hikes by the Bank of Canada this year may start to cool a real estate boom that has seen home values surge by 50 per cent in the past two years, prices and sales remain at elevated levels.