Delinquency rates in Canada continued to march higher in the first three months of 2019 as consumers piled on more debt, according to a new report from Equifax Canada.   

The report, released Tuesday, revealed the national 90-day non-mortgage delinquency rate rose 3.5 per cent to 1.12 per cent in the first quarter of this year, with seniors leading the way as the delinquency rate for that demographic rose 9.4 per cent year-over-year.

The report also revealed the average debt per Canadian consumer – including mortgages –  totaled $71,300 in the first quarter, marking a 2.6 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

“We continue to see signs of increasing strain for Canadian borrowers,” said Bill Johnston, vice-president of data and analytics at Equifax Canada, in a release Tuesday.  

“The utilization of credit cards has been trending higher and gaining momentum. With more consumers growing their average debt, we expect to see further increases in delinquencies in the coming months.”

CIBC Capital Markets deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal said he’s not concerned about the report’s findings because delinquency rates are still relatively low, noting they have been going down for years.

“The fact that [delinquencies] are rising a little bit with interest rates rising lately. [It’s] no big deal given the base is extremely, extremely low,” he told BNN Bloomberg in an interview Tuesday. “So I’m not losing sleep over it whatsoever.”

“I think it’s absolutely correct that, as a society, we are more sensitive to the risk of a recession, higher interest rates,” Tal added. “But the number one factor impacting delinquencies on a sustainable basis is the unemployment rate. It’s not interest rates.”

Alberta was the province with the highest average debt level in the first quarter, reaching $29,117, excluding mortgages. Meanwhile, Manitobans had the lowest average debt at $18,815.    

The findings come in the wake of recent bearish calls against the country’s largest lenders. Steve Eisman, the money manager of Big Short fame who predicted the collapse of the U.S. housing market, and Bay Street analyst Nigel D'Souza have warned in recent months credit risk is on the rise for the big banks.

In its report, Equifax also highlighted the slowing mortgage market as a result of increased regulations such as the B-20 guideline imposed by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) early last year. The rule imposes a stress test for uninsured mortgages, where the borrower makes a down payment of at least 20 per cent on the purchase of a home.

The report said the value of new mortgages was down almost 12 per cent year-over-year in the first half of the year.