Canada’s Debt Dilemma: New CPA Canada study reveals a disconnect between Canadians’ financial awareness and actions

As Canadians grapple with sky-high inflation and rising interest rates, the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada’s National Debt Dilemma Study takes the pulse of the country to reveal how they’re managing their finances.

In advance of the Bank of Canada’s next interest rate announcement on September 6, the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) tapped into Canadians’ personal financial scorecard and their perceptions on debt and budgeting. The National Debt Dilemma Study highlights the differences between how Canadians financially perceive themselves and their actions. CPA Canada experts suggest how they can take small steps to turn their debt management from a dilemma to an actionable financial plan.  

Personal debt remains a pain point for many Canadians

According to the survey, nearly half (46 per cent) of Canadians currently have non-mortgage debt, with large numbers of them facing the following challenges:

  • Over half (57 per cent) of Canadians with non-mortgage debt have carried over a balance on a credit card in the past two years.
  • Close to half (48 per cent) of Canadians with non-mortgage debt find paying off their debts stressful.
  • Over a third (37 per cent) of Canadians with non-mortgage debt have borrowed to cover day-to-day expenses in the past two years.
  • One-third (33 per cent) of Canadians with non-mortgage debt are not confident they understand the impact of fluctuating interest rates on it.
“Managing debt can be emotional and daunting. Progress lies within learning, practicing financial literacy skills and facing it head on in small steps,” says Doretta Thompson, CPA Canada's financial literacy leader. “CPA Canada’s goal is to provide accessible resources that enable Canadians to learn and act on the skills they need to successfully and easily manage their debt, with tips to help every step of the way.”

Contradictory self-score cards

Adding to the dilemma Canadians face when trying to manage their finances is a disconnect in perceived knowledge and actions. Almost half (47 per cent) of Canadians grade their personal finance skills as an A or B, yet just over a quarter (27 per cent) of those giving themselves a top grade also admit to buying things they can’t afford. Additionally, half (51 per cent) of the same group say they worry about money.

The breakdown on budgeting

Setting a household budget is crucial in times of high inflation. More than a quarter (27 per cent) of Canadians who are very or somewhat confident in being able to stick to a budget do not actually follow one. 

“Actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to budgeting,” continues Thompson. “It’s easy to say that budgeting is easy, however oftentimes practice and accountability are needed for effectiveness.”

CPA Canada’s study also suggests that almost one-in-four (24 per cent) Canadians would not be able to come up with $500 in cash tomorrow without borrowing or selling anything, an indicator that many Canadians continue to struggle with cash flow. 

Thompson comments, “It’s difficult to predict whether inflation will continue to rise, and it’s something we can’t control, but what we can control is our actions and the outcome of our personal finances.” 

Tips to tackle your debt

CPA Canada put together a few tips to help Canadians build a bridge between financial knowledge and action, which include:

  • Take inventory: When managing debt, it’s important to review all your accounts and know how much is owed. This adds clarity and visibility to your financial situation and will guide decision making as you move forward. 
  • Track spending and create a budget: Know how much you earn, your fixed expenses, and your discretionary monthly spending. It’s important to come up with a realistic payment plan. CPA Canada recommends a number of easy-to-use apps that can help with tracking and budgeting, which can be found here.
  • Participate in CPA Canada financial programs: CPA Canada hosts a number of free, unbiased and objective financial literacy program that offer live sessions, tools and resources run by CPA members. Interested Canadians can learn more by visiting:

Survey Methodology

The above are highlights of the findings of an Ipsos survey conducted on behalf of Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. Fieldwork was conducted between June 16 and 23, 2023. A total of n=2,000 Canadians aged 18+ participated in the survey which was fielded via the Ipsos' online omnibus. The combined data has been weighted by age, gender, education and region to ensure the sample composition reflects the Canadian population. The precision of Ipsos online surveys is calculated via a credibility interval. In this case, the sample is considered accurate to within +/- 2.5 percentage points had all Canadians aged 18+ been surveyed. A background document can be found online at:

About Canada's CPAs

The Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation is used by more than 220,000 professional accountants around the world. Canadian CPAs are valued for their financial and tax expertise, strategic thinking, business insight, management skills and leadership. Canadian CPAs serve in senior roles in Canada and abroad and are recognized as having the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. They work in all sectors of the economy: public practice, industry, government, not for profit and academia.