A year later, more Canadians have no personal (non-mortgage) debt (26 per cent in 2012, up from 22 per cent in 2011), according to the 2nd Annual RBC Debt Poll. On average, Canadians carry $13,141 in personal debt, up $84 from a year ago, with Ontarians carrying the most debt ($15,361) and Quebecers with the least ($10,171).

While four-in-ten Canadians (40 per cent) describe themselves as “comfortable” with their current personal debt level (compared to 45 per cent in 2011), one-in-three Canadians (34 per cent) admit their debt level causes them anxiety (compared to 32 per cent in 2011).

“Many Canadians have some level of comfort with their personal debt, but the very personal nature of carrying debt can often stir up mixed emotions,” explained Richard Goyder, vice-president of personal lending, RBC. “It’s encouraging that the results show more Canadians have become debt-free over the past year and that those who still have debt want to do more to reduce it.”

The RBC Debt Poll found that just over half of Canadians (51 per cent, compared to 49 per cent in 2011) say it is more important to pay down debt than save and invest for the future right now. Four-in-ten (41 per cent, down from 44 per cent in 2011) place an equal importance on saving and investing, as well as paying down debt. Meanwhile, a minority of Canadians (eight per cent) think now is the time to save and invest for the future, rather than pay down debt.

Similar to a year ago, caution around adding to their debt load has led some Canadians to delay or cancel purchases or plans, such as taking a vacation (26 per cent, compared to 24 per cent in 2011) and buying a big ticket item (19 per cent, compared to 20 per cent in 2011).

Also akin to last year’s poll, three-quarters of Canadians (76 per cent) feel they are in better shape regarding their personal debt than their friends and neighbours (compared to 75 per cent in 2011). This also is in line with attitudes revealed in a separate RBC study, in which Canadian consumers described their own level of knowledge about finances as higher than that of the “average Canadian.”

“Whether you feel you’re in good financial shape or facing some challenges, it’s important to have a strategy for managing debt,” added Goyder. “Making informed financial decisions is part of an overall plan to achieve financial balance.”

Poll highlights from across Canada

More than half of British Columbians (52 per cent) say they put equal importance right now on saving and investing for the future and on paying down debt.

Due to concern about their personal debt situation, 10 per cent of Albertans have postponed purchasing a big-ticket item (national: 19 per cent) and 20 per cent have postponed taking a vacation (national: 26 per cent).

Residents in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the most evenly split among Canadians when describing their personal debt situation: 34 per cent say they feel anxious, 34 per cent say they are comfortable and 32 per cent say they have no personal debt.

Compared to 51 per cent nationally, a higher number of respondents in Atlantic Canada (64 per cent) and Quebec (57 per cent) feel it is more important to pay down debt than to save and invest for the future.

Atlantic Canada residents also are more likely to say that they are anxious about their debt level (42 per cent, compared to 34 per cent nationally).

Ontarians match national attitudes in terms of how they feel about their non-mortgage debt, with 76 per cent feeling they are in better shape than friends and neighbours. Ontarians also are aligned with national attitudes about placing a priority on paying down debt over investing for the future (49 per cent, compared to 51 per cent nationally).