Canadians’ net worth has risen substantially over the past decade, largely due to an increase in real estate and pension values, according to a new Statistics Canada report. But their debt load has also gone up due to mortgage debt and lines of credit.

The median net worth of Canadian families hit $243,800 in 2012, an increase of 44.5 per cent from 2005, and 80 per cent from 1999, adjusted to inflation, according to the agency’s Survey of Financial Security.

According to the report, median net worth in 2012 was highest for families in which the highest income earner was between 55 and 64 years of age, at $533,600. In contrast, median net worth was $182,500 in families where the highest income earner was between 35 and 44 years old.

Among the provinces, median net worth was highest in British Columbia at $344,000, more than double that of families in Newfoundland and Labrador at $167,900.

Net worth is defined as the amount of money a family unit would have if it sold all of its assets and paid all of its debts. A family unit is defined as families of two or more living in the same dwelling, or unattached individuals living alone or with others to whom they are unrelated.

Bank of Montreal chief economist Doug Porter said Tuesday that the report’s main message is that Canadians’ finances remain in good shape despite an ongoing economic recovery and concerns about higher household debt loads.

"The standout is the tremendous growth in net worth over the 13-year period. It works out to average annual increases of better than five per cent, which is quite impressive," Porter told The Canadian Press.

"To me the bigger picture is that assets remain about seven times the size of debt."

According to the report, net worth rose largely on higher home and pension values.

The total value of assets held by Canadian families in 2012 was $9.4 trillion. Just as in 1999 and 2005, the primary residence was the largest asset, equalling about 30 per cent of the total asset value, with private pension assets a close second, representing 30.1 per cent of total assets.

The median net worth of families that owned their primary residence was $300,000 in 2012, up 46.6 per cent from 2005 and a staggering 83.2 per cent from 1999.

While the number of family units that held private pension assets in 2012 remained steady compared to 2005 and 1999, the median amount held rose to $116,700 in 2012, from $77,400 in 2005 and $65,500 in 1999.

The report noted that while Canadians’ net worth has increased, so too has their debt load, although most of it is held in mortgages.

Of the $1.3 trillion in debt owed by Canadians, about 77 per cent of that is in mortgages, a percentage unchanged from 1999. The total amount of mortgage debt is up dramatically, however, from $453.6 billion in 1999 and $650.8 billion in 2005.

As for lines of credit, debts amounted to $144.9 billion, up from $77.5 billion in 2005 and from $33.2 billion 1999.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Other assets Canadians’ held in 2012 included real estate beyond the principal residence, including cottages, timeshares, rental properties and other commercial properties, which represented about 9.9 per cent of total assets. About one in five family units owned these types of properties, which had a median value of $180,000, double the amount from 1999.
  • The median value of mortgages on principal residences was $145,000 in 2012, up 41.6 per cent from 2005 and 66.5 per cent from 1999. For other types of real estate, median debt value was $140,000 in 2012, up 36.7 per cent from 2005 and 78.1 per cent from 1999.
  • About 40 per cent of Canadian family units carried a balance on their credit cards in 2012, the same figure as in 2005 and 1999. The median balance was $3,000 in 2012, up 11.1 per cent from 2005 and 25 per cent from 1999.
  • A total of $28.3 billion in student loans was owed in 2012, up 24.4 per cent from 2005 and 44.1 per cent from 1999.
  • On net worth, the wealthiest 20 per cent of Canadian families had a median net worth of nearly $1.4 million, while the poorest 20 per cent had a median net worth of just $1,100 in 2012.