Debt knell: Small business COVID-19 debt totals $117 billion

#SmallBusinessEveryDay customer support critical to recovery

Toronto, July 15, 2020 – Three quarters of small businesses have taken on debt as a result of COVID-19 and a majority of those with debt (68 per cent) estimate it will take more than a year to pay off, according to new survey results featured this week on the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)’s Small Business Recovery Dashboard

The dashboard is part of CFIB’s #SmallBusinessEveryDay campaign encouraging Canadians to get involved in the recovery effort by shopping local. Other key indicators include the number of businesses that are fully open (58 per cent), the number that are back to full staffing (35 per cent), and the number that are back to normal revenues (24 per cent).

“Government debt has ballooned and so too has the private debt taken on by small businesses to deal with COVID-19,” said Laura Jones, Executive Vice-President at CFIB. “I’ve talked to many businesses that are open again, but are worried about being able to outrun the debt they have accumulated, particularly with sales still down. Recovery is going to be a slow slog and both governments’ and customers’ support is critical to make it happen.” 

The small businesses that have incurred debt because of the pandemic report they have taken on $135,000 on average. Based on these survey results and after adjustments to reflect the entire economy, CFIB estimates that the total debt taken on so far by Canadian small businesses as a result of COVID-19 is $117 billion.

To finance COVID-19 revenue shortfalls and extra costs businesses are relying on personal savings (37 per cent), credit cards (34 per cent), bank loans (18 per cent), retirement savings (11 per cent), mortgages (9 per cent) and loans from families and friends (9 per cent).  

CFIB recently launched #SmallBusinessEveryDay to promote Canadian initiatives that support local businesses and emphasize how important customers are to their recovery. Consumers will find information about campaigns like Points for Canada (2x the RBC Rewards points for shopping at local restaurants and retail), The Big Spend (dedicating July 25 to shopping local and boosting spending at small businesses) and Distantly (a site allowing customers to donate to businesses that need help) at

“Feeling customer support is a bright spot for business owners who are financially and emotionally stressed. The more we can do to support local, the faster we can all recover from the economic meltdown that came with COVID-19. Let’s make it a small business summer and think #SmallBusinessEveryDay so small businesses have a tomorrow,” concluded Jones.    

For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Milena Stanoeva, CFIB

The total COVID-19-related debt estimate for Canadian SMEs is based on results from CFIB survey results and Statistics Canada business counts. 

Survey results come from CFIB’s Your Business and COVID-19 – Survey Number Fifteen, which was taken online by small business owners in Canada from June 26 to July 2, 2020. The estimate is based on results from two questions:

  • The share of businesses that took on debt due to COVID-19 was determined by asking respondents: “How long will it take your business to pay back its COVID-19-related debt?” with one answer choice being “Not applicable – we did not take on any debt as a result of COVID-19.” The number of respondents for this question was 4,502. For comparison purposes, a probability sample with the same number of respondents would have a margin of error of +/-1.5%, 19 times out of 20. 
  • The estimated total COVID-19-related debt accumulated by Canadian SMEs was determined by asking respondents: “Are you in a position to tell us roughly how much additional debt your business has incurred due to COVID-19 to date? (Please enter approximate amount).” The number of respondents for this question was 2,114. For comparison purposes, a probability sample with the same number of respondents would have a margin of error of +/-2.1%, 19 times out of 20.

CFIB used these survey results to create an estimate of COVID-19 debt so far, for all active Canadian SMEs with at least one employee. SME counts used are from Statistics Canada. The total debt estimate includes adjustments to reflect provincial, industrial and business size distribution within the Canadian economy.

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members across every industry and region. CFIB is dedicated to increasing business owners’ chances of success by driving policy change at all levels of government, providing expert advice and tools, and negotiating exclusive savings. Learn more at

About #SmallBusinessEveryDay
The #SmallBusinessEveryDay campaign is an extension of CFIB’s annual Small Business Saturday. The campaign encourages local shopping, promotes initiatives to support small business and provides posters and other tools for businesses to use. It is supported by Scotiabank, Chase Merchant Services, eBay Canada, Intuit Canada, Interac Corp and Star Metroland Media. To find out more about being a media sponsor please contact