Graduation Day – for thousands of graduates, it signals the dawning of an exciting new chapter in their lives. For some, it unleashes a burden that anchors them to a decade of crushing debt.
Every year, roughly half of all graduating students emerge from university with a student loan and other accumulated debt. In a 2017 poll conducted by Global News, 77% of Canadian grads under 40 have regrets about the amount of money they spent while obtaining their degree. Almost a third wish they had worked more while in school while many others regret credit card debt or buying a car.
The average Canadian student who financed his or her education will have accumulated more than $26,000 in debt by graduation. In a 2010 study, approximately half of those loans were government student loans, roughly a quarter were non-government sources such as friends and relatives while the final quarter borrowed from both government and non-government sources.
The bottom line is that tens of thousands of students graduate each year across Canada with a staggering debt load and it should be dealt with sooner rather than later.
So, where do you start?
Before you can make an effective repayment plan, you need to know what you’re dealing with. Determine exactly how much you owe and to whom, then rank your debt from highest to lowest priority. Highest priority would be the loan with the highest interest. Many people find that paying off a smaller loan first gives them momentum and a sense of accomplishment. Find a plan that works for you.
Second, create a realistic budget that allows you to put as much money as possible towards your debt repayment plan and stick to it. Be creative about lowering other expenses; find a roommate to share living expenses or wait to move out of your parent’s home as you pay off some of your debt.
Third, make extra payments whenever possible. A simple spreadsheet will help you track your expenses and show you where you can find additional savings to put directly on your principal.
The plan looked good on paper, but…
You’re waiting to put that education to good use, but you can’t find jobs in your field so you’re continuing to work at a part time job you had throughout university. You’ve advertised for a roommate to help you share the rent, but haven’t found one yet. For a number of reasons beyond your control, you don’t have the monthly income you need to pay the minimum payments on your debt.
If your student loan is with the Government of Canada, don’t hesitate to contact them. Discuss the options of revising the terms through their Repayment Assistance Plan. The same advice works if you borrowed the money from a financial institution, family member or friend. Contact them as soon as you know you’re struggling and negotiate lower monthly payments. Communicating honestly in a timely fashion will be more appreciated than missing payments.
Uh oh, it’s your worst-case scenario
Years have passed since you graduated and you still haven’t found full time work in your field. You’ve missed making payments on your Canada Student Loan for nine consecutive months, the loan is now considered to be in default and will be sent to the Canada Revenue Agency for collection. To make matters worse, your credit rating has been negatively impacted.
You were trying so hard to avoid this, but now it looks as if your worst-case scenario has come true. It may be small consolation but the good news is – you’re not alone. This situation is a reality for thousands of people each year. In 2017, 32,554 loans were defaulted on and were written off by the government. In 2016, 33,967 loans went unpaid. When you find yourself in this predicament, it’s time to take action.
If you are having trouble repaying a government student loan, contact the National Student Loans Service Centre. Depending on your situation and your income, they may offer to reduce your monthly payment, forgive interest or waive payments against the principal.
You can also contact a debt solutions company like Faber to learn about the full range of options available to you, such as filing a consumer proposal. There are always options, but you have to take the initiative and make contact with debt restructuring professionals who have the answers you need.
What should every student know?
If the students in your family are just beginning their post secondary education, here are some tips you should share with them.
Although a full course load can be time consuming, try to find time to handle a part time job throughout school. The extra money you make may allow you to borrow less, or save money that you can put towards your loan when you graduate.
Set a budget for your school years and stick to it. Avoid piling up additional debt with a credit card or by taking out a car loan.
Do your homework before you borrow money and know the difference between private and government student loans. Lower interest rates are important, but flexibility is also a key consideration.
Don’t lose sleep over debt
Never be afraid to ask for help. Situations like this happen more often than you think and there are always options available. The sooner you talk to someone, the quicker you can find relief. This is supposed to be a positive time in your life and there are people who want to help you get back on track and find the brighter days ahead.