Money & Career

What you need to know about student loans

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

What you need to know about student loans

Post-secondary education is expensive, whether it's being paid for by your parents or through a combination of loans, bursaries, grants and a part-time job (or two). Here's what you need to know about minimizing your debt after graduation.

What is a student loan?
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada offers financial assistance to Canadian students through both grants and loans. The latter -- the Canada Student Loans program -- is what we're focusing on in this article. While banks will often offer financial assistance to students in the form of loans, they function like any other debt, whereas Canada Student Loans have their own set of rules and obligations.

Student loans are a blessing when you need help paying for tuition, books, rent and other costs of being in school. But you do have to pay them back. This means that even before you graduate and get a job, you've already got debt.

You have to start paying the loans back six months after graduation or if you've discontinued classes. Your loan goes to the National Student Loans Service Centre (NSLSC). There, your loan is consolidated so you're only making one payment per month, even if you've received money from both the federal and provincial governments. The average loan is set to discharge in 9.5 years, and monthly minimum payments will be set based on that schedule. What to do when you're still in school
So how can you minimize your student debt and pay it off? Honestly, it begins even before you start school.

• Don't party it away

We're not saying not to enjoy your post-secondary years, but do remember that every dollar you spend now will have to be paid back with interest later. You are allowed to earn a certain amount over your total loan via part-time work, so consider using that as your spending money. In other words, this is a good time to learn how to budget. Ask your parents for help, or see if your school has counsellors who can offer guidance.

• Apply for bursaries and grants

There are bursaries and grants available for students with all kinds of stipulations that might apply to you. For example, the Scarborough Campus of the University of Toronto has a bursary available for students enrolled in the co-op program in international development. Yes, some are that detailed. Do a little research and see if you qualify for any of the bursaries or grants -- and don't miss the application deadline.

• Look for loan forgiveness

If you're carrying a lot of student loan debt, you may not have to pay it all off -- there are loan forgiveness programs available across the country. What they do is help students reduce their annual loans so they end up paying less.

You don't have to apply for consideration -- you're automatically considered when you submit your student loan application. There are some conditions tied to number of semesters, study period and amount negotiated for the loan. For example, in Ontario, if your study period was 21 to 40 weeks or two terms, you can limit your annual repayable debt to $7,300.

Page 1 of 2 - Learn how to manage your loan after you've graduated on page 2

What to do after you've graduated

So now you've graduated and gotten your first job. It's six months later and your student loan bills have started arriving in the mail. What should you do? 

• Live like you're still in school
Look, we've all been there -- you get your first job and you want to buy a car, a home and drinks for your friends. But instead of splurging, why not continue your student life a little longer and use that income to pay off your loans faster? It will take you a bit longer to get the car, the nice home and those designer shoes, but at least you won't have a student loan hanging over your head.

• Don't forget the tax credit

Did you know you get a tax credit for the interest paid on your loans? The government will send you a document annually telling you how much you've paid. Keep it and use it. 

• Pay more than the minimum

As soon as you can afford it, pay more than the minimum. For instance, if you get a raise that means an extra $400 a month coming into your bank account, call up the Student Loan Centre and increase your automatic monthly loan payment, too. 

What to do if you can't make your payments
If you're unable to make your loan payments -- for instance, if you've lost your job -- then you can request a Revision of Terms, which will allow you to reduce your monthly payments and extend the life of your loan. 

If you default on paying your loan -- if an automatic deduction can't go through because there's no money in your account, for instance -- you can risk your credit rating. That means you might have trouble getting loans for bigger items like a car or house. Is going into debt for education worth it? Well, no degree guarantees a job, but people with post-secondary degrees do earn more on average than those without. Just be sure to take those earnings and wipe out that debt as soon as possible.

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What you need to know about student loans

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