Just graduated? Now it's time to pay off that student loan debt!
As students across the country graduate from post-secondary schools, the time to start focusing on paying off that student loan debt is now.
Author: Jordann Brown
It's finally summer! Across the country, thousands of college students have just walked across stages to accept graduation diplomas. If you're a new graduate, congratulations! You're ready to start your life as a full-fledged adult.
Unfortunately, about six months after graduation — and in even less time in some provinces — your government-funded student loan debt will exit its grace period and go into repayment.
Canadian university students graduate with an average of $26,000 in student debt. When it comes time to start whittling that amount down, don't panic. Here's a look at how to pay off student loan debt.
Why graduates don't deal with their student debt right away
Once your student loan goes into repayment, you'll be required to make monthly payments that ensure the debt is paid off over a 10-year loan term. This payment is the minimum you should pay, which means you could try to get ahead of your payments, but there are plenty of reasons you might be tempted not to.
You might have other more pressing debts to pay off after finishing college or university. Credit card debt or even personal loans from your parents can compete with student loans for your attention. Credit card debt is higher-interest debt that it makes sense to prioritize, and personal loans come with an emotional burden that you may be eager to make go away.
After you land your first job, you may want to build up a cash cushion to protect yourself from unexpected expenses. Or maybe you want to save money for new commitments like a car down payment or deposits on a new apartment. Either way, sometimes your loan payments come knocking and you just don't want to let go of more money than you have to.
Why it's important to start paying off your student loan debt now
While it may seem like your other financial goals are too pressing to prioritize paying off your student loans, now is the perfect time to tackle that debt. The last thing you want is to still be paying off your student loans in 10 years when you're trying to get married, buy a house, have children, or pursue more education. Paying off your student loans now gives you the financial freedom to make those decisions later.
If you're having trouble making progress on your student loan repayment, here's a helping hand.
Repayment assistance programs
Wrestling with your minimum monthly payments? Most student loan programs offer repayment assistance that reduces your monthly payments to an affordable percentage of your income, or where the program will cover the interest on your loan for a period of time, while all of your payments go directly towards the amount you borrowed. If your job hunt has hit a rut after graduation and you don't have regular paycheques coming in, at least you don't have to worry about your payments — you can apply to defer your student loan repayment until your income is at least $25,000 a year.
Student loan forgiveness programs
Repayment assistance programs make your payments more affordable, but they don't forgive your loans. Some programs actually do, and they're a great way to help manage your student loan repayment. For example, the New Brunswick Timely Completion Benefit forgives all loan balances over $32,000 if you hit the required criteria.
Other provinces have eliminated loans altogether, offering grants instead. Nova Scotia, for example, recently announced that university students wouldn't be responsible for the provincial portion of their loans. You should definitely check to see if your province has any similar programs available.
Public servant loan forgiveness programs
Sometimes you'll be eligible for student loan forgiveness depending on your profession and where you choose to work. For example, family doctors and nurses who work in underserved, rural areas are entitled to loan forgiveness at a rate of between $4,000 and $8,000 per year.
Employer loan repayment benefits
As you interview for your first post-secondary job, ask about student loan repayment programs. While it's not exactly common for employers to offer to help you pay off your existing student loans, it does happen. A much more common perk is for employers to help you obtain additional education. If a company subsidizing tuition costs in exchange for a guaranteed period of service after graduation sounds like a fair trade to you, then factor that into your decision to accept a position.
Other ways to accelerate student loan debt repayment
If you aren't eligible for any of the repayment assistance programs listed, you can still pay off your student loans ahead of schedule on your own. Of course, it will take some planning. Start by living on a budget, staying within your means, and putting every available penny toward reducing your debt load. It can be a long journey, but living student debt free is worth it.