Optimism is great, but it won’t pay off your student debt

Tips for paying off your student debt
Here's a scary thought - if you just had a baby, by the time they're ready to enroll in post-secondary education, a degree could cost upwards of $100,000. Adam Berry/Getty Images

TORONTO – You can’t pay off debt with optimism and good intentions.

It seems straightforward enough, yet a recent CIBC poll showed that, despite expectations of racking up a high debt load while getting a post-secondary degree, most Canadian students remain positive they will be able to eliminate it fairly quickly.

The poll found that over half (51 per cent) of post-secondary students will have to borrow money to pay for school. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) expect to owe more than $10,000, including 40 per cent who said they will owe $25,000 or more when school is done.

The majority polled (66 per cent) felt confident they will be able to pay off their debt in five years or less.

And that optimism has some experts worried.

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“A positive attitude is a great start,” said Jeff Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada. “But getting down to business and managing your debt will take strong planning and even greater discipline.”

“While their intentions are admirable they may not be realistic,” said Christina Kramer, executive vice-president of retail and business banking at CIBC.

“As students graduate and look to start their careers, they will likely be moving out on their own, saving for a car or a down payment on a home, or even starting a family. That’s why it’s important for them to manage the amount of debt they take on, develop a budget that helps them carefully manage their spending while in school and have a plan to pay off debt once they graduate.”

So if positive intentions won’t do it, what will? Global News has compiled tips for young people looking to manage their student debt.

Work, save and work some more

Work part-time during high school and post-secondary school and work full-time in the summer. While it won’t necessarily cover all the costs of getting a degree, it will help make a dent in rising debt loads. Jobs in the service industry and retail are often able to work around a student’s schedule, offering weekend and evening shifts for part-time workers.

Make a budget

“A lot of people think of a budget as a four-letter word. And we do, too. It’s called a plan,” said Scott Hannah, CEO of the Credit Counselling Society.

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Experts at Consolidated Credit recommend that students identify their needs and wants and only spend their borrowed money on their needs, not a trip to Mexico during spring break.

Live frugally

Take advantage of student discounts whenever possible. The Canadian Federation of Students offers a “Student Saver” card, which grants cardholders discounts anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent off at participating businesses. When you shop, compare prices online to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Now is not the time in your life to blow money on fancy cars and parking passes. Many schools offer discounted transit passes to students.

Apply for bursaries, scholarships and grants

Unlike loans, which you have to pay back – often with interest, after a certain point – students don’t have to pay back money received through grants, bursaries or scholarships. Find out more about student grants here.

Once you graduate, attack the loan

If you have a student loan, remember that it is not “free money” and once you leave school interest will start to accumulate on it. You will have six months after leaving school before you have to start making regular payments, but experts recommend focusing on eliminating your debt as soon as possible.

Set up automatic withdrawals so you’re never late on a payment. Pay more than the minimum required to ensure more of your cash goes against the principal of the loan, not just the interest.

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“Keep your finances under control and enjoy the fruits of your labour,” said Schwartz.

With files from The Canadian Press