77% of Canadian graduates have regrets about student debt: poll

A new poll has found that many Canadians wish they had spent their student loans differently. Getty Images

Andrew Park paid off his student loans last year — more than 10 years after starting his post-secondary education.

The 30-year-old Toronto resident, who now works as a business development leader, racked up his loans while studying life sciences at the University of Toronto. His post-secondary education began in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2012 that he finished his masters in political science at McMaster University.

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Paying off his student loans, borrowed through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), was something Park says he intended to do right after graduation, but other factors always got in the way.

“Things really got delayed,” he explained to Global News, adding that he paid off the first half of his loans almost right away. But then the expenses of living independently and paying bills side-tracked his plan.

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“My brain didn’t really understand how to handle [the OSAP payments],” he said.

If he could go back, Park says he would start working earlier during his undergrad and save more money.

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“You don’t need to go 100 per cent OSAP,” he says, adding that some universities have work positions that are flexible for students’ schedules, and pay well.

Park isn’t alone in hoping that he had done things differently.

Regrets about student loans

About three-quarters, or 77 per cent, of Canadian graduates under 40 have some regrets about the money they spent while in school, according to a poll released Tuesday by debt firm BDO Canada.

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The report, carried out by Ipsos Poll, found 30 per cent of graduates would have had more frugal budgets, some would have worked more during school (28 per cent), and 25 per cent would have avoided other debt by staying away from credit cards and car loans.

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About 67 per cent of Canadians included in the poll said they had debt when graduating, and were an average of $22,084 in the red. Only about 33 per cent of respondents graduated debt-free.

Sixty-two per cent of those who wrapped up their education with debt are still paying off the loans, the poll said.

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Advice for incoming students

The former students had some advice for incoming students, which mostly revolved around being smarter with money.

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About half of the graduates surveyed said students should be more willing to make financial sacrifices and get a part-time job as soon as possible. About 45 per cent advised students to pay off debt without delaying it.

Some graduates (39 per cent) suggested taking time off after high school to earn money, and then enrolling in post-secondary education.

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Delaying post-secondary education is something University of British Columbia student Janessa Tom thinks is a smart idea.

“Taking a couple years off to work will put you in a better spot financially, as long as you’re budgeting and very aware of your spending,” the 22-year-old told Global News.

Janessa Tom is a 22-year-old student at the University of British Columbia. Courtesy Janessa Tom

While Tom has parents who will help her pay off the loans, she’s already thousands of dollars in debt. She says tuition isn’t the only expense — she also spends on car insurance, rent and utilities, and groceries.

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One thing the student hopes people will understand is that students aren’t in debt because they’re lazy.

“I think it’s really easy for people to assume that students are taking out loans because they’re too lazy to work a job while they’re in school, but if you’re taking a full course load, school takes up the equivalent amount of time as a full-time job.”

Paying off student loans

Because of his debt, Park says he put off things like travelling, investing regularly in retirement, saving, and even family planning.

Since making his final payments, the newlywed says he feels liberated to invest in other parts of his life. One of the first things he did was ditch is old car, and buy a Ford Focus, he said.

But that’s not all. Park also feels more confident discussing finances now.

Tips to help manage student loans

According to the Canadian Student Loan Program, paying off student debt takes most about 10 years. But TD Canada Trust provides tips on how to get out of the red faster.

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On its website, the bank says it’s imperative students first figure out exactly how much they owe, and then make a budget. It’s important not to delay the process, and make extra payments whenever possible.

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“Didn’t spend a lot one month? Whenever these kinds of situations happen, top up your payments!” the site reads.

It adds that curbing living expenses — whether that means living with your parents or a roommate — is a great way to save money faster.

This poll was conducted by Ipsos on behalf of BDO Canada, between Aug. 16 and 21, 2017, using a sample size of 2,212 Canadians aged 21-39 who had a completed college diploma or university degree. This poll is considered accurate ±2.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. 


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