You have graduated from University and have been unable to find a good paying job in your area of expertise. The periods of non-repayment and interest relief of your student loan debt have been maxed out. You are starting to get letters and/or phone calls from a collection agency. A friend tells you that he was in the same situation last year. He solved his problem by paying his student loan payments with his credit card. His logic was that the collection agency got off his back and he had no stress. If he got a good job, there would be enough money to pay everyone – even though he knew that the interest on the credit card was higher than the interest on the student loan. Plus, he got “points” on his credit card. The friends’ research pointed out that if he ever had to go bankrupt in the future, all of the credit cards debt should be included in the bankruptcy but student loans could not be included in the bankruptcy unless he was out of the school for more than seven years. He had the ultimate “win-win” situation.
Well, not quite. The interest rate on the average credit card is so high in relation to the interest on student loan debt, that any benefit from “points” is insignificant. If you do wind up filing an assignment in bankruptcy and your trustee (or the creditors) determine that you intentionally converted your student loan debt to credit card debt, be prepared for there to be an examination under oath before an Official Receiver (a representative of the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy) who may recommend an opposition to your discharge from bankruptcy. At the very best, you will have to convince the licensed insolvency trustee/creditors/court that you had every intention of paying your debts and it was only a change in your financial circumstances that caused you to file the bankruptcy. As the worst, there will be a finding of an intent to commit fraud – a debt for fraud is not discharged in bankruptcy.
If the above is similar to your situation, please have a discussion about it with your trustee before signing any papers.
What is debt exclusion from bankruptcy? A bankruptcy or proposal will get rid of most of your debts, but not necessary all of them. This is because certain debts are secured to your assets. The most common being a mortgage on your home or a loan on your car. If you want to keep the house or car, you must continue to pay the debt secured to the asset. In addition, other debts listed in Section 178 of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act specifically exclude certain debts from being included in bankruptcy as a matter of public policy.
These debts include spousal support, child support, debts originating in fraud, debts incurred while acting in a fiduciary capacity. These also include debts resulting from an assault, fines and penalties awarded by a court (income tax, traffic and criminal). Finally, student loans are not included in your bankruptcy unless you have not been a student for seven years. However, in cases of severe hardship, a court can reduce the seven year limit to five years.
You are allowed to contribute 18% of earned income to an RRSP and there is no time limit for how long you can carry forward unused contribution room. You have 60 days after year-end to make an RRSP contribution and claim a deduction for the previous tax-year. There is no limit to how many RRSPs you can have and you are eligible to over contribute a maximum of $2000.00 in a lifetime without incurring a penalty.
Remember, if you decide to withdraw money from an RRSP, you will need to pay taxes on that money. However, it is not necessary to claim an RRSP deduction for the year in which the contribution was made and there is no time limit for how long you can carry forward unused contribution room.
Under the Lifelong Learning Plan, the interest rate is zero on an RRSP loan. You have 15 years to repay loans under the Lifelong Learning Plan and the Home Buyers’ Plan. It is advised to review your RRSP investments every three months. The government places no limitations on the use of money borrowed under the Lifelong Learning Plan.
If you are thinking about whether or not a TFSA or an RRSP is a better choice, remember the following: A TFSA is a better choice if you expect your income in retirement to be higher than it is now, if you expect to apply for the Guaranteed Income Supplement when you retire and/or if you have a defined benefit pension plan.
What can I do if I cannot make my student loan payments?
Thousands of Canadians cannot afford to pay their student loans. The law in Canada punishes anyone making a consumer proposal or filing for personal bankruptcy if they recently stopped being a full-time student. Student loans are not forgiven unless a person can satisfy the 7-year waiting period or the discretionary 5-year waiting period based on financial hardship.
If you cannot make your monthly student loan payments then you do have a number of options:
Firstly, your lender might offer a number of debt relief options. Secondly, it might be to your advantage to make small token monthly payments. Thirdly, if you have not made a payment on your student loan for a minimum of six months you can explore negotiating a one-time lump sum payment as settlement in full—sourcing funds from family members or the sale of an asset.
Finally, you might want to consider credit counselling as a “bridging strategy”. Credit counselling might help you reduce your monthly payments on your unsecured consumer debt—but not your student loan -which might significantly improve your cash flow situation. Some Canadians seeking personal bankruptcy or a consumer proposal will use credit counselling until they satisfy the all-important 7-year waiting period.
If you want to make a consumer proposal or file for personal bankruptcy and you have ceased attending school a minimum of 5 years—but not 7 years–then you can bring a motion before a judge who has a discretion to grant you a discharge on the grounds of financial hardship.