Getting a student loan is like getting into a relationship. At the beginning stages it’s all sunshine and rainbows but then four years later your problems that you thought disappeared have inevitably resurfaced. Eventually, you question if the relationship was even worth it but it’s too late because you’re fatter and poorer and you can’t get a job and goddamnit, Ryan, would you please just let me live!!
This familiar decline in (financial) happiness is currently in force for many recent post-secondary grads. In Ontario, students who graduated this spring with government loans and are not pursuing further education will now begin to have monthly payments withdrawn from their accounts, if they haven’t already started paying for them.
And according to Statistics Canada’s most recent report on student loan repayment, over 40 percent of college and university students have had to take out some sort of loan for school.
It’s not exactly typical for friends to discuss just how deep they are in student debt, but it’s a major reality check for those just entering the adult world. Stats Can reports that, three years after graduation, the average remaining debt of a college grad who hasn’t paid off their loans yet is about $12,000, while it’s up around $19,000 for those with bachelor degrees.
The paths of repayment do vary from grad to grad though, and we wanted to know how much money young people are really putting into their student loans. So we met up with a bunch of this year’s newest graduates in their workplaces, their homes or in coffee shops to talk about where they stand on debt.
VICE: How long have you been out of school now?
Jamie: Eight months.
Where are you currently working?
I'm in retail full time. When I went to school for psychology [laughs].
How much did you take out in student loans?
I think I have to pay back $36,000. I think they paid me more, but I paid some while I was in school.
Since you've been out of school, have you started paying back your loans?
Yes, I got a letter [from the government] last month about my payments. Originally they wanted me to pay back $400 a month but I couldn't afford that so you can fill out a form for them to reassess. You put in your current salary and then they can readjust it. So right now I'm paying around $80 a month, versus $400, which is great.
Are you looking for a better paying job in your field, then?
I'll be looking for a different job, but not so much in my field. I also plan on going to college because I feel like it will be easier to get a job if I have more than just a bachelor.
Will you have to take out student loans to do that?
Yes. It's a never ending cycle. Just to get a job. “Nine to five just to stay alive,” am I right?
VICE: What have you graduated from?
Stephanie: This June, I graduated with a degree in sociology. Before that I got a diploma in early childhood education. Now I'm doing my masters in teaching.
So are you paying back your loans now?
No. Because I started this new program, I’m able to wait until I’m finally done to pay everything off. Obviously, the smarter thing to do would be to pay it off as you go. But I haven't been able to pay off a cent yet.
How much do you owe?
It's so awful to even say out loud…$28,000. Masters included will be another $12,000.
How does it make you feel knowing that, after you graduate, you’ll have all this debt?
It's overwhelming. And it sucks because there are things that I would have liked to pay for by the time I graduated, by the time I’m 30. Years ago, I set this goal that I'd own a place and be married and be having children by 30. I'm not even close to thinking about doing that because I need to figure out this student loan shit out first.
What are some things that you recently spent money on that was not your student loans?
Rent, my phone bill, hydro, transportation, food and regular daily things. But also unnecessary things. I take a shit ton of Ubers. Or wanting to treat myself so buying an outfit for a night out. And them coming home after that night out and spending $40 on Uber Eats. It's just avoiding all the things that you know you need to pay back, and doing the things that make you happy. You think, OK, you can just deal with the other stuff down the line.
VICE: What are you currently doing now that you’ve graduated?
Danielle: I’m working retail. I worked in my field in the summer but my contract for that job ended. And it's really hard finding a new job. I don't know if it's just me, maybe I'm not applying to small enough jobs.
How much do you owe in student loans?
I paid it all off this summer. In total, I think it was $18,000.
That's amazing! What did you do to pay that all off?
Well, during school, I did work retail. I also had a lot of grants from the government. My program didn't require a lot of textbooks. Even the textbooks I did need, I was able to find them online so I downloaded them for free, technically illegally. And I live with my parents, so I don't have to pay rent or food or anything like that.
Looking back, do you think paying all that money was worth it for your degree?
I studied journalism, and honestly, I don't know. Just because I don't think you really need a journalism degree to be a journalist, as harsh as that sounds. I didn't know what I wanted to do after high school, and I just thought, ‘oh journalism,’ because I like writing and I thought that was more practical than English. But nowadays, especially with the internet, anyone can freelance, anyone can get into the field. I don't know if it was worth it.
VICE: When did you graduate?
Michael: October, but I technically finished my degree in May.
What’s your student loan situation?
I'm pretty sure I owe $35,000 for the whole loan. The way I have it situated right now is I pay $400 a month over the course of nine years. The interest added on after that amount of time will add up to $45,000 [in total].
$400 a month seems like a lot for many people right out of school — how do you afford that?
Well, I've been lucky right now to get three different jobs in my field. And I have a whole monthly expense report. I pay $200 to $300 on food a month, $650 for rent, $200 for travel, so at the end of the day, I end up just breaking over even when I add in my student loans at about $450.
Why do you feel the need to stay so organized?
Just from growing up. I grew up with a single mom with three siblings so money was always tight. There were so many times where we didn't know if water would get shut off, and bills were always overdue and stuff. So I realized quickly that I feel best when money is secure. That's my biggest worry—is to not have money to afford things.
VICE: How bad is your debt right now?
Brianne: In all honesty, it’s not as bad as I anticipated, however I applied for Ontario’s Repayment Assistance Plan last month, which delays it for like six months.
Why did you feel you needed that six-month leeway?
At the time that I applied, and still currently, I’m not making enough money to be able to make those payments where it’s close to $300 a month that the government is looking for. Where does your income currently go on a monthly basis?
It just goes to rent and paying bills and food and stuff. I’m not really one to spend much on extra stuff. How has it been looking for a job in your field?
It’s been … very difficult. When do you hope to be debt free?
That’s a great question. Obviously it would be soon as possible, but I hope within the next ten years, ideally. I’m not really sure what the precedent is because I haven’t really discussed with too many people about how long it takes them to pay it off. I’ve heard of extreme cases where people go to school for five plus years and then they keep racking up the debt and are paying it into their 40s, so…yeah.
VICE: What’s your student loan situation?
Josephine: Good. I've paid off all my loans. I never had much to begin with so it was easy for me to pay it off in one go during the summer. I set aside a couple hundred per paycheque and because I owed $1,500 it didn't take me long to get there.
So how did you afford school mostly without student loans?
I always got bursaries and applied for scholarships. My university had a bunch of scholarships that I feel like no one knew about or wanted to put in the effort to apply for. So one year, I almost paid off the entire year on scholarships. And then my parents had an RESP savings fund for me ever since I was little so that helped.
How is post-grad life, without debt?
I don't think I can complain about anything. I moved back home and I commute to work at a job in my field. Of course I'd love to just travel for months on end, but right now I'm able to save money. I'm able to save money for the first time in my life.
VICE: What did you graduate with?
Michael: I have a bachelor in media production, which sounds kind of ridiculous on paper. Like, “I'm a bachelor of media.”
So what are you doing now?
I'm a production assistant at an animation production company.
How much of your earnings are you putting into student debt?
I originally thought my minimum was around $270, but I recently found out I can pay even less. So, it's a little bit under $200. As little as possible so I can have flexibility with my spending every month.
How do you feel about being in debt for the next coming years?
Um, well it sucks. It's a trade off, right? I chose to go to university. I chose to live in Toronto. So that made the amount I took in student loans a lot higher than it would have if I went to school in my hometown. I could move back home and there's studios there that I could work at there, but I don't want to do that.
Do you think you'll be going back to school in the future?
If something interests me so much where I want to go back to school, yeah. But I really didn’t enjoy school. School to me was like a really good sales pitch that I bought into because I was 17 and I was excited and motivated. But then once I was there, it was up to you to hopefully meet some people who could teach you things. I didn’t learn anything particularly useful in the hands-on courses and in the theory classes, I was a little bored and got perfectly good grades without trying very hard. It just felt like a four-year drawn out thing that I was spending a lot of money on and I actually entirely regret spending all that money.
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