By Mariam Nouser
With recent cuts to Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) grants, students are finding themselves in more debt, whether it be because OSAP or other forms of loans.
Out of all the Canadian cities, Toronto has the highest debt in Canada, according to a recent study by Credit Karma, which analyzed the debt amongst its own users.
The average student debt in Toronto is just under $21,000. This is $2,000 higher than the Ontario average of student debt.
Florencia Rios, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student, said that due to OSAP cuts, she was unable to afford her final year of studies.
“I was doing a summer co-op and luckily we managed to arrange an extension for 12 months [more of] my internship…What they don’t tell you is that when you take a year off for an internship, you must enter repayment for your loans,” she said.
Rios has had a credit card since she was 18. Because of her good credit, she was able to get a limit increase.
But students like Rios are not just accumulating debt for school expenses—they are also trying to help their families.
Rios comes from a single-parent household and helps her mother with bills. She also pays her own bills, because they are living paycheque to paycheque.
Meanwhile, for international students, debt is much higher. As a result of the 10 per cent tuition cut by the Ontario government this year, universities, including Ryerson, increased international student fees.
On top of that, the average monthly cost of living in Toronto is $3,214.39, according to a 2019 article by LowestRates.ca. With a high cost of living and a growing cost of tuition, students are feeling the pressure.
Firi Fombo is a first-year media production student from Nigeria. At the moment, her mom is paying her tuition of over $27,000, but Fombo says she is concerned about her future and the impact high tuition has on her mother.
The accumulation of student debt can also have negative effects on a student’s credit score, said a Credit Karma representative.
“[It makes] it difficult to secure preferential loans, secure a mortgage and other financial products,” a representative from Credit Karma told The Eye.
The company has come up with ways to help students manage their debt, such as knowing their repayment options. Students can negotiate their payment plan if the payments are too large by extending their repayment term—doing so could lower their monthly payments.
Other tips include setting up payments so they happen just after payday, or consolidating loans by setting them up on a line of credit.
“My worry is about being able to complete my schooling because if the scholarships I applied to don’t come through, I would probably have to leave school because the debts would keep increasing,” said Fombo. “My education [is] obviously a lot of investment [for my mom], and she’s probably taking [out] loans.”
Since Fombo is an international student, and there is a cap to how many hours she can work in Canada. While she is studying, she cannot work more than 20 hours a week. With a minimum wage job at $14 an hour, her salary doesn’t cover even half of her tuition.
Like Rios, Hassan Elahi, a third-year business management student, took time off school. The 21-year-old was supposed to be in his final year, but he was on track for having $40,000 worth of debt. He had to take a year off to work and was able to save $20,000.
Students at Ryerson are also worried about their future after graduation. The cost of living in Toronto has made some question their career goals. “I want to be a travel journalist and that requires a lot of money. I should have my own money to start my own career,” said Poline Nasri, a first-year journalism student. “I should be able to save money to travel and work with, not to pay my debt. I want to work in my field right away…[Debt is what] worries me the most.”