Vivian Moreau: Student debt is crushing

When the collection agencies started calling me at work I really wondered if it had been a good thing to go back to school.

In 1999 it had seemed the right decision. I had been a stay-at-home mom for 10 years when my marriage blew apart. I had two young children and no marketable skills. I took out a student loan and applied to the University of Victoria’s writing program. It took seven years but I completed a B.A. and a masters in journalism from Carleton. I also had $60,000 in student loans to repay.

When I landed my first reporting job in Whistler six months later I started making payments on the loans. The payments were weighty, almost 40 per cent of my monthly net income. Whistler was not an inexpensive place to live, but the newspaper there was the only one willing to hire an older newbie reporter. I paid $1,600 a month to rent a two-bedroom suite. One daughter lived with me and another stayed with her dad on the Island. I took on a second job but, even so, fell behind on the payments. I wrote letters to the federal and provincial student loan agencies and to a bank to plead my case for some relief, but was consistently turned down.

The government agencies and the bank that had loaned me the money to go to school quickly turned my file over to a series of collection agencies. Their tactics were simple: harass me into finding some way to pay back the funds.

“Why did you go back to school if you knew you couldn’t pay back the money? Why did you choose an occupation that paid so poorly? We can take you to court, you know.”

I can’t tell you how many nights I sat on the edge of my bed crying into my hands.

My story is not uncommon. On Wednesday hundreds of college and university students protested on the legislature lawn about rising student debt loads. In 2008, 60 per cent of student loan holders in B.C. had either defaulted or were delinquent in payments.

That percentage has improved. In the last year, of the 177,248 student loan holders in B.C., 22.94 per cent are in default (behind more than five months on payments) and only 1.93 per cent are delinquent (behind two months in payments). But a further 11,530 are in a debt management program, meaning they’ve been given a six-month payment reprieve, usually because of low income. The average total a student in B.C. owes after finishing an undergrad degree is $27,000.

Although steps have been taken to give graduates a break, such as lowering interest rates and increasing the number of years to pay back loans, the system of funding loans for post-secondary education in Canada remains flawed. By example, the table used to calculate what percentage of a graduate’s gross income can go toward student loan repayment should be consistently updated. In 2008 both the feds and the province were using a table dating back more than a decade. Using that, they figured I could pay almost $800 a month in payments when my net monthly salary was $2,100.

I know this will rankle, but loans should be interest free or, at the very least, low interest. I was paying 7.25 per cent interest on my loans before I defaulted.

Some countries, such as Germany, provide free post-secondary education. When students graduate and find work they can contribute to the economy by investing in a home or vehicle. They can contribute to the arts, taking in a play or dance. They can go out for dinner.

In Canada, graduates will spend between 10 and 25 years paying off their student loan debts. Maybe then they can begin to think about having a family or buying a home.

And my $60,000 student loan debt? I got lucky. Three years ago I remarried. Shortly after, the bank that held the bulk of my loans offered a 50 per cent principle reduction if I would pay it off in one lump sum. My husband paid it. I thank him almost every day.

Vivian Moreau is a reporter with the Oak Bay News.

vmoreau@oakbaynews.com

Just Posted

Two volunteers work to sieve a sample of sand and ocean water through a filter, capturing any potential microplastics. (Courtesy of Ocean Diagnostics)
Victoria startup making waves in microplastics research

New products from Ocean Diagnostics will make research faster, more affordable

Chef Trevor Randle leads a June 21 online cooking featuring recipes – beef zesty lettuce wraps, blueberry strudel and blueberry spritzer. (Courtesy We Heart Local BC)
Free online cooking course explores B.C. blueberries and beef

Chef Trevor Randle calls them the province’s most flavourful foods

Willows Beach in Oak Bay. (Black Press Media file photo)
Seven days of sun set to shine on Greater Victoria

Special weather statement warns of higher than usual temperatures

Island Savings kick-starts the Equipped to Heal campaign with $120,000. (Courtesy Victoria Hospitals Foundation)
Latest Victoria Hospitals Foundation campaign targets $1M for mental health

Goal is to outfit new 19-bed unit at Eric Martin Pavilion

Google Maps shows significant traffic backups after a crash reported shortly before noon on Father’s Day, June 20. (Google Maps)
Father’s Day crash in Saanich closes lane of McKenzie Avenue

Police say there were injuries, traffic impacted

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Most Read