So, you just graduated and you're not sure how to tackle repaying your student loans?
Don't worry, you're not alone.
According to Angela Whittleton, a TD advisor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it's common for recent graduates to have questions about how and when they should start repaying student loans.
To help those recent grads who are navigating student loan repayments, Whittleton shares some of the most common questions she hears, as well as some tips for beginning the process of repaying student loans.
When do I need to start paying off my student loans?
The first thing Whittleton recommends doing is taking stock of what you owe. Look at each loan or line of credit you have, determine how much you own on each one, and when each loan needs to be repaid.
"Look at all of your loans to determine where your debt is, and when you need to repay it," Whittleton said. "And don't forget to include loans from family, as well as other debt, such as credit cards."
It's important to determine when each loan needs to be paid back, because different loans and debt, including student loans – including Canada Student Loans, Provincial student loans and student lines of credit – may each have different repayment schedules.
"In general, my advice is typically for students to pay off their highest-interest rate debt first, such as credit cards," Whittleton said. "But it's important to know the terms of each loan you have."
Canada Student Loans, for example, typically feature a six-month grace period for graduating students, which means you have six months from the date you finish your school term, transfer from full to part-time studies or leave or take time off from school, to start repaying the loan. Students are not charged interest on their loan during that time. Students can also opt to start making payments earlier if they choose to, Whittleton said.
However, repayment rules for Provincial loans vary, depending on the specific rules of the province, Whittleton said. For more information on how rules about student loans vary depending on province, consult this Government of Canada website.
If you have a TD Student Line of Credit (SLOC), for example, while you are in school you must, at a minimum, make interest-only payments. On graduation, students can repay their line of credit but are only required to repay the interest for up to 24 months after they graduate. After this 24 month period their line of credit is converted into a fixed term Student Loan for repayment purposes, (this only applies if the loan is over $5,000 and taken out on or after May 1st 2017). An SLOC that was approved before May 1st, 2017 have the option to convert to a Student Loan, or otherwise will enter 1% principal and interest repayment, explains Whittleton.
Students can also pay more than the minimum interest payment while they are still in school if they have the available funds.
READ MORE: Paying off student loans fast with these four steps
For students who are jumping right into graduate school or are extending their graduation date, there are options available to increase an existing TD Student Line of Credit if you need to access more funds, said Whittleton.
Federal and provincial loans also have options for students who choose to continue their education — you can find details specific to these rules here.
Is it better to put money into savings or pay off my student loan as fast as possible?
The key to answering this question lies in figuring out how you want to balance your savings goals with your debt repayments, Whittleton said.
"In addition to repaying student loans, it's common for new graduates to have savings goals," said Whittleton.
"These could be short-term goals like saving for a vacation, medium-term goals like saving for a home and even longer-term goals like starting to save for retirement. When it comes to saving, I always recommend building an emergency fund as soon as your financial situation allows you to do so, regardless of what stage of life you're in, but you need to balance your savings goals with your debt repayment schedule."
How much should I pay each month on my student loans?
"If you have the capacity to repay more than the minimum on your student loans that is fantastic," Whittleton said.
"If that's your situation, then the general advice is to instead use that extra money to pay down any high-interest rate debt you may also be carrying, such as a credit card debt."
What if I can't pay my student loans?
"The pandemic has caused a lot of financial stress and change for many students graduating now," said Whittleton.
"If you find yourself unable to make your student loan payments, there are some options available to help you manage your payments, budget and cash flow. A tool like the TD Personal Cash Flow Calculator can help you crunch those numbers."
If you are struggling or unable to make payments on your Canada Student Loan, you can apply to the Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP) or Repayment Assistance Plan for Borrowers with a Permanent Disability (RAP-PD) or contact the National Student Loans Service Centre to explore your options.
"One option is to merge your higher interest debts, such as credit cards, lines of credit, or loans into one manageable payment through debt consolidation," Whittleton said.
"TD also has a free online Debt Consolidation Calculator to help you figure out if debt consolidation is right for you. Don't forget that we are here to support you – reaching out to TD Helps, or even starting by booking an appointment with a TD advisor will help us assess your specific situation and find the best possible solution and advice for your personal situation."
Book a virtual appointment with a TD advisor to get a personalized plan based on your unique circumstances.