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Proliteracy.ca – Like Cheese on Vegetables

Let me preface this, that this is a Guest Post from a group of chaps I tripped over a while ago. Sounds like an interesting idea to me teaching folks about the costs of University, they are looking for feedback, have a read and see what you think.

Feels like cheese

by Alfred Yang

For those of you who lived through the 90’s, remember that old Cheese Whiz commercial where kids are reluctant to eat their vegetables until they’re garnished the amazing product? Well, that commercial kept replaying in my head as I worked on Proliteracy.ca, a free tool that helps Canadians plan finances for post-secondary education.

I can’t help but get the feeling that personal finance education is a lot like vegetables.  We all know it’s good for you, but it isn’t that appealing, especially to young people.  I feel like our team at Proliteracy.ca is trying to create the secret sauce that makes something dry and boring more consumable.

Fortunately, from the start of our journey we’ve met many organizations and individuals who share the same passion for promoting financial literacy.  Subject matter experts in the field of personal finance, like Big Cajun Man, gave us the motivation to continue our work.   Today, Proliteracy.ca is available to all Canadians looking to understand post-secondary financing.

The secret sauce?

Despite the rapid evolution of financial technology, it has yet to change the way most consumers educate themselves about personal finance.  The internet gives us incredible access to information, but it can be overwhelming.  The Proliteracy.ca team wanted to find a way to help people filter through the noise to focus on what’s really important to their own situations.

Our team wanted to start by helping students and young parents, a demographic that is arguably the least motivated to learn about personal finance.  Ironically, most members in this very same demographic have a major financial hurdle to overcome – financing post-secondary education.  Tuition has been increasing steadily in the past two decades and according to the Canadian Federation of Students the average new grad from university owes over $28,000 in student debt.

Through extensive research, we found plenty of information on financing post-secondary education, but when considering our own personal situations, a number of questions still remain unanswered:

  • If I have a young child today, how much should I be saving towards?
  • How does studying in a different school or different city impact my cost?
  • How much money should I set aside each month so that I am not too late by the time my child is ready for college?
  • Beside savings, what other financing options are available?
  • How does borrowing impact my child’s financial future?

Our Goals

Proliteracy.ca aims to help forecast the cost of education based on each student’s personal situation. We do the heavy lifting to organize data that’s freely available so that it’s more accessible and easier to understand.

First, we prompt you to answer a few questions, including programs and schools of interest, and the year of enrollment. Then we forecast the cost of tuition, books, and other expenses based on historical data. The end result is a good estimate of the financial target you or your family should be aiming for when planning for post-secondary education.

With an understanding of cost, we’re able to suggest a variety funding options starting with the least expensive options: savings, grants and scholarships.  We build awareness to great federal programs like the Canadian Learning Bond (CLB) and Canadian Education Savings Grants (CESG) and highlight the impact they have on RESP savings.  We also perform grants and scholarships matching, allowing families to take advantage of resources that are otherwise unknown to them before taking on debt.

Eat your vegetables, they’re good for you

In October, we ran a pilot program at three different high schools in the Greater Toronto Area.   We found that students and many young parents are generally not motivated to learn about personal finance. Most are not prepared for the high cost of post-secondary education.  Tuition is increasing well beyond the rate of inflation, and a child’s college or university education a decade from now could easily set a family back by over six figures.  Most individuals we spoke to admit that they are planning finances for post-secondary education too late.

Like eating vegetables, financial planning needs to start early in life.  When confronted with a significant financial hurdle like cost of post-secondary education, families need to get into the rhythm of saving, learning about funding options and understanding the implications of debt.

We need your help

Since our pilot launch, we’ve received a lot of encouragement and feedback on how we can improve. While our team is making great strides towards creating an amazing planning tool, we can get there a lot faster by working with individuals and organizations who share the same passion for financial literacy.

So, if you have any feedback at all, we’d love to hear from you.

www.proliteracy.ca

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More Reasons to Change Banks

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

In 2014 I wrote about how my daughter got a Student Line of Credit, to help pay for her second degree, as a Chiropractor. Remember, I am the one that talks about being willing to change banks, but unfortunately, my daughter is changing banks due to the mistakes of the local branch of the National Bank of Canada (which is the reason I changed banks a while ago as well).

The problems started when the line of credit was first set up and has compounded since then:

  • It took 3 visits to get the student line of credit set up (we thought) with the local branch. Once the application forms were set up, the first application for the account was declined, because the young lady at the local branch was unaware of how to do the application, it was declined  because the application was asking for the entire value of the loan (for all 4 years of the school). There had to be a reapplication to get the loan set up.
  • The Student Line of Credit was actually set up as a standard unsecured line of credit. This caused the National Bank head office to call. They called more than once, and weresomewhat irate. They asked why weren’t the minimum payments being made to the account? It then took an hour of explanation, and investigation. Finally, someone figured out that the account had been set up incorrectly (by the local branch). The only way it could be fixed was by the local branch. They failed (more than once) to remedy this issue. The account should have been set up so that the interest payments accrued. The account would then ask for payments after the term was complete.
  • There was an inability to make payments from other banks to the National Bank for this loan. This meant all banking would have to go through the National Bank only (or use Interac transfers to do things). This is also a shortcoming with the CIBC Student Line of Credit.
  • The on-line banking at National Bank, never really worked correctly for my daughter. She had to keep calling their on-line help folks to get access to the account. This was just to see what the balance was on the account. This happened every time she tried to access the account, and each time she would ask, “So with the information you have just given me, I can get access to my account”, and the help line person would say “Yes”. It worked that time, and then the next time, she had to call back in, because it would not let her in.
  • The straw that broke the camel’s back was that the National Bank Head Office decided that the “ceiling” (maximum for the loan) for students in Chiropractic College (for their entire program) was  dropped by 33%, and because of this, the line of credit would not have covered the cost of the entire program. The reason for this change (we theorize) was that the Chiropractic College in Trois-Rivieres was consulted to see how much their program cost, and the maximum for the line of credit was lowered to reflect that program’s total cost. This is an issue, as my daughter is going to the College in Toronto (which has higher fees and costs). This meant my daughter had to change to another bank or she would have run out of money. She is now in the process of changing to CIBC for her Student Line of Credit (and Free Banking too). There were inquiries made to the local National Bank branch to figure out why the Loan Cap was lowered, no real answer was given, just that it was being put in place, and that even though my daughter had been enrolled last  year, and the loan agreement included the higher cap, her cap was being lowered in accordance with the new rules.
Change your bank
Keep this in mind if you want to change your Bank

Good Reasons to Change Banks

Thanks to a great deal of frustration and confusion lead to my daughter changing her accounts over to CIBC. I was involved in the decision to change, as I am a guarantor on the student line of credit. As Michael James would say, I have a Student Line of Credit. The change of the maximum loan limit was the main reason, but the other frustrations certainly decided to change, a simpler choice.

Remember, never be afraid to change banks, especially if you feel that you are not getting a very good deal. Also, this is why student debt is so darn high.

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Really Useful RESP Tips

In 2015, I was “interviewed” for an article that was supposed to appear in the Toronto Star, and you will be happy to hear that I am turning over a new leaf when being interviewed, I actually prepared for it! Thanks to that I have these really useful RESP tips too!

RESP Piggy Bank
RESP’s Are Savings For Your and Your Child’s Future

Previously, if during interviews it sounded like I was talking out of my hat, I was, but things are changing. What happened to the article with the Toronto Star about Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP) I have no idea, but let me give you some of my notes that I had prepared, along with some links to some of my own thoughts on the subject.

Useful RESP Tips

  • Remember that there is a $50K Lifetime deposit limit
  • If you only deposit $2500/year, you will be under that limit, so maybe start with a larger lump sum to give it time to grow ?
  • If you miss giving up to $2500 one year, you roll $1000 of that limit to the next year
    Canada education savings grant (CSEG) is typically 20% up to $2500 deposited (can get higher for lower-income families)
  • If one child doesn’t use the money, you can transfer it to other children under the age of 21 (without penalties), but still can be transferred to blood relatives older than 21 ( there will be penalties there).

CLB – Canada Learning Bond

  • Little or no money must be deposited to get this, an initial $500 gets put in even if no money is deposited. Most banks are leery to do this, but talk to SmartSaver.org and they will help set things up (in the Toronto Area)

General RESP Advice

  • Start early, get your child a SIN, and maybe start with a larger lump sum to get things going (longer it has to grow, the better for you, remember the rule of 72 ).
  • If I had a chance to do it over again, I’d use a Self-Directed non-mutual fund bound system like TD Waterhouse, Questrade, BMO, etc.,
  • Beware programs that might have penalties on the principal, yes the CESG and CLB can have penalties if the child does not go to school, but you should get the money deposited back (and pay tax on the growth)
  • Invest in a simple couch potato portfolio with Index Funds or Index ETFs, no need to be aggressive here.

Tuition Costs

  • Acadia cost about $3800/term Trent is about $3500/term, so your RESP isn’t going to be able to deal with much more than Tuition costs, there are many many more costs associated with school.
    Most schools will show estimates of how much a typical year might cost (U of Waterloo, Trent and Queens do).

Alternate views

  • A lot of folks think their kids should pay for their education, but even if you only put $50 a pay in, it might help your kids start out? It is free money from the government.

As usual you can peruse my Registered Education savings Plan web page, which has a large amount of information on the topic. If you are interested in interviewing me see the About section of this site for details on this.


RESP Questrade Banner

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Student Lines of Credit

Wrote this one many years ago, but it is still topical. A Student Line of Credit is usually how many students getting a professional degree pay for it. By professional I mean lawyer, doctor, etc., and banks gladly give it to them. The banks want the “post graduation” business along with the interest.

For my regular readers you will remember that I have a deal with my children, that I will attempt to pay for their first degree, in exchange I will not pay for their wedding ceremony, with the proviso that if I am asked to help out on the wedding (which I will do, I am not as heartless as I’d like to think I am), it is my party as well.  A follow on proviso is that they pay for any future degrees (although I will attempt to help out if it is possible).

With this in mind, my middle daughter decided to go to Chiropractic College, and applied for a Student Line of Credit. Most of the big banks, either:

  • Don’t offer very much money which is a problem as Chiropractic College is a very expensive degree
  • Weren’t interested in dealing with her
National Bank of Canada
National Bank of Canada

This led to going to the National Bank of Canada, which does offer a Student Line of Credit family of loans. The amount they will loan depends on what program you are in, and they view Chiropractic College as a “health care professional” program thus they will loan her enough money to cover most of her expenses (mind  you the degree is even more expensive, because she has to “live” in Toronto, which is not cheap). The nice part of their Student Line of Credit is , “…no payback of principal (sic) or interest while you are at school…”, which is useful.

My daughter thought she had set up one of these fine life sucking debt creatures (no I am not going soft on debt, I still hate it), however, she was mistaken. I ended up having to co-sign on her application (so really it’s my student line of credit), and this is why I am not happy (as well).

My daughter has been getting calls from the bank since she had the Line of Credit set up, and the problem kept getting “cleared up” (or more precisely it went away). Finally, this past week, luckily she was home, she got another call, and she went back to the National Bank branch where she set everything up, and she finally got to the heart of the problem, which was, they had not set it up a Student Line of Credit at all, they had set it up as a “regular” line of credit, and they were kind of miffed that she was not paying her minimum payments.

I was not present when all of this silliness transpired, but my daughter worked hard to start straightening the mess up. The young lady she spoke to first, was smart enough to figure out that she was out of her depth, and the  young man (who was lucky enough to be working on a Saturday) she dragged into the mess started to peel this smelly onion of a problem. He was the lucky one to figure out that the “Student Line of Credit” was set up as a regular “Line of Credit” and then realized the Pickle of a Predicament this created.

Evidently someone from “Head Office” will need to clean up the mess created by the  young lady who made the blunder setting things up initially, but the young man from the branch has triggered the Hazardous Debt cleanup team that will work on this problem (I hope).

Why does this all matter to me? First, I am very proud that my daughter dealt with all of this without my intervention. The important point for me, is that whatever Credit Rating penalties that might come out of this blunder, is going to be mine, because I am the co-signer on this debt vehicle, so the National Bank will soon get to enjoy the special treatment I have given TD over the years, stay tuned, this looks like it is going to be an interesting follow up.

There is a Moral ?

The moral of this story? (even though it is not finished yet)?

  • Always follow-up with your bank when you set up a new account with the bank to make sure it is set up correctly. I have had Spousal RRSPs that were set up as regular RRSPs more than once, so follow up every time.
  • Careful what loans you co-sign for, they can end up hurting your credit rating
  • I still hate debt, and now I have another reason to hate debt.

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RESP : What does $350 Look like ?

Continuing on with my discussions about the relative cost of school and such, I have found another interesting example for all of those parents out there that are wondering, “Should I start saving for my child’s post-secondary education ?”. I have already scratch this topic a little with, So That is What $50,000 looks Like, but read on, it will be entertaining.

University Costs for RESP

Those Two Books Cost $350.00
(the computer is not included in that price)

First, a question: What does $350 look like at University (or to a parent of a child who is at College/University) ? Look at the picture on the right hand side of this, those two books. Those two books represent $350 or so in costs (the computer on top of the books is a lot more).

Big deal, says you? Yes, maybe that isn’t that expensive, except those two books are for only 1 course, and in some programs like Engineering or Computer Science there can be many courses with many very high-priced texts. A good number to remember is typically programs have at least 5 courses per term, with two terms a year and a four-year program, you have about 40 course sections that could have some expensive books to buy (or even more interesting expensive lab fees).

More numbers for thought would be that the Basic CESG (grant for your RESP) for a year is $500 (if you have max’ed out your deposits to your child’s RESP), so these two books pretty much almost ate that whole grant.

Do you still think an RESP is something that can wait for when your child gets older?

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