Clark unveils new B.C. student loan repayment assistance plan

By Laura Rodgers

Payments can now be partially relieved for people with incomes above the thresholds of the existing student loan interest relief program

VANCOUVER (CUP) — The B.C. government has unveiled a new “repayment assistance program” to help university graduates repay their student loans.
Student loan payments can now be partially relieved for people whose incomes are above the thresholds of the existing student loan interest relief program. B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced the new assistance plan Monday as part of her “families first” agenda.
“Eligibility is determined based on income, student loan debt and family size,” said Ministry of Advanced Education spokesperson Baljinder Jacques in an email.

According to Jacques, the repayment assistance program ensures that those paying back student loans will not need to give more than 20 per cent of their monthly income toward provincial student loan repayment.

The program is an adjustment to a previously existing provincial student loan relief plan. Under the new plan, those unable to repay their loans can apply for what is called Stage 1 relief, in which the province will pay a portion of the borrower’s interest.

After five years on interest relief — or if someone has been repaying their loans for 10 years in total — they can apply for Stage 2, at which point the government can pay down some of the principal on the loan. If the full loan is not paid off after 15 years, the government will relieve what remains.

But B.C. NDP post-secondary education critic Michelle Mungall doesn’t think the new repayment options go far enough.

“It’s just the reannouncement of an existing program that’s had a few changes to align with the federal government program,” said Mungall. “It’s not substantive. It’s not addressing the major issues around student debt and affordability for post-secondary education.”

Mungall said her party would prefer to see more money go toward grants that students can apply for while they’re still in school, rather than student loan relief after they’re finished.

“B.C. still has the highest interest rate for student loans in the country,” she said. “This program doesn’t address any of that.”

After graduating from UBC this May, Justin Dirk hopes that the new program will keep him from being overburdened with debt. “I guess it would help me. I plan on traveling and gaining some life experience before I decide what I want to do with my life. I may go to grad school and rack up more debt, in which the relaxed [payment] load would help.”

Dirk continued, “Going into your adult life with more debt is never a good thing. I would prefer lower tuition so that coming out of university, especially in Vancouver, with high living costs, I would be able to have the means to live here and not worry about more debt and debt payments.”