More students are graduating these days carrying not only the burden of government loans but also huge amounts of credit-card debt, says a professional debt adviser.
Over the past five to 10 years, more students than ever are piling on consumer debt, just like their parents, said Freida Richer, a licensed bankruptcy trustee with the company Grant Thornton.
"And that seems to be what escalates or causes the financial distress more so than the student loans," Richer told CBC News on Monday.
The Canadian Federation of Students estimates graduates across Canada carry an average of $27,000 in student loans.
But Richer said students get into deeper financial trouble when they use credit cards.
These days, she said, financial institutions offer "a buffet of credit cards," with options tailored to everyone from students to seniors. She once had a woman in her office who was collecting monthly AISH payments (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped) but had three credit cards from the same bank in her purse.
One of the biggest lures for students can be winter vacations, tropical trips advertised on posters tacked up on campus bulletin boards. Students can easily plunk down a piece of plastic for a $2,500 fun-filled week in Mexico.
But for those who only pay the minimum monthly amount, that credit-card debt can quickly mount up. And annual interest rates on those cards can average 18 to 20 per cent, and even higher for department store cards.
"I don't know if people take notice of their credit card statements," Richer said. "On the flip side, you'll see, if you've been paying your minimum payments, it will usually give a notation of how many years it will take before you pay this debt off entirely. It could be 20, 30, 40 years."
Another problem, she said, is that some banks push student lines of credit as alternatives to student loans.
Richer said students get into financial trouble when their post-graduate expectations aren't realistic. Many seem to think those spanking new degrees will land them ideal jobs with nice, big paycheques.
But the reality is that many are forced to start with entry-level jobs, where their smaller pay packets can't meet all those loan and credit card obligations.
Declaring bankruptcy is a last result, and isn't really an option for most recent graduates. People who've attended school within the past seven years aren't qualified to file for bankruptcy, she said.