Nova Scotia

Raise triggers 70% jump in student loan repayments for Nova Scotian

A Nova Scotian says the income threshold that triggers higher payments on student loans is set too low and that the provincial and federal governments should raise that rate to match the cost of living today.

Riley Harris says $25K threshold for repayment assistance program needs to increase

A young person wearing glasses speaks to a reporter.
Riley Harris graduated from NSCC six years ago. (CBC)

A Nova Scotian says the income threshold that triggers higher payments on student loans is set too low and that the provincial and federal governments should raise it to match the cost of living today.

Riley Harris graduated from NSCC six years ago and has been steadily repaying her loans since then under the repayment assistance program. The federal and provincial versions of the program mean people under a certain income don't have to make payments. It also means people can choose a payment level that works for them, which is what Harris did.

Inflation and rising living costs put more pressure on her finances recently, but she got some good news when she got a raise at work which pushed her salary above $25,000 a year. But the higher salary meant her payments became mandatory and increased by almost 70 per cent compared to what she had been paying, eating up half the raise.

"So a raise that I fought really hard for in order to keep up with cost of living is now being taken directly out of my pocket by student loans," Harris said.

People collecting her federal and provincial student loans told her since her income had passed the $25,000 threshold, she had to repay more of her loans now.

Young people chat on a leafy university campus.
Students chat on the Dalhousie University campus. Many students will graduate with hefty debts. (CBC)

"If I don't make the payments, they've told me that it will simply go to collections, go to my credit, and to me it feels like I'm being punished for going to school," she said.

Lydia Houck is the executive director of Students Nova Scotia, an advocacy group for post-secondary students and graduates.

Federal limit will rise in the fall

She said the repayment assistance program Harris is under is capped at $25,000 provincially and federally. Other options are loan forgiveness, a zero-interest benefit for graduates who stay in Nova Scotia, and a payment-deferral program for up to 12 months.

And some change is coming. 

"The federal government, as of Nov. 1, 2022, is planning to increase their repayment assistance threshold from $25,000 to $40,000 in acknowledgement of the fact that costs are rising for students across the board," Houck said.

CBC News contacted the federal government for comment, but has not yet received a response. 

People with student loans can apply for the repayment assistance program at any point, so graduates like Harris should see the federal portion of their loan return to the no-payment option after Nov. 1.

Houck said the provincial government should consider increasing its threshold as well.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia government told CBC News the province currently has no plans to do that, but said people struggling to repay student loans should call the student assistance office at 1-800-565-8420 to see what options they do have.

Houck said the idea that graduates go straight into the workforce and earn a stable income is "far from reality." She encouraged people with student loans to keep pushing and asking for repayment options if they are struggling.

Borrowing amounts haven't changed in 5 years

Houck also noted that the maximum amount you can borrow hasn't changed since 2017, meaning many potential students are priced out of an education from the start.

Harris said the province should reconsider its income cap for the repayment assistance program.

"It's just something I'd like to see addressed by the government. $25,000 is not a living income whatsoever," Harris said.



Jon Tattrie


Jon Tattrie is a journalist and author in Nova Scotia.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now