Going back to school: Yes, you can!


Marie-Christine Daignault | Desjardins Group

Updated on January 10 2019

Going back to school isn't so simple when you've got financial responsibilities to take care of. But it's an investment that can pay off handsomely down the road--so long as you plan carefully, of course!

There are several options open to you to finance a return to school.

1. Using your savings
The flexibility of a TSFA (tax-free savings account) makes it the No. 1 savings tool for planning a major project like this, since it allows you to invest up to $6,000 a year to grow tax-free.

Don't have a TSFA? No problem--you can always study with a little help from your retirement savings! Less well known than the HBP (Home Buyer's Plan), the LLP (Lifelong Learning Plan) is another option designed to facilitate a return to school.

With an LLP, you can withdraw up to $20,000 from your RRSP tax free in order to finance full-time training or studies. Your spouse can withdraw the same amount, making for a cumulative maximum of up to $40,000 that you can put toward your studies. Careful, though! You'll need to plan so you can reinvest the amount withdrawn within a maximum of ten years. Look at it this way--it's a bit like granting yourself a ten-year interest-free loan.

2. Balancing work and study
Slowly but surely is often better than nothing at all. Studying part time offers a clear advantage by reducing financial stress. On the other hand, it requires careful and determined time management.

Some employers are prepared to help employees pursue this kind of personal initiative by temporarily reducing their weekly hours or by authorizing a more flexible schedule or deferred salary leave. If none of these possibilities are available to you, why not consider distance learning?

3. Applying for financial aid
The government student loan and bursary program offers numerous benefits, but is rarely adapted to the needs of a mature student returning to school. For example, loan and bursary calculations take into account the spouse's income and are always based on the previous year.

That said, there are numerous private scholarships and other forms of financial aid available from businesses, foundations and educational institutions. One example is the Desjardins Foundation, which is well known for distributing more university scholarships than any other non-profit organization in Quebec.

4. Borrowing
In most cases, studying is a good investment, both financially and personally. But going into debt to go back to school calls for careful consideration. Why not sit down with your financial advisor to assess the best solutions for your needs? 

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