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No money in the piggy bank (Ireneusz Skorupa/©ericsphotography)
No money in the piggy bank (Ireneusz Skorupa/©ericsphotography)

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Student debt: Time for a reality check Add to ...

As we drift into the hazy days of summer, here's a look at what young people are dreaming about (and I don't mean Katy Perry). Almost 60 per cent of post-secondary students expect to graduate with no debt or less than $10,000 in debt, according to a Bank of Montreal survey.

They might be in for a rude awakening -- Statistics Canada says the average loan that undergraduates end school with is about $19,000. The Canadian Federation of Students pegs debt among students studying in the Maritimes, where students have the highest average debt loads, at over $28,000.

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The BMO poll was also optimistic on debt-repayment, with 63 cent of the students they polled saying they expected to get rid of their debt off within five years. The reality, according to the Canada Student Loans Program, is typically closer to 10 years.

We recently wrote about how students tend to spend weeks looking for a prom dress or contemplating a prom date, but just a few hours considering how they're going to pay for university. We also recently found that the summer job market for Canadian students is highly competitive, with few jobs outside of hospitality, general labour and summer camps available.

The Internet abounds with horror stories of young people who take on far more debt than they can comfortably carry. There is a Facebook page on which one writer points out that she and her husband have $80,000 in debt and two kids. Her husband, who has a degree in psychology, is managing a convenience store, and she warns graduates not to expect to earn more than $1,000 a month.

Then there is Kelli Space, who studied sociology at Northeastern University and graduated with $200,000 (U.S.) in loans. She is now appealing to the public for donations.

Most students have little or no experience with debt, which means many 18- to 25-year-olds end up making life-altering decisions that saddle them with poor credit histories at the beginning of their careers, a recent study by the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia points out.

Is there a silver lining? Seventy per cent of post-secondary students who were looking for summer jobs have got one, according to the BMO poll. About 28 per cent have found work in sales, customer service and the retail sector, while just 12 per cent are working in the service sector (such as restaurants).

Almost half of them will rely on summer earnings to pay for post-secondary education, and 61 per cent will use them to cover day-to-day school-year expenses.

Su McVey, vice-president of customer communications and marketing with BMO, suggests students develop a realistic budget and monitor actual spending.

"Keep all the money you earn working during the summer - or from grants, bursaries, scholarships and family gifts - in a savings account and set up a weekly automatic transfer from your savings to your chequing account of just the money you need each week. Keeping the money separate reduces temptation to spend more than your budget allows," she says.

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