Getting your questions answered around financial topics can be hard. With that in mind, our team has put together a list of common questions and answers to help you. If you have any questions, or want more advice on your specific situation, you can always make an appointment with one of our Credit Counselors.

Budgeting

Housing

Savings

Taxes

Debt

 

Budgeting

Why do I need a budget?

Budgeting is important because it helps you plan how to spend your money, set goals and track your progress towards them. If you find yourself relying on debt to get through the month, a budget can help you balance what you earn and what you spend.

Budgets are especially helpful if:

  • You’re struggling to get through the month with the money you make
  • You want to pay off your debts
  • You have variable income (you make a different amount of money throughout the year)
  • You want to save money for a specific purchase, retirement, or an an emergency
  • You stay up at night stressing about money

Remember, a budget isn’t about denying yourself– it’s about making decisions that will help you feel more secure and happy long-term.

How do I make a budget?

You’ve decided you want to start on a budget– there are a couple easy ways to get started:

  • Figure out how much money you make. Use your take-home pay for a safer estimate
  • Start tracking your fixed expenses — things like rent, utilities, and tuition. Bank or credit card statements are a good place to start
  • Start tracking your variable expenses– things like groceries and entertainment costs
  • Think about your goals. Knowing what you’re saving for can be a great motivator.
  • Look at your income and expenses and see how they balance out. If you’re spending more than you make, this is when you look at what things you can cut to put more money into debt repayment and savings

That’s all there is to it. You should take time once a month to check in with yourself, see how you’re doing, and adjust your plan as needed. No one makes a perfect plan the first time around, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you need help getting started with your budget, or figuring out where you can cut back, you can always reach out to a Credit Counselor.

What should my budget include?

A budget can look different for everyone, but you should try to include as many categories of expenses as possible. Budgets are usually calculated based on monthly costs, and generally cover a year or more. There are plenty of great calculators online, but a few good ones include You Can Deal With It, Government of Canada Calculator and Practical Money Skills.

For income, you should consider tracking:

  • Your take-home pay (averaged over a month)
  • Any interest you make on your investments
  • Any other regular sources of money

For expenses, you should consider tracking:

  • Rent/ mortgage costs (don’t forget about property tax, insurance, and interest)
  • Utility costs (gas, telephone, cable, electricity, water, and internet)
  • Transportation costs (if you have a car, that means your lease, insurance, gas, maintenance and parking)
  • Credit cards costs (if you don’t pay off your whole bill each month, you’ll want to track what you do pay)
  • Education costs (tuition, books, and fees)
  • Entertainment costs (movies, concerts, books, games, and eating out)
  • Food costs (food, and cooking supplies)
  • Medical costs (procedures, medications, and health insurance premiums)
  • Miscellaneous costs (anything that doesn’t fit into any other category above, like a music subscription)

How do I use a budget to save money for the future?

By cutting back on expenses today, you can start to save for the future. Based on your situation, it might be better to start savings or paying off debt first. If you have a low-interest rate, an emergency fund can be a great investment. But if you’re racking up credit card debt, it’s best to may that off first.

Whatever your goal, there are many great calculators to help you see what’s the best way to save and pay off your debts. The Government of Canada, Debt.ca, or You Can Deal With It are all great places to start.

What are my options in becoming an entrepreneur?

If you’ve dreamed of being your own boss, there has never been a better time to consider it in a practical sense. London is full of resources that you can use, and even funding programs to get you started. The Small Business Centre offers free classes, and access to lawyers and accountants at a reduced few for people getting started. If you’re between 18 and 29, there are Government programs that are build around helping you succeed, including programs for minorities, youth and people interested in starting a Northern business. Pillar NonProfit also offers 1-1 Social Enterprise Coaching and funding thanks to Verge Capital.

 

Housing

How can I save money on housing?

One of the best ways to cut down on housing costs is to consider less expensive areas of the city, and buildings with fewer amenities. If you’re willing to move into a new area of the city with lower housing costs, make sure to visit to area before you sign anything, and make sure you still have access to everything you need nearby. A good sense of the city’s bus routes is even more important if only one or two routes go by your prospective housing. As far as getting fewer amenities, know what you’re willing to compromise on– washers in a nearby building make a big difference compared to having to go to a laundromat.

That said, housing costs in London are notoriously high, and sometimes to amount of cutting back seems to help enough. In cases like this, it might be a good idea to look into social housing or co-op options. Co-ops allow you to play less rent in exchange for helping with the maintenance of your building. Social housing is rent that is geared to your income, and is ideal for anyone struggling with rent payments.

You can qualify for social housing if:

  • You are 16 or older, and can live independently (if you need supportive living, check out these options instead)
  • You are a Canadian citizen, landed immigrant or refugee
  • No member of your household has a deportation order
  • No member of your household owes rent or damage arrears to any social housing unit

If you’re interested in social housing, you can start your application on the City of London website. If you are looking for Aboriginal housing options, there are several options in the city. If you need emergency accommodations, you can reach out for support as well.

How can I save money on utility costs?

If you’re a low-income individual, there are several programs in the City of London built to help out with rising utility costs. The Housing Stability Bank is a great resource– with programs to support with rental assistance, emergency utility support as well as applications to the Ontario Electricity Support Programs, you an access up to two month’s rent, $500/ utility and lower your monthly electricity bill by $50 or more.

If you don’t need support through the application, you can apply for the Ontario Electricity Support Program yourself.

How do I find a place to live in London, Ontario?

London has lots of options for housing– in the end, it all depends on what you’re looking for in living arrangements. If you have a reliable job, moving nearby might ease your commute. If you don’t have a car, you should make sure you have nearby amenities you need for your day to day life. A good first step is to consider your life as it is today, and what it might look like in the future. Make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves and use that as a place to start.

Once you’re ready to start checking out your options, you can use online aggregators, which pull together listings from across different sites. Some of our favourites are PadMapper, ViewIt and RentHello.

What do I do if my landlord did something illegal?

The Landlord and Tenant Board exists to resolve disagreements between landlords and tenants. There are guidelines on how much your rent can be raised in a year, how you can be evicted, why your application was rejected and to ensure there is heat, safety and privacy in your home. Neighborhood Legal Service of London and Middlesex specializes in support and mediation, and offer ‘duty counsel’, advice and information free of charge on your hearing dates.

You can learn more by reading the Residential Tenancies Act or this information sheet with Information for New Tenants.

What kind of property taxes should I expect?

Your property taxes are based on the City of London’s budget and are informed by an assessment of the value of your property. You can use a property tax estimate calculator to get a better sense of what to expect. You can learn more about what your taxes are used for on the City of London website.

 

Savings

How do I effectively use credit?

The short answer is– credit is the way many groups determine how reliable we are, and thus, if they’re willing to work with us. But building good credit is hard, and if you don’t have it, you can look at difficulties getting a loan, or even an apartment. The trick to making credit work for you is to always pay off your bills in full, while still taking advantage of it’s benefits. But in reality, like happens, and sometimes those unexpected expenses add up to trouble.

If you’re looking to get started with less risk, or to rebuild your credit secured credit cards are a great idea. With secured cards, you’re borrowing based on money you’ve paid up-front, but you still make regular payments. If you don’t pay, they use this collateral to pay off your debts. It’s basically a safety net for you and the company that serves as a safe place to start.

If you have a standard credit card, or are applying for one, make sure to look at the interest rates. Many cards charge 19.99% or higher on purchases,and payday loans can be even more dramatic at a staggering 391% annually. Make the best decisions you can, based on your circumstances.

What is the difference between a TFSA and a RRSP?

The first step to effectively investing in either program is to understand what makes them the same and what makes them different. Both Wealthsimple and MoneySense have  great breakdown on each plan that’s simple to understand. Generally (but not always) TFSAs are more flexible, which makes them ideal if you make a modest income.

That said, the programs are very similar. It all comes down to if you want to lower your effective income come tax season. If you’re near the threshold for benefits, an investment in an RRSP can make sure you receive them. That said, when you take the money out, you’ll pay more taxes on it. The difficulty comes with predicting how much money you’ll make in the future.

How can I improve my credit rating?

To improve your credit, you should:

  1. Always make your payments on time. Even if you can pay more the next day, it’s better to make both separate payments than be late on one
  2. Don’t use too much of your credit each month– 30% is the ideal amount to use. So if you have a $1,000 limit, try to keep your balance at less than $300
  3. Don’t open too many accounts and keep older ones open (as long as there are no fees of balance). The average age of your credit matters
  4. Check your credit score regularly. Borrowell lets you access your credit for free and will give you monthly updates

What’s the difference between a credit score and a credit rating?

They’re pretty similar in use, but the numbers used differ. Credit scores range between 300-900, which credit rating rate from 1-9. The scales also operate in opposite directions. The dream credit score is 900, while someone who always pays their bills on time would have a 1 credit rating. Generally, if one score is good, so is the other.

Credit ratings also can sometimes have letters in addition to numbers (I,O, or R). I indicated you are paying back your loan in installments, O that you have open credit, and R if you have revolving credit (this one’s the most common)

How can I save money on my banking?

The best ways to save money on your banking is to understand your contracts and to work within the system to get the most benefit for the lowest cost. Think about what your needs are for a bank, and then look for one that fits best. For example, many banks charge per transaction– by using cash and credit effectively, you can reduce your use of your bank to a minimum, saving you money every month. Some banks will even reduce your charges to $0 if you keep a minimum balance, but this can be very difficult to do.

In general, try to:

  • Complete fewer transactions
  • Only use bank machines run by your bank
  • Pay your bills online
  • Use cashback to avoid ATM fees
  • Look at lower cost accounts

 

Taxes

How can I get help filing my taxes?

If you are considered low-income and have a simple return, the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) is the best option for you to file your taxes. The are over 80 free clinics across London that will help you file your taxes and ensure you get all the benefits you’re entitled to. The Cross Cultural Learners Centre has a great list of the items you need to bring to your appointment.

The CRA maintains a list of open clinics across the city, but local libraries, churches, and community centres also host their own events throughout tax season. Most clinics run through tax season, from early March to the end of April. If you are owed taxes, being late isn’t as big of a deal, but you’ll be missing out of potentially significant benefits until you do file. If you missed tax season, there are two year-round tax clinics in London: Life*Spin and Compass Community Church.

How can I reduce my income tax and optimize my tax return?

Depending on your tax bracket, there are many different ways to optimize your return. Generally, if you’re in the lowest bracket (you make under $42,960 net income each year), you’ll get the greatest benefit from government programs. Once your income goes over that amount, your income tax will start increasing (only on the money over that $42,960 however). This is why many of the solutions to optimizing your tax return involve moving your taxed time to when you make less money (say, when you’re retired and have no other income).

Some great ways to save money on your income taxes are:

  • Save money in low-tax investments (RRSPs, TFSAs, etc)
  • File your taxes on time to avoid penalties and interest
  • Donate to charities strategically
  • Claim all the expenses you can, including car expenses, public transit amounts, etc.

How can I get credits for medical costs and assistive devices?

There are a couple government programs you’ll want to consider if you have medical or assistance device costs. The Assistive Devices Program is meant to help people with long-term physical disabilities who need customized equipment. You qualify for the program if you are an Ontario resident, have an OHIP card and have a disability requiring equipment or supplies for more than six months. This fund will help cover 75% of the cost of items. The Government of Canada provides a full list of medical and assistive devices that are included.

Once you turn 65 (or earlier, if you’re on Ontario Works, ODSP, or OHIP+), you are eligible for the Ontario Drug Benefit program to help with prescription expenses. If your expenses are especially high (3-4% or more of your after tax household income), you qualify for the Trillium Drug Program. You can find out that is covered on the Ontario.ca website. You have to apply for the program to be included, however.

If you are over 18 and have need of 24-hour nursing support and assistance with daily activities, you can apply to live in a long-term care home. Mostly stay in these facilities is at least $1,848 each month, though there are substitutes available that cover up to $1,819. You need to apply for both the long-term facilities, and for substitutes separately.

Do I need a will? How do I address estate planning?

Wills are essential to ensure that your wishes are carried out after your death. When we talk about estate planning, your estate is any assets (property, life insurance) and liabilities (debts) left after someone passes. If you don’t have a will, provincial legislation decides what happens. As a rule, you should revisit your will any time you are getting married, separated, divorced, remarried or having children/ grandchildren.

There are few steps to getting your will in order:

  1. Make a list of all your assets and liabilities
  2. Think about your friends and family’s needs and their lifestyles if you passed
  3. Consider what programs will work best to protect them (RESPs, RRSPs, RDSPs, etc)
  4. Think about who you want to appoint to make health and personal care decisions, powers of attorney, executors and trustees for your estate
  5. Decide if you want to portion any of the funds out before you pass
  6. Change individual accounts to joint accounts to ease the transition process
  7. Get a professional team to help you record your wishes and protect your plan

 

Debt

What do I do if I can’t find work?

There are a few good places to start looking for employment support in London. College Boreal, Goodwill Industries, Leads Employment Services, London Employment Help Centre, Nokee Kwe and WIL Employment Connections are all great options. If you’re a youth, you can reach out to Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), to receive assessments, action planning support and pre-employment prep.

If you’re finding employment hard to find, it’s never a bad idea to look into Ontario Works. The program exists for short-term support with food, shelter, housing and more, as well as helping with employment. Although it’s harder to be approved for, if you have a disability, the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is a longer term solution and offers a larger monthly cheque.

Where can I get help managing my debt?

It depends on where your debt originated. If you have consumer debt, general steps to reducing your debt loan are:

  • Identify your debts — total amount of debt, interest annually, late fees, etc
  • Review or create a budget so that you are spending less than you make each month
  • Decide how you want to approach the debt. Choose a timeframe, decide what to pay off first and work with your creditors for reduced interest or reduced payments
  • Consolidate your debts from higher interest sources into a line of credit or a loan
  • Avoid taking on more debt
  • Reach out for help when you need it.

If you need help getting paying back your debts, you can always reach out to a Credit Counselor for support.

How do I prioritize which debt to pay first?

That really depends on who you are and your goals around debt repayment. There are two options. Purely based on cost, the best method is to pay off your highest debt loans first. This has the benefit of costing you the least money overall, but it can also take a lot longer, as these loans are often larger. The second school of through it so pay off the smallest debt first. This lets you reduce the amount of payments you make and can give you a boost of motivation as you see yourself succeeding.

Think about your motivation and goals and choose the option that works best for you. Don’t forget to plan for emergencies and to consider your credit score and how much you need to improve it.

How do I know when I need to look into bankruptcy?

There are lots of misrepresentations around bankruptcy in Canada. In truth, it’s a valuable tool that can help many people get their lives back on track and improve their quality of life. There are costs and sacrifices related to filing for bankruptcy, but the important thing is to weigh this against your current situation. If your debts are under $250,000, the investigation could be worth your time. You can learn more about bankruptcy at the Government of Canada website. Hoyes has a great debt options calculator, which provides options that you might not have considered to approach your debt.

How much are my loans costing me?

To work out the cost of your debts, you need a few numbers:

  • How much your loan is
  • Your interest rate per year
  • Your loan term

There are lots of great calculators, like this one from Bankrate.com that will do all the math for you. If you’re looking at a debt that doesn’t have a set term, you can compare based on different timeframes.

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