Tuition fees: The true cost of education (Part 2)

Having looked at how to save for higher education in Part 1 of this post, now learn how the tax system can further help cover the costs.

In the first part of this post, I drew attention to the heavy debt burden often borne by students and parents to pay for higher education. It’s clear that both students and parents can, and should, use all the help they can get to ease that burden. The Canadian tax system offers several deductions and credits to do just that.

Helping others to take advantage of every possible benefit the tax system has to offer is a knowledge-sharing favourite of mine, so I’m pleased to have this opportunity.

The first recommendation I would make is that every post-secondary student should file a tax return. Any earned income a student has can create RRSP contribution room for the future, and may entitle him or her to the GST/HST credit. It is also a life skill best acquired early; becoming a responsible, proactive taxpayer can pay lifelong dividends.

One tax credit designed with students in mind is the tuition credit. There used to also be an education credit and a textbook credit, but both of these were eliminated effective January 1, 2017, in the most recent federal budget. The tuition credit can be used to reduce a student’s tax payable. If the student doesn’t need the credit to reduce his or her tax payable to nil, the credit can be either carried forward to be used in the future or transferred to the student’s parent or grandparent. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) website provides a good pamphlet on various tax matters of interest to students.

Students who use public transit to get to class should ensure they avail themselves of the public transit tax credit.

Students lucky enough to be in receipt of scholarships, bursaries and the like may be able to claim moving expenses when returning to school or back home for summer employment. They should also be aware of the taxation on these grants. Generally, an exemption can be claimed such that these amounts are received tax-free. One of the CRA’s new folios provides detailed information on the taxation of educational assistance.

A student’s university or college years will hopefully provide the skills necessary for a successful and rewarding career. It is also an opportunity to acquire critical life and financial skills such as budgeting, spending control, and dealing with credit and debt, where necessary. There are many online resources available for students and parents to work on these skills together — here is just one.

This is a time that brings many changes for both students and parents, and parents would do well to reflect on how their lives will change as their children prepare to join the working world, and how their relationships with their nearly grown children will change.

Equipped with the right knowledge and skills, the university years can be an exciting journey for both students and parents. My 14-year-old son is only a few years away from embarking on his journey, and I look forward to travelling that road with him. I wish you a great journey, too.

Keep the conversation going

Is your son or daughter ready for their financial journey through college or university? Are you?  Post a comment below.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.

About the Author

Ann Hebert, CPA, CA

Ann is a practicing professional accountant in Toronto. She has worked with Invesco Canada Ltd. in a number of positions since June 1994, and has been assistant vice-president of Corporate Taxation since 2002. Ann is passionate about financial literacy and contributing to Canadians’ financial knowledge.