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The 12 best sources of free money for students in Canada

A boy with a backpack walks through a building, confidently navigating the interior with purpose and determination.

    Going to school in Canada can be an expensive endeavour. Tuition fees, textbooks, and living expenses can quickly add up, leaving many students strapped for cash. However, there are several sources of free money available to help alleviate some of the financial burden. In this article, we’ll explore the top 12 sources of free money for students in Canada.

    1. Get Your GST/HST Credit

    One of the easiest ways to get free money as a student in Canada is by claiming your Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) credit. This credit is available to low-income individuals and families, including students. The amount you receive depends on your income level and the number of dependents you have. To claim this credit, ensure you file your taxes every year and provide the necessary information when prompted. The money will be deposited directly into your bank account or sent as a cheque.

    Claiming your GST/HST credit can provide you with a financial boost to help cover your expenses as a student. The GST/HST credit is designed to provide assistance to those who need it most, ensuring their basic needs, including their education. 

    Based on tax returns for 2022, a single person can earn up to $496 cash back from June 2023-July 2024, while people who are married or common-law can earn up to $650. Families with dependents can earn up to $171 for every child under 19  years of age. If you are a Canadian resident, all you have to do to receive the GST/HST tax credit is to complete your taxes. New residents of Canada must apply for the credit. If you have dependents, they may already be registered under the Canada Child Benefit, but if they are not, you will have to register them in the benefit program. 

    2. Apply for a Federal Student Grant

    Another excellent source of free money for students in Canada is federal student grants. The Government of Canada offers a variety of grants to help students cover educational costs. Grants are typically based on financial need and do not need to be repaid (as do federal student loans, which are also available).

    When it comes to funding your education, federal student grants can make a significant difference. These grants are designed to provide financial support for students who may not have the means to pay for their education on their own. By applying for a federal student grant, you can alleviate some of your financial burden to focus more on your studies.

    The amount available for eligible students depends on your family size. For example, a student living on their own qualifies for the maximum grant amount if they reported earnings of  $35,429 or less on their 2022 tax return and a partial grant if they earned between $35,429 and $66,942. Families earning over $66,942 do not qualify for federal grants. Students enrolled full-time in eligible schools can earn up to $4,200 per year (or $525 per month). Part-time students can earn up to $2,520 per year based on the same earning thresholds. Note that Canadian federal student grants are not available in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, or Quebec, as they have their own student aid programs.   

    You automatically apply for a Canadian federal student grant when you apply for provincial student loans and grants. The process for applying for a federal student grant is relatively straightforward. The process begins with a visit to the Government of Canada’s website and clicking on the “Apply with your province or territory” button to find the forms and specifics for your province of residence. There, you will find the dates for the application window and specific instructions, as well as digital copies of the application. Before you begin, have your Social Insurance Number (SIN) and most recent tax return at the ready. You will be asked to provide information about your school and program, your parents’ SINs (or your spouse’s), and their tax information. Take the time to carefully read through the eligibility requirements and ensure that you meet the criteria before proceeding with your application.

    When filling out the application forms, it is crucial to provide accurate and detailed information about your financial situation. This information will be used to determine your eligibility and the amount of grant you may receive. Be transparent and honest about your financial needs, as this will help maximize your chances of receiving a grant that can significantly contribute to your educational expenses.

    3. Apply for Provincial Student Grant

    In addition to federal grants, students can apply for provincial grants. These grants are designed to assist students with education expenses and are typically based on financial need. Each province has its own eligibility criteria and application process, so it’s important to research and familiarize yourself with the options available in your province. To apply, visit the Government of Canada website

    The table below will give you an idea of how much is available for provincial student grants in each province.

    ProvinceFull-time earnings/semesterPart-time
    Alberta$8,500 $600
    British Columbia$2,100$500
    Manitoba$3,200 (based on a maximum rate of $200 per week)$10,000 (maximum lifetime assistance)
    New Brunswick$3,200 (based on a  maximum rate of up to $200  per week)$1,344
    Newfoundland and Labrador$1,600 (based on a maximum rate of up to $100 per week)$500
    Northwest Territories$2,655 (plus $700 for books)Note that for Indigenous students, the rate is $3,320 for tuition and $875 for books$1,000 per course
    Nova Scotia$6,200 (on average, a combination of grants and loans, with grants being up to 40% of the loan) $10,000 (maximum lifetime assistance)
    Nunavut$3,428$2,471.50
    Ontario$4,500$1,260
    Prince Edward Island$2,100$1,260
    Quebec$2,500N/A
    Saskatchewan$3,000$1,800
    Yukon$2,672 (based on a maximum rate of $167 per week)$10,000 (maximum lifetime assistance)

    4. Claim Your Uncashed CRA Cheque

    Believe it or not, there is the possibility you may have unclaimed money waiting for you at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). This could be in the form of uncashed cheques or unclaimed tax refunds. To check if you have any uncashed CRA cheques, visit the CRA’s website and follow the instructions to search for unclaimed money. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover some unexpected funds that can help ease your financial burden.

    5. Open an RESP Account for Yourself (if you don’t already have one)

    A Registered Education Saving Plan (RESP) is typically opened by an adult (like a parent or grandparent) for a child, but teenagers as well as adults can also open RESPs for themselves. You can contribute any amount of funds to your RESP each year up to a maximum of $50,0000, and the government will contribute up to 20% of your deposits up to a maximum of $500 a year (up to $7200 per child) until your eighteenth birthday. 

    In order to benefit from this free money, however, you must be 17 years old or younger. If you are 16 or 17 and want to contribute to your RESP in order to get the government subsidy, you must already have a RESP account in which 2,000$ was deposited before you turned 15, or an RESP account in which a minimum of $100 per year was deposited during four different fiscal years before you turned 15. 

    As a result, if you are 15 or younger and don’t have a RESP account, opening one could result in you getting thousands dollars in free money. If you are 16 or 17 and you already have a RESP, but your parents deposited less than $36,000 in it, you should be able to contribute to your own RESP and get a 20% bonus on your deposits. 

    If you are 18 or over, the only benefit to opening an RESP is to defer tax payments until you start making withdrawals. In this case, a tax-free savings account (TFSA) might be a better option for you. Many online brokers and robo-advisors, including Qtrade, offer registered accounts such as TFSAs and RRSPs in Canada. 

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    6. Open a New Student Bank Account

    Some of the best banks in Canada offer account holders a number of benefits and incentives; this is also true of student bank accounts. These accounts often have lower or no monthly fees, extra features like unlimited transactions or free Interac e-Transfers, and even cash bonuses for signing up. By opening a student bank account, you can save money on banking fees and access exclusive perks that can stretch your budget further.

    7. Open a New Student Credit Card

    Obtaining a student credit card represents a first experience with financing for many young Canadians. While credit cards may not sound like a source of free money, they can actually provide you with some benefits if used responsibly. Many credit card companies offer rewards programs, cashback incentives, or sign-up bonuses specifically designed for students. By using a student credit card for your everyday purchases and paying off the balance in full each month, you can earn rewards or cashback, effectively putting extra money back in your pocket while building your credit score.

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    8. Get Scholarships

    Scholarships can significantly lessen the financial burden of higher education for students. They are essentially free money, granted either on the basis of academic merit, sports performance, special abilities, or community involvement, among other criteria. 

    It is essential to start applying for scholarships by researching opportunities that match your qualifications and interests. Check out the database on the Government of Canada’s website and resources such as the Scholarships Canada and Yconic websites, which list thousands of scholarship opportunities. Universities and colleges often have their own scholarships, so check their financial aid offices’ websites or visit in person for information. Don’t forget to look out for deadlines and start your application process well in advance. Make sure to tailor each application to the specific scholarship, showcasing how you meet the criteria and why you stand out from the other applicants. Remember that every bit helps, and multiple small scholarships can add up to a significant amount.

    9. Get Free Stuff on Your Birthday

    Another fun way to save money as a student in Canada is by taking advantage of birthday freebies and rewards offered by various businesses. Many restaurants, cafes, and retail stores have birthday programs that offer free stuff, like meals, drinks, or discounts on your special day. Keep an eye out for these promotions and sign up for loyalty programs or email lists to ensure you don’t miss out on any birthday surprises.

    10. Answer Paid Surveys Between Classes

    If you have some spare time between classes, why not consider answering paid surveys online? Many companies are willing to pay for your opinions on various topics. You can sign up for legitimate online survey websites and earn some extra cash by providing valuable feedback. While it may not be a significant amount, every little bit helps when you’re a student on a tight budget.

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    11. Sell Your Old Textbooks

    Instead of letting your old textbooks collect dust on a shelf, consider selling them for some quick cash. There are numerous online platforms that buy used textbooks from students such as Book Power and Second Bind. Take advantage of these opportunities by listing your books for sale at the end of each semester when demand is highest. Not only will you make some money, but you’ll also declutter your living space and potentially help another student save some money.

    12. Join a Cashback Program

    As a student, there are necessary expenses that are part and parcel of your daily life. From textbooks to groceries, you’re going to be spending money, and this is where cashback programs come into play as methods for getting some free money back into your pocket.

    The premise is simple: don’t buy to get cash back, but get cash back on stuff you would have bought anyway. This way, you’re not spending extra but rather making the most out of your necessary expenditures.

    One such program popular among students is the Student Price Card (SPC). It provides exclusive discounts and cash back at a variety of retailers for an annual fee of $11.99.

    There are a multitude of cashback apps and programs out there as well. Consider exploring platforms like Rakuten and Swagbucks. They partner with many online retailers, helping you to earn a portion of your spending back on purchases you would make anyway.

    Free money for students in Canada: The Bottom Line

    There are several excellent sources of free money for students in Canada. By taking advantage of these opportunities, such as getting your GST/HST credit, applying for student grants, and utilizing various student accounts and credit cards, you can access valuable funds to help support your education and ease your financial burden. Remember to research and explore all available options, as each province may offer additional grants or benefits. Lastly, don’t forget to have some fun and enjoy the perks of being a student, like birthday freebies and answering paid surveys during your free time.

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    Arthur Dubois is a personal finance writer at Hardbacon. Since relocating to Canada, he has successfully built his credit score from scratch and begun investing in the stock market. In addition to his work at Hardbacon, Arthur has contributed to Metro newspaper and several other publications