Finding financial empowerment through RESPs

Talking about money shouldn’t be as hard as it is. Instead of having open, candid discussions about finances, we often keep our fiscal concerns to ourselves and, in turn, let our questions go unanswered.

As a Client Coordinator for Family Services of Greater Vancouver’s (FSGV) Financial Empowerment Program, Rocio Vasquez takes the opposite approach: she spends a lot of time talking about finances.

Through both one-on-one support and group workshops, Vasquez helps individuals from diverse backgrounds tackle the financial difficulties they face. Her clients include low-income families and individuals struggling with debt. The program takes a client-first approach, with the focus placed on personalized goals and the underlying factors that may cause financial instability.

“People have an emotional journey with money,” Vasquez says. “It can be overwhelming to deal with financial issues and stressors, especially in a city as expensive as Vancouver.”

A common subject among Vasquez’s clients in workshops and coaching sessions is Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs).

RESPs can be a powerful tool to help alleviate the stress of saving for post-secondary education, which can be especially useful for low-income families. However, despite the many options available, not all RESP providers offer the same benefits.

Tips for choosing the best RESP provider for your family

An RESP is a special savings account that helps families save for a child’s post-secondary education. On top of your contributions to the account, the Canadian government offers several incentives, including the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG), which can match up contributions up to $500 per year.

When considering an RESP, there are two primary options: banks/credit unions and private providers. Although private providers can be the right option for some, Vasquez recommends banks as a safer option for low-income families.

In some cases, private providers charge higher fees than banks and make clients sign contracts that are costly and difficult to get out of. Worse yet, private providers will sometimes use deceptive marketing tactics that specifically target low-income families.

According to Vasquez, anyone interested in opening an RESP should be wary of free financial events that are sponsored or facilitated by private group plan RESP providers. While these events may seem like an opportunity to gain free financial advice, in many cases, they are nothing more than high-pressure sales pitches.

Private providers might also use trusted community members as representatives and spokespeople. Even if a sales pitch is coming from somebody you trust or respect, it is still crucial that you do your own research on the provider before making any commitments.

“At the end of the day, it’s important to choose the option that will meet your needs,” Vasquez says. “If you do end up going with a private provider, it’s crucial to shop around and do your research, not rush the decision of choosing a provider, and to get to know your contract inside out.”

Still, Vasquez suggests banks/credit unions for RESPs and other savings accounts because they often offer more flexibility and lower fees. Although families often already have an existing relationship with their bank, it’s also a smart idea to shop around to find the best interest rate, which will put your family in a better financial position as interest accrues over time.

A final tip for families interested in RESPs is to consider non-biased, judgment-free financial services, such as those offered by Vasquez and FSGV. Whether in private or group settings, these services can help you sharpen crucial money skills such as budgeting and debt management, as well as learn about the financial resources available to you.

Money does not need to be a silent stressor in your family. By seeking help and asking questions, families from every financial background can improve their money skills and save for a better future.

For one-on-one RESP coaching and workshops, contact Rocio Vasquez, FSVG Financial Empowerment Client Coordinator, at 604-638-3390 x 3166 or rvasquez@fsgv.ca


Application Deadline for BC Training and Education Savings Grant—August 14, 2018

Are you a BC parent/guardian of children eligible for the BC Training and Education Savings Grant (BCTESG)? The deadline to sign up for children born in 2007–2009 is August 14, 2018 or the day before the child’s ninth birthday, whichever is later. This is the last time that this cohort of children will be eligible to receive the BCTESG.

Families in BC are encouraged to start planning and saving early for their children’s post-secondary education or training programs. To help, the BC Government will contribute $1,200 to eligible children born in 2006 or later through the BCTESG. This grant may be used towards full-time and part-time studies in a wide range of programs, including vocational schools, apprenticeships, trades training, college or university.

For more information on BCTESG, visit www.gov.bc.ca/BCTESG