D’Arcy McDonald, Senior Vice President of Deposits, Investments & Payments at Scotiabank, is pictured in a handout photo. McDonald advises people who’ve been asked to repay CERB to take their time and explore their options moving forward. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Scotiabank, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

D’Arcy McDonald, Senior Vice President of Deposits, Investments & Payments at Scotiabank, is pictured in a handout photo. McDonald advises people who’ve been asked to repay CERB to take their time and explore their options moving forward. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Scotiabank, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Think you may need to repay CERB? Best to start planning now, experts say

Experts hope there will be leniency on a case-by-case basis

When 20-year-old Alex Coucopoulos got a letter from the government in December telling him he’d have to pay back $12,000 of pandemic aid, the stress was immediate.

“It was a really bad situation,” said Coucopoulos, who lives at home and immediately took $5,000 out of his savings to re-pay the Canada Emergency Response Benefit

“It was very stressful. Pretty much my entire income from my (new job) would have gone to paying the rest back.”

The Ottawa resident said he applied last year after discussing his eligibility with a Canada Revenue Agency representative on the phone, who told him that he was eligible for CERB because his gross income in 2020 was over $5,000.

But he was one of many Canadians who were caught out when the government agency said applicants were actually required to have a net income over $5,000.

Coucopoulos was relieved when the Canadian government changed course last week and said people who applied thinking they were eligible because of their gross income would no longer have to repay CERB.

He said he can now continue with saving his income to pay the rest of his university costs, rather than setting aside all of his income to repay the benefit.

The Ottawa student’s situation is exactly why D’Arcy McDonald, Senior Vice President of Deposits, Investments & Payments at Scotiabank, advises people who’ve been asked to repay CERB to take their time and explore their options moving forward.

“Watch the government communications closely, because I think those sands are still shifting,” said McDonald, saying that the government still could change course on who is required to repay CERB.

“But if you did receive that uncomfortable letter, you probably need to think about immediately filing your taxes… to figure out what your obligations are to the government.”

McDonald said filing taxes now will help clear up whether you owe the government money, if you accidentally received both employment insurance and CERB, and if you can make a retirement savings plan contribution before the tax deadline to lower your amount owing for regular income taxes.

If you still end up owing the Canada Revenue Agency money for emergency benefits you weren’t eligible for, McDonald said people who earned less that $75,000 will be given an extra year of interest-free forgiveness until 2022

“If people are in that boat, that’s obviously a signal to create a payment plan, or to dig into whatever emergency savings you might have available to you, presuming you’re back on your feet and have those resources available,” said McDonald.

“It’s flexibility, and that’s what people hope to see from the government.”

For people who are still without work and aren’t in a financial position to repay benefits, McDonald said he hopes the government will provide some leniency to the debts on a case-by-case basis.

He pointed out that repaying CERB will be different from paying back private debt for things like mortgages or credit cards, and added that even some financial institutions provided deferrals on payments for those debts at the start of the pandemic.

“A private debtor would ratchet up pressure to get you to repay. I don’t think the government is in the same boat,” said McDonald.

“I don’t think they’d want to put those people at further risk by making you repay too quickly when you and your family are not out of the woods.”

READ MORE: Some Canadians facing CERB clawbacks may not have to pay it back: Trudeau

READ MORE: A rural-urban divide: Data gives most detailed look yet at where CERB went

Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Pacific Coastal Airlines photo)
Potential COVID-19 exposure on March 1 Penticton flight

Interior Health lists a public exposure for the Pacific Air Flight from Vancouver on March 1

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

C.E. “Ned” Bentley owned a garage on Shaughnessy Avenue, now Lakeshore Drive in Summerland. Bentley later went on to serve on Summerland’s council and was recognized with the Good Citizen Award in 1939. (Summerland Museum photo)
Former Summerland reeve once ran garage

C.E. “Ned” Bentley was a prominent figure in Summerland’s past.

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is offering home compost bins at reduced prices until March 25. (Contributed)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen offers compost bins at wholesale costs

Pricing offer at participating stores in place until March 25

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Multiple people were injured at a Vernon home following an early-morning break-in Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
Multiple people left injured following break-and-enter in Vernon

Police believe the early-morning break-in was targeted and not a threat to the general public

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kelowna General Hospital

One patient and one staff member on Unit have tested positive for the virus.

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

A Coldstream resident who found an owl struggling on her property in March 2021 is now spreading awareness of about the knock-on effects of rodent poisoning. (Kathy Renaud photo)
Okanagan owl ‘fighting for her life’ after ingesting rat poison

Coldstream resident warns against the use of rodenticide due to risk of secondary poisoning in raptors

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Fire ripped through a mobile home on Boucherie Road in West Kelowna on March. 6. (Phil McLachlan - West Kelowna News)
‘My whole life just went up in smoke’; Fire consumes Okanagan mobile home

RCMP confirmed that there were no injuries due to the fire

Most Read