With growing economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial landscape is shifting every day.

Whether it's dealing with sudden unemployment, ballooning debt, or expenses related to working from home, BNN Bloomberg wants to help Canadians navigate these uncharted waters. retirement

That’s why we created Ask BNN Bloomberg, where you can have your personal finance questions answered by industry professionals.

Email or send your questions via video to askbnnbloomberg@bellmedia.ca, and we will aim to answer them weekly.

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity. Last names will not be used.

Deciding between CERB and CESB

Ashley from Montreal:

I am a 20-year-old student at Dawson College and I receive loans and bursaries while also working part-time. Because of the closure of shopping malls, I was forced to stop working.

On my 2019 tax return I made over $5,000. Now with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), I don’t know which one to apply for.

Will the money I receive from one of the emergency funds affect the loans and bursaries for the upcoming school year? This is so confusing and stressful! (May 6, 2020)

Carol Bezaire, VP of tax, estate and strategic philanthropy at Mackenzie Investments:

It's understandable you are confused. You are eligible for the CERB because you were working part-time and can’t work because the store closed. You also meet the criteria for CERB as you earned at least $5,000 in 2019. The CERB will give you $2,000 a month for four months, higher than the CESB.

The CESB is meant for students who were not working prior but cannot get work for the summer because of COVID-19. The CESB can give students $1,250 for four months. You are better off applying for CERB. (May 11, 2020)

CERB or CESB for a single mother in university?

Teressa in Surrey, B.C.:

I’m a single mom of school-aged children and am taking university courses online. I am receiving student loans, grants and bursaries and I also have a small amount of self-employment income.

My self-employment income in 2018 was over $5,000 but in 2019 it wasn’t. However my overall income was higher for both years because of grants, bursaries and scholarships I need to claim.

Originally the government indicated if you had school-age children that you had to take care of and do school with due to COVID-19 then you’d qualify for CERB. Doing this has drastically slowed down my schooling, possibly jeopardizing my student loan qualifications and eliminating my self-employment income.

I have applied for CERB and received payment, but I’m afraid that I will be asked to pay it back and now with the new announcement of the CESB, I wonder if I should give back the CERB money and apply for that instead. So confused! What is your advice? (April 22, 2020)

Melissa Leong, financial speaker and author of Happy Go Money:

Deciding between CERB or CESB to support a family

Melissa Leong, financial speaker and author of Happy Go Money, answers a viewer question on being a single mom and having to choose which aid package will give her more support for her family.

Government assisted programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) are intended to help people who need support but it can be confusing to figure out if you’re eligible.

The CERB is for people who have lost income due to COVID-19 including parents or caregivers who are taking care of kids because schools or childcare has been closed. But, you still need to have made $5,000 in employment income in 2019 or in the last 12 months to be eligible. Grants and bursaries don’t count as employment income for these purposes.

Now the government has said that there’s no penalty if you received the CERB in error but the Canada Revenue Agency may eventually contact you to repay it if you’re not entitled. I would wait until the government opens the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) application process before returning money that is much needed for you to support your family. They’ll probably address how the CERB and the CESB relate to each other. Maybe they’ll reduce your student benefit based on what you’ve received from the CERB.

The student benefit is $1,250 for eligible students but for those with dependants the benefit is $2,000, equal to the CERB. The student benefit is available from May to August.

I’m really sorry that you are having to endure all of this stress. As a parent, I know it’s tough. You do have some extra money coming this month through the Canada Child Benefit if you’re eligible and some provinces have extra help; for example, in Ontario families have a $200 to $250 Support for Families benefit that you have to apply for. Good luck. (May 11, 2020)

Financial aid for high school students

Jody in Chetwynd, B.C.:

I am writing on behalf of my son. He is 16 and has been working at a fast-food restaurant for two and a half years now. He has filed taxes in 2017, 2018 and now 2019.

His brother travelled over spring break and had to self-isolate upon his return, which meant that my son could not work his scheduled shifts for two weeks. He has not been scheduled for any more shifts, although they have stated he can return to work if he wants.

In the meantime, my son had applied at a local sawmill to do weekend clean up shifts and was hired. His first day of work was supposed to be March 23, but that was cancelled due to COVID-19. Subsequently, the saw mill shut down and has not re-opened yet.

There is a scheduled start-up date for the mill itself on May 11, but my son has not heard anything about starting.

He applied and received CERB for the first four-week period but he's afraid to apply for any more in case he doesn't qualify and has to pay it back. He's put half the benefit away in a high-interest savings account just in case. He's unsure about applying for the next period if he's not eligible.

From what I read, he is not eligible based on not returning to work at the fast-food chain as there are shifts available if he wants them. But he does qualify based on the fact that his new job didn't materialize because of COVID-19. His new job pays significantly more than the fast-food job.

He currently makes $14 an hour at his fast-food job and normally works 13 and a half hours per week. At his new job he was supposed to make $30.23 per hour with the option to work eight to 16 hours per week.

My question is should he be reapplying for the second period? Should he reapply as a student? Even though he's only a high school student? He has paid into employment insurance (EI) and has his own bills to pay. (May 1, 2020)

Dilys D'Cruz, VP and head of wealth management at Meridian Credit Union:

Financial aid for high school students

Dilys D'Cruz, VP and head of wealth management at Meridian Credit Union, talks about what financial benefit is best for high school students.

So you’d like to know whether your son should apply for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) program or reapply for the CERB. So let’s go through the criteria for the student benefit.

In order to be eligible he would have to be in post-secondary school, going to school in September or recently graduated, and given that he’s 16 years old I’m assuming he’s still in high school. So I do believe he should go ahead and reapply for the CERB because he did have a job offer from the sawmill and was unable to start work because the company subsequently closed due to COVID, and that meets the criteria for the CERB. And I’m assuming he made $5,000 last year because he’s already received the CERB benefit.

He should keep any documentation that substantiates that he did have a job offer, and if he does start working if things start opening up he will still be eligible if he makes less than $1,000. If he makes more than $1,000 he may need to pay it back, but do know that the government has stated they will not unjustly penalize anybody who applied for the CERB benefit in good faith.

I do want to commend your son. At 16 years old he has done all the right things: he’s self-isolated, he’s taken half the CERB and put it into a high-interest savings account, and he got a better paying job, so congratulations - you should be very proud and good luck. (May 11, 2020)

Fiscal support for education centres

Faisal in Toronto:

I run multiple locations of an after-school education centre around the Greater Toronto Area and before coronavirus hit, I had plans to give franchises to people who were interested, with no upfront cost to help them start and to help me grow my brand.

But, as we all know the first business to get hit from the virus was education. I still have some international students taking online classes, but a lot of the students didn’t sign up for new classes as their public schools are closed, so sales revenue went down drastically.

Since I still have a few students taking online classes I have to keep all my employees available for students, which is a much higher cost than my sales since February.

The Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) helped me with March expenses and part of April, but $40,000 is not enough for me to keep the lights on. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) co-lending loans were made available through the Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) but the banks clearly say they are not even considering to work with small businesses who are under one million dollars in revenue to apply for loans for up to $312,500.

Now in this situation when government is trying to help but banks turn their backs on small businesses considering their profits only, what should small businesses do to keep the businesses going?

Please try to give the advice as soon as possible because I am sitting with a maximum of April expenses and ready to shut down the operations. (May 9, 2020)

Mary Ng, minister of small business, export promotion and international trade:

Thank you for sharing your story. The past few months have been incredibly difficult for small business owners across the country like yourself – and nothing is more important to me than helping you through this unprecedented challenge. We know there is no one-size-fits-all solution to relief. That’s why we’ve introduced a wide range of unprecedented supports to help you through this:

  • Reducing commercial rent by 75 per cent
  • Helping you keep your employees by covering 75 per cent of their wages
  • Deferring GST, HST and custom duties payments so you can keep more money in your pocket
  • Supporting rural, northern, and tourism businesses with our near $1 billion Regional Relief and Recovery Fund
  • Providing dedicated supports for innovators, startups, Indigenous-owned businesses and more.

We continue to work with the banks to ensure our programs are delivered quickly and effectively to businesses in need. We’ll keep working hard to support Canadian business owners. (May 19, 2020)

To have your personal finance question answered an industry professional, send an email to askbnnbloomberg@bellmedia.ca.

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