Paying it back: Expats set to pay their HECS after years of leniency

It’s very strange to thing that under current laws, Australians living and working overseas do not need to repay their tertiary education debt. They can accumulate huge amounts of money and then leave the country, using their new education and potentially not having to a cent.

This could all be set to change if proposed changes to the law are passed. Education Minister Chris Pyne has said that enough is enough and from 2017, the government wants Australians living overseas to be legally obliged to repay their HECS and HELP debts.

The new legislation will aim for those who have lived abroad from over six months and earn more than $53,000 – the current threshold in Australia. Debtors living overseas can make voluntary payments, but are under no obligation once they earn a certain amount.

It’s a matter of fairness, says Mr Pyne, and it is set to raise more than $140 million over 10 years.

“Currently, because graduates living overseas don’t have to do an Australian tax return, there is no way to know if they are earning above the threshold that triggers HECS repayments and many get off scot-free,” he said in a statement.

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“Others come back to a debt that has been accruing interest at CPI rates while they are away.

“No government has ever tackled this obviously unfair situation – it’s been in the too-hard basket. Our plan will enforce the same HECS repayment obligations on Australians living overseas that apply to those who remain on our shores”.

Do you think this is a good idea? Imagine if every graduate, regardless of income (but obviously means-tested), was obliged to pay $10 off their HECS debt a week? That would also have an enormously positive benefit to our economy and yet, as Mr Pyne said, the government hasn’t wanted to touch it until the going gets tough.

From July 1, 2017, Mr Pyne proposes that Australians with HECS or HELP debts will need to repay it.

“There is no good reason why someone working as a banker in London or New York and earning over the threshold shouldn’t pay back what they owe Australia”, he said.

 

So tell us, do you think it’s high time that those who have accumulated this government debt pay it off, even if they are living abroad? Or is it unfair to expect that? Who else should they target instead?