Monica Daga moved to Canada at age 14, where she finished her education. Because of her unfamiliarity with the Canadian financial system, she accumulated a very large student debt. “I had about $25,000 in debt from student loans and I didn't know how to pay for it, says Monica. “Of course, when you start a new job you want to buy new clothes and you want to have a nice place to live, and so you get more in debt and you are spending money that you don't have.” She learned to overcome her debt, and today works as a settlement worker, helping new Canadians integrate into the job market and understand the financial system. She connects families with health centers, financial institutions, housing options and legal services.
Monica teaches her clients about the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's online tools, as she believes that the information is vital for newcomers, well-presented and thorough. She uses the print versions of the resources for clients who do not have Internet access. She really enjoys working with new Canadians as she and her family have lived the immigrant experience. “It feels great to know that you made a difference to someone; it is really rewarding,” she says.
It is very confusing for someone that is new to Canada to learn how the credit card system works, how to use a debit card, a bank card to go shopping. It is also difficult, for example, to open a bank account.
I was a new Canadian myself: I arrived when I was 14 years old, and financially speaking I was not very knowledgeable. Money works different back home than it does here, and I didn't know that I had to have a good credit for anything. I completed high school, I went to college and I got in debt from not knowing how to use my money properly. I had about $25,000 in debt from student loans and I didn't know how to pay for it. Of course, when you start a new job you want to buy new clothes and you want to have a nice place to live and so you get more in debt and you are spending money that you don't have. I didn't know how to budget. I would just pay the bills and if I couldn't pay the bills I would find other ways, maybe using my credit card.
I consolidated all my debts and it was much easier. I had a goal to pay my debts by January 2009, and actually I completed a month earlier because I was so motivated. It wasn't easy; it was a bit difficult because I had to restrain myself.
I don't spend money I don't have. I save for the things that I need to get. If I need clothes, I will save for clothes. If I need a car, I will save for a car. I am stress-free in that sense ― I have enough money for emergencies.
The FCAC is very helpful, especially the website. I find that every time if I meet a client and I need information, even if they want to order publications ― let's say if they don't have access to the Internet ― I can just show them where to go and we can even order it because you can order the publications online.
A settlement worker connects newcomer families with services ― community services. It could be employment, housing, let's say they need a doctor, a health centre, legal services ― we connect them to all the resources. We are, I would say, information and referral specialists because we know a little bit of everything and whatever we don't know, we find out.
I tell my clients my own experience. I do share, because it is better when you have lived through the experience and then share that with them. It is very rewarding, especially after you have known a client for a bit and how they progress and how they reach their goals.
It is a wonderful feeling to help people, because I can make a difference.