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HECS debt is not like most types of debt;

  1. You only start paying it off once you earn over the repayment threshold (Currently $45,881 for the 2019-20 financial year )
  2. Your repayments are based on your income, not the remaining balance
  3. There is no interest (Besides the rate of inflation adjustments)
  4. It doesn’t count as a loan when you borrow money – only the impact on your income after repayments is considered by a bank
  5. Your debt is written off when you die!

The executor to your estate will lodge all outstanding tax returns up to the date of your death, and if the notice of assessment includes a compulsory HECS debt repayment then that must be paid out of your estate. Apart from that, the rest of the debt is written off!

Why are changes being proposed to the HECS Debt scheme?

The cost of higher education is rapidly escalating and increasing the burden on Australian taxpayers. Since 2009, taxpayer funding for Commonwealth supported places in higher education increased by 59%, approximately twice the rate of growth in the economy. According to leading higher education analysts, removing the complete write-off of HECS debt on estates over $100,000 could save up to $800 million a year.

In 2019, a plan to recover the student debts of people who have died was under consideration by the Federal Government, estimating the move could save taxpayers up to $46 million over a decade. However, the government acknowledged that this move would be controversial, and eventually rejected the proposal.

Presently, the government is owed $55 billion by people who have accessed the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), and approximately $20 billion of that debt is forecast to be written off.

As mentioned, under the current law if a person doesn’t pay off their HECS/HELP debt before they pass away, that debt is wiped. As of 2019, the Government has written off the student debts of 9,000 people, and a further 18, 000 people with student debt are expected to die over the next 10 years.

What will be the impact if it goes ahead?

It has been assumed that the most likely to be affected by collecting the full debt from a deceased estate will be the relatively affluent dual-earner couples and their beneficiaries. The partner earning less than the threshold for the remainder of their life who would have originally avoided these loans altogether would now have the full balance taken from their estate.

Not only this but the administrative burden for the ATO would also be significant, with an estimated cost for the proposal at $12.4 million initially over the first five years to set up, with ongoing costs of $2 million per year after that.

HECS debt repayment after death and other proposals to mend the effects of increased tertiary education costs are certain to remain the subject of controversy, with perhaps a larger re-examination of the balance between private and public contributions to these costs.

The lawyers at Owen Hodge are following these developments closely and would be able to assist you with any questions you have about the proposed changed to HECS or any aspect of your legal and financial plans. Please contact us at 1800 770 780 or email us at

At Owen Hodge Lawyers, we always strive to provide you with the best legal advice and guidance – no matter your issue. We specialise in a range of law matters and have a blog that offers in-depth and comprehensive articles. Want to know who gets the dog in a breakup, how to negotiate an early termination of lease, or what the the roles of a barrister vs solicitor are? You can read all about it on the Owen Hodge Lawyers blog.