Almost 30 years ago, Maya Corbic and her family moved to Canada from war-torn Bosnia. Today, Ms. Corbic is a certified public accountant and author of a book called Piggy Banks to Stocks: The Ultimate Guide for Young Investors. Ms. Corbic faced some financial challenges after arriving in Canada, and she’s keen to use her experience to help other immigrants. Here’s a e-mail Q&A in which Ms. Corbic shares what she’s learned:

Q: Maya, can you tell us a bit about your background as an immigrant to Canada and how you came to write your book?

A: My family immigrated to Canada from war-torn Bosnia when I was fifteen, arriving with only $50 and two suitcases. We faced challenges, living in government shelters and relying on welfare until my parents learned English and found jobs. I had two part-time jobs in high school to pay for bus tickets, hygiene products, etc. I was lucky that we had a roof over our heads and food. However, even though my mom cooked and stretched the dollar as much as she could, sometimes she would go to the food bank.

Transitioning from Bosnia, where the economy was socialist, to Canada’s capitalist system was a significant adjustment. I saw opportunities for wealth-building in Canada and became passionate about personal finance. Despite my interest, investing was intimidating, even after reading extensively on the subject.

When I wrote my book, I wanted everyone to feel confident while reading it and learn the basics of investing. I wanted them to feel like, ‘OK. I got this. I can understand how investing works.’ I purposely wrote it in a language that a 10-year-old could understand. The book looks like a colourful kid’s book because I did not want it to intimidate my readers. Many parents have shared with me that they have learned these investing concepts alongside their children because they did not learn them from their parents or school.

Q: What’s been your biggest personal finance challenge in Canada?

A: My biggest personal finance challenge in Canada was during our initial years after immigrating. Having no network and barely speaking English, it was difficult to get a job or an opportunity to prove myself and what I was truly capable of. It was frustrating to see job opportunities that asked for experience, yet no one was willing to take a chance on me to allow me to obtain that experience.

Q: Having a chequing account is crucial for participating in the economy – how do you pick a bank when you’re new to Canada?

A: The largest five Canadian banks have similar terms for chequing accounts, so I suggest selecting a bank close to your home. Many new immigrants do not have cars to drive to the bank, and paying for public transportation can add up.

Q: One of the personal finance trends of the past few years is the growing importance of credit scores. What’s the quickest path for a newcomer to build a good credit score?

A: The quickest path for newcomers to build a good credit score is obtaining a credit card with a modest limit – $500, for example. They should use the card for everyday expenses, paying the balance in full each month to avoid interest charges. When they are able to increase their credit limit, they should do so while continuing to pay it off in full each month. Additionally, they should ensure that all their other bills (cellphone, utilities, etc.) are paid on time.

Q: The federal government has proposed that rent payments be used to help people establish good credit scores. How much will immigrants benefit from this move?

A: Immigrants will benefit immensely from this as most of them are unable to enter the housing market when they first arrive. The ability to build credit through timely rent payments provides them a valuable opportunity to establish strong credit profiles and obtain home ownership.

Q: What advice do you have for newcomers to Canada who want to get into the housing market?

A: I recommend focusing on two key aspects: building their credit scores and increasing their income. It’s crucial not to overextend by purchasing a larger house than necessary. Additionally, I suggest they explore house-hacking opportunities, such as renting out a portion of the home (e.g., basement) to supplement or accelerate mortgage payments.

The Globe and Mail, April 30, 2024