Getting a student loan
Unless you're filthy rich, further study equals student loans. Here's how to access that all-important cash and (the bit we'd like to forget about) how to pay it back.
No one wants to start uni with a zero balance in their account. Make sure you're set up financially by applying for your student loan. NOW.
What is a student loan?
Student loans are government-funded loans, meant to provide you with the cash you need to stay afloat in higher education. For most students, this comes in the form of a tuition loan, which covers the cost of your tuition, and a maintenance loan.
Everyone is entitled to 75% of the maximum maintenance loan, and the rest is income and circumstance assessed. For instance, if you are moving away from home to London and your family contribution is below the cut-off point, you'll get the maximum possible loan.
If you're really skint and your parents can't contribute, you may be able to get a grant for more of your living costs. This is assessed in the same way as a maintenance loan and dished out according to how much you need.
How do I get a student loan?
Student Loans throughout England, Wales and Ireland come from a company called the Student Loans Company (SLC) and are most easily applied for online. You can do this through the DirectGov website, where you can fill out an online application form.
If you live in Scotland you should apply for your loan through Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS).
When do I apply for my student loan?
It's best to apply a full year before you're hoping to get any money, giving you plenty of time to resolve any problems and make any appeals, but you can apply up to nine months before the start of the academic year.
Student loans, as they are assessed according to your situation, need to be applied for once a year.
What happens if my student loan isn't on time?
The loan (and grant if you're getting it) is split into three chunks, which are generally paid by BACS straight into your account on the first day of each term.
The SLC are dealing with a lot of students, a lot of bank accounts and a lot of different amounts of money, so mistakes happen. If your money doesn't go in when it's supposed to, call them; find out where your money is and when it will be in your account.
Help, I'm going to starve!
Man cannot live on 16p noodles alone. Ask about a hardship grant from your university. There's also a lot your Students' Union can do to help, such as providing small living loans, bus cards, vouchers and so on. Alternatively, it might be time to start begging parents, grandparents and kindly aunts to see if they can lend you something to keep you going.
When do I pay off my student loan?
Existing students will start paying off their loan once they earn over £15,000. The loan will be taken off automatically with your tax every month. However, if you're starting your course after 1 September 2012, you won't start paying it back until you earn more than £21,000 year, and repayments won't begin until April 2016 - even if you land a £25,000-a-year job in September 2015.
It's up to you how you choose to go about paying off your loan. The minimum amounts are tiny, but it may well take you a couple of lifetimes to pay the loan off this way. If that doesn't bother you then resign yourself to a nominal amount coming off your pay each month and get on with your life - as this excellent article suggests.
If you'd rather get rid of it you can make payments of any size direct to the SLC, which will ensure you pay off more than just the interest every month. The interest on your loan will only ever rise with the rate of inflation, meaning you pay back exactly the value of what you were lent in the first place. If, however, your income falls below £21,000 a year, your repayments stop.
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