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Student Loans

What is a student loan?

Is it free money? Erm…no, it’s money you’re going to have to eventually pay back. It’s a government loan for full-time students at university who are usually studying for their first degree. You can apply for a Tuition Fee Loan to cover your tuition fees and a Maintenance Loan to help with living costs.

You won’t have to pay your student loan back straight away, only after you start earning a certain amount. You don’t have to take out a full student loan, and you don’t have to take out one at all. But if you don’t, you’ll have to find other ways of stumping up the cash for university.

How much do I get?

The size of the loan you’ll receive depends on: where you are going to university, what tuition fees they are charging, your household income and what year of study you are in. If you are starting your course after 2012/13, the maximum tuition fee loan you can receive will be £9,000.

From 2015/16, the maximum maintenance loan available for students will be: a sizeable £4,565 if you live at home, a hefty £5,740 if you live away from home and study outside London and a mighty £8,009 if you live away from home and study in London.

Your Tuition Fee Loan is paid directly into your university or college’s pocket, whereas the Maintenance Loan will be paid in termly instalments directly into your bank account. You’ll receive it at the start of every term. Remember though, it isn’t free money; you will be subject to interest rates!

Depending on your circumstances, you can also apply for a number of student grants to help you through university. Take a look at our Student Grants article for more information.

Are you eligible?

Well, this depends on your personal details, the university or college you will be attending and the details of the course. You need to be able to put a big fat red tick next to the following criteria:

  • You need to be a UK national or have a ‘settled status’ in the UK (e.g. have no immigration restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK).
  • You must have been living in the UK for three years before starting the course. The official term is ‘ordinarily resident’. You are classed as an ‘ordinarily resident’ of the UK if that’s where you normally live, even if you live abroad on a temporary basis.
  • Your university or college has to either be: a UK degree-awarding institution, a college receiving government funding or an institution taking part in the School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) scheme. Alternatively, it could be a private institution offering specially designated higher education courses. If in doubt, give them a call and ask.
  • Your course has to lead to one of the following qualifications: a first degree, foundation degree, Certificate of Higher Education, Diploma of Higher Education, Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma. Alternatively, you can qualify if you are undertaking Initial Teacher Training or the further training for youth and community workers.

For a Maintenance Loan, you have to be under 60 years of age (there are no age limits on Tuition Fee Loans). If you live outside the UK, are doing a course outside the UK or are doing a postgraduate course, then different rules will also apply.

If you’re a part-time student and starting your first degree, then you might be able to apply for a Tuition Fee Loan. It all depends on the ‘intensity’ of your course in relation to the equivalent full-time course. The ‘intensity’ has to be at least 25% of a full-time course to qualify for a Tuition Fee Loan. So if your part-time course is eight years and the full-time course is two years, then the intensity would be 25% and you would qualify. If you’re muddled, just ask your university or college.

How do I apply for a student loan?

If you are a student loan virgin, then you can apply six or so months before your course starts. You apply on the www.direct.gov.uk website and you’ll need to register, complete an online application form, send in evidence (if needed) and, after all that, sign and return a loan declaration form. The kind of evidence you might have to submit includes: evidence of your household income and details of your UK passport or your original birth certificate with a birth/adoption certificate form.

For returning students, it’s pretty simple; you just need to reapply by logging into your student finance account and sending off a blissfully shorter online application. Look on the website to keep track of application deadlines.

When do I have to pay my student loan back?

Don’t worry; you don’t have to start coughing up the money as soon as you leave university. If your course started before 2012/13, you start paying back the loans once you are earning over £15,000. If you start your course after 2012/13, then you’ll start paying it back once you earn over £21,000.