Student finances: what you need to know

From taxes to TV licences (yes, even if you don't have a telly): Harriet Swain looks at the things you simply need to know

It's going to be on your mind throughout your university years, and probably for the rest of your life, so you may as well get used to thinking about it now: money. This may be the last year that new students will be paying a mere £3,375 in fees rather than the £8,600 or so they'll be paying on average from 2012, but that's still got to come from somewhere. Exactly where is something you should really have sorted already and if you haven't, you should get straight on to the government websites,, and to find out.

Financial support

Full-time students from England starting this year can apply for loans to cover the full cost of their tuition fees, and maintenance grants and loans to help with living costs. How much they get depends on where they live and study and on household income. The Student Finance Calculator at the above website will help you to work it all out. You will need to start repaying the loan in the April after you graduate or leave your course, so long as you are earning more than £15,000.

Part-time students can apply for grants of up to £1,495 in total to help with tuition and study costs if their household income is below £28,066.

You should also contact your university to find out what sort of bursaries and other financial help it offers. Many institutions offer to check whether you are getting the right overall package of financial support, and it's worth giving them the headache rather than you having it. They may also be able to advise you about charities that have spare cash to give deserving students. Check out the online Educational Grants Search for more help with this.

Bank accounts

Meanwhile, go to the bank. Don't wait until the beginning of term when all your fellow freshers will be in the same queue, and don't be enticed by whatever bank you see first at Fresher's Fair; you can open a student bank account as soon as you have a Ucas offer letter. Remember a key-ring or even cash bribe isn't nearly as important as how big an interest-free overdraft they offer you and for how long. Don't go over the agreed overdraft limit because you'll be hit with huge interest charges, and if you really have to overspend, warn them first.


The best way to avoid having to get too pally with your bank manager is to draw up a budget using an online budget calculator, such as those offered by Ucas, Brightside Uniaid or individual banks. Shopping around for the best deals on mobile phones and utility suppliers should help to balance the books, as will making sure you take up student discounts. For this, a National Union of Students (NUS) card is a must. A useful tip is to draw out a set amount of cash a week for incidental expenses, such as kebabs, rather than keep withdrawing small sums.


One way to boost your budget is to get a part-time job, but make sure you are paying the right amount of tax. If you work for an employer during term time, income tax and national insurance will be deducted automatically from your wages under Pay as You Earn. You can earn £7,475 a year before you need to start paying income tax, and £139 per week before paying national insurance. If you are a full-time student, only work in the holidays, and earn less than the annual personal allowance, you'll need to fill out form P38(S), which means you won't have to pay tax through PAYE. Ask your employer for the form. Remember, if you work abroad but live and study in the UK, you'll still be liable to pay UK taxes.

TV licence and insurance

Finally, unless you stick to watching replays or YouTube, don't forget to pay your TV licence – even if you don't own a TV. Watching or recording programmes as they're being shown still counts if you're doing it on a laptop or mobile phone. And, whatever you are using, remember to insure it.


Harriet Swain

The GuardianTramp

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