Amy | Edited by Johanna
We've teamed up with UCAS to give you 10 things you need to know before going to uni, including how to budget, where to get the best student account and what deals to grab.
10 things you need to know on student finance
Student money: 10 things you need to know
You need to be boss of your budget
Sorting out your budget needs to be your first lesson. Your student loan is paid into your bank account in three instalments at the start of each term. So it might seem like you've loads of cash to splash in freshers' week... but you haven't. That money needs to last the whole term, so spend it wisely.
Knowing how much income you'll have is essential – without this your budget will be nonsense. You'll need to work out how much cash you have coming in, including your student loan, any grant, any cash from parents and any work income.
Equally, you'll need an idea of how much money will be going out, including rent, any bills, food, socialising and course materials.
Once you've got these, subtract your outgoings from your income and divide by the number of weeks you'll be at uni to know how much you have to live off each month. And crucially, DON'T spend more than this. For more on how to be the boss of your budget, see our Budget Planner guide.
Use the money mantras...
Not sure whether to fork out for something at uni? Use the money mantras. Which mantra works for you will depend on whether you're already skint or not.
Skint: Ask yourself: do I need it? Can I afford it? Is it cheaper elsewhere?
Not Skint: Ask yourself: will I use it? Is it worth it? Is it cheaper elsewhere?
Use the demotivator tool
For a fun way to try to save money, you could use our demotivator tool. You might think you can't survive without your skinny, double shot, extra hot, no foam, extra large latte every day on the way to lectures – but regular spends like that can soon rack up. Use the tool to see how much your caffeine habit is costing you. For more tips on how to stretch your student loan, see the Student Checklist.
An overdraft will be your buffer
Before you go to uni you'll need a student bank account. These are simply bank accounts made for those in higher education. They let you pay money in and out and offer additional benefits such as an interest-free overdraft.
Usually, to be accepted for a student bank account you'll need a UCAS confirmation letter with an unconditional offer, or, if your offer's conditional, you'll need to have A-level results that meet that condition. As soon as you've got these, you can open an account (you'll be credit-checked), allowing you extra time to make full use of its benefits before the start of term.
When choosing a student bank account, aim to get the biggest and longest 0% overdraft you can. An overdraft is where the bank lets you spend more than you've got (at no extra cost) to a set amount. Often banks charge hefty fees and interest for the privilege, but student account overdrafts are interest-free. We don't agree with debt unless you can pay it back, BUT a student bank account overdraft is an excellent buffer to keep up your sleeve.
The only time getting the longest 0% overdraft doesn't apply is if any freebie on offer is more valuable to you. Many banks offer students freebies or perks to try to get them to sign up, so for instance, if you know you're going to do a lot of train travel, picking an account with a free railcard may trump an account with the biggest 0% overdraft. Just don't be enticed in solely by the freebie.
For help selecting the best student bank account for you, see our Student Bank Accounts guide. When choosing your bank, be wary of any offering bigger overdrafts than the top picks in our guide. That's because some will give a guaranteed amount – if you're accepted for an overdraft – while others give 'up to' amounts, where you could be offered less than the maximum advertised. Always make sure you're comparing like for like.
It's also worth noting that many student bank accounts offer tiered overdraft amounts, which increase with each year of study, so you could end up with a bigger overdraft limit after your first year.
While 0% overdrafts are useful and should help with cash-flow issues while you're a student, they're never part of your income. Always remember, an overdraft is a LOAN and must be repaid (its rate will jump eventually after you've graduated).
Three things to remember when opening a bank account:
1. Never go over your AGREED overdraft limit. This isn't a rule for students, it's a rule for life. The game totally changes if you go beyond your AGREED overdraft limit – charges shoot up and you can be caught in a vicious cycle that's tough to escape from. If you stay within your limit there's usually NO COST.
2. Don't fall for the hard sell. When you open an account the bank may try to sell you other products such as credit cards (even though there are strict rules in place to make sure you're not mis-sold a product). Don't be tempted. Just because you pass the bank's affordability checks to get one, doesn't mean you should take it.
3. After uni, switch to a top graduate account. It may seem a long way off, but this is an important one. After uni, your bank will usually convert your student account into a graduate account for you as you're no longer studying. Unless you're already with a bank offering a top-pick graduate account, you'll need to switch.
If you're already overdrawn from your existing student account, look for an account with the biggest and longest-lasting interest-free overdraft. If you're applying to a new bank, be aware that you'll need to pass another credit check to get the account (and overdraft).
These accounts aren't about borrowing more. The aim is that by not paying interest, more of your money goes towards clearing your actual debts. You'll have to pay off the overdraft eventually, usually after two or three years. The way banks try to encourage this is to reduce the maximum 0% overdraft each year – the idea being that by the time the 0% ends you'll have paid it off.
Fail to do so and you'll be subject to astronomical charges and fees. For a £2,000 overdraft which reduces gradually over three years, repayments would need to be at least £56 a month. In other words, at the end of each month, your total overdraft should be £56 less than the previous month. For more on the best accounts after uni, see Graduate Accounts.
Credit cards aren't as cool as they sound
When you turn 18 you can apply for another sort of debt – a credit card. A credit card means you're effectively borrowing money from the bank and agreeing to pay it back at the end of the month and if you don't, you'll get charged interest on the original amount.
And that's why credit cards are best avoided while you're studying – if you don't have an income, you'll really struggle to repay the debts. This means the interest will build up quickly, leaving you owing serious cash.
Don't let the affordable-sounding minimum repayments trick you either. Even if you can meet these each month, they're designed to clear barely any of the debt – meaning the cost of borrowing rockets. If you need scaring out of this:
If you borrowed £3,000 aged 21, and only made the minimum credit card repayments, you'd be 50 before it cleared.
Let that sink in for a while.
Don't let mighty mobile bills get you
Now you're 18 you'll be able to get a mobile phone contract in your own name for the first time. Whether you're using your mobile phone to download, stream, keep in touch with old school friends or arrange nights out with new uni friends, if you don't want to face palpitation-inducing mobile phone bills at the end of the month, you'll need to take charge of your mobile bill.
Start by making sure you've got the right contract. Use your bills from the last few months to pinpoint your average usage for calls, texts and data. Then use this to find the cheapest tariff for your needs. See 30+ Cheap Mobile Tips for more.
If you'd rather not change network, you can still make big savings. Near the end of your contract, call your provider and ask for the best deal possible – not just on your network, but ask them to match – or better – any out there. See our Mobile Phone Haggling guide for more.
When you hear 'pay-as-you-go', you might think of the early days of mobiles and paying upfront for each pricey call and text. But now it's possible to get great value pay-as-you-go 'bundles', giving a better value allowance and also tighter control over your bill, as you know what you're using. If you think this might be a better option, see our Best Pay-as-you-go Sim Deals guide.
Keep your wits about you when renting
Many universities offer first-year students accommodation in university-managed halls of residence. Yet by your second year – and possibly also in your first year if there's not enough student accommodation available – the chances are you'll need to rent a property in the private sector. So it's vital to be clued up on your rights in private digs to make sure unscrupulous landlords don't end up taking advantage.
If going into a rented property you'll need to pay a deposit. This is usually about one month's rent. You'll also need to take into account that you'll probably be asked to pay rent over the summer to secure the property, even if you're not planning on staying in it.
Five things you need to know...
1. Tenancy deposit protection scheme
You need to make sure your deposit is protected. Landlords have 30 days from receiving your deposit to put it into a tenancy deposit protection scheme (where it stays in case of a dispute when you leave). If they fail to do this you could be entitled to up to four times back, but you'd have to go through the small claims court which is hassle.
2. Letting agent fees and signing the contract
To find a property to rent, you may need to use a letting agent – who rent out properties on landlords' behalf. These have notoriously charged extortionate fees for their services. As such, the Government has published proposals banning letting agents from charging fees to tenants. In the meantime however, always check for any extra fees or charges first, and factor them in.
Letting agents can't charge you just for registering or to show you their list of properties available for rent. Though otherwise they're free to charge any fees they like – for example, for credit checks, admin and even releasing your deposit. So always ask before you commit.
Once you get the contract, read it carefully before signing. Check it includes how much the deposit and rent is, when it's due, and what it covers (eg, council tax, utility bills, and other dos and don'ts, such as whether you're allowed to smoke or sublet).
Discuss points you disagree on, or don't understand, with the landlord or letting agent. If they agree to change it, don't just take their word. Ensure the contract's changed too so you've proof.
3. Tenants' rights
Which type of tenancy agreement you have, and when your contract started, will affect your rights, so check which you have. In a nutshell, 'assured shorthold tenancy agreements' are generally the most common type if renting with a private landlord.
As an assured tenant you have the right to stay in your accommodation unless your landlord can convince the court there are good reasons for eviction, for example rent arrears or damage to the property, or that another of the terms of the agreement has been broken.
4. Bills, bills, bills
When you find a property, how much rent you pay will usually be reflected in whether it includes bills or not – so this is something to consider. If it doesn't include bills, you're going to need to sort out the utilities, including gas and electricity, council tax, water and broadband.
You'll need to locate meters when you move in and take readings. Then whoever is in charge of that utility will need to submit meter readings throughout the year to make sure you don't get overcharged. No one wants to be in charge of all the bills. So if you live with a few other people, it's probably a good idea to divvy the bills between you and work out any extra each individual is owed once all bills have been paid.
But be careful how you work this. Having a joint bills account with a flatmate will mean that your credit records become financially linked, which means firms can access and look at that person's credit report as part of assessing whether to accept you for a financial product in future.
So, if your flatmate has a poor credit history or lots of debts, keep your finances rigidly separate (if you want to know more about how credit scoring works, see our Credit Scores guide).
Alternatively, the nifty Acasa app will track your household bills and expenses, work out who owes what to whom and let you and your housemates request payments from each other. For more tips on renting see 50+ Tips for Renters.
5. Paying your rent on time can boost your credit score
Private tenants can opt in to the free Rental Exchange scheme, which records your rental payments and sends the results to credit reference agency Experian. This can boost your credit rating, which will help in future if and when you apply for certain financial products such as credit cards, loans and mortgages. To keep track of your credit score, sign up to our free Credit Club.
Check if you're covered by your parents' home insurance
If you're lucky enough to be going off to university with a shiny new laptop or tablet to get down to some hardcore studying, you need to make sure you've got some contents insurance for worst case scenarios.
Before you fork out on cover, you could check your parents' home insurance policy, as you may automatically be covered against theft or loss under its 'temporarily removed from the home' section while you're a student.
The cover only applies while your contents are in your accommodation and as long as your parents' home is your main permanent address. Many 'mum/dad' policies allow this, but you'd better check that they don't mind you using their policy as they'd have to submit any future claims.
If you need cover for any mobiles or laptops, or items you normally wear or carry away from your home, you could ask your parents – if they haven't already – to pay for an 'add-on' to their existing home contents policy usually called 'all-risks' or 'unspecified personal possessions'. This specifically covers your stuff while it's out of your rented home.
If you don't luck out with your parents' insurance your next port of call is a specialist or local broker such Home Protect, Endsleigh or Intelligent Insurance. Make sure if you're taking a bike to uni you let the insurer know when applying for cover. It may be covered as part of the policy, but if not you'll need to find out how much extra it is to add.
Lock your doors
It's not a nice thought, but if you're in shared accommodation, your insurance won't cover you for theft unless there's been a violent or forced entry into your room. So always make sure you lock your door when you leave, even if just popping out briefly.
Register to vote
If you want to rent, get a mobile contract or a credit card, it really helps if you're on the electoral roll, which is basically a list of everyone who's registered to vote. Plus you can be a part of big decision-making: voting for new governments.
Students are able to register to vote at their home and term-time addresses. If your home and uni address are in two different local authority areas, you can vote in local elections at both. However, in general elections you'll only be able to vote in one.
If you're not sure if you're already registered to vote, you can check by getting in touch with your local authority. Enter your postcode to find your local electoral registration office and contact it directly.
If it turns out you're not on the electoral roll, register to vote in England, Scotland and Wales. Registering online takes about three minutes – so there are no excuses.
Grab the best deals
An NUS Extra card unlocks 200+ student discounts in the UK, in store and online. And it now doubles up as an International Student Identity Card for use abroad. It costs £12 for a one-year card, £22 for two years and £32 for three. So if you think you'll use it, it's a great way to save money.
Chances are if you don't go to university with your own car you'll quickly become accustomed to train travel. And if you spend more than £90 a year on train journeys, you should definitely consider getting a 16-25 Railcard, which cuts a third off off-peak train tickets and tube fares.
Cards can be bought from the railcard website for £30 a year, or £70 for three years. So spend over £90 a year, even in just one trip, and you'll save.
You can also get 12% off a one-year railcard if you're registered with Student Beans, or have an NUS Extra card, though check for other railcard deals too, as those will often beat this. Alternatively, Santander's student account gives a four-year railcard for free. For more info on railcards see Cheap Train Tickets.
For an extra bonus, make sure you renew just before your 26th birthday to grab another year, or before your 24th birthday for a three-year card. For a full list of student deals see our Student Discounts & Deals page.
Avoid hefty broadband bills
If you're in university-managed halls of residence in the first year, broadband will be included in your accommodation as part of the rent you pay.
But if you missed out on getting into university-run halls and need to go into private halls or a house share, it's likely you'll want to get on the web. Though before you take a pricey contract, you should consider some alternatives:
Get it for free at uni. If your campus has free internet access or Wi-Fi, it's worth using that if you can. Use the uni's computers (or charge your laptop at uni) and you won't have to pay for the electricity either. When using public Wi-Fi it's best not to access banking or other sensitive sites, so just use it for basic browsing and research purposes.
Get it for free on the high street. Free wireless internet's the norm at high street cafés and pubs now, rather than the exception. Wetherspoons and Walkabout pubs offer customers unlimited Wi-Fi access, as do McDonald's restaurants, and many more.
Consider shorter contracts. If you decide to get the internet at home, some tariffs come on a 30-day contract. While the monthly cost may be slightly more in the short term, if you'll only need it for nine months instead of the full year, it could work out cheaper in the long run.
Beware download limits. If there are several of you downloading or watching TV online, limits for standard cheap tariffs may not be enough. To avoid being hit by unexpected charges, consider getting an unlimited plan if you live with several heavy downloaders.
Check the best buys. Some providers offer tariffs aimed at students, eg, nine-month student contracts from Virgin Media and BT, though these are often more expensive than the cheapest available. Factor in any fees and line rental to work out the real monthly cost, then use our Cheap Broadband guide to compare it to best buys in your area.
Consider going mobile. If you live in an area where broadband's pricey, you move frequently, or just don't want the hassle of chasing your housemates for their portion of the bill, mobile broadband's another option.
Get expensive software for FREE
Most students and those working in education with an academic email address can get Microsoft's entire Office suite of programs, and other freebies, for zilch.
To see if you're eligible (those at 99.9% of universities and 87% of colleges are), enter your academic email address on the Office website.
You'll be asked to log in through your institution's online portal and if you're eligible, you'll be redirected to a page where you can download the software. You can also get 1TB of free online storage with OneDrive.
It's not just Microsoft either – here are some other useful software freebies:
For typing, spreadsheets and presentationsThe LibreOffice software suite includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database and design package. Handily, it's compatible with many Microsoft documents, and is available for PC, Mac and Linux.
For image editing
If you're after something for basic cropping and editing, Paint.net is easy to use and PC-compatible. For a more advanced Photoshop equivalent, GIMP is a powerful tool with free add-ons (PC and Mac), while Inkscape is a handy graphics editor and works on PC, Mac and Linux.
For music and videos
One of the most widely compatible media players available, VLC Player can cope with pretty much any music or video format you throw at it. For recording, Audacity lets you add effects and create soundscapes from scratch. Again, both are available for PC, Mac and Linux.
Always check any software you put on your computer is suitable and compatible with your existing set-up first.