Student loans: Northern Ireland

11 need-to-knows for Northern Irish students taking out 'Plan 1' loans

If you live in Northern Ireland and decide to go to university, you'll be on a different student finance system to the rest of the UK, regardless of where in the country you go to study. There are 11 key things you need to know about how this work if you, or someone in your family, is applying for a 'Plan 1' student loan in Northern Ireland.


This is the first iteration of this guide. If you've feedback, let us know in the Plan 1 forum thread.

Is this the right guide for you? This guide explains how student loans work if you're Northern Irish, wherever in the UK you study. If you don't live in Northern Ireland, you're in the wrong place – see Which student loan am I on?

  1. You don't have to pay upfront, and how much you repay depends on your future income

    You don’t need to pay a penny upfront to go to university, so no one should be put off from going because they think they can't afford it.

    You can get a student loan to cover both your tuitions fees and your student living costs (called a maintenance loan), though the latter is means-tested with parents expected to fill any shortfall (see point 6.) You'll only start repaying these loans after you graduate and, even then, only once you're earning enough (see point 3)

    So, what matters in practical terms is how much you have to repay, which can be a different number from the total amount of tuition fees, maintenance loan and interest. That said, if you're keen to minimise the size of your student loan, you may want to consider staying in Ireland to study...

  2. You'll need a bigger loan to study outside Ireland

    If you live in Northern Ireland and stay there to study, the most you'll pay to your chosen university for tuition is £4,720/year in 2023/24.

    It's even cheaper if you go to university in the Republic of Ireland, as you only have to pay a student contribution charge of €3,000/year. There's no other tuition fees to pay and you can get a loan to cover the charge for the duration of your course. This is paid back under the same 'Plan 1' repayment system you'd be on if you chose to study in Northern Ireland. 

    In comparison, if you decide to study in England, Scotland or Wales, you'll need to pay tuition fees of around £9,000/year. That's substantially higher than in Ireland, so you'll need to take out a bigger loan to cover the increased costs.

    Crucially, a bigger loan WON'T increase your monthly repayments (see the point below for why). But it does mean that once you're earning enough to start making repayments, you'll have to make them for longer in order to clear the loan.

    On top of that, if you study elsewhere in the UK, you'll also receive a smaller loan to cover your living costs than your English, Scottish or Welsh peers – see point 6 below for more.

  3. Loan repayments only start once you're earning over £22,015

    Once you leave university, you only repay your undergraduate student loan when you're earning above £1,835 a month (equivalent to £22,015/year) and it's fixed at 9% of everything you earn above that. The maintenance loan is repaid in exactly the same way as the loan for tuition fees.

    So, how much you owe has no bearing on how much you repay, as your repayments are based SOLELY on how much you earn. So...

    • If you earn £35,000/year and owe £20,000, you'll repay £1,169/year. 
    • If you earn £35,000/year and owe £50,000, you'll repay £1,169/year.
    • And, if you earn £35,000/year and owe £100,000, you'll still only repay £1,168/year.

    Earnings mean any money from employment or self-employment and, in some cases, earnings from investments, savings or pensions. If you've started repaying the loan and then get a pay-rise, you'll pay more of your student loan off each month. Conversely, if you lose your job or take a pay cut, your repayments drop accordingly.

    It's worth mentioning that repayments are made monthly, based on the monthly threshold (currently £1,835). So if you get a bonus in one month, you'll pay 9% on your total income over the threshold in that month, which means that month's repayment will be higher than usual.

    In simple terms, though, the general principal is that the more you earn, the more of your student loan you'll repay – as the table below shows.

    What you'll repay on a Plan 1 student loan

    Salary What you'll repay each year
    £20,000 £0
    £30,000 £719
    £40,000 £1,619
    £50,000 £2,519
    £60,000 £3,419
    £70,000 £4,319
    £80,000 £5,219
    £90,000 £6,119
    £100,000 £7,019

    Annual repayment figures are only until either you've cleared your balance, or 25 years have passed, whichever's first. 

    Quick questions

    • How are student loans treated for tax purposes?

      While the amount you pay is calculated based on your pre-tax income above £22,015/year, the money is taken after you've paid tax. For example...

      If you earn £30,000 a year gross (pre-tax) salary, you will repay £718.65 a year (9% of the £7,985 above £22,015).

      Yet you still pay tax on the entire £30,000 income. You don't get any tax breaks on the fact you're repaying the student loan.

    • Do I still have to repay my student loan if I move overseas?

      The answer is yes. The student loan has been set up as a contract, not a tax. Therefore, the fact that you're no longer living in the UK doesn't affect that contract.

      The rules state you're still obliged to repay 9% of all earnings above the local equivalent £22,015/year (2023/24). Not doing so could lead to substantial penalties. And this local equivalent isn't just a currency translation, it factors in the cost of living in your country, so it can be radically different – see gov.uk for more.

    • When and how does the Plan 1 repayment threshold change?

      The repayment threshold for Plan 1 student loans changes on 6 April each year, in line  average annual earnings. The table below shows how the threshold has increased over time.

      Plan 1 repayment threshold change over the years

      Date  Annual repayment threshold
      6 April 2000 to 5 April 2005 £10,000
      6 April 2005 to 5 April 2012 £15,000
      6 April 2012 to 5 April 2013 £15,795
      6 April 2013 to 5 April 2014 £16,365
      6 April 2014 to 5 April 2015 £16,910
      6 April 2015 to 5 April 2016 £17,335
      6 April 2016 to 5 April 2017 £17,495
      6 April 2017 to 5 April 2018 £17,775
      6 April 2018 to 5 April 2019 £18,330
      6 April 2019 to 5 April 2020 £18,935
      6 April 2020 to 5 April 2021 £19,390
      6 April 2021 to 5 April 2022 £19,895
      6 April 2022 to 5 April 2023 £20,195
  4. The interest rate is currently 6.25%

    Interest starts being added to your student loan as soon as you (or your university) receive the money from the Student Loans Company.

    The interest rate you'll be charged is the LOWER of the following:

    Either: The Bank of England base rate, plus 1%...

    Or: The rate of inflation. This is fixed for a year on 1 September based on the Retail Price Index (RPI) from the previous March, though the actual rate is only confirmed each August.

    The rate of inflation in March 2022 was 9%, which is more than the current Bank of England base rate, plus 1%. The base rate was 5.25% in August 2023. So, the current rate of interest is 6.25%.

    Remember, being charged interest isn't the same as needing to repay it, and the interest doesn't affect how much you repay each month.

    • Plan 1 interest rates in previous years

      The table below shows how the interest charged on Plan 1 loans has changed since this type of student loan was introduced in 1998.

      Plan 1 interest rates in previous years

      Date Interest rate
      21 July to 31 August 2023 6%
      9 June to 20 July 2023 5.5%
      21 April to 8 June 2023 5.25%
      3 March to 20 April 2023 5%
      12 January to 2 March 2023 4.5%
      2 December to 11 January 2023 4%
      20 October to 1 December 2022 3.25%
      1 September to 19 October 2022 2.75%
      3 March to 31 August 2022 1.5%
      13 January to 2 March 2022 1.25%
      1 September 2021 to 12 January 2022 1.1%
      1 September 2020 to 31 August 2021 1.1%
      7 April to 31 August 2020 1.1%
      1 September 2019 to 6 April 2020 1.75%
      1 September 2018 to 31 August 2019 1.75%
      1 December 2017 to 31 August 2018 1.5%
      1 September to 30 November 2017 1.25%
      1 September 2016 to 31 August 2017 1.25%
      1 September 2015 to 31 August 2016 0.9%
      1 September 2014 to 31 August 2015 1.5%
      1 September 2013 to 31 August 2014 1.5%
      1 September 2012 to 31 August 2013 1.5%
      1 September 2011 to 31 August 2012 1.5%
      1 September 2010 to 31 August 2011 1.5%
      1 September 2009 to 31 August 2010 0.0%
      6 March to 31 August 2009 1.5%
      6 February to 5 March 2009 2.0%
      9 January to 5 February 2009 2.5%
      5 December 2008 to 8 January 2009 3.0%
      1 September to 4 December 2008 3.8%
      1 September 2007 to 31 August 2008 4.8%
      1 September 2005 to 31 August 2006 2.4%
      1 September 2004 to 31 August 2005 3.2%
      1 September 2003 to 31 August 2004 2.6%
      1 September 2002 to 31 August 2003 3.1%
      1 September 2001 to 31 August 2002 2.3%
      1 September 2000 to 31 August 2001 2.6%
      1 September 1999 to 31 August 2000 2.1%
      1 September 1998 to 31 August 1999 3.5%
  5. The debt is wiped after 25 years

    Under the 'Plan 1' system, you'll keep making student loan repayments until you either clear your balance, or until 25 years have passed since the April after you graduated, whichever happens first.

    Which means most student loans in Northern Ireland are written off sooner than those taken out elsewhere in the UK. The only exception is if you took out a Plan 1 student loan in the academic year 2005/2006 or earlier, in which case, it won't be written off until you reach 65.

    The loan is also wiped if you're permanently disabled in such a way that you'll be permanently unfit to work, or if you die before paying it off, so it won't be passed onto your beneficiaries as part of your estate.

  6. There's also a grant and loan to cover your student living costs, but beware the parental contribution

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    Tuition fees aren't the only expense you have to worry about at uni, you also need to pay for your living costs while you're there – from food and accommodation to textbooks and travel.

    To cover these costs, full-time Northern Irish students can usually get one or both of the following:

    • A non-repayable maintenance grant. This is worth up to £3,475/year and DOESN'T need to be repaid. How much you'll get depends on family income – the higher yours is, the smaller your grant entitlement will be.

      So, you'll get the maximum support if your household income is around £19,000/year or less, while your entitlement will be roughly halved to £1,215/year by the time your annual household income hits £30,000. Once your income reaches roughly £41,000, you won't be entitled to any grant. Instead, you'll be entitled to a bigger maintenance loan...

    • A maintenance loan. Northern Irish students can also take out what's called a maintenance loan to help cover their living costs while at uni. This gets paid into your bank account each term and you pay it back in exactly the same way as your tuition fee loan – it's all seen as part of the same student loan.

      As with the grant, your loan entitlement is means-tested, so it's based on household income – which, for almost every student under 25, effectively means parental income. 

      Your entitlement is also affected by where you'll be living while you're at university – you'll get up to £6,610 if you're staying at home to study, or £8,136 if you're studying away from home but not in London, or £10,852 if you're studying away from home in London.

    So that's how it works in principle, but there are two key things to understand about how it works in practice...

    1. There's a hidden parental contribution

    As explained above, there's a grant and a loan to help with your student living costs.

    Students from the lowest-income households get the largest amount of support, as they qualify for the maximum possible grant, as well as a maintenance loan.

    As household income rises, your grant entitlement decreases, until it eventually reaches zero. Crucially, through your loan entitlement will help fill the gap left by the shrinking grant, it will never equal the total amount of support received by lower-income households.

    So while it's not made explicit, the Government expects parents to fill this gap themselves. This is the hidden parental contribution. To demonstrate this, let's take a couple of hypothetical examples:

    James is 18 and planning to study away from home (but not in London). His parents' income is £19,000, so he'll be entitled to a non-repayable grant of £3,475 and a repayable maintenance loan of £4,661. James' total support is therefore worth £8,136/year. There's no expected parental contribution.

    John, meanwhile, is also 18 and planning to study away from home (not in London). His parents' income is £50,000, meaning he isn't entitled to a non-repayable grant, and his maintenance loan entitlement will be £5,526/year. As this is less than the total support that students from the lowest-income households will get, the Government expects John's parents to make up the difference. So the hidden parental contribution is £2,606/year.

    The table below shows some more scenarios. Or, for more info and to see exactly how much you're expected to contribute each academic year, use our parental contribution calculator.

    Living at home

    Household income Maintenance grant Maintenance loan Total Govt. support Parental contribution
    £15,000 £3,475 £3,135 £6,610 £0
    £25,000 £2,201 £3,605 £5,806

    £804

    £35,000 £689 £4,561 £5,250

    £1,360

    £45,000 £0 £4,740 £4,740 £1,870
    £55,000 £0 £3,930 £3,930 £2,680
    £65,000 £0 £3,930 £3,930 £2,680

    Figures are for the 2023/24 academic year.

    Living away from home: Outside London

    Household income Maintenance grant Maintenance loan Total Govt. support Parental contribution
    £15,000 £3,475 £4,661 £8,136 £0
    £25,000 £2,201 £5,131 £7,332 £804
    £35,000 £689 £6,087 £6,776 £1,360
    £45,000 £0 £6,266 £6,266 £1,870
    £55,000 £0 £5,076 £5,076 £3,060
    £65,000 £0 £5,076 £5,076 £3,060

    Figures are for the 2023/24 academic year.

    Living away from home: In London

    Household income Maintenance grant Maintenance loan Total Govt. support Parental contribution
    £15,000 £3,475 £7,377 £10,852 £0
    £25,000 £2,201 £7,847 £10,048 £804
    £35,000 £689 £8,803 £9,492 £1,360
    £45,000 £0 £8,982 £8,982 £1,870
    £55,000 £0 £7,502 £7,502 £3,350
    £65,000 £0 £7,112 £7,112 £3,740

    Figures are for the 2023/24 academic year.

    2.  If you study elsewhere in the UK to study, you'll get less support than your peers

    If you're Northern Irish and go to England, Wales, or Scotland to study, the maximum maintenance loan you'll be entitled to is £8,136 per year (or £10,852 if you go to London).

    That's LESS than your peers from those countries will get. For example, if you wanted to go to Manchester to study, the maximum loan you would be entitled to is £8,136/year. Whereas a Scottish student would get up to £9,000/year, an English student would get up to £9,978, and a Welsh student would get up to £11,710/year.

    So, you'll be getting less than your peers, even though you're living in exactly the same city. This will make budgeting more difficult, and you may need to consider getting a part-time job or asking your parents for (additional) help to cover the shortfall.

    Family income dropped in the last two years?

    Your maintenance loan entitlement is usually based on the tax year two years prior to the year you apply. But if you think your family income in the 2023/24 tax year will be at least 5% lower than in the 2021/22 tax year, you may be able to get a bigger loan by applying for a current year income (CYI) assessment.

    Quick questions
    • I am independent from my parents, will I still be assessed based on their income?

      You can apply for independent status, which means your parents' incomes won't be taken into consideration, if you meet one of the following criteria:

      • You're estranged from your parents, meaning you've not had verbal or written contact with them for over a year, and your relationship won't improve in the foreseeable future.
      • You have supported yourself for at least 36 months (three years) before your course starts, although those months don't have to be consecutive. You will need to show proof of your earnings and that you've made enough to support yourself.
      • You've been in local authority care for at least three months after your 16th birthday, you're estranged from your parents and this won't improve.
      • If you don't know where your parents are, or it could be dangerous to contact them, or if your parent has a significant mental health or physical health issue that makes it impractical or dangerous for you to contact them.
      • If you're at least 25 years old on the first day of your course, or you're married or in a civil partnership or have been before but are now separated, or you have a child or dependent, or both of your parents have passed away.

      You will need to provide evidence with your application, so make sure you read the charity Stand Alone's guidance carefully to avoid the risk of being rejected.

    • I'm disabled – can I get extra help?

      Extra help, called disabled student allowances (DSAs), is available for disabled students to cover costs you have due to a mental health problem, long-term illness or another disability. You get DSAs on top of your other student finance and you don't need to pay it back.

      How much you get depends on your individual needs and where you're studying – it is not means-tested. See the Student Finance NI website for more details.

    • Is there funding available for the over-60s?

      Yes and no. Tuition fee loans are available whatever your age. But unlike in other parts of the UK, maintenance loans and grants are only available if you're under 60 (on the first day of you course).

      The special support grant may be available if you're studying full-time, your household income is below £41,065 and you're eligible for certain qualifying benefits. If you qualify, the grant will be paid directly to you and isn't repayable like the tuition fee loan. The maximum you can get is £3,475. 

  7. Postgraduate loans are paid in the same way as undergraduate loans

    Northern Ireland offers a tuition fee loan of up to £6,500 to Master's students. Payments are made directly to your university, and spread across your course, so if you're studying for two years, you'll get £3,250 each academic year.

    If your tuition fee is higher than the maximum loan amount, you'll need to pay the difference yourself. Bear in mind that you can't apply for more money than your tuition fee costs.

    There are two key requirements:

    1. Your course: You must be studying for a Master's (taught or research), postgraduate certificate or postgraduate diploma provided by a UK university. You are able to apply even if you already have a Master's or higher education, but you won't be able to apply for another loan once you've received one from any government authority in the UK. 

    2. Your nationality and residency: You must be a UK national (or have no restrictions to how long you can stay), have been living in the UK for the three years before your course starts and normally living in Northern Ireland (so not have moved there to study) on the first day of your course.

    You can also apply if you intend to study somewhere else in the UK. You may also be eligible if:

    • You're an EU or EEA national, you've lived in the EU, EEA or Switzerland for at least three years, and you'll study at a Northern Irish university.
    • You're a UK national who's been living in the EU (if you were living in Northern Ireland before you moved), you've lived in the EU for the past three years and you'll live in Northern Ireland when your course starts. 

    Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loans will be added to the balance of any undergraduate student loans that you may have, and repaid under Plan 1 income contingent repayment terms.

    This means from the beginning of the tax year (6 April) after you complete or withdraw from your course, you’ll be eligible to pay 9% of anything you earn over the minimum income threshold - £22,015 (2023/24).

  8. Apply for student finance ASAP to make budgeting easier

    If you're a new student applying for a Plan 1 loan, the deadline for the 2023/24 academic year was 5 April. While for returning students the deadline was 30 June.

    These deadlines are the last dates at which the Student Loan Company guarantees you'll receive your loan in time for the start of term.

    That said, if you do miss either deadline, don't panic. You can still apply for a loan afterwards, but the later you apply, the later you'll receive the money, which may make budgeting difficult.

    See our student budgeting guide for tips on managing your money while at uni.

  9. Your student loan ISN'T like other types of debt

    Calling it a student loan is misleading because it implies that by taking it, you're getting into debt. But that isn't really the case, because the student loan doesn't work like any other type of debt. In fact, it works more like a tax because:

    • It's repaid through the income tax system. If you're employed and earning enough to make repayments, your employer will deduct the repayments from your salary before you get it. This means that if you're an employee, no debt collectors will come chasing as you don't have a choice in the matter and will have paid it automatically. (If you're self employed, you'll need to make your repayments through the self-assessment system.)

    • It doesn't go on your credit file. You don't get credit-checked when you apply for a student loan, and the amount you borrow doesn't ever go on your credit file. For more on this, see Student loans and your credit file.

    • It doesn't prevent you from getting a mortgage. Because your loan doesn't appear on your credit file, mortgage lenders won't be able to see that you have a loan. So it won't prevent you from getting a mortgage. However, they can still ask if you have a loan, and the fact you're making monthly repayments can affect how big a mortgage you'll be assessed as being able to afford. For more, see Will a student loan affect your ability to get a mortgage.
  10. Repaying the loan early could make you worse off

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    You can choose to repay some or all of your student loan early, whenever you want. Yet this doesn't mean you should. While we generally encourage people to repay their debts as quickly as possible, student loans are one of the rare cases where that'll be a bad decision for some.

    Remember, you only start paying back your loan when you're earning at least £22,015 per year, so if you never earn over that amount, you'll never repay a penny and the loan will be wiped in 25 years. In which case, voluntarily choosing to repay some or all of your loan would be a waste of money that could be better used elsewhere.

    The only time it might make sense to repay early is if you're certain you will clear the loan before it gets wiped. Even then, it's only worth considering if you've done a number of checks – see our student loans repayment guide for more info.

  11. Ignore headlines about the system changing in 2023

    The Government has announced significant changes to the student loans system from September 2023. But these changes ONLY apply to English students. So, you can ignore them completely if you're Northern Irish, as you'll remain on the Plan 1 system.

    However, that doesn't mean there won't ever be any changes to the way student loans work for you. While it was always previously thought that any changes to the system would only apply to new starters, that's sadly now no longer guaranteed.

    So it's impossible to be certain your loan won't end up costing you more than you thought when you started university. Unfortunately, though, if you want to go to university, you've little choice but to agree to the terms of your loan as they currently stand.

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