Student Loans Mythbusting
The truth about uni fees, loans & grants
Ignore newspaper headlines about students leaving university with £50,000 of debt. That's a mostly meaningless figure. What counts is how much you'll repay; for some that's far more, for others it's free.
This guide is written to bust common myths about student loans, grants and finance, including the 20+ key facts every potential student, parent and grandparent should know.
20+ student loans mythbusting tips, including...
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Before we start, I'd just like to say:
For around a quarter of a century, we've educated our youth into debt when they go to university, but never about debt.
It was for this reason, and while no fan of them, when massive changes were announced to student finance for those starting in 2012 or beyond – including the trebling of tuition fees – I agreed to head up a student finance taskforce. The idea was to work with the National Union of Students, universities and colleges to ensure we busted the myths and misunderstandings that resulted from so much political spittle-flying.
For me what really counts is that no student is wrongly put off going to university thinking they can't afford it. Some may rightly be put off, but unless you understand the true cost, how can you decide? I hope this guide helps achieve that.
Thankfully, since then, we've also won a separate campaign to get financial education on the senior school National Curriculum in England. Yet it'll be a long time before that truly pays dividends – so there's still a lot of nonsense spoken about student loans.
Don't confuse the cost and the price tag
With headlines shouting about £50,000 student debt and that getting bigger as living loans increased in 2017, it's safe to say many students and parents are scared by this huge sum – and worry about how they'll ever repay it.
But in essence that fear is misplaced. That's because the price tag of university is mostly irrelevant. What matters in practical terms is how much you have to repay – and that's a completely separate number from the total amount of tuition fees, maintenance loan and interest, because it all depends on what you would pay.
What you repay solely depends on what you earn after university. In effect this is, financially at least, a 'no win, no fee' education. Those who earn a lot after graduating or leaving university will repay a lot. Those who don't gain too much financially from going to university will repay little or nothing.
This guide applies to the system started in England & Wales in 2012
If you started before that you're on a different system; please see the Should I repay my student loan? guide for full info on past loan systems.
You don't need the cash to pay for university
It ISN'T a case of 'pay up or you can't go'. Once your application has been processed, tuition fees are automatically paid by the Student Loans Company. And there is a loan for living costs too.
Full-time students only need to start repaying these at the earliest in the April AFTER they graduate (or leave), no matter how long their course is.
Of course you don't have to take these loans, you could pay the tuition fees directly. Yet as you'll see (in point 15) that's often a bad idea.
However, some students won't get the same support as the majority...
If you already have a higher education qualification you're unlikely to be able to borrow the money. Included within undergraduate courses are Higher National Diploma/Certificate courses and certain teacher training courses such as the PGCE.
From academic year 2017/18, student nurses no longer receive grants and have to apply for student loans, which the Government says means they'll get more to live on than they'd get through the grants system.
The amount nursing students will get depends on whether they live inside or outside London and whether they are living at home.
Taking into account a long-course allowance, the maximum a student starting in 2018 would get living outside London and not at home is £11,855.
Nurses who have already started their studies will continue to get grants.
When nurses leave their studies and start to repay their loans, it will be under the normal loan repayment system described in this guide, meaning they will repay 9% of everything they earn above £25,000. The starting salary for a nurse is £22,128, so in the first year they won't pay anything towards their student loan.
Muslim students in England are set to be able to get alternative student finance acceptable under Sharia, although there is no news on when this will be made available. We'll update the guide as soon as we know more.
You repay 9% of everything earned above £25,000 – earn less and you don't repay
Once you leave university, you only repay when you're earning above £2,083 a month (equivalent to £25,000 a year) and then it's fixed at 9% of everything you earn above that.
Earnings mean any money from employment or self employment and in some cases earnings from investment and savings.
Even if you've started repaying the loan, but then lose your job or take a pay cut, your repayments drop accordingly. To labour the point somewhat:
If you earn £26,000 in a year, what do you repay?
The answer is £90, as £26,000 is £1,000 above the threshold and 9% of £1,000 is £90.
And if you earn £35,000, what do you repay?
The answer is £900. £35,000 is £10,000 above the threshold and 9% of that is £900.
'How on earth will my child be able to afford to repay these debts if they get a poorly-paying job?'
This panicked question has been thrown at me by many parents – and it's really important to examine it in the light of the required repayments.
Someone on a low wage will be required to repay little or nothing at all. In fact, only higher earners will be shelling out large amounts.
It's important to note that not repaying much because you're just over the threshold isn't being bad. The system is, in reality, a graduate contribution, designed so that, in the main, those who gain the most financially out of university contribute the most.
You only have to pay back your student loan if you earn over the earnings threshold in a tax year. Yet most payrolls work on a monthly basis. So the £25,000 threshold is seen as £480 per week or £2,083 a month.
If you earned over that in a month, such as for a bonus, you could’ve had the money taken off you. Or if you stopped work half way through the year, money could’ve been taken off you, even though in total you earned under £25,000 in the year.
If that’s happened to you, you may be due money back. Yet if you earned over £25,000 in a year, but due to irregular income too much was taken from you (eg you earnt £26,000 but had more than £90 taken) you can’t claim this back, as once you earn over £25,000 your repayments are paid at everything you earn on £2,083/month.
If you have additional income of over £2,000 from savings interest, pensions or shares and dividends, this will also be treated as part of your income for repayment purposes. You'll need to repay 9% of that too via self-assessment.
While the amount you pay is calculated based on your pre-tax income above £25,000, the money is taken after you've paid tax. For example...
If you earn £34,000 a year gross (pre-tax) salary, you will repay £810 a year (9% of the £9,000 above £25,000).
Yet you still pay tax on the entire £34,000 income. You don't get any tax breaks on the fact you're repaying the student loan.
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 of £25,000 a year. 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.
If we ignore the moral obligation to repay the state for the education it provided you, the real question here isn't "Do I have to?" but "How can they make me?"
This is an issue of enforcement. Certainly if you temporarily leave the UK and come back having missed some payments, expect to be pursued. If you move abroad permanently, never to return, there may be no attempt to pursue you in a foreign court. But there are no guarantees of that.
What's more, the Government has said it will chase people who move abroad more thoroughly than it has in the past – through 'sanctions' and prosecution. We'll update this guide when more on this becomes available.
Some further information on this for current graduates (likely to be similar for future graduates) is available on the Student Loans Company website, though it's a bit sketchy in parts.
Whether student loan repayments are taken from your salary before or after you make a pension contribution depends on how you contribute, and what sort of scheme you're in.
Defined benefit schemes. If you're in an employer's pension scheme, eg, final salary/average salary, your student loan repayments will depend on how the scheme's administered.
You pay student loan repayments on the same income that your employer pays national insurance contributions on. So, if your pension contributions lower this figure, then that's the one assessed for student loan repayments.
However, some defined benefit schemes take the pension payment pre-tax, but after national insurance. In which case, you'll have slightly higher student loan contributions.
- Defined contribution schemes (this is what most people now have). If you pay in to a personal pension, whether monthly via your company payroll or directly as a lump sum, student loan contributions are worked out using your gross pay (unless you pay in to your pension by salary sacrifice).
You can do a self-assessment tax return to have the pension contributions taken into account. But decide if it's worth the hassle of going self-assessment if you don't already. For each £1,000 you pay in to your pension (£800 net) each year, you could pay around £90 extra in student loan repayments.
After 30 years, any and all remaining debt is wiped
You stop owing either when you've cleared the debt, or when 30 years (from the April after graduation) have passed, whichever comes first. If you never get a job earning over the threshold, it means you won't have repaid a penny.
It's one reason those who are near retirement, who don't have a degree and want one, find it very appealing as unless they've a huge pension, they know they'll never have to repay.
The debt is also wiped if you die, so it won't be passed onto your beneficiaries as part of your estate. It's also wiped if you're permanently disabled in such a way that you'll be permanently unfit to work (in such a case, earnings will usually be under the threshold anyway, but this rule's there for rare cases where unearned income is above the threshold to allow the recipient to keep it all).
Many people earning over £25,000 will never pay it all back within the 30 years
By running the numbers on some typical situations using our Student Finance Calculator, it looks likely only those towards the higher end of the income scale will ever repay all of what they borrowed, plus the interest (see later for info on that).
In this case, what you borrow is irrelevant – you'll just keep paying each month until it wipes after 30 years. This is one reason why all the talk of £50,000 is nonsense for most.
The following table should help you see roughly who's likely to pay the loan off, and what the total cost will be. As inflation and students' future income are both unpredictable, we've had to make some assumptions. This table should be seen as an indication of scale rather than anything more exact.
Before you look at the table
Please be aware it's designed to give a VERY rough indication of who's likely to pay the loan off. We've been forced to make many assumptions about inflation, earnings growth and graduates' earning growth, small changes which have a big impact. So please use this as a guide only.
You're in a career where salary increases rapidly.
You live at home or get a maintenance grant.
If so, scroll down the table for a better fit. Someone starting on £15,000 but with big salary increases to come should probably look at results for a £20,000-£25,000 starter.
You're in a career where salary remains static.
You're likely to spend periods not working (redundancy, career break, unemployment, parenting).
You're studying in London and not living at home.
You're likely to switch to part-time work.
You're likely to retire during the 30 years.
In this case you're likely to pay off your debts more slowly, so look up the table for a better fit. Someone starting on £25,000 should look at the results for a £20,000 or £15,000 starter.
We've assumed tuition fees of the full £9,250 as this is what most universities charge...
How much will you repay? (2017 starters)
Borrowing £9,250 for fees & £8,430 living costs per year, so £53,040 in total. With 3% inflation & graduate earnings growing at inflation + 2% per year.
SALARY IN 30 YEARS TOTAL AMOUNT REPAID WILL I FULLY REPAY IT? £10,000 £41,000 Nothing (i) No £15,000 £62,000 Nothing (i) No £20,000 £86,440 £350 No £21,000 £90,770 £2,250 No £25,000 £108,050 £19,840 No £30,000 £129,660 £49,730 No £35,000 £151,270 £179,750 No £40,000 £172,880 £109,770 Yes – 21 years £45,000 £194,490 £139,790 Yes – 26 years £50,000 £196,010 £154,330 Yes – 29 years (i) Assumes student loan repayment threshold goes up in line with our assumption of average wages increase.
How much will you repay at today's prices?
Borrowing £9,250 for fees & £8,430 living costs per year, so £53,040 in total With 3% inflation & graduate earnings growing at inflation + 2% per year.
£10,000 £ Nothing (i) £15,000 £ Nothing (i) £20,000 £ £150 £21,000 £ £1,010 £25,000 £ £10,340 £30,000 £ £28,220 £35,000 £ £46,270 £40,000 £ £64,270 £45,000 £ £82,300 £50,000 £ £94,020 (i) Assumes student loan repayment threshold goes up in line with our assumption of average wages increase.
Figures based on the following assumptions:
- Interest is accrued daily and applied monthly.
- Inflation will be 3% each year (Bank of England statistics show inflation for 2000-2010 to be 2.7% and we have rounded it up).
- Graduate salary increase will be RPI + 2% (based on ONS figures 2000 – 2010). This factors in some of an individual's potential pay increases, through promotions or skills as they get older or more experienced. This differs from overall average earnings increase, which is across the whole population regardless of age.
- Tuition Loan and Maintenance Loan are £9,250 and £8,200 respectively.
- Employment will be gained from Sep 2020, but repayments start April 2021.
And the following facts:
- Debt grows by inflation plus 3% until April 2019.
- Debt increases annually by RPI plus 0.00015% for every £1 you earn above £21,000. From April 2021, this £25,000 threshold begins to increase.
- The repayment threshold is £25,000 in 2018/19 after which it will rise by average earnings growth (we assume this to be RPI+1% per annum).
No debt collectors with student loans
All student loans since 1998 have been repaid through the payroll just like income tax. What this means is that once you're working, your employer will deduct the repayments from your salary before you get it. So the amount you receive in your bank account each month already has it removed.
This means no debt collectors will come chasing as you don't have a choice in the matter and will have paid it automatically.
You always repay the student loan in the same way as you repay income tax.
For the self-employed, this is done via HMRC's self-assessment scheme. At the end of each tax year, you calculate your earnings and the appropriate amount of tax and loan repayments, and then send it to HM Revenue & Customs. This also applies if you have additional self-employed earnings on top of employment.
If you fail to pay, you'll be sent a reminder. Ignore that, and in a similar way to failing to repay your taxes, you could end up in court. Some more information is available for graduates on the Student Loans Company website.
As a side note, if you are likely to be self-employed, read my Warning to new freelancers and the self-employed blog.
'Above-inflation' interest will be charged
Until 2012 there was no 'real' cost to borrowing money via student loans, as the interest rate was set at the rate of inflation (RPI). So, borrow a shopping trolley worth of goods and you'll repay enough to buy the same, even though the actual cash amount may increase (more on this in the Should I Repay My Student Loan? guide).
If you don't understand interest rates? Read the Interest Rates Beginners' Guide
Yet for everyone who started university since the major changes in 2012 that's all changed. The interest is as follows:
Accrues RPI inflation plus 3% on the outstanding balance. This continues until the first April after graduation when it changes to…
After studying, earning under £25,000:
Accrues RPI inflation.
After studying, earning £25,000 – £45,000:
The interest rate will gradually rise from RPI to RPI plus 3% the more you earn (the interest rises 0.00015% for every extra pound you earn or, put another way, if you earn £1,000 more, you accrue 0.15% extra interest). These thresholds are frozen until 2021, but could rise with average earnings after.
After studying, earning over £45,000:
Accrues RPI inflation plus 3%.
It's worth noting all the above scenarios assume inflation is positive (prices rising). It's not yet known what would happen in a period of deflation (prices falling).
The rate used is the previous March's RPI inflation rate. March 2018's RPI inflation rate was 3.3% meaning interest charged on student loans for the 2018/19 academic year is between 3.3% and 6.3% depending on whether you're studying or graduated, and how much you earn.
Student loans are interest free for many
I'm no fan of the fact that students aren't just being charged for their education, they also pay for financing it with above inflation interest.
Yet that's a principled stance. Being charged interest isn't the same as needing to repay it. In practical terms for lots of graduates especially those who never become high earners, they'll never end up repaying any interest, so it's meaningless. See my Student loans are interest free for many blog.
Part-timers and post-grads can get loans for tuition fees too
Part-time students, often forgotten, make up 40% of all undergraduates. Fees start at around £4,500 with a maximum of £6,935 in 2018/19.
Yet since 2012, for the first time, part-time students studying at least 25% of a full-time course have been eligible for tuition fee Student Loans Company loans on exactly the same basis as full-time students.
And now, if your course starts on or after 1 August 2018, you are also eligible for maintenance loans or grants as well - although students over 60 don't qualify.
New master's students can apply for a Master's loan from the Student Loans Company to pay for their courses. These only need repaying if they earn enough once the course ends. Students starting from August 2018 can apply for up to £10,609.
New students studying on a doctoral level are eligible to apply for the Doctoral loan. Like the Master's loan, it only needs to be repaid if they earn above the threshold. Students starting from August 2018 can apply for up to £25,000.
Full info on this in my Postgraduate Student Loans Guide.
The marketisation of university hasn't worked – almost all unis charge £9,000
When student finance was first introduced in 2012, the idea was that there would be some expensive degrees and some cheap degrees and they were charged between £6,000 and £9,000.
Frankly, most universities for full-time students now charge £9,250 and they're going to be allowed to increase with inflation in the future.
But it's worth examining whether this makes a jot of difference to you. Whether you choose a course that costs £6,000 or £9,250, you'll repay the same amount each month, as it purely depends on what you earn (9% above £25,000).
In other words, whatever your tuition fees (and maintenance loan) if you earn £26,000, and haven't cleared the debt, you repay £90 a year.
Of course, the more you borrow, the longer you'll be repaying. Yet it's worth noting that, as many people won't finish repaying before the 30 years is up (see key fact 4) unless you're a higher earner, picking a course with higher fees won't actually cost you more.
You can borrow for living costs too
Full-time students at the start of their course can also take a loan to pay for their living costs, eg, food, books, accommodation and travel. They are known as maintenance loans, and are usually paid in three termly installments direct to the student's bank account.
The loan is repaid in exactly the same way as the loan for tuition fees (ie, 9% of everything earned above £25,000).
The amount available is dictated by two elements:
The guaranteed bit
Up to 65% of the maximum living cost loan is currently available to everyone, regardless of their parental income.
The income assessed bit
The amount you can borrow is means-tested, in other words, it depends on your or your parents' residual income (pre-tax income minus pensions – see a full definition of residual income).
If income is higher, then you or your parents are expected to fill this financing gap – if they don't it can be difficult. Feel free to show them this to help explain the way the system works.
ACADEMIC YEAR LIVING WITH PARENTS LIVING AWAY FROM HOME LIVING AWAY FROM HOME (LONDON) LIVING AWAY FROM HOME (OVERSEAS) 2017/18 £7,097 £8,430 £11,002 £9,654 2018/19 £7,324 £8,700 £11,354 £9,963
Maintenance loans now available for the over 60s
It used to be these loans were only available to the under 60s. But since 2016/17, over 60s are able to apply for loans for living costs too, if they're studying full-time. The maximum loan for living costs in 2018/19 for all full-time students aged 60 or over will be £3,680.
Technical education students to receive maintenance loans from 2019
Students taking higher-level technical courses in areas such as construction, digital skills and social care will be able to apply for maintenance loans from the 2019/20 academic year.
The loans will be available to those on technical education courses at levels four to six in national colleges and institutes of technology. Full details of the loans, including maximum amounts and means-tested elements, are yet to be announced, we'll update this guide when we know more.
My biggest problem is the loan isn't big enough
While most media outlets like to focus on the headline figure of £50,000 – in real terms the main issue most students face is that the loan isn't big enough. The amount of money to live off can barely cover accommodation fees in some circumstances.
Therefore, it's crucial to ensure there is a real focus on budgeting, and you don't spend the cash the first few weeks of term. Part-time jobs, any grants, extra cash from parents will all help. See Student MoneySaving tips for more on how to make the cash stretch further.
To get the cash by the start of the September 2018 term, you needed to meet the following deadlines, which change based on where you live:
If you live in England: For new students it was 25 May, for returning students, 22 June.
If you live in Wales: For new students it was 11 May, for returning students, 8 June.
If you live in Northern Ireland: For new students it was 13 April, for returning students, 29 June.
Missed the deadline? Don’t worry, you can still apply up to nine months after your course start date for funding but you won’t be certain to get the cash in time for the start of term if you’re late.
If you live in Scotland: For any students, to get funding in time you must apply by 30 June, but if you make any errors on your form, be aware that’s the final cut-off.
Grants were replaced by larger loans for 2016/17 starters and beyond
In the 2015 Budget the Chancellor announced that from the 2016/17 academic year, maintenance grants would be scrapped, so all of the money for maintenance now comes in the form of a student loan in England.
Existing students at the time will not be affected by this change, ie, those who started from the 2015/16 academic year or earlier will still continue to get their grants even after 2016.
The silver lining to this cloud is that the maximum borrowing was substantially increased from 2016, though only for new students.
The amount students get depends on their family's household income, though under the new, larger loans system, only 45-50% of the loan is guaranteed (depending where you study) with the remaining proportion income-assessed, meaning for those studying outside London, only £3,690 of the £8,700 maximum is guaranteed.
This means everyone eligible is entitled to a loan, regardless of how much their parents earn, although only those with a household income of £25,000 or under will be able to get the maximum amounts in 2018/19 of:
- Living at home: £7,324/year
- Living away from home, outside London: £8,700/year
- Living away from home in London: £11,354/year
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If your parents earn more than £25,000, they're expected to contribute
The amount of maintenance loan you get's based on your parents' (or household) income. So, if your parents earn more than £25,000 you won't get the full amount – and the amount you do get is means tested on their income.
Only around 45% of the loan is guaranteed under the new rules, the idea being that your parents should make up the shortfall in loan amount so everyone gets the maximum one way or another.
We've put together a table using the Student finance calculator at Gov.uk showing how much your parents'll be expected to contribute at different income levels (though these are suggested – you can't force them to pay). The amounts differ depending on where you are living.
HOUSEHOLD INCOME LOAN AMOUNT (PER YEAR) PARENTAL CONTRIBUTION TO EQUAL MAX LOAN (PER YEAR) £10,000 £8,700 Nothing £15,000 £8,700 Nothing £20,000 £8,700 Nothing £25,000 £8,700 Nothing £30,000 £8,076 £624 £35,000 £7,452 £1,248 £40,000 £6,828 £1,872 £45,000 £6,204 £2,496 £50,000 £5,579 £3,121 £55,000 £4,955 £3,745 £60,000 £4,331 £4,369 £62,187+ £4,054 £4,646 HOUSEHOLD INCOME LOAN AMOUNT (PER YEAR) PARENTAL CONTRIBUTION TO EQUAL MAX LOAN (PER YEAR) £10,000 £7,324 Nothing £15,000
Nothing £20,000 £7,324 Nothing £25,000 £7,324 Nothing £30,000 £6,707 £617 £35,000 £6,090 £1,234 £40,000 £5,473 £1,851 £45,000 £4,855 £2,469 £50,000 £4,238 £3,086 £55,000 £3,621 £3,703 £58,215+ £3,224 £4,100 HOUSEHOLD INCOME LOAN AMOUNT (PER YEAR) PARENTAL CONTRIBUTION TO EQUAL MAX LOAN (PER YEAR) £10,000 £11,354 Nothing £15,000 £11,354 Nothing £20,000 £11,354 Nothing £25,000 £11,354 Nothing £30,000 £10,719 £635 £35,000 £10,084 £1,270 £40,000 £9,449 £1,905 £45,000 £8,813 £2,541 £50,000 £8,178
£55,000 £7,543 £3,811 £60,000 £6,907 £4,447 £65,000 £6,272 £5,082 £69,847+ £5,485 £5,700 HOUSEHOLD INCOME LOAN AMOUNT (PER YEAR) PARENTAL CONTRIBUTION TO EQUAL MAX LOAN (PER YEAR) £10,000 £9,963 Nothing £15,000 £9,963 Nothing £20,000 £9,963 Nothing £25,000 £9,963 Nothing £30,000 £9,024 £631 £35,000 £8,393 £1,261 £40,000 £7,763 £1,891 £45,000 £7,132 £2,522 £50,000 £6,502 £3,152 £55,000 £5,871 £3,783 £60,000 £5,241 £4,413 £65,000 £4,610 £5,044 £69,847+ £4,510 £5,144
However, it's worth noting that if you're eligible for benefits, there's more than one university student in your household, or you've applied for supplementary support, your parents' income's assessed in a different way. Full information's available in this catchily-titled Financial Memorandum 2018/19.
It's also worth checking out Martin's blog on how much the Government expects parents to contribute to their children for university.
Will scrapping student grants stop people going to university?
In practical terms, getting rid of the student grant will only affect high-earning graduates. That's because after leaving university, students repay 9% of everything they earn over £25,000 for a maximum of 30 years. Those who'd currently qualify for a full grant would only actually pay more if it was wiped, if they'd repay their entire tuition fee, remaining maintenance loan after the grant, and interest within the thirty years before the debt wipes.
A number crunch shows, as a rough rule of thumb, for a student living away from home, taking the full tuition fees, this is only for those on graduate starting salaries substantially above £30,000 who then get above inflation pay rises after that too. That is at the very high end of graduate earnings.
The real risk with ending grants is the fact larger loans can be a psychological deterrent, especially to those from non university backgrounds.
Student loans DO NOT go on credit files
When you borrow from a bank for a credit card, loan or mortgage, to evaluate whether they'll make money from you lenders look at three pieces of information – your application form, any previous dealings they've had with you and crucially, the information on your credit reference files (full info: How Credit Ratings Work).
Most normal financial transactions and credit relationships you have are listed on these files – yet student loans are not included (with the exception of students who started university before 1998 under the original loans system and defaulted).
So the only way loan, credit card or mortgage providers know if you've got a student loan is if they choose to ask on application forms. They can do this and it happens, but in general it's only for bigger value transactions such as mortgages.
Student debt can impact your ability to get a mortgage, but not as much as people think
I know many parents worry that now we have £9,250 tuition fees the subsequent 'debt', will hit their child's ability to get a mortgage after studying.
Of course, having a student loan is worse than not having one when it comes to getting a mortgage. Though going to university often results in earning a higher salary, which usually cancels this out.
Many worry about the "huge debt" putting lenders off, actually that isn't a problem, student loans don't appear on your credit file, so the impact isn't really about whether you'll be allowed a mortgage or not.
Where it does impact is in the affordability checks which establish whether you can afford to make repayments on a mortgage. Of course, as you have lower take-home income with a student loan, that means you'll be assessed as being able to make smaller repayments. For full help see First-Time Buyers Mortgage Guide.
The changes in 2012 had some benefits for those getting mortgages
Many parents' biggest fear was about the increase in tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 back in 2012. Yet actually in some ways the changes were an improvement.
While it's now a somewhat dated issue, it does merit a mention – and if you understand this explanation then it means you've nailed understanding the new system.
If we contrast student loans for those who start now with their 2011 predecessors, while the borrowing is bigger, the repayments are smaller. That's because recent starters pay 9% over £25,000, while those who started before pay 9% over £17,335.
That means the 2011 cohort lose more of their disposable income, making mortgages far less 'affordable'.
Yet the fact they repay more each month and have borrowed less mean they're likely to clear their debt much quicker, so once they've repaid it (typically after a decade or so), they then have a bigger disposable income. Thus all in all, for mortgage getting at least, the change was swings and roundabouts.
You can repay student loans early
In the early days, the Government was consulting on penalties to stop people repaying early – but the mass of feedback (including our no to penalties submission) was against – and thankfully it decided to scrap the idea.
Yet this doesn't mean you should pay off early, just because it's allowed. While in general we'd encourage people to repay their debts as quickly as possible, student loans are one of the rare cases where that will be a bad decision for some people.
This is because, as explained in point 18 below, under the new system many won't fully repay before the debt's wiped (after 30 years, use the Student Finance Calc to see). Overpaying each month could actually be peeing in the wind – as the overpayment's not reducing the amount you'd need to pay back at all.
Even if you've enough cash to clear the loan in full it may not be worth it as your repayments primarily depend on what you earn, not what you borrowed. It could mean you need to repay less than what you owed. To see how this concept works read the Beware paying Tuition Fees Upfront guide.
Beware paying tuition fees upfront, it could leave you £10,000s worse off
Many parents save up to avoid their children getting into 'debt'. Even more horrifically, some borrow money themselves so their children won't need student loans.
That's a petrifying thought, a student loan is the 'best' form of debt you'll ever get. The interest is relatively low and crucially you only need to repay it if you earn enough.
Yet even if you've got the savings anyway it can be very bad financial logic. Let's take a look...
Paul wants to study agricultural sciences. His parents decide they don't want him getting the tuition fee loan and shell out £27,000 of their hard earned cash to pay his tuition fees, and give him £20,000 to live off over three years.
He graduates and wonderfully decides to go and work for a charity based in Africa for 10 years, where he never earns over £25,000. Then he comes back, gets married and becomes a full-time parent of their three children.
They paid £48,000 for money Paul will never need to repay. In fact, they'd have been far better off to save the money towards a mortgage deposit for him, as that's a far more difficult task..
Of course, I've given you an extreme example, but if you are considering paying tuition fees up front, it can still be a waste of cash even for those who earn well over £25,000 after university. If you're considering this read my full Beware Paying Tuition Fees Up front guide, which takes you through the pros and cons.
Students from, or going to, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish unis may have different rules
Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish students, including those who decide to study in England, receive their financial support from their "home" devolved administration so it's a matter for those governments to decide how they wish to support their students.
Scottish students studying in Scotland pay no tuition fees. English and Northern Irish students studying there will be charged up to £9,250 per year, as will Scottish students studying in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
More info: Student Awards Agency for Scotland
Northern Irish students studying in Northern Ireland can pay up to £4,160 in 2018/19. Those from England, Scotland or Wales will be charged up to £9,250 per year.
More info: Student Finance ni
Tuition fees at Welsh Universities are £9,000 for those studying in Wales and £9,250 if studying in the rest of the UK.
More info: Student Finance Wales
Here's a summary of the situation for 2018 starters:
WHERE STUDENT IS STUDYING WHERE STUDENT LIVES ENGLAND SCOTLAND WALES NORTHERN IRELAND England Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Scotland Up to £9,250 Free Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Wales Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Up to £9,000 Up to £9,250 Northern Ireland Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 Up to £9,250 £4,160 Source: Ucas
The very highest earners aren't the very highest payers
Throughout this guide, I've explained that the more you earn the more you repay. Yet a quirk of the system means technically, beyond a certain point, that's not true.
In truth, for the huge majority of people this isn't relevant, so feel free to skip this technical point, but I add it in for technical correctness and because from a political perspective it is worth examining.
This quirk happens because seriously high earners pay off so quickly they have less time to accrue interest. If we take a ludicrous example to prove the point, if someone earned a billion pounds in their first month of work, they'd have cleared the debt in one month, so no interest would've accrued.
Of course they still repay far more in total than low earners, but it does mean rather perversely that very very high earners repay less than high earners.
Try a wee experiment to see this. Go to the Student Finance Calculator and set it to the maximum tuition fees (£9,250 per year) and typical maintenance loan (£5,740 per year). Now use the salary slider to change the starting salary and (on standard assumptions of inflation and salary growth) you'll see at first the repayments rise. Then, after a starting salary of around £41,000, they start to fall.
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The student loan isn't a debt; if we changed its name to the more accurate 'graduate contribution' this mythbusting guide would be less needed
The name 'student loans' frightens people. They scare the risk averse, which tends to especially be those from non-traditional university backgrounds off going to university. They make parents do silly things like borrowing on their expensive mortgage so their child won't be 'in debt'.
Even worse it means many students have lost the fear of debt, and ended up taking out credit cards or payday loans – after all if the Government enforces you to 'borrow' what can be wrong with it.
Yet the truth is what we call a student loan isn't really a debt like any other, in fact it acts far more like a tax than a loan. After all...
- It's repaid through the income tax system
- You only repay it if you earn over a certain amount
- The amount repaid increases with earnings
- It does not go on credit files
- Debt collectors will not chase for it
- Bigger borrowing doesn't increase repayments
- Many people will continue to repay for the majority of their working life
But in reality, it isn't a tax, it's more of a contributory contract; in effect, though, it's somewhere between the two.
Time to change the name
So if we're looking for a name for this hybrid form of finance, lets try the "contribution" as used in Australia. Below are a few key student loan facts where I've changed the word 'repay' for 'contribute' and suddenly they make more sense.
· You need only contribute if you earn enough (£25,000 in a year) once you graduate
· Your contributions are taken via the payroll
· The more financially successful you are, the more you will contribute in total
- If you don't earn enough, you don't have to contribute
- You only have to contribute for 30 years.
Suddenly this fear of debt looks ridiculous. Would a student say: "I'm not going to university, because if I'm a high earner afterwards they'll ask me for a contribution to my education." Of course not, they'd relish the financial success, and be assured that if they didn't do too well, they wouldn't contribute as much or even nothing at all.
The same is true of parents. Many say: "I'm worried my child will be £50,000 in debt when they leave university, I will do all I can to prevent it." However I've never heard anyone say "I'm worried my child will earn enough to be a higher-rate taxpayer after university, I'm saving up now to pay their tax for them."
Let's take this a step further, and put the 'contribution' within the model of income tax. Take a look at this table.
Annual earnings up to £11,850 No tax – as this is the typical 'personal allowance', the amount earnable before income tax starts. Earnings over £11,850 up to £25,000 32% tax and national insurance Earnings above £25,000 41% due to addition of student loan repayments Earnings above £46,350 51% due to addition of higher rate tax, but drop in national insurance (2) Earnings above £150,000 56% due to higher rate tax (2) (1) 'Marginal' means you only pay the specified tax rate on that portion of salary. For more, see the Tax Rates guide. (2) Earn above £100,000 and your personal allowance will also be affected.
I've been campaigning to get the name changed, including meeting with the Universities Minister, for further arguments on it see my student loans aren't a debt editorial. Most recently at a Conservative party conference the Universities Minister agree with me that student loans should be called 'graduate contributions', we'll update this guide with any further developments.
Student loans should be counted as part of students' income
Many school leavers go straight to university with their parents or grandparents yelling "STICK TO A BUDGET!" Yet that simply isn't enough info. Think about this for a moment:
A working person shouldn't spend more than they EARN.
What shouldn't a full-time student spend more than?
It's this piece of the budgeting jigsaw many people miss, but it's crucial – without knowing your income, you can't budget.
I'd define a student's income as: the student loan, any grant, any income from working and any money given by parents or relatives.
Total that up, and this is what you should budget not to spend more than.
It's important to note while this does include the student loan, it doesn't include 0% overdrafts, which at best should be seen as an aid to cash flow but not income (see Best Student Accounts guide) or any other commercial debt.
Offered a fee waiver or bursary? Go for the bursary
Those coming from homes with lower incomes, or with less traditional university backgrounds, are likely to be offered incentives by universities. The exact structure and money is likely to be given in one of three ways, but should be worth up to £3,000:
Here you are given a reduction each year on your tuition fees, meaning the loan you need is less.
This is some form of cash or gift in kind. It could range from a £1,000 grant or help with living arrangements, depending on your situation.
Similar to a bursary, it is usually a form of cash or gift in kind. Getting one depends on academic ability (usually A-level grades) rather than income.
See details about...
Definitions of discretionary funding
Many organisations, including universities and colleges, offer additional funding to help students in particular circumstances. Sometimes this is to broaden the range of entrants to higher education and sometimes it aims to encourage applications from high achieving students.
Each organisation will have its own priorities for the students it wants to assist. So the following categories will vary depending on where and what is being studied. Students need to research what support is on offer both in their local area, subject area, and at the universities they are applying to.
A bursary is a grant that does not need to be repaid. Bursaries are usually paid by universities to help with costs associated with study: books and equipment, childcare, and travel are typical examples. Eligibility is usually determined by household income, or other personal circumstances, eg, those with children or those leaving care. Availability and how much you receive will vary at different universities.
A scholarship does not have to be repaid. Scholarships are usually paid in recognition of educational achievement and can help towards the costs of fees or other course costs and may also provide living cost support. Availability and how much you receive will vary at different universities.
Fee waiver/fee discount
This is paid to cover some (via a discount), or all (via a waiver) of your tuition fees. You will not usually receive a payment directly when you are awarded a fee waiver/discount. It reduces the amount of tuition fees you are required to pay and does not have to be paid back.
Info provided by Nasma.
If you are given a choice, as some universities will be offering, with everything else being equal it is usually better to go for a bursary.
The reason for this is quite simple. As I've explained, many people will never repay in full, even at the £6,000 level.
Therefore, in real terms, unless you earn a higher salary on graduation the fee waiver is unlikely to reduce the amount you repay at all. So while it may feel like your fee and debt are lower, there is no material impact on your pocket.
Yet a bursary will provide definitive cash now, which is a boon and could reduce the need for any commercial borrowing. So as one is a certain gain, and the other a 'you may benefit in the future but might not', the choice is a no-brainer.
To get really advanced (feel free to ignore this) for those who are sure they'll be on very big salaries there is an advantage to taking the fee waiver as it reduces the interest paid. Yet this is marginal at best over taking cash now, as inflation reduces the impact due to money being worth more now than later.
It is interesting to note that while worse for you, fee waivers are far better for the Treasury. As the money comes from the university, it decreases the amount the Government has to loan out.
Universities that charge over £6,000 must use some of the excess funds over that amount to help improve access to university. The money comes from two sources...
The Access Programme – widening participation
Institutions that charge fees above £6,000 are also obliged to put some of the excess charge (works out at an average of around 25%) into access agreement schemes to widen participation for students from under-represented groups.
This money will be given to students from low household incomes who come from under-represented groups, ie, those most able but least likely to apply.
Other forms of funding
On top of the official financial support, other funding sources are also available from scholarship sites such as Scholarship Search, Family Action, Turn2Us, Student Cash Point and Uni Grants UK. Though check the details directly with the university, find contact details on the Nasma website, or grant provider too.
Warning. This is how it works now – sadly it can be changed – even retrospectively
So now you understand it, the obvious question is, "how fixed is all this?"
The Government has already announced it's selling off the remaining £40bn of student loan debt it has – a concern to many of the over four million uni leavers since 1998 with outstanding loans. In itself that can't change the terms and structures of the way the loans work, but it can change operating practices which may be a pain in the neck for some.
Yet, it's important to understand Parliament is omnicompetent. In other words, it's completely free to make and change rules made in the past. This means there is no 100% guarantee the system will remain unchanged for the 30 years until you're clear. It's worth being aware this is a risk factor.
In the past it has always been thought that retrospective changes to the system go against natural justice and it hasn't happened – after all each time a new student finance system has been introduced, it has only applied to new starters.
Yet that sacred trust was breached in November 2015 – the Government froze the repayment threshold for all those who started in 2012 and beyond. The threshold had meant to be increased. This effectively hiked the cost of student loans above what people had thought they would be when they started university. That shouldn't happen. No commercial firm would be allowed to do so.
However, the student loan repayment threshold was increased from £21,000 to £25,000 in April 2018 as part of a wide-ranging review of student finance. Tuition fees are to be frozen at £9,250 until 2019.
Yet, the Government still refuses to enshrine many elements of student loan rates into statute – meaning it can change rates without a vote in the House of Commons.
This is a very worrying situation as it means it is difficult to trust the system. Yet unfortunately if you want to go to university you've no choice.