Student loans

Want to go to uni? You’ll need some help to pay for it all. All first time undergraduate students from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can get a student loan.

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Student loans: Not just for beer

There are two types of student loan in the UK – one to cover your tuition fees and one for your living expenses. In all areas of the UK other than Scotland you will need a student loan to pay for tuition fees (unless you have a spare sixty grand lying about…no? Didn’t think so). You may also need a loan for your living expenses, depending on your family’s circumstances.

You will then need to pay these loans off when you graduate – with interest.

If you live in Scotland and you’re going to a Scottish University then your tuition fees will be paid for as long as you fit this criteria.

Isn’t debt bad though? Even student debt?

Bad debts tend to be the result of snap decisions. Bad debt means not feeling confident you can pay the money back. As loans go, a student loan is a pretty good loan to get because the interest is low, you’re using the money to contribute to your future (as opposed to a holiday) and you should eventually be able to pay it back.

Having said that, your student loan could clock in at £60,000. So it’s important to consider all your education options.

When do I have to pay back my student loans?

There are two different repayment plan types, Plan 1 and Plan 2. Understanding the plan type is important as it determines the income level you start repaying your loan and the interest rate which applies. 

You’re on Plan 1 if you’re an English or Welsh student who started an undergraduate course anywhere in the UK before 1 September 2012. You only pay it back when you’re earning more than £18,935 each year. If you don’t pay it back 25 years after you graduate, what’s left will get written off. 

You’re on Plan 2 if you’re an English or Welsh student who started an undergraduate course anywhere in the UK on or after 1 September 2012. You only pay it back when you’re earning more than £25,725 each year. If you don’t pay it back 30 years after you graduate, what’s left will get written off. 

For more information about this read our paying back your student loan article.

How is the student loan split up?

You can get two ‘kinds’ of student loan – one for your tuition fees, and one for you to actually live off. Your tuition fees are paid directly to the university so you never technically see that money. Whereas your loan to live off – known as a ‘maintenance loan’ goes directly into your own personal bank account.

How much will they loan for tuition fees?

You’re given enough to cover the cost of your course.

For undergraduates starting their courses in 2020, the following applies: 

  • In Wales, universities can charge up to £9,000 a year  
  • In England they can charge up to £9,250 a year 
  • In Northern Ireland they can charge up to £9,250 (but if you’re from Northern Ireland the maximum is £4,395) 
  • In Scotland they can charge up to £9,250 (those from Scotland don’t pay a penny though) 

If you decide to do your degree abroad your loan options are a bit more limited.

How much will they loan me to live off?

By living we mean buying late night kebabs and copious amounts of alcohol *cough* sorry, paying rent and bills.

The size of your maintenance loan depends on a number of factors:

  • How much your household income is, so how much your parents or your partner earns. The less they have, the more money you can borrow.
  • If your university is in London you get more because it costs more to live there.
  • If you’re living in your parent’s home you get less.
  • If you’re spending a year abroad you can borrow more for that year.

You pay maintenance loans back the same way as your tuition fee loan. To work out how much you’re entitled to you can fill in a student finance calculator, there’s one for England, one for Wales and one for Northern Ireland. If you’re in Scotland there’s not a calculator but you can see all the information here.

If you’re on a low income

Don’t worry you still have options. Previously if you were from a low income household you could also apply for a maintenance grant. The grant of up to £3,387 a year helped young people with their studies and they didn’t even have to pay it back, like ever.

Now these grants have been scrapped and students from low incomes households have to take out bigger loans to survive at university.

If you’re just starting university or about to start your second year and don’t know what to do without the money from your maintenance grant don’t worry. Speak to your student advisor to see if you can get funding from your university. Scroll down to our ‘what other help can I get’ section to find out more about other university funding options.

How do I apply for a student loan?

Apply online to Student Finance England if you’re based in England, SAAS if you’re from Scotland, Student Finance Wales if you’re in Wales, and Student Finance NI if you’re in Northern Ireland. 

Get ready for some lengthy form-filling fun; you’ll need information about your course, your university, your parent’s income and your National Insurance number.

Remember it can take six weeks for the student loans company to process a loan, so if you want the money at the start of the year, apply ASAP. The deadline is nine months after the start of the academic year otherwise you won’t be getting a student loan at all.

What other help can I get?

Other grants, bursaries and loans are available for people in different situations:

Will all of these loans and grants cover everything?

A lot of students struggle with money. Especially if the Bank-of-Mum-and-Dad doesn’t have the money (or the inclination) to help you out. You’ll need to think about other ways of covering your living costs. Our articles on how much it costs to be a student and minimising your debt will get you started.

If you need further support on this, give us a call on 0808 808 4994. We’re unable to give specific money advice but can guide you to the best places for expert support.

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Next Steps

  • Find your local Citizens Advice here, for free and independent legal advice. Or call their helpline. 03454 04 05 06
  • The Money Advice Service offers free, unbiased and independent advice about all financial matters. 0800 138 7777
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 27-May-2020