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The ultimate student finance guide for freshers

If you are heading to university this autumn, here is how to make sure you can afford to have fun rather than worrying about the pennies.

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How to budget

Setting and sticking to a budget makes sure you do not spend more than the money you have coming in - this is especially important if you need to survive off a single student loan instalment each term.

If you can resist splurging cash on things you do not need it can keep you out of financial trouble and maximise what you can do with your money.

Student bank accounts

There are some eye-catching deals out there for student accounts as the banks try to lure in young customers they hope will stick with them for life.

Resist gimmicky gifts, because you are far better off going with an account with a competitive overdraft. An interest free overdraft will not charge you if you need to borrow a little to keep you going until payday or the next instalment of your loan.

If you do choose an account with a gift, try to pick one that is useful like a student railcard or a free NUS Extra card.

An account you can manage from your computer or mobile is worth it too, to help you keep track of your spending.

Student loans and grants

You can get a loan of up to £9,000 each year to pay tuition fees.

You can also get a maintenance loan to pay living costs. The amount depends on the part of the country you are in and if you live away from home or not. You can work out how much you could get on GOV.UK.

Student loans only need to be paid back once you start working and earn £21,000 or above.

Paying bills

If you live in halls of residence, most bills are usually included in your rent. Some student houses will also include all bills in the rent you pay. Although this can sometimes work out more expensive, it does at least make budgeting pretty straightforward.

If you will live with others and have to pay your bills separately, work out exactly how you will split and pay the bills in advance to avoid falling out.

You could open a joint account to do this. That way you can each pay in the same amount each month and split the bills fairly. However, do be aware that having a joint account links your finances and if someone is careless with the account it could damage your credit rating, something you may regret as a graduate.

Alternatively, you could set up your utilities through a company like Split the Bills. You can each pay an agreed amount on the first of every month to cover all your bills (and a little extra to cover the cost of the service), rather than dealing with the complications of having varying bill amounts cropping up throughout the month.

Broadband, phone and TV

Do not just look for the cheapest package you can find - find one that covers everything you need, whether that is all the sports channels, free minutes to phone home or a decent broadband download limit.

If you will only be in your student house for 9 months, look for deals that offer a shorter contract, in case they are cheaper than having to pay for an entire year.


Unless it is included in your rent, you will have to pay for the gas, electricity and water you use.

As well as picking a cheap supplier for each, you can save money by limiting how much you use and submitting meter readings to make sure you are not paying for more than you are using.

TV licence

If you watch TV shows live, you will need a TV licence, whatever device you watch them on.

Your parents' licence is unlikely to cover you if you live away from home, but if you live in shared accommodation you will usually only need one licence for the whole house.

If you will be heading home for the summer, you will not be in your student house for a full 12 months. You can get a refund for the months you are back home.

Information on how to do this and the specifics on when you need a licence is on the TV Licensing website.

Council tax

If everyone in your house is a full-time student, you will not need to pay any council tax.

However, you will need to apply for exemption from council tax if you get sent a bill for it - you can do this on the GOV.UK website.

Student credit cards

It is best to avoid credit card debt if you can, as it can quickly grow if you spend more than you can pay back. However, student credit cards do come with some benefits, including protection on your purchases.

Student credit cards can bring a range of benefits, very low interest rates for short term periods, a lower APR than standard cards, free vouchers, no annual fee, access to cash machines, or the opportunity to sign up for online banking.

You will need several details to hand before applying for a student credit card such as your banking details and proof of address for the past 3 years.

Other loans

Taking out loans can be tempting, but unless you have got a clear plan to get it paid back quickly, you can find the amount you owe will just get higher and higher.

Do not be tempted by the ease of payday loans - their sky-high interest rates and fees make them totally unsuitable as a long-term solution.

Student insurance

If you have never dropped, lost or broken anything and know you will never be robbed, you probably do not need insurance.

Otherwise, the right contents insurance policy can protect you from loss, breakages and pesky thieves.

Make sure you choose a policy that will protect everything you take to uni. Shop around and make sure you do what you can to push down the price, like having a lock on the door to your room.

You will not need buildings insurance if you rent, as that will be the landlord's responsibility.

You can use our student contents insurance comparisons to make sure you get the best deal out there.

Student jobs

A part-time job while you are at uni can top up your finances, as long as you can find a healthy balance between studying, working and having fun.


You only have to start paying income tax and National insurance if you earn more than a certain amount. Your employer will not deduct tax from your pay if you earn less than the current limits:

  • If you earn less than £1,042 in an average month, you will not need to pay income tax on your wages

  • If you earn less than £190 a week, you will not need to pay National Insurance

You can find out more on the GOV.UK website.

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