Student Maintenance Loans: What to Know
A student maintenance loan can help you pay your living expenses while you study.
Tuition fees loans cover the cost of your university studies. However, you may also need to borrow money to help pay for your living expenses while you study, especially if you choose to study away from home and find yourself with rent to pay.
If you need help with these costs, you can apply for a maintenance loan. Here’s what you need to know before you apply.
How student maintenance loans work
These loans are offered alongside tuition fees loans and have the same repayment terms. This means that when you graduate and start paying the loans back you will only make one monthly payment.
The amount of money you are able to borrow on a maintenance loan varies according to your family’s household income as well as where you decide to study.
How much can I borrow with a maintenance loan?
The cost of living at university varies significantly across the UK. If you decide to study in London, for example, you’ll find your student digs are likely to be much pricier than taking up residence near a university in Wales, or somewhere in the north of England where housing is cheaper. Similarly you’ll need to borrow more if you are studying a longer course, such as medicine or architecture, than if you’re doing a standard three-year degree.
How much you can borrow also depends on your household income. For most people that means their parents’ income. The lower your household income, the more you will receive in maintenance loan. Some have argued this is unfair: if your parents are well off, you'll have to be gifted money by them, or make up any shortfall yourself by working or borrowing elsewhere.
How much you can borrow also varies depending on what student finance body you are applying to: Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales, Student Finance Northern Ireland or Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).
As a guide, in the 2020/21 academic year:
- English students can borrow up to £7,747 if they are studying but living at home; for most students, this means with your parents or guardians rather than in student accomodation. You can borrow up to £9,203 if you are living away from home but outside London, and up to £12,010 away from home in London. If your course involves a year studying abroad, you can borrow up to £10,539.
- In Wales you can receive up to £5,433.75 towards living costs, but part of this is made up of a grant, which doesn’t have to be repaid. If your household income is less than £25,000 you receive a grant of £4,500 and your maintenance loan is only £933.75. If your household income is £59,200 or more the grant falls to £750, and the loan is £4,683.75.
- In Northern Ireland, the basic student maintenance loan is £3,750 if you’re living and going to college in Northern Ireland, or up to £6,780 if the course is in London. Whatever your household income, you can take out about 75% of this loan. Whether or not you get the remaining 25% depends on financial need.
- In Scotland, 'young' students (those who are under 25 before the start of the academic year) receive a maximum maintenance loan of £5,750, but if household income is above £34,000 a year this drops to £4,750. If your household income is below £34,000 you may also be eligible for a bursary worth up to £2,000 that you don’t have to pay back. And the amount you can borrow is not affected by where you decide to study. So if you want to study in London, for example, you will not get more to fund higher living costs.
What will maintenance loans cover?
Unlike tuition-fee loans, which are paid directly to universities or colleges, maintenance loans go into your bank account. That means it is up to you how you spend the money.
You'll likely use a maintenance loan on your accommodation, primarily, as well as utility bills, food and transport. Also, don’t forget equipment for your course. While tuition fees cover lectures and seminars, they don’t always stretch to books or lab coats. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of a laptop, your phone bill, and any membership to clubs or societies.
You might find that your maintenance loan is not enough to meet all of the above. If so, you’ll have to find the cash elsewhere, through loans or gifts from family, or, as many students do, you may have to work to support your studies, either during term or over the holidays.
You might also end up relying on your overdraft, so make sure you’ve applied for a student account that offers interest-free overdrafts while you study and for at least a year after graduation, when you’ll have to pay them back or face steep interest.
You should also investigate whether you can get extra money via a scholarship or bursary. These can be offered by universities, charities or local trusts, and awarded for financial need or as a result of exceptional academic or other ability. The charity Turn2Us or the Scholarship Hub are useful resources.
How do I apply for a student maintenance loan?
You apply for a maintenance loan with the student finance body in your country: Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales, Student Finance Northern Ireland or Student Awards Agency Scotland. You can do so online. Unless you are an independent student you will also need to provide information about your parents' or guardians’ household income so that your loan can be means-tested.
You will need to reapply each year to confirm that your circumstances haven’t changed.
When do I repay my maintenance loan?
Loan repayments begin in April, after you finish your course, and when you earn more than the minimum repayment threshold. That threshold is currently £26,575 a year (or £2,214 a month) in England and Wales, and £19,390 a year (or £1,615 a month) in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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Laura is a journalist and author, writing about money since 2008. Including writing for The Times for 9 years. She believes finance doesn't need to be complicated. Author of Money: a user's guide. Read more