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The serious stuff: Student finances explained

Organising your money is one of the most daunting prospects that awaits you as a fresher. Tom Witherow explains the ins and outs of loans, overdrafts, accommodation, and finding a job in York.

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Student Finance



Student finance is the name given to a series of loans and grants backed by the government which aim to help you through all aspects of university. What is written below will help English students; if you're are from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, or the EU then the process is slightly different.

Loans are available for your living costs, known as maintenance loans (up to £3,575), as well as for the tuition fees (£9,000), paid directly to the University. Your and your parents' household income doesn't affect the value of these.

What are affected by your household income are grants. If your parents' combined income is below £42,611 then you are eligible for maintenance grants that you won't be expected to repay (unless you drop out of your course).

The deadline for new students has passed, but if you haven't applied yet DON'T PANIC! This date was a guideline guaranteeing that the first payment will be in your account by the start of term. You can still apply now and, if you're quick, the money will probably be in your account by the start of term anyway.

Where do I sign up?



The government website will lead you through the steps of the application process. As well as the usual form-filling malarkey you might expect, you also have to prove certain things by sending in documentation as evidence.

Firstly you will be asked to prove your identity. You can do this by submitting your UK passport number in the online form. If you don't have a UK passport, then you'll have to send in another form of ID such as a birth certificate or non-UK passport. Annoyingly they have to be the originals, but they do return them to you within 4 weeks.

If you've applied for grants, you will also have to prove your household income. The easiest way is for your parents (or partner) to give their income details online, along with their national insurance number. If they need more info, such as end of year tax statements, they'll let you know (with these, photocopies are OK).

You'll receive a letter in the post confirming your application, and fingers crossed the money will arrive in your account at the start of term. Remember that maintenance loans are given through the year.

Applications are all very well but what about repayments?



Fear not, because you don't have to think about repaying this money until after you leave university. Indeed, as freshers of 2013 you don't have to pay a penny back until you earn over £21,000.

The bad news: you will pay interest from the moment you receive your first payment. But students are on to a winner with subsidised rates. While you're still in full time education you will be charged the rate of inflation plus 3%, and once you've finished (and earn under £21,000) you'll pay the rate of inflation. You can also pay your loan back early without early repayment charges.

Nearly all students at university have some sort of loan, so you're not alone (no pun intended. I promise)! Ask friends or go online for more advice.


Overdrafts



Disclaimer: This is sadly not what student life is like. Credit: yourpersonalmotivator
Disclaimer: This is sadly not what student life is like. Credit: yourpersonalmotivator


Debt, debt, debt. You will be glad (or sad) to hear that student finance is not the only way of borrowing money while at university. While you are in full-time education, you will be able to take advantage of offerings of interest-free overdrafts.

What is an overdraft and why do I need one?



When a current account is 'overdrawn', the balance is below zero - you've taken money out which you don't have. For many people this 'borrowing' is a disaster and involves fees and punitive interest rates, but for the savvy student an interest-free overdraft can be part of careful planning.

For some people studying at York this year, their maintenance loan will barely cover their rent, leaving little for food, (all-important) drink and anything else. And so, assuming limited parental assistance, an overdraft may be required. Many people seek to pay off this with jobs during university holidays.

How do I get an overdraft?



Overdrafts are associated with current accounts, and for the interest free overdraft us students so dearly seek, you will need a student account. Banks are desperate to entice students at freshers' week so don't sell your soul to the first one you see - shop around for the biggest interest-free overdrafts and best interest rates.

You can apply as soon as you get your letter from UCAS offering you a place at York. As well as this you'll need, as is the case setting up any account, proof of address and identity. It is often easiest to go into a branch - all the major banks are in York so take your pick.

There are lots of guides to the best accounts, Student Bank Accounts and MoneySavingExpert are a couple I've looked at in the past (can't guarantee their accuracy!)

When do I have to pay it off?



Most student accounts will have some sort of tiered system. You may, for example, have an overdraft limit of £1,400 in your first year, which increases by £300 per year until your third year. So you're allowed a little more every year. Once you're out of education and you switch to a graduate account the limit will then decrease every year as the bank encourages you to reduce your debt. Ultimately, you'll just want to pay the debt off before 0% period ends.

The golden rule: whatever it might be, don't go over your overdraft limit! You'll get smashed with fees and punitive interest rates, and it will affect your credit score.

Getting a Job



The university suggests, as a guideline, that you don't work more than 16 hours a week. And although this varies according to what degree and activities you're doing, this severely restricts what work you can do. I'm sure most people reading this will know how to apply for a job, but here are a few tips for job seeking specifically in the York area.


Jobs on campus



Some of the most sought-after jobs by students are on campus, notably the Union and college bars. Contact details for commercial services can be found online, where they also advertise many of their vacancies. In reality you may have to get into bars and cafes during freshers' with CVs and simply ask. Don't hang about though - campus jobs are snapped up fast!

Further afield there is the great metropolis of York, and its surroundings, to explore. With the highest number of bars and pubs per head, there are always vacancies to be had. Hotels too are a good place to start.

Remember you're really looking for part-time work that can fit nicely around your degree and extra-curricular commitments.

Unpaid work can also be beneficial, not least for your CV - check out our guide to volunteering for more information.


Budgeting



In an attempt not to sound like anyone's mother, I'll keep this brief. Budgeting can help you spread your spending across a period. Nobody wants to be living off rice and beans for the last week of term, while everyone else is out partying.

Working out how much you can spend in different areas, such as food, drinks and going out, travel, sports and societies and clothes, will help you spend your loan, and any other income you might be lucky enough to have, efficiently.

Staying within a budget means the bill at the end of the year is manageable, and you won't need have to peddle three jobs in your summer holidays to pay it all off.


Accommodation



All the details can be found on the university website. Accommodation for those with unconditional offers opens on 6th August; everyone else must wait until 22nd August, after A-Level results are in.

Most students live on campus, in one of the eight colleges, in their first year. Accommodation is allocated on a first-come first-serve basis, so once you've got your offer get moving.

There are four decisions to make when looking at accommodation:

College - The college you're in can be key to your first year and beyond. Do remember that colleges aren't associated with subjects, they merely house the department offices - your lectures and seminars won't necessarily take place there. (Read Nouse's guide to York's colleges.)

Let length - You have the choice of 34, 40 or 50 weeks. The difference between 34 and 40 is the Easter holidays, the shorter let means moving your stuff to storage or a friend's room.

Price Band - You get what you pay for: bigger rooms, more bathrooms (or even ensuite) per person. But don't be put off by cheaper lets as close-knit flats often develop a real community spirit.

Catered or Self-catered - Catered students get breakfast and dinner provided on weekdays, giving ten square meals a week. Catered blocks are still provided with a kitchen.

Once you've chosen, you will submit an application. The University will respond online with a 'booking', which you can then accept or decline.

Now to the money. You'll need to pay a 'booking fee' of £260 to the University. This can be done through e:Vision, the university's internal network, by credit card. But worry not, you're not being swindled before you even arrive, the money is deducted from your first term's rent.

Rent payments are then paid in three instalments through the year. If you get stuck you can email accommodation services (accommodation@york.ac.uk).

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