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Student money and debt (Scotland)

This fact sheet covers ScotlandWe also have a version for England & Wales if you need it.

This fact sheet gives information about managing money when you are a student. Use this fact sheet to:

  • help you work out a realistic budget;
  • find out how to choose a bank account;
  • find out about types of financial help; and
  • deal with problem debts.

This fact sheet includes links to help you find more detailed information.

Is this fact sheet for me?

This fact sheet is for students who:

  • either live and study in Scotland; or
  • normally live in Scotland, but are studying elsewhere in the UK.

If you live in England or Wales the rules are different.

Budgeting

Budgeting is one of the most important skills you can use while you are a student. It may be your first time away from home or the first time you have had to be completely responsible for all your own finances.

It is a good idea to try and work out a budget to include all your income and expenditure while you are studying. This will help you to make sure you stay on track and don’t get behind with payments. Most universities, colleges and students’ unions provide information about average student costs. Alternatively, contact the National Union of Students (NUS). See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

Before working out your budget, you need to decide the following.

  • What period does the budget cover? For example, only term-time or including holidays?
  • Is the budget weekly or monthly?

Use Your budget to help you complete a budget online which you can save and print. You can also read our Budgeting and saving factsheet which includes information on completing your own budget.

Bank accounts

Choosing the right bank account is very important. Most of the major banks offer student accounts. When looking at bank accounts, consider:

  • the amount of interest-free overdraft you can have;
  • the charges and interest on authorised and unauthorised overdrafts and loans; and
  • how long you can keep using the same account after graduation. Some banks may offer you a graduate account, while others may start charging you interest on your overdraft or turn it into a loan.

Overdrafts

An overdraft is a facility on your bank account that gives you extra money if you run out. Your bank lends you the money, so you must pay it back. An agreed, or authorised, interest-free overdraft can be useful to avoid paying bank charges or taking out expensive credit. However, the charges for going above your limit, or into an unauthorised overdraft, can be very high, so watch out for these.

Watch out for 'freebies'

Banks will often try and tempt you into getting an account with them by promising freebies or extras on your account. For example, mobile phone insurance or a railcard. Make sure you would actually use such extras, and that you can't get them cheaper elsewhere.

Try using www.moneysavingexpert.com to compare accounts. This will help you find the best one for your needs.

Tuition fees

If you live and study full time in Scotland the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) may pay your tuition fees.

The SAAS uses a number of factors to decide how much it will pay, including:

  • your age;
  • your family situation, for example if you have any dependent children;
  • where you study;
  • whether you will study full or part-time;
  • if you have taken any previous courses; and
  • what course you will take.

For more information on the help you can get to pay your tuition fees, or to apply for your tuition fees to be paid, contact SAAS. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

Studying elsewhere in the UK

If you are a student from Scotland and study elsewhere in the UK you will have to pay tuition fees up to a set limit. You can take out a student loan which is not based on household income to help with tuition fees.. You will have to pay this loan back. For more information contact the Student Loans Company (SLC). See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

Student loans and bursaries

If you are a new or existing student you can apply to SAAS for a loan to help with living costs. How much help you get may depend on your household income, the type of course you are studying and whether your course is full or part-time.

You can also apply to SAAS for a bursary to help with living costs. This is in addition to your student loan. The amount you get will depend on your household income. If you get a bursary you do not have to pay this back.

Household income can include income from:

  • your parents and step parents;
  • your partner or spouse; and
  • your unearned income such as pensions.

The amount of loan or bursary you might get depends on your circumstances. Contact SAAS for more information.

Don't wait until you have confirmed your place or started your studies before applying. Contact SAAS for more information about when you can apply. Whatever level of loan or bursary you get, you will need to make an application every year for as long as your course lasts.

For more information on the help you are entitled to or to apply for a bursary or loan, contact SAAS. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

If you don't finish your course

You will have to pay back a proportion of your bursary if you withdraw from your course during term-time. If you cannot afford to pay this money back, contact us for advice.

See our Repaying student loans fact sheet for more information.

Other types of financial help

In addition to your student loan, there are a range of grants, bursaries and allowances you may be able to apply for as a student. It is important to make sure you are getting everything you are entitled to as this will make it easier for you to manage your finances. The support available will depend on your circumstances, such as disability, family situation or the type of course you are studying.

We list some examples in this fact sheet, but you could also try asking at your student union, the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) or the National Union of Students (NUS). See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

Disabled Students' Allowance – this can help with the costs of attending your course. It is available to full and part-time students and does not have to be repaid.

Discretionary funds – these can help you if you have financial difficulties or your financial situation is preventing you from going on to higher or further education. They are available to full and part-time students. For more information about discretionary funds contact your university or college.

Childcare Grant – this is money to help you pay your childcare costs while you are a full-time student. How much you get depends on your household income, how old your children are and your actual childcare costs. It does not have to be paid back.

Adult Dependants' Grant – this is extra help if you are a full-time student and have an adult who depends on you financially. This cannot be an adult son or daughter. The amount you get depends on your family circumstances and income. It does not have to be paid back.

Lone Parents’ Grant – this is extra help for living costs if you are a full-time student and are bringing up children on your own. It depends on your income and does not have to be paid back as long as you complete your course.

Claiming benefits in the summer holiday

Full-time students may be able to claim benefits over the summer period between the years of their course. This only applies in certain circumstances. Contact us for advice for more information.

Allied health professions

If you are studying an allied health profession (AHP) course such as occupational therapy, physiotherapy and radiography, this will be funded slightly differently depending on where you study. You should contact SAAS for advice and more information about these types of qualifications. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

Nursing and midwifery

The Scottish Government will normally pay your tuition fees if you study for nursing or midwifery. You will also get a bursary which is not based on your other income. Contact SAAS for more information about this and other help you can get. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

Trusts and charities

There are a number of organisations who may provide financial help to students. Many of these will be available if you study a particular subject, or have links to a certain geographical area. Try searching for grants at www.turn2us.org.uk. You can search for scholarships at www.postgraduatesearch.com/funding.

Welfare benefits

Most students do not qualify for means-tested benefits. If you are a single parent or have a disability, you may be able to get certain benefits. Ask your student union, or try doing a benefit check at www.turn2us.org.uk.

Help from your university or college

If you are struggling financially, make sure you ask about help from your university or college. They should have access to money they can either give as a grant or a loan and you may be able to apply more than once.

Part-time work

You may need to try and get some paid employment to help you manage. Most university towns and cities will have employment options in shops or restaurants and many universities will employ students on campus. Ask your careers service or your student union. Paid work should not affect your student funding, but if you are getting any benefits you will need to check if they will be affected by working.

If you do work, the minimum wage you should receive depends on your age and whether you’re classed as an employee. Most employees should be entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage. You can find more information on GOV.UK.

Coronavirus – student support

If you are having financial difficulties due to the effects of coronavirus you can find out whether you are entitled to any additional help on www.studentinformation.gov.scot/coronavirus.

Debts

Going to university usually involves getting into some sort of debt. Not all debt is problem debt, so it is important to understand when you might need help to deal with your debts and what your options are. Also, some debts are more important than others. This is because if you do not pay, you could lose your home, be disconnected from an essential supply such as gas or electricity, or be sent to prison. These are called priority debts. Common examples include rent arrears, council tax arrears and gas or electricity arrears with your current supplier. It is important to use the money you have for your creditors to make agreements to pay these debts first.

Other debts are called non-priority debts. This is because the creditors do not have extra powers to make you pay. For example, they cannot take your home. Common examples include credit cards, bank loans and some overdrafts. In the following sections, we have explained where certain debts may need to be treated as priorities. If you are unsure whether to treat a debt as a priority or if you need help and guidance about how to make offers of repayment, contact us for advice.

Complete a budget

Do a budget and work out what you can afford to repay to your debts. Use our online advice tool to work out a budget and understand your options.

Council tax

Most full-time students should not have to pay council tax, but there are some exceptions. For example, you may have to pay council tax if:

  • you are the sole owner or sole tenant of your home; and
  • you live with an adult who is not your partner and who is not a student.

Make sure you know what you are liable for. Check what you need to have to prove to the council that you are exempt because you are a student. If you think you might be liable, for example, because you are a part-time student, ask the council to confirm how much you have to pay. You can then budget for the payment.

If you owe council tax

Councils have strong powers if you do not pay, so do not ignore this type of debt. Get advice from your university advice centre, students' union or contact us for advice.

Debts to your university or college

Debts may include accommodation costs, hardship loans or library fines. The consequences for non-payment will depend on the type of debt and the policy of the university or college. Some may threaten to withhold your qualification if you do not pay or prevent you from going on to study further. Such policies may be considered unfair if the money is not owed for tuition. Your students’ union is independent and should be able to advise on your options.

Accommodation

Most colleges and universities provide some kind of accommodation for students. The tenancy is often only for one academic year, excluding the summer holiday. Accommodation arrears should be treated as a priority. If you fall behind with rent payments, you risk being evicted from the accommodation. Even if this does not happen, the university or college may not want to provide you with accommodation in future years. This means you should try and come to an agreement to pay back what you owe.

Library fines and fees for other services

Some universities charge fines for the late return of library books. You may also need to pay a fee to use services provided by the university such as a gym or childcare. If these are facilities which are essential to you while you are studying at university, you should treat them as essential outgoings. If you fall into arrears on payments, discuss your situation with the relevant department at the university and try and come to an agreement to pay back what you owe. You can contact us for advice about working out how to repay the arrears.

Credit debts

Credit debts are things like bank loans, credit cards and overdrafts. These are usually a lower priority than debts to your university or college or council tax. This is because these debts can't be enforced by evicting you from your home, sending you to prison or disconnecting an essential service like gas or electricity.

Overdrafts

If you have an overdraft, you may also have other debts, such as a credit card, to the same bank. If the overdraft is interest-free, you could treat such debts as priorities so that you keep the overdraft. This is because if the bank starts charging interest, your overdraft could increase very quickly. If you are unable to do this, for example because you cannot afford the minimum repayments, contact us for advice. Your bank may be willing to extend your overdraft, or you could make an arrangement to pay it back once you have graduated.

If you are behind with payments towards credit debts, you will need to do a budget so you can work out what you can afford to repay. Use our online advice tool to complete a budget and understand your options.

Your credit rating

If you are behind with certain types of debt, this information will be recorded on your credit file. Lenders use your credit file when they are deciding whether to lend to you or not. If you are worried about your credit rating, or have been refused credit, contact us for advice. See our Credit reference agencies fact sheet for more information.

Utility debts

Utility debts include gas, electricity or water bills. If your income is low, you may find it difficult to pay this type of bill, especially if the bills are in your sole name and you rely on contributions from other students who do not pay. To avoid these problems, it is a good idea to ask for bills to be put in joint names so that each person named on the bill is jointly responsible.

If you have a utility bill you cannot pay, contact your utility supplier straight away to see if you can come to an arrangement. Treat gas and electricity debts to your current suppliers as priority debts because suppliers can disconnect your supply if you do not pay. They can also force you to have a pre-payment meter if it is safe and reasonable for you to have one. If you are being threatened with either of these options, contact us for advice. See our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet for more information.

Unlike gas and electricity, water companies cannot disconnect your supply if you do not pay your bills. However, they can make a claim in the Sheriff Court if you don’t come to a repayment arrangement. Contact us for advice if a water company is threatening to take you to court or has made a claim against you.

Only pay for energy you have used

Contact your utility suppliers with up-to-date meter readings when you move in and out of a property. This will help make sure you do not pay for energy previous or future tenants have used.

Mobile phones and broadband

Mobile phones and broadband are generally considered essential items or services. Treat your mobile phone and broadband payments as priority expenditure if you could not manage without having access to these services. Think about whether you have any alternative options first, such as switching to using a pay-as-you-go mobile if you are in arrears with a contract.

If you do miss a payment on a mobile phone or broadband contract your account will go into arrears. This could mean that your phone or internet will be disconnected. You may be unable to make or receive calls or use the internet. Your mobile provider must warn you before they interrupt or disconnect your service. They can also cancel the contract and take steps to recover the money they are owed.

Read our Mobile phone debt fact sheet for information on ways you may be able to reduce your mobile phone bill and how to deal with mobile phone debt.

TV licence

If you watch or record live television, or watch programmes on BBC iPlayer, you must have a valid TV licence. If you live in halls of residence, your university or college may have a licence for televisions in communal areas. If you also have a television in your own room, you will need a separate licence. If you live in shared accommodation, you probably only need one licence for the whole house. If your accommodation is self-contained, or you have a separate tenancy agreement for your room, you will probably need a licence of your own. If you are not sure, contact TV Licensing. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

Your TV licence is a priority

If you are behind with your TV licence payments, you must treat this as a priority debt. This is because TV Licensing has strong powers to make you pay and you may get a criminal magistrates' court fine. Contact us for advice if you are in arrears on your licence or are being prosecuted for not having a licence.

Useful contacts

Student loans, grants and bursaries

GOV.UK Official website for public services. www.gov.uk/student-finance

Student Awards Agency For Scotland (SAAS) For loan and bursary information and applications. Phone: 0300 555 0505 www.saas.gov.uk

Student Loans Company For loan repayments. Phone: 0141 306 2000 www.gov.uk/government/organisations/student-loans-company

Other sources of help

National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA) For information, advice and signposting on student money matters. www.nasma.org.uk

National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland Information and advice on all aspects of being a student. https://www.nus-scotland.org.uk/

Turn2us For benefit entitlement checks and charitable grants information. www.turn2us.org.uk

TV Licensing www.tvlicensing.co.uk

UK Council for International Student Affairs Information, advice and signposting for international students studying in the UK. Phone: 020 7788 9214 www.ukcisa.org.uk

Other fact sheets that may help you

Credit reference agencies fact sheet

Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet

Mobile phone debt fact sheet

Repaying student loans fact sheet