The Student Finance Guide for Freshers

Wednesday 3 July 2024, Money


The Student Finance Guide for Freshers

If you are heading to university this autumn, life is about to get interesting! We look at how to make sure you can afford to have fun rather than worrying about the pennies.

Whether you will be living away from your parents for the first time or studying from home, once you start university you will have far more financial independence than ever before.

You will also be offered a bewildering array of accounts, cards and other finance options.
Financial products might sound a little dull, but the freedom they can give you if you choose wisely can be the difference between affording to do what you want and missing out on fun because you are skint!

We look at the new options you'll have, what to go for - and what to avoid.

How to budget

Setting and sticking to a budget will make 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. Learn more about budgeting here.

Student loans and grants

As a student you can access loans to help you afford university. Knowing how they work is important so you can make sure you are getting all the help you need. 

From 2017, you can get a loan of up to £9,250 each year to pay tuition fees. This is paid directly to your university or college.

You can also get a maintenance loan of up to £11,672 to pay living costs. The amount you can get depends on the part of the country you are in and if you live away from home or not.

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

Understand tuition fees and student loans here.

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.

Do not be tempted by gimmicks like a free cuddly toy or gift - 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 free 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. Our student bank account comparison lists all the top student accounts.

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 on line 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.

For more information, including the pros and cons of taking out a credit card, read our guide, How to find the perfect credit card for you.

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 and student gadget 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 £962 a month, you will not need to pay income tax on your wages
  • If you earn less than £166 a week, you will not need to pay National Insurance
You can find out more on the GOV.UK website.

If you are below the income tax limit, you can also register an R85 on your savings or bank accounts to ensure your interest is paid tax-free. 

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. Plus, problems can arise if you do not trust your housemates with managing your money, and having a joint account will link your finances, which can damage your credit rating, something you might regret once you 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. Use our broadband comparison to find the cheapest internet deal that suits what you need.


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 won't 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 won't 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.