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Is There Any Way to Not Be Poor When You're a Student?

Apparently there's loads of free money knocking about if you know how to google it.

Credit: Tomek Augustyn

Being a student has always meant dealing with meagre finances, but it feels like the poverty of higher education has really ramped up. In the past few years, we've written about students in Manchester having to use food banks, the scrapping of maintenance grants for poorer students, new rises in tuition fees and students turning to payday loan companies who end up ruining their lives.

There's a lot that sucks about student finance. But less spoken about are the shitload of ways students can get free money or make huge savings on day-to-day expenses. I spoke to Ruth Bushi from the money website website Save the Student to ask what advice she has for undergraduates.

VICE: Is there any way of getting a better deal on your student loan?
Ruth: Not really. The big warning with student loans is that the government own the terms and conditions, so they can always change them. It's an unfair way to have to sign for such a large amount of money, knowing that what you're signing for at the moment could be different a few years down the line.

Yeah, that doesn't sound like something you want to sign on for.
Yes, but in terms of private loans and commercial loans, the student loan is still better in terms of the interest and your options for repayment and missed payments. It's a significant amount of money and if you were to borrow that, even for just fees, from a private lender, it will probably cost you a lot more and you won't have the flexibility that the student loan gives you.

So it's never worth considering taking a personal loan?
It depends on your personal circumstances. But, the loan terms for the student loan are more suited to students because they're built for people who don't have an income and there's flexibility with what your future earnings will be.

In the last few weeks, maintenance grants for poorer students have been turned into loans. Is there anywhere else students can get cash?
Surprisingly, there's a lot out there. The problem is, there's no one single place where you can find everything out, so it does require a bit of work. What you're entitled to varies according to your situation. As well as the usual loans or grants, there are things that aren't publicised as well, such as travel grants. There's also help if you've got kids or if you've got a disability - and the disability criteria is often wider than what people might expect.

Universities will also have their own bursaries. Mostly these are reserved for people from low income backgrounds, but it varies hugely. There's a website called scholarship-search.org.uk with lists of what's on offer, and it tends to be quite current. Beyond that, there's also private funding, things like business-funded scholarships and sponsored degree programmes. And there's charity funding: a good website to look for this would be turn2us.org, which has a grants calculator. It's very niche, so search by all the different factors and situations that you have in your life: your nationality, your age, your location, where you're living permanently and the location of your university. You have to be prepared to look beyond the obvious to find something you might be eligible for.

Is there anything wrong with living in your overdraft?
It's not in itself a bad thing, and for some people, you can't get around it. But at some point you will have to pay it back. Once it switches over into a normal account then you're going to start paying interest. The other thing about living in your overdraft is, if you're doing it because you can't manage all of your costs, then it maybe suggests that you need some help with other things, rather than borrowing more. It would be worth talking to your student welfare team, someone at the student union or another adviser about what your options might be.

What are the biggest rip-offs students fall for?
Accommodation is a big one. It's easy to get taken for a ride. But I'd say the main thing would be to have the bigger picture in mind when you're choosing you university. Have value for money in mind - so looking at the facilities and teaching on offer, and how many hours of teaching time you'll actually get. I'm in no way saying that paying certain university fees are a rip off, but you need to have the bigger picture.

What is the cheapest way of getting drunk?
Drinking at home. There are other obvious things to consider - if you're going to go to places that have door charges, then you're already paying more to get in. It's worth going to icebreakers in freshers' week - if you pick them right, you can get free food and drink. The other thing you can do is keep an eye out for venue launches. Set up an email address that's just for signing up for newsletters and promotions and voucher deals, you'll probably find out about freebies or free events that way.

If you graduate and then end up earning a fair bit, should you try to pay off your student loan more quickly?
The thing you want to think about (and there are calculators online to help you work this out) is: how likely are you to pay it off over 30 years? If you've gone into a high-paid salary where you think you're always going to do well and your salary is going to keep going up, then I guess it makes sense - you're probably going to pay it off earlier anyway. But if you're never going to earn above a certain amount, there's no benefit in paying it off early. If anything, you might be losing money because these are repayments that you might never need to make. Once you've paid it off, you won't get it back.

Thanks, Ruth.

@rebeccarat

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