Warnings over student money as freshers week fires up

Warnings over student money as freshers week fires up
Covid, fraud, general budget worries: Here’s how to survive freshers’ finance.

Never has there been such a complicated start to the university term.

Sure, there are the usual budget-busting balancing acts between making the most of it all and keeping the lights on to contend with. There are the dubious discounts to dodge and banking “deals” to navigate.

But this year every timetable is draft, every contract Covid-uncertain, every fee up for discussion. The price and value of a university education are under the strongest of spotlights.

With the average maintenance loan coming in £340 short than the typical student’s basic living costs, three-quarters of all students in the UK struggle to make ends meet, student money site savethestudent has warned.

But students are now less confident about finding a job after the higher education stint comes to an end. Despite a backdrop of rising costs and concerns over quality contact, they expect lower graduate starting salaries than last year.

An astonishing 76 per cent have considered dropping out at some point, up from 59 per cent only 12 months ago, thanks to a combination of mental health, pandemic and money worries. Many report only staying on because of shaky employment prospects if they were to jump ship.

“Food and housing are basic human rights, which every student should be able to access. Students shouldn’t have to worry about working to cover basic necessities and should be able to focus on enjoying and thriving in their studies,” argues Sara Khan, NUS vice president for liberation and equality.

“Education is a right that students should access freely from cradle to grave. The UK government must abolish tuition fees, fund maintenance grants for students in place of the profit-driven Student Loan system, and ensure our education system is properly funded, lifelong, accessible and democratic.”

While we wait for all that to kick in, here’s what you need to know to get you through in the meantime.

The basics

By now you should have armed yourself with a student bank account, depleted though they may be.

Student accounts for the 2021 cohort are offering a rather measly £80 at best in cash this year and only two accounts offer any interest on in credit balances, financial research company Defaqto warned this week.

If you’re not already signed up, not every account is created equal and it’s worth comparing features as well as the headline incentives, particularly things like the limit on free overdrafts and duration.

James Andrews, of money.co.uk said: “As well as helping you manage your finances, student credit cards are a way for you to start building your credit history, which will be useful when you look to borrow larger sums for big purchases such as houses and cars later in life.

“But, and it’s worth repeating, the benefits are quickly outweighed by the costs unless you clear the balance in full each month.”

The everyday

“If you’re living in halls then bills will be included in your rent, however if you are living with others you may have to pay them separately and will need to work out exactly how to split them. If you fail to set things out clearly then you run the risk of getting stung financially by an unreliable or stingy housemate.

“With broadband deals, find one with a good enough download limit for your needs and, if you’ll only need it for the academic year, choose one that offers a nine-month contract,” Andrews suggests.

With other utilities like gas and electricity, choose a cheap supplier, limit how much you use them and submit meter readings to your providers to make sure you’re not paying for more than you’re using. If you have a television or stream live from platforms then make sure to get a TV licence for your address, or you could end up being fined up to £1,000.

If everyone in your house is a full-time student, you won’t need to pay council tax, but you will need to apply for an exemption if you get sent a bill, which you can do through the government website.

The other problem

Meanwhile, the fraudsters are circling like never before.

The distribution of funds to more than a million students throughout September by the Student Loans Company (SLC)  is a tempting target for criminals.

The company, which states it has prevented half a million pounds from being phished from students’ loans to date, is warning freshers and returning students to not be tricked into disclosing personal details or clicking on links in emails or text messages, as they could be installing malware.

SLC or Student Finance England (SFE) will never ask you to confirm your login information or personal information by email or text message. Be suspicious of any requests for your personal information.

Phishing emails are often sent in bulk and are unlikely to contain both your first and last name; they commonly start, “Dear Student”, so be on guard if you see one like this, as well as communication with poor spelling, punctuation or grammar.

Ignore messages including statements such as “Failure to respond in 24 hours will result in your account being closed”, and always think before you click.

If you receive an email or SMS that contains a link that you’re not sure of then try hovering over to check that it goes where it’s supposed to. If you’re still in any doubt, don’t risk it – always go direct to the source rather than clicking on a potentially dangerous link.


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