Student loans are now fully established as crucial for anyone entering the world of further education. But what are they and how do they work?
With no real maintenance grant, student loans are now essential for almost all to see them through their college days. Most students will therefore need to consider student loans from either the Student Loans Company (SLC) or another provider (although that comes with much higher interest and poor terms and conditions compared to SLC).
The local education authority (LEA), or the Student Awards Agency in Scotland, will determine how much you will be expected to pay in terms of fees and also the amount of student loans you will be entitled to. Both are based primarily on your parents' income. Exceptions are if you are married, over 25, have been supporting yourself for at least three years, are an orphan, or are in care.
You should apply for an assessment as soon as you have an offer from a university, even if it's just a conditional one. You are entitled to apply up to four months into the academic year, but the sooner you do it the better.
The LEA will inform you of the amount you are supposed to contribute towards your fees and will pay the balance straight to the university.
Student Loans Company
Once it has decided how much loan you are entitled to, the LEA will inform the government-owned Student Loans Company (SLC), which issues the cheques. As a general rule, the SLC will send your cheque to your university and it should be ready for you once you have registered.
You will not get a cheque for the full loan amount at the start of the year. The loan is paid each term, in two or three instalments depending on when you apply for it.
You are expected to start repaying in the April of the year after graduation, but only if you are earning at least £10,000 a year - hence some students need to look at debt consolidation at this point. You will have to pay 9% of your earnings each month, deducted directly from your pay cheque. If you are self-employed, Inland Revenue will track your earnings via your self-assessment tax form.