Saturday, 11 March 2017

Government under pressure over student loan change

 The government is coming under intense pressure to reverse controversial changes to student loans, after one of the scheme’s experts, Martin Lewis, branded them a “disgrace”, and a petition opposing them started by a Durham student hit the crucial 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a possible debate in parliament.
Last week, there was a huge outcry after it emerged that students are seeing their debts rise by as much as £180 a month because of the interest alone, with graduates charged 3.9% as the sum balloons. Many feel they have been duped and cheated. Students are also angry after the government backtracked on promises made in 2010 that the £21,000 earnings threshold – at which point students are required to pay back loans – would rise annually with average earnings.
Student loans were pushed centre stage when Simon Crowther posted on Facebook a letter to his local MP, Vernon Coaker, alongside the statement he received from the Student Loans Company showing the big rise in his debt. The letter immediately went viral on social media.
Meanwhile a petition started by Alex True, an engineering student at Durham University, opposing the government’s retrospective hike in the cost of loans has reached more than 120,000 signatures in just a few days. Petitions that garner 100,000 approvals can lead to a debate in parliament about the issue, although the government may be able to sidestep such a move.
“I just felt that this change wasn’t really announced in parliament and that most students were not aware of it,” True says.
He managed to put together the petition just as he was doing his finals at Durham. He says: “A retrospective change to an agreement made three years ago, when those taking out the loans were only 18, meant that my trust in the system was undermined massively. I was one of those people who deliberated a lot before going to university about the costs and the loans. It certainly wasn’t in the small print.”
True circulated the petition to friends at other universities – and within a day it was getting 5,000 signatures an hour. “Unfortunately I’m still waiting for a response from parliament. I really hope they are going to debate it.”
True also shares with Crowther deep concerns about the interest rates applied to student debt. “The idea that you are continually accumulating debt after you leave university is frightening. Unless you earn around £50,000 or more, you will never get to the stage where you actually pay off the loan. Because you have to pay the money back over 30 years, the amounts of interest you pay could be astonishing.”
Students call for the abolition of tuition fees and an end to student debt outside Downing Street in November 2015.
Pinterest
 Students call for the abolition of tuition fees and an end to student debt outside Downing Street in November 2015. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
Lewis, the UK’s leading consumer advocate, and creator of moneysavingexpert.com, who originally extolled the virtues of the loan system to aspiring students, is now a stinging critic. He was at one time head of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information, but has been savage in his criticism of ministers, presumably because he, too, feels duped.
Advertisement
“This change by the government is a disgrace. It goes against all forms of natural justice. If a commercial company had made retrospective changes to what they’d promised about their loans, they’d be slapped hard by the regulator – the government shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it either.”
Praising True’s petition, Lewis said the decision risks destroying any trust future students can have in the system. “How can we ask young people to sign up to a deal for 30 years with the risk it could be changed again at a minister’s whim – without any legislation? I have already engaged lawyers, written to the PM and met Jo Johnson, minister of state for universities and science – and at every stage the government has pig-headedly refused to budge. My concern is even after a parliamentary debate they will put their fingers back in their ears.”
A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson said: “Our student funding system is sustainable with a relatively high threshold before borrowers have to repay their loan. It removes financial barriers for anyone hoping to study, and is backed by the taxpayer with outstanding debt written off after 30 years. We consulted on freezing the repayment threshold in 2015, and this decision along with our wider reforms is helping to ensure higher education remains sustainably financed and open to all students, irrespective of background.”

The cause of the complaints

While at university, and during the year since those on three-year courses graduated, students have seen their loans charged interest of inflation plus 3%, with the government using RPI – typically higher than CPI – as the measure of inflation.
Martin Lewis, who set up moneysavingexpert.com, is now a stinging critic of the system.
 Martin Lewis, who set up moneysavingexpert.com, is now a stinging critic of the system. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
The precise rate charged is, like so much of the student loan system, complicated. While at university, interest is applied to the student loan at a rate of RPI plus 3%. This continues until the April after a student has graduated. Beyond that, graduates earning less than £21,000 a year are charged an interest rate on their loans of RPI inflation – 0.9% currently. But this goes up on a sliding scale, and by the time the graduate is earning more than £41,000, the interest accrual rate is 3.9% (RPI plus 3%). Only since April this year have repayments under the new system begun, and students have for the first time seen the amount of interest they are paying.
This regime applies to everyone who started university in England after September 2012. Older student loans have a lower interest rate. The current rate on loans taken out before September 2012 is 0.9%. When Simon Crowther began his course in 2012, RPI inflation was 3.6%, so in the first year interest of a whopping 6.6% was being added. This March, the RPI inflation rate was 1.6%, and if it continues at this rate, students can expect to pay 4.6%. Most mortgages, and many personal loans are currently offered at significantly lower rates than that.
Advertisement
In 2010, the government promised potential students it would increase the threshold at which point repayments start. First-time undergraduates in England, who started university in September 2012 and after, repay student loans at a rate of 9% of everything they earn above £21,000 a year after they leave. Students were told this £21,000 threshold would rise annually with average earnings.
But last October the government reversed that, freezing the threshold until at least 2021. This leaves more than two million graduates paying £306 more each year by 2020-21 if they earn over £21,000.
The government consulted on the change. Martin Lewis says 84% of responses were against freezing the threshold. Only 5% were in favour, yet it went ahead anyway.
A student earning £23,000 now repays £180 a year – had the threshold been increased to £23,000, they would have been repaying nothing.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

7 Time Management Tips for Students

With exams approaching, you should be thinking about how to get better at time managementand organize your days so you can strike the right balance between home, work and university life.
By taking the time to arrange your priorities, you can give yourself the best chance of staying on track and organized during the exam period, which in turn can help reduce stress levels, something that can be the difference between success and failure at university.
Take a look at our top seven time management tips, so that you can do your best at university and also find moments to relax and even earn some money on the side.

1) What do you have to do?

The first stage of improving your time management is to list absolutely everything that you have to do. This may sound obvious, but speaking from experience, most students tend to leave important tasks until the last minute, which can impact on the quality of their work and their overall grade.
Include any university deadlines as well as any shifts you work on the list, and make a note of how much time each priority will take out of your schedule.

2) Create a life schedule

Whether it’s a pin-up planner, a timetable or a calendar on your phone, find an organizing tool that works well for you and add your list of priorities to it. Also, think about when you are most alert, so that you can plan your study periods around these times.
Find time for socializing, but also make sure that you get enough sleep. Most people need between 7 to 8 hours sleep every night to remain focused and alert during study periods.

3) Be flexible but realistic

Typically, allow around 8-10 hours a day for working, studying, socializing and anything else practical you need to do.
As a full-time student, you’re expected to dedicate 35 hours a week to university studies, including the time you spend in seminars and lectures. If you only spend 15 hours a week attending tutor-led learning, you should use the extra 20 hours for independent study.
It’s also important to remember that things often take longer than expected. So, allow a little extra time in case you spend longer on a task than you thought you would.

4) Allow time for planning to avoid repetition

Taking the time to research, plan and think about your work is crucial for good time management. Allow yourself the time to process new information and plan how you are going to use it, as this can help you to avoid having to re-read and repeat any research.
One way of effectively planning before researching is to make a list of everything you want to find out, so that you can make notes below each subheading as you go.

5) Avoid procrastination and distraction

One way to avoid procrastination is to think about the different places you have been when studying – where were you the most focused? Where were you most distracted?
Remember, what works for one person might not necessarily work for you.  For some, studying with friends can limit their productivity. But for others, studying in groups can help to increase motivation and avoid procrastination.

6) Exercise to clear your head in between study sessions

Believe it or not, exercise works in the same way sleep does. It can focus your state of mind, helping you to clear your head in between study sessions. If you’re new to exercise, aim to fit in a 10-minute run here and there, steadily increasing the amount you do as you go on.

7) Has your organization been effective?

Constantly reviewing and reassessing your schedule can help you to recognize whether you need to make any changes in order to help you complete any university tasks and also have time to relax and spend time with friends and family.

Student saving tips

Student MoneySaving Checklist


Get student council tax discounts

Student council tax discountsLocal authorities control council tax support. Each one decides what help to offer its residents. Ask your local authority what discounts and benefits are available in your area, but here are the basic rules for wherever you're living:
  • Only live with students? If you're a full-time student living alone or with other students you don't need to pay council tax, whether there's two, three or even 10 of you living together.
  • Live with a non-student? The cost of council tax is based on a minimum of two adults living in a home. Some people - like students, people on apprentice schemes and carers (see Gov.uk for a full list) - don't count as adults and are known as 'disregarded people', which means they're entitled to a council tax discount.
    So if a student lives with a non-student, the student is disregarded. This means the council tax could be reduced as if only a single person lives there, leading to a potential 25% reduction.
    But this poses a moral dilemma. Is it fair for the non-student to pay the entire 75% due, or should the student contribute? Our suggestion is to split the 25% difference, so the non-student pays 62.5% and the student 12.5%.
  • Live with more than one non-student? Here, while the student again is exempt, because there are two non-students the house has to pay the full 100% charge. So again, it gets complex. The student hasn’t added to the council tax bill, but nor has their presence resulted in a discount.
    So again, you'll need to decide if and how you want to split it, though the legal stance is that full-time students aren't liable for the bill if non-students can't or don't pay. See Council Tax Discounts.
To bag the discount... you need to apply to your local council - it isn't deducted automatically. Go to Gov.uk.

Nab free cash to study

Whether you're studying full or part-time, there may be a grant or a free course to help. They're dependent on your circumstances so it may not be easy to get one, but there's certainly no harm in trying.
Here are the main ones to get you started - see the Education Grants guide for information on more.
  • Educational Grants Advisory Service. This service offers students, especially disadvantaged ones, guidance and advice to help secure funding for education and training. Its site, part of Family Action, has a searchable database of over 30 educational trusts.
  • Scholarship search. There are some nifty search tools on the Scholarship Search and Student Cash Point websites, including bursaries, scholarships and award funding. You'll be surprised at what's available - some are very specific, aimed at specific religions, locations, parental occupations and more.

Don't get the 'spend it before it goes' bug

When loan cash arrives, it's all too easy to celebrate with a big blow-out.
But while it may be tempting, don't do it. Instead, to help you budget, use the free interactive Student Calculator tool from education charity Brightside, and read thebudgeting tips point below.

Get the biggest 0% overdraft student account

Big banks love tempting students with 0% overdrafts and free stuff, then relying on their custom for decades to come. Here are six key tips to help choose your student account.
  • Go for the biggest 0% overdraft deal possible.Most students will need an overdraft while at uni, so make sure you aren't charged for it. Aim to get the biggest amount that will last as long as possible. Some providers offer 'up to £3,000', but how much you get depends on you and your circumstances.
  • Never go over your overdraft limit. This is a lifelong rule. Go beyond your limit and charges shoot up, leaving you in a vicious cycle that's tough to escape.
  • Picture of library books
    Beware: you will be credit scored. When you apply for any debt product, including an account with an overdraft, the lender will credit score you to decide how desirable a customer you are. See the Credit Rating guide for more.
  • Don't base your choice on the closest branch or ATM.You can withdraw cash free of charge from any bank's ATM and almost every bank offers online access. So which branch is nearest has little relevance for most able-bodied students. To compare, just examine what's on offer and go for the best deal.
  • Don't just go for the one with the best freebie. Calculate the value of the freebie, and then compare that account's overdraft with the best on offer. Would the interest charged on the difference be more than the cost of the freebie? There is one cracking freebie on offer right now though - Santander gives a four-year railcard (usually costs £90) with its student account (see full details).
  • You'll need to apply for any overdraft increases. Students must apply for overdraft increases on certain accounts, even where the guaranteed maximum rises each term or year. See the Student overdraft warning MSE news story for full info.
See the Student Accounts guide for the full list of top bank accounts, plus masses of tips to help you choose.
Also arm yourself with knowledge of how interest works with the Interest Rates: Everything You Wanted To Know But Were Afraid To Ask guide. It's worth getting your head around the basics now so you aren't stung in future.

Don't overpay tax on any jobs you do

Don't overpay tax on summer jobsIf you work during term time or over the summer to keep yourself afloat, make sure you're paying the right amount of income tax.
Students are taxed just like anyone else. If you earn less than £11,000 a year, you shouldn't pay any tax, whether you're 20, 30, 40 or 50.
If students are employed (not self-employed) and taxed via Pay As You Earn (PAYE), they are automatically charged tax on earnings, so may need to reclaim it. Crucially, even if you only do summer or temp work, you'll be taxed as if you'd earn that rate all year.
If you're a student and total earnings for the 2016/17 tax year come to less than £11,000 (the previous personal allowance), and you paid tax, see the HMRC website for how to apply for a refund.
  • If you’re working throughout the whole year, but still need to reclaim, you need to wait until the end of the year and reclaim tax then.
  • If you know you're only working for a short time, eg, just the summer, then you can fill in a P50 to reclaim tax back at that point. You need to wait four weeks after your last day at the job to make the claim.
Check yours. To see what you should be paying if you earn over the threshold, use the Income Tax Calculator. It's also handy for working out what your take-home pay will be after you graduate.

Get 10% off Co-op & more with an NUS Extra card

An NUS Extra card unlocks 200+ student discounts in the UK, both in-store and online, and it now also doubles-up as an International Student Identity Cardfor use abroad. It costs £12 for a one-year card, £22 for a two years and £32 for three years.
Anyone aged 16+ and studying in further or higher education either full or part-time can get for one. Your course must have started, and there's no upper age limit.

What discounts does it give?

Discounts exclusive to NUS Extra cardholders include the following (see a full list of discounts here):
  • 10% off at at over 3,200 Co-op supermarkets (check which are included)
  • 5% off many products at Amazon (in addition to Amazon Student Prime).
  • 40% off food and drink at Pizza Express on Mon and Tues and 20% off on Wed, Thurs and Sun, or a starter, main course and drink for £12 on Fri and Sat
  • Extra 25% off student tickets at Odeon Cinemas Mon-Thu
  • 10% off at Superdrug
  • 25% off full price National Express coach tickets (though for £10/year you can get a third off with its Coachcard).

Is it worth it?

It's worth bearing in mind that plenty of discounts are available using your institution ID card, or other, free, student discount schemes like Unidays. So it's worth checking whether places you usually shop aceept those as proof first (see below for more on discounts that don't require an NUS card).
Otherwise, simply work out what you expect to spend and do the maths to see if it's worth it for you – for example, if you're likely to mainly spend at a retailer giving a 10% discount exclusively via NUS, will you spend at least £120 over a year?

Hunt for hidden student discounts

picture of magnifying glassAlways ask for student discounts when you're out and about. These often aren't advertised, but several places still offer them even if you don't have an NUS Extra card.
You'll usually need to show another form of student ID – usually with a photo on it (if your institution one doesn't have that then it's also worth bringing an ID card that does). Share your finds in the Student discounts discussion.
  • Yo! Sushi. Offers students 25% off everything, everyday. To get it, join its Love Club on the Yo! Sushi student offer page, then either print the voucher or show it on your phone or laptop with valid student ID. The offer's ongoing - you can use it as many times as you like, but you can't use it alongside any other promotional offers. See its offer page for full terms.
  • McDonald's. Offers a free McFlurry original, cheeseburger or Mayo Chicken when you buy an Extra Value Meal and show valid student ID. There's one offer per person, per card, per visit. Full terms on McDonald's site.
  • New Look. Gives 10% off in-store when you show valid student ID, or online when you enter your student number at the checkout. It's valid on full-price items (including Limited Edition and concession items) and is currently ongoing. See the New Look site for more.
  • Foyles. Gives 10% off in-store, or 5% off already-discounted items online. To get the store discount, sign up in-store with student ID. For the online discount, emailstudents@foyles.co.uk with your name, course and uni to get a code. Valid until 31 Aug 2016. See the Foyles website for terms.
Forumites also recommend Unidays. It's free to register, and once it's verified your student status, gives codes for a range of ongoing online students discounts via its site, including 10% off at Asos and 10% off at Waterstones. Similarly, Student Beans is also worth checking out.

Get a TV licence refund for summer hols

A colour TV licence is £145.50 for a year (or £49 if you're lucky enough to have a black 'n' white set). But if you've a full three months left on your licence at the end of the academic year and won't use it before it expires, you can get a refund for this which could be around £36.
To apply, complete the online application form on theTV Licensing website. Don't forget to update your address if you move house. For full details see Student TV Licence Refund.
  • Do students need a TV licence?
    In most cases, yes. However if you ONLY watch via BBC's iPlayer or other online catch-up services which aren't being transmitted live, you don't need a licence. See Do I need a TV licence?
    There is one another loophole which could apply in a few cases - you don't technically need one if you live with your parents outside term time and when at uni only watch when your device isn't plugged into an aerial or a mains socket. Even if you're only watching TV on your laptop, if it's plugged in at the time, you'll need one though - see Mobile TV Licence Loophole for full info.
  • What if I'm in shared accommodation?
    If in halls of residence you'll probably be covered for communal areas, but not your room - do check though. If in a shared house and with a joint tenancy agreement, you'll only need one licence for the household. But if you've separate agreements, you'll need one for your room.
Remember, watching TV as it's being broadcast without a licence is against the law. Fee dodgers face prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000. See the TV Licences guide.


Find the cheapest gas & elec to save £100s

If you aren't living in halls, it's likely you'll have to pay for gas and electricity on top of rent. It's possible to make hefty savings simply by switching provider.
Picture of laptop
  • You've a right to switch and save on energy - even renting. When renting, you're free to switch if you pay the energy company directly (rather than your landlord). Also check your tenancy agreement - yet even if your contract bans switching, challenge it as it may be unfair. See Renting Tips for full help.
    Our free-to-join Cheap Energy Club is designed to keep you constantly on the cheapest tariff. It'll tell you when you can save and will even help you switch. Plus you'll often get £30 dual fuel cashback if it can switch you - there really is no excuse for paying more than you have to.
  • Grab cashback or wine on top. If on a standard tariff, it's possible to save over £300 a year on your annual bill by switching, and even grab cashback or a free case of wine on top. For a full how-to, see the Cheap Gas & Elec guide.
  • You don't need to know how much your bill will be. Even if you haven't a clue what you'll be paying, you can still enter your house size on some of the comparison sites and they'll estimate for you.
  • Watch out for exit fees. If you're on a longer fixed tariff or thinking of signing up to one, be aware that suppliers can charge exit fees if you leave before your contract term, typically about £30 per fuel. So always check and factor this in.
  • On a prepay meter? You definitely haven't got the cheapest deal. To save, first try switching to a credit meter. If you can’t, do a comparison to find the cheapest prepay provider (again, comparison sites will often be able to estimate your usage if you're unsure). See the Prepaid Gas & Elec guide.