Student Maintenance Loans guide 2021
The Maintenance Loan will probably be your main source of cash while you're at uni. But how does it all work? And how much money will you get? Allow us to explain.
According to our National Student Money Survey, the Maintenance Loan is (alongside part-time jobs) the number one source of money for students while they're at uni.
So, as you'll almost certainly be taking one out, it makes sense for you to get clued up on the eligibility criteria, the application process and how big a Maintenance Loan you'll get, as well as how to pay it back and what to do if your loan isn't enough.
In trademark Save the Student fashion, we've got you covered – read on and we'll answer all of your questions (and more) to make sure you get the most out of your Maintenance Loan.
What’s in this guide?
What is a Maintenance Loan?
Maintenance Loans are a type of Student Loan provided by the government, and they're intended to cover your living costs while you're at university. Rent, bills, food, nights out – all these things and more are what the Maintenance Loan is there to help you pay for.
Although you apply for the Maintenance Loan through the same process as you would a Tuition Fee Loan, and eventually make repayments on the two as a joint sum, the Maintenance Loan and the Tuition Fee Loan are technically two separate types of funding.
While we're dead against students having to take on any debt to attend university, the current repayment terms on Student Loans are actually fairly manageable. As such, in most cases, we'd argue it's best to take out both a Tuition Fee Loan and a Maintenance Loan, rather than one or the other (or neither).
How is the Maintenance Loan paid?
Maintenance Loans are paid straight into your bank account in three (almost) equal instalments throughout the year – one at the beginning of each semester (other than in Scotland, where loans are paid monthly). That means it's down to you to budget your loan responsibly and make sure you don't spend it all in freshers week!
Students often ask why the third payment is as big as the others when you'll likely be at home over the summer, but the answer is simple: you're still a student, and some of you still have rent to pay during July and August.
And it's thanks to that same logic that things change slightly in your final year. Your final Maintenance Loan payment is smaller than it would have been in previous years, as after June/July you're no longer a student and therefore not entitled to a Student Loan.
Note that not all of your Student Loan will be paid directly to you. Your Tuition Fee Loan will be paid straight to your university, and you'll never see the money. That means you shouldn't have to worry about your uni chasing you down for payment, nor the temptation to spend the cash yourself.
Are you eligible for a Maintenance Loan?
Whether or not you're eligible for a Maintenance Loan depends on a few factors. We'll run through each of the criteria in a moment, but don't panic – most undergraduates starting university are usually eligible to receive funding.
These are the factors that determine whether or not you qualify for a Maintenance Loan:
Your university/college and course
First and foremost, your university or college (or other type of institution) must be 'recognised' or 'listed'. This is a lot less complicated than it sounds, as in reality most unis and colleges are covered.
In addition to this, the course you're enrolling on must fall under the (fairly extensive) list of qualifying courses supplied by the government. Again, most undergraduate courses are recognised and eligible for funding, but there are some different criteria if you'll be studying part-time.
Students on most courses at most unis will be eligible for a Maintenance Loan, but just to make sure, head over to this page on the government's website for the full list of criteria.
Whether or not you've studied before
In principle, the only way you'll be eligible to receive a Maintenance Loan is if this is the first higher education course that you're enrolling on. But, in practice, things are a little more complicated.
If you've previously started a course but had to drop out, you may be eligible to receive some funding again. Similarly, if you're resitting a year at the same institution, you may also be eligible for a Maintenance Loan.
This is because, as a rule, all students are eligible for funding for the number of years of the course they're applying for plus one extra year. So, if you've previously studied and are applying for a Maintenance Loan on a separate course, you'll need to subtract the number of years you've previously studied from this figure to find out how long you'll be eligible for.
For example, if you're applying to study a three-year course, you're theoretically entitled to four years of funding. But if you've already studied for two years on another course, you'd subtract this and find that you're only eligible for two years of funding.
The exception to this rule is if you dropped out for "compelling personal reasons", in which case you could be eligible for funding for all of your course, regardless of how long you previously studied for. These reasons tend to be things like serious illness, rather than simply not liking the course you were on.
And, finally, even if you've already completed a degree, you could still be eligible for funding. Admittedly, this only applies to a minority of students (like those 'topping up' a qualification to a full Honours degree, or those studying one of a handful of courses, listed here), but there's no harm in checking.
This one shouldn't be an issue for most of you. The only age restrictions on Maintenance Loans come into play when you're aged 60 or over, but even then you may get some funding if you're studying full-time.
Your nationality and residency status
Nationality and residency status is undoubtedly the murkiest of all the eligibility criteria, and it's the one that tends to catch students out the most.
As a general rule, you should be eligible to receive a Maintenance Loan if you're a UK national (or have 'settled status'), normally live in the UK (or the Channel Islands or Isle of Man) and have done so for the three years prior to the start of your course.
But it's worth noting that all three of those things must apply to you to guarantee your eligibility. There are countless stories of students who were born and raised in the UK but moved to, say, the USA at 11-years-old and assumed that they'd be eligible for a Maintenance Loan as a British citizen. No dice.
In some instances, you may be able to successfully appeal and receive a Maintenance Loan anyway – to do this, you'll often need to prove that you've retained economic ties to the UK in your absence (e.g. one parent stayed and paid tax), or that one/both of your parents had to move abroad for work.
There are also special exceptions made for specific groups, including refugees and stateless people.
As we said earlier, it's best not to let these eligibility criteria confuse you too much.
We stand by our statement that the majority of students at the majority of universities will be eligible to receive a Maintenance Loan – especially if you've been studying at a school in the UK and will be attending a relatively well-known university.
But, as ever, if you're unsure, it's best to contact your funding body and ask them to clarify things for you.
How much Maintenance Loan will you get?
The size of the Maintenance Loan you're entitled to will depend on the following three factors:
- Where in the UK you're from – Each country within the UK has its own funding body for students. You'll apply to the body in the country you normally live in when you're not at uni.
- Whether you'll be living at home or not – In most of the UK (apart from Scotland), there is more funding on offer for students who'll be living away from home (rather than at home) while at uni. There's usually even more funding if you'll be studying away from home and in London.
- Your household income – Students from households with a higher income receive less generous funding packages from Student Finance bodies, while those from poorer backgrounds receive the most generous support. Depending on where in the UK you're from, this could determine how big a Maintenance Loan you get and/or how big a Maintenance Grant you're entitled to (if any).
It's easiest to break things down by country, so just scroll through to where you currently live to see how big a Maintenance Loan you could receive (we've listed the parts of the UK in alphabetical order, just to be extra helpful).
And remember: your Maintenance Loan is provided by the part of the UK you normally live in, not where you will be studying. So, for example, if you lived in Northern Ireland but planned to study in Scotland, you'd apply for funding from Student Finance Northern Ireland.
What is the average Maintenance Loan?
The average Maintenance Loan is approximately £6,859 a year, based on calculations we made using data from our National Student Money Survey and information supplied by the Student Loans Company.
However, as we've explained above, the amount you'll receive isn't really affected by what the 'average' student gets. Instead, the size of your Maintenance Loan will be determined by your household income, where you'll be living while studying and, of course, where in the UK you normally live.
Maintenance Loans in England 2021/22
|Household Income||Living at home||Away from home (outside London)||Away from home (London)|
|£25,000 or less||£7,987||£9,488||£12,382|
The household incomes in bold represent the upper earnings thresholds for the parents of students in each living situation. As the table shows, students with parents earning above the following thresholds will receive the minimum Maintenance Loan for someone with their living arrangements:
- £3,516 if you live at home and your household income is above £58,220
- £4,422 if you live away from home and outside London, and your household income is above £62,286
- £6,166 if you live away from home and in London, and your household income is above £70,004.
Bear in mind that the household incomes we've given in the table above are just examples – the Maintenance Loan you receive will be calculated using your exact household income rather than a band (e.g. £42,345 instead of £40,000 – £45,000).
What are the minimum and maximum Maintenance Loans in England?
The minimum Maintenance Loan on offer for students from England is £3,516, which is paid to students with a household income of £58,222 or more and who'll be living at home during their time at uni.
The maximum Maintenance Loan is £12,382 and is paid to students who will be living away from home and in London, and whose annual household income is £25,000 or less.
And for more info on Student Loans in England, check out this guide.
As well as Maintenance Loans (which need to be repaid), Student Finance Northern Ireland offers students Maintenance Grants (which don’t need to be repaid) too. The two are applied for and paid together, with the amount you receive of each affecting the other.
For that reason, we’ve included Maintenance Grants amounts in these tables, starting with the amount on offer if you’ll be living with your parents:
|Household income||Maintenance Grant||Maintenance Loan||Total support|
|£19,203 or less||£3,475||£1,863||£5,338|
… living away from home and outside of London:
|Household income||Maintenance Grant||Maintenance Loan||Total support|
|£19,203 or less||£3,475||£2,953||£6,428|
and away from home and in London:
|Household income||Maintenance Grant||Maintenance Loan||Total support|
|£19,203 or less||£3,475||£4,893||£8,368|
Again, the household incomes we’ve given in the table above are just examples – the Maintenance Loan you receive will be calculated using your exact household income rather than a band (e.g. £32,345 instead of £30,000 – £35,000).
What are the minimum and maximum Maintenance Loans in Northern Ireland?
As the maintenance package for Northern Irish students contains both a grant and a loan, it’s probably more useful to assess the minimum and maximum packages on offer rather than just the loan.
The minimum amount of financial support on offer for students from Northern Ireland is £3,750, which is paid to students who’ll be living with their parents and whose household income is £30,000 or above. However, for those whose household income is between £30,000 – £41,539, a portion of this will be a Maintenance Grant (with smaller grants for more well-off students).
The maximum amount on offer for students from Northern Ireland is £8,368. This is paid to students who’ll be studying away from home and in London, and whose household income is £19,203 or below. The Maintenance Grant accounts for £3,475 of this support, while the remaining £4,893 is a Maintenance Loan.
|£20,999 or less||£5,750||£2,000||£7,750|
|£21,000 to £23,999||£5,750||£1,125||£6,875|
|£24,000 to £33,999||£5,750||£500||£6,250|
The funding body in Scotland (Student Awards Agency for Scotland, or SAAS) offers grants as well as loans.
However, unlike in the rest of the UK, the loans offered to students from Scotland don’t differ based on your living situation. Instead, there are just four sums on offer and the amount you receive will depend on the band your household income falls into.
Students with lower household incomes receive more funding overall, and the proportion of their support that’s non-repayable (a grant) is also bigger, too.
Another important distinction between the Scottish system and the rest of the UK is that students are assessed based on household income bands, rather than exact household incomes.
So, a student whose household income is £24,000 will be entitled to the same support as a student whose household income is £33,999, as these two figures lie within the same band.
What are the minimum and maximum Maintenance Loans in Scotland?
The maximum Maintenance Loan and Grant package on offer in Scotland is £7,750. This is paid to students in the lowest income band (£0 – £20,999), with £2,000 of the funding accounted for by a non-repayable grant.
The minimum Maintenance Loan on offer to Scottish students is £4,750, paid to those in the highest income band (£34,000 and above). The entire sum is a loan, meaning it must be paid back.
The Welsh government also offers students a combination of Maintenance Loans and Grants. And, as is the case in Northern Ireland and England, the amount on offer is different based on where you live as well as your household income.
Crucially, however, students from Wales in the same living situation (i.e. living at home, living away from home and outside London, or living away from home in London) will all receive the same amount of money.
The only difference will be how much of your package is a loan and how much is a grant, with students with the lowest household incomes receiving a bigger portion as a grant, and those with a higher household income receiving a bigger loan.
So, with that in mind, here’s what on offer to students from Wales who’ll be living with their parents:
|£18,370 or less||£6,885||£1,905||£8,790|
… living away from home but outside of London:
|£18,370 or less||£8,100||£2,250||£10,350|
… and living away from home and in London:
|£18,370 or less||£10,124||£2,806||£12,930|
Again, the household incomes we’ve given in the table above are just examples – the Maintenance Loan you receive will be calculated using your exact household income rather than a band (e.g. £42,345 instead of £35,000 – £45,000).
What are the minimum and maximum Maintenance Loans in Wales?
The maximum Maintenance Loan and Grant package available to Welsh students is £12,930, which all students living away from home and in London will receive.
The minimum Maintenance Loan and Grant package on offer to Welsh students is £8,790 and will be on offer to all Welsh students who’ll be living at home during their time at uni.
How to apply for a Maintenance Loan
Students from England, Northern Ireland or Wales can all apply for a Maintenance Loan online or by post. If you’re from Scotland, get ready to save the planet – there’s no postal option for you guys, so you’ll have to apply for your funding online.
That said, whether you apply online or by post, you may still need to send some supporting evidence in the mail (we’re talking passports, birth certificates and so on).
We’ve got a full guide to applying for Student Finance (including Maintenance Loans), but if you’re just after a link to your funding body, we’ve got you covered too. Just remember that you apply for funding from the part of the UK you ordinarily live in, not the part you’ll be studying in.
All clear? Great. Here are the links to apply for a Maintenance Loan from each of the UK’s four funding bodies:
- England – Student Finance England
- Northern Ireland – Student Finance Northern Ireland
- Scotland – Student Awards Agency for Scotland
- Wales – Student Finance Wales.
Applying for a Maintenance Loan during coronavirus
As you’ll no doubt be aware, the coronavirus pandemic caused serious financial difficulties for families across the UK. Even for those who were furloughed rather than completely losing their income, a 20% drop in salary is still a significant amount.
Many parents will find themselves unable to financially support their children as they could before but, fortunately, you may be able to get an increased Maintenance Loan to compensate for this.
When applying for Student Finance for the 2021/22 academic year, you’ll usually need to provide your household income from the 2019/20 tax year (6th April 2019 – 5th April 2020).
However, if you think your household income for the 2021/22 tax year (6th April 2020 – 5th April 2021) will be significantly lower than in the 2019/20 tax year, you can apply for what’s known as a Current Year Income Assessment. This will entitle you to larger Maintenance Loan payments throughout the entire academic year.
At the end of the 2021/22 tax year, you’ll need to submit further evidence to prove what your household actually was. If it was lower than anticipated, you may get some extra Maintenance Loan – but if it’s higher than your estimate, you may have to repay some straight away.
Here are the criteria for a Current Income Assessment in each country, as well as a link to more info from your Student Finance body:
- England – Household income must have dropped by at least 15% (more info)
- Northern Ireland – Household income must have dropped by at least 5% (more info)
- Scotland – Household income must have dropped into a different bracket (more info)
- Wales – Household must have dropped by at least 15%, but due to the way the Welsh Student Finance system works you likely won’t get any more cash, just an increased share of grant compared to loan (more info).
Note that in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, if your household income was previously above the maximum threshold (listed above), it will need to drop below this (and drop by at least 15%) for you to become eligible for increased funding.
Similarly, in all parts of the UK, if your household income is already below the minimum threshold (also listed above), you won’t be eligible for a larger Maintenance Loan as you already receive the maximum amount.
When does your Student Loan come in?
When your Maintenace Loan comes in will depend on which part of the UK you’re from and when your university’s term officially starts.
But, no matter where you’re studying, you’ll need to register on your course before you receive your first payment (which is in September for most students). For that reason, we strongly recommend that completing your registration is one of the first things you do when you start uni!
Beyond that, there’s a little more variation.
For students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales, you’ll receive your Maintenance Loan in three chunks throughout the academic year. Usually these come in September, January and April, but this may vary depending on when your university’s semester officially starts.
Similarly, the exact date on which you receive your Maintenance Loan is unlikely to be the same as all of your friends’. It’s typically paid on the first day of each term, so given that different unis are often several weeks apart on this, there’s no reason to worry if your friends receive their loan before you.
If you’re from Scotland, things are slightly different – your loan is paid on the 7th of each month. While this means you won’t get a three massive payments like students from elsewhere in the UK, the monthly system does make it easier to keep to a budget.
Maintenance Loan payment dates 2020/21
This is when you’ll receive your Maintenance Loan payments in 2020/21:
- Students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales – in or around September 2020, January 2021 and April 2021
- Students from Scotland – on the 7th day of each month.
How do you repay your Maintenance Loan?
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it 100 times: for all the many flaws in the Student Finance system, the terms for repaying Maintenance Loans (and Student Loans in general) are actually pretty generous.
You’ll make repayments towards your Maintenance Loan and Tuition Fee Loan together as one Student Loan, so when we discuss the repayment terms of Maintenance Loans, just know it applies across the board.
We’ve got a guide to Student Loan repayments which explains things in a lot more detail, but for now, we’ll just answer a few of the most common questions students have about repaying Maintenance Loans.
What is the interest rate on Maintenance Loans?
For students from England and Wales, the interest rate on Maintenance Loans is currently anything up to 5.6%. If you’re still at uni, interest will be charged at the full 5.6%, but if you’ve graduated, interest will be charged between 2.6% and 5.6% depending on how much you’re earning.
For students from Northern Ireland and Scotland, the interest rate on Maintenance Loans is currently 1.1%. Simple as that!
It’s worth bearing in mind that the interest rates on Maintenance Loans can (and usually do) change every year based on inflation. For a full explainer of how it all works, have a read of this guide.
When do you start repaying your Maintenance Loan?
No matter where you’re from in the UK, you’ll only start repaying your Maintenance Loan from the April after you’ve graduated – and even then you’ll need to be earning over the repayment threshold for your type of loan.
The current repayment thresholds for UK graduates are:
- Students from England and Wales (Plan 2 loans) – £26,575 a year (£2,214 a month or £511 a week) before tax
- Students from Scotland and Northern Ireland (Plan 1 loans) – £19,390 (£1,615 a month, £372 a week) before tax.
Like the interest rates on Maintenance Loans, the repayment thresholds can (and usually do) change each year. Any change is usually a positive one (i.e. increasing the threshold so you have to earn more to start repaying), but again, check out our Student Loan repayments guide for a full explanation.
When is your Maintenance Loan debt cancelled?
A big part of why we’re fond of the repayment terms for Maintenance Loans is that no matter how much or how little you’ve paid back, the balance is always cancelled after 30 or so years.
If you’re from England, Scotland or Wales, your loan will be written off 30 years after you first became eligible to repay (the April after you graduated), while Northern Irish students will have their loans cancelled after 25 years.
What to do if your Maintenance Loan isn’t enough
Every year we run our National Student Money Survey, and one finding that never changes is the fact that the Maintenance Loan simply isn’t big enough.
Our most recent survey found that the average monthly shortfall between Maintenance Loans and student living costs is £223. Unsurprisingly, almost three in five (55%) of students report that their Maintenance Loan isn’t enough so, unfortunately, it seems you’ll more than likely need some extra funding while at uni.
If you find that your Maintenance Loan can’t quite cover your student living costs, here are all your options for extra funding:
Ask your parents for money
We’re not keen on Maintenance Loans being tied to household income, but the fact is that they are – although at least in Wales it’s only used to determine the split between grant and loan, and not how much money you receive overall.
We won’t go on for too long about why we dislike this way of doing things (more on that here, if you’re interested), but one of our biggest gripes is that we feel the funding bodies are nowhere clear enough about the fact that they expect your parents to support you financially if you’re not receiving the maximum Maintenance Loan.
To put it another way: calculate the difference between your Maintenance Loan and the maximum amount available to a student in your living situation. The figure you’re left with is how much the government expects your parents to give you every year.
Of course, plenty of parents whom the government thinks should be contributing are actually unable to (at least to the level they’re expected to), so the difficult conversation of asking them for financial support is made even more tricky.
Oh, and before you think you can hack the system by simply refusing to provide your funding body with your household income, they’re one step ahead of you. Students who don’t submit this info are usually given the lowest Maintenance Loan by default.
Apply for bursaries, scholarships and grants
We’ve briefly covered Maintenance Grants above, but there are loads more grants on offer that aren’t funded by the government.
Most universities (plus a whole host of charities and businesses) offer a wide range of grants, bursaries and scholarships – none of which need to be repaid!
While this is basically free money, there’s a bit of a catch: often there are qualifying criteria to make sure the money goes to those who need it the most or, in some cases, those who excel in a particular field or discipline (like sports or music).
Use our list of bursaries, scholarships and grants to find out more about some of the biggest and most common types of funding in this area, or if none apply to you, check out our guide to funding sources and discover how to find some for yourself.
And if you think there’s no way you’ll be eligible for anything, think again. As these weird bursaries, scholarships and grants go to show, there’s funding out there for just about anyone and everything!
Get a part-time job
Getting a part-time job is never as easy as some people make it out to be, but that doesn’t make it impossible! In fact, according to our National Student Money Survey, 74% of students are holding down a part-time job while at uni – the joint most popular source of income, alongside the Maintenance Loan.
Whether it’s becoming a sales assistant in a shop, working at a bar or even trying your hand as a film and TV extra, there are countless part-time jobs for students that offer the kind of hours that allow you to balance work and study.
Use your interest-free overdraft
Whenever students ask us which bank account to go for, our first piece of advice is always the same: look for the ones with the biggest interest- and fee-free overdrafts.
Most major banks offer a student account and, in the majority of cases, they offer an interest- and fee-free overdraft as part of the deal. This means that, unlike with most bank accounts, you can dip into your overdraft without having to worry about being charged for the privilege.
You only need to worry about climbing out of your overdraft once you’ve graduated, but even then you’re unlikely to have to do it straight away.
Graduate bank accounts (which most student accounts automatically become once you leave uni) often have overdrafts on the same terms, with the only difference being that the size of the interest- and fee-free overdraft steadily decreases over two or three years.
So, if you find that your Maintenance Loan isn’t enough, your student overdraft is one of the safest sources of extra money you’ll find.
Other ways to make money
It’s tempting to think that a part-time job is the only way to actually earn extra money while at uni. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are hundreds of weird and wonderful ways to make money at uni (although in our list of ways to make money quickly we’ve whittled it down to our top 40), including setting up your own business, using paid online survey sites and even selling your old stuff.
In fact, there are even a fair few ways to earn free money too. That’s the dream, right?
The moral of the story is: if you have a brainwave and think you’ve found an ingenious way to make money, go for it! As long as it’s within the confines of the law, of course…
Apply for hardship funds
If you’re really struggling for money, you may be able to apply for a hardship fund from your university.
Hardship funds are offered by universities to students who are experiencing serious financial difficulties, and usually (although not always) the money doesn’t have to be repaid. But when we say “serious financial difficulties”, we mean “serious”.
As harsh as it may sound, to ensure that these funds are only given to those who need them the most, you’ll need to prove to your uni that you really are struggling and haven’t just been irresponsible with your money.
This means handing over bank statements, Student Finance letters and proof of your household income to your uni to show that not only are you out of options, but that you haven’t frittered away your money away on a PlayStation and new TV.
You can find out more about hardship funds, including who’s likely to qualify for help, in our guide to coping with a cash crisis.
Should you take out an extra loan as a student?
In tough times, it can be tempting to just turn to the easiest and quickest sources of money – namely, payday and high-interest loans.
We strongly advise against taking out either of these loans, as the medium- and long-term issues they can throw up by far outweigh any short-term positives.
The dangers of payday loans are, fortunately, relatively well publicised nowadays. But high-interest loans, such as those offered by Future Finance, don’t receive anywhere near as much scrutiny or criticism as payday loans, despite having many of the same flaws.
We’ve put together a guide to the dangers of Future Finance loans as well as the safer alternatives you can turn to for extra cash. Please read it closely if you’re considering taking out a high-interest loan!
Worried that your Maintenance Loan isn’t going to be enough to get you through uni? Check out our list of easy ways to make money for some inspiration.