Hello, real world

Remember all those wise words about budgeting that were aimed at you in the summer? The weeks have passed, and now reality bites. Time for some more advice?
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The Independent Online
That big cheque that you got at the start of term is probably just a blessed memory by now. To mark the season of nasty financial surprises, we provide three annotated tales of loans and landlords. Strategy footnotes are provided by Dr Anthony Hesketh, author of the recently published Beg, Borrow or Starve? How to Finance Your Degree.

The parentally-funded student's tale

I was never going to get a student grant, as my parents earn too much. We discussed how much I would need to get before I came to university, but I really had no idea.

I applied for a small overdraft in my second year, when I moved into a student house from halls. It was quite a shock having to pay for water, heating and electricityi. I have kept the overdraft small as I want to feel sure that I can pay it off during vacations when I work. I want to feel I'm in control of my finances, despite it being my parents' money. I would rather borrow from friends or the bank if I go short. I became so used to having money during the holiday when I was workingii that it is really hard to break those spending habits. But hearing other students' stories can put your own into perspectiveiii. A friend of mine had to drop out of college for a year due to his debt. My parents never really question me about my finances unless I ask for my monthly money a week or two earlyiv. So Dad, while we're on the subject ...

Jane Adlington

The student access fund recipient's tale

Before coming away to Cardiff University I worked for two years, and it came as quite an adjustment not receiving a weekly pay packetv.

Things were brought to a head last year when I did not receive any course fees funding from my local education authority. After discussing my finances with my parents, from whom I receive a lot of support, I decided to continue at Cardiff, although it would be a struggle and I would have to find a job to make ends meet.

My tutor told me I was probably eligible for an access grant from the universityvi. Initially I did not know anything about the access grants and my friends had not heard of them either. But after applying through the Dean of Students I received a substantial award from the university to help cover my fees. I had to find the remainder myself, but my situation looked much better.

Without the hardship grant from the university, I dread to think how I would have coped. I look forward to gaining earning a wage rather than borrowing money, but I realise that for the first few years after university I will still have to struggle to repay my debtsvii.

John Bloomfield

The unlucky student-tenant's tale

Although the house which I and five friends chose for our second-year living out was well located and the rent was reasonable, we soon ran into difficulties.

The landlady's proposed tenancy agreement contained clauses saddling us with her legal costs should there be any contractual dispute during our tenancy. We had this vetted and changedviii, and signed by the landlady - who then ignored it.

For a few weeks of our tenancy, she was fair and helpful, but she soon went back on our contract by charging us a lump sum comprising a third of our total rent for the yearix. Moreover, we began to notice that things at the house were moving while we were gone. It transpired that the landlady was poking around the house at willx, without even ringing the doorbell.

It came as no surprise when, during the summer vacation of this year, she tried to charge me extra rent because she had not expected me to actually use the house for the whole of the year. After a few letters of warning from the university housing office, the local housing authority and solicitors, she was forced to back downxi.

This year's tenants have already experienced problems, but shouldn't find it difficult to retrieve their money now that the landlady's conflicting contracts have been shown to the housing authority. However, it'll probably take the landlady's solicitor several hours to persuade her that she actually does have to answer to the law.

Anon

Footnotes: Dr Hesketh's strategy tips

i Ask your friends in years above how much they paid. Try to budget for this spending before the bills come in. Also keep copies of bills in case of disputes.

ii The obvious concern when you work during vacations is the tax trap - if your earnings go over pounds 3,525 in any one financial year, you are eligible to pay tax. Vacation work can affect exam performance, but then so, too, can debt worries - another good reason to seek advice on this question from as many sources as possible.

iii Decide before the crunch comes how you would feel about borrowing money from the various sources on offer. It is helpful to talk to your friends for advice, yet many students avoid discussing finance with their friends. They get drunk together, vomit together, fall asleep in lectures (and elsewhere) together, yet many are wary of discussing financial circumstances with one another.

iv Parents can be helpful, too. They can provide advice and moral support, and if you're lucky, cold hard cash!

v Planning ahead is crucial. Your large start-of-term cheque will always be drained fast; it's up to you to ensure it's not too fast.

vi Tutors can put students in touch with counsellors and other finance- related staff who, in turn, can often open up other options.

vii Students begin to repay student loans the April following graduation. Repayment can be deferred for 12 months if gross income (ie before tax) is less than pounds 1,316 per month. Loans can be paid off at any time. The normal repayment period is 60 monthly instalments over five years at an interest rate in line with the Retail Prices Index (RPI).

viii Contracts should always be examined by professionals. Most university accommodation offices have a standard contract which they issue for use in conjunction with landlords. Respectable landlords will be happy to comply. Those who are not should be treated with extreme caution. In these cases a solicitor should be consulted. If in doubt, pull out.

ix Standard contracts should stipulate the amount, the period applicable and payment dates of rent sums. It is best to pay these by direct debit from your bank. Again, contracts which overlook this issue should either be modified by a solicitor or withdrawn.

x Standard contracts stipulate that landlords cannot enter the premises unless they provide 24 hours' notice and unless one or more of the tenants are present. Contracts vary, but it is as well to check that this eventuality is stipulated.

xi University accommodation offices provide students with excellent support and advice during periods of angst, providing you have followed all of their guidelines - that is, used a standard university contract n

Dr Anthony Hesketh is lecturer in Post-Compulsory Education and Training at Cardiff University of Wales. His book `Beg, Borrow or Starve? How To Finance Your Degree' has just been published and is available in bookshops, price pounds 7.95, or by calling Innovation in Higher Education (01524 65201, ext 4522).

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