University is still an important rite of passage for many young people, and a pre-requisite for many career paths. But the cost of tuition fees and living expenses means that funding your child’s university education can result in a substantial financial outlay, with added complexity if your family are expats. Matthew Curtis, our Director in Hong Kong, explores what you might need to consider when supporting your children financially through university.
It’s no surprise to learn that obtaining a university education is now more expensive than ever. Gone are the days when classes were tuition-free for UK residents and means tested grants could be used to cover some or all living expenses. Today the average student can expect to leave university with exceptional levels of debt; accumulated by the combination of tuition fees together with costs associated with rent, food and other bills. The cost-of-living crisis and soaring inflation has also played a part in pushing up the cost of university life more recently.
Although more UK students are choosing to live at home and attend a local university, the cost of tuition can still bite. And if your child is keen to head further afield, it’s useful to consider the options when it comes to funding their degree.
Covering tuition fees
Tuition fees typically form a large part of any university education. UK fees are capped at £9,250 a year for students who are UK residents (source: www.gov.uk). But if you’re an expat, and your children have lived overseas with you, they might not qualify for ‘home fee status’ and could face overseas student rates. There are concessions if you live in the EEA or Switzerland, but if your home is elsewhere in the world the general rule is that they must have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for three years before the course begins.
If your child has been living overseas with you it’s worth checking the rules with their preferred university, and noting that international tuition fees can be substantially more; overseas students at Oxford will pay between £33,050 and £48,620 in the 2024/25 academic year (source: www.ox.ac.uk).
If you’re in the position to cover tuition fees and wish to make the payments out of your normal monthly income, there may be tax advantages; it’s a useful way of reducing your own Inheritance Tax liability down the line. You’ll also save your child from having to face repaying a loan at the start of their career.
For those need a different means of funding tuition fees, student loans are available to undergraduates – again with the caveat that your child must have ‘home’ status. Student loans don’t have to be repaid until the April after graduation and only when your child earns at least a threshold salary (currently upwards of £25,000). These loans don’t affect credit scores but may be taken into account for mortgage applications. It’s also worth noting that they accrue interest in line with the Retail Price Index.
Student living costs
As well as tuition fees, general living costs for food and bills can soon add up. Another form of funding which can help with this area is a maintenance loan which can provide up to £ 9,978 for students living away from home outside of London and £13,002 for those living in the city. However, these loans are means tested based on your income, with households earning more than £58,291 entitled only to the minimum loan allowance of £3,597 based on 2023/24 rates (source: www.gov.uk).
Do also bear in mind that encouraging your child to chip-in for their day-to-day living expenses may also be a good life lesson. If they’re able to take a part-time job to help cover their socialising or food costs it could help reduce the contributions you need to make or loans required, whilst also helping them to develop their own financial literacy and budgeting skills.
Is buying a student house a good investment?
Accommodation can total a significant portion of your child’s university expenses. With average rents topping £535 a month (source: www.moneysupermarket.com) you might feel that investing in property which they can live in, alongside other students, could be a sensible option. UK property has generally proved a worthwhile investment and over time has delivered good returns for many people. But there are some considerations:
- Check whether the income you receive from the property changes your tax position, moving you into a different bracket, or forces you to start completing Tax Returns.
- If you’re an expat seek advice about whether having a UK foothold could affect your resident status.
- Selling the property after three or four years could leave you with a profit – which might attract Capital Gains Tax of up to 28% if you’re a higher rate taxpayer.
- The UK housing market has slowed in recent years and you may need to consider a longer timeframe before selling the property on.
- Remember that you may need to pay a Stamp Duty surcharge when buying a buy-to-let property and, if you are an expat, you may have to pay a non-resident Stamp Duty surcharge as well.
Finally, from a purely practical point of view, don’t forget to budget for the costs of running another house, the “hassle factor” of managing a property and whether your child will be comfortable acting as ‘landlord’ to their friends or other students.
When and how to start saving
As with many aspects of finance if you are planning to fund your child’s university education it’s never too early to start to save. University costs are rising; students leaving in 2000 had average student loans of £4,150 – last year that figure hit almost £45,000. (source: www.statista.com)
Junior ISAs can be a tax-efficient way of saving for a university fund from an early age. They can’t be accessed during childhood and mature into an ISA at age 18 – exactly the same age when university plans might kick in. JISAs allow you to save up to £9,000 tax free each year, and compounding returns can help boost the funds over time. Even setting aside £100 a month from your child’s birth would build a pot of just over £35,000 if the JISA returned an average of 5% a year. Do bear in mind that JISAs and ISAs aren’t an option if you live overseas and aren’t tax resident in the UK.
Another option is to begin saving and investing on your child’s behalf to build a fund for the future. Again, even small monthly sums can add up helping pay for tuition fees or living costs when the time comes. Saving, even whilst they study, could help build a nest egg which they could use for a house deposit or to pay off a chunk of debt at the end of their degree.
Consider your own living expenses
If you are planning to support your children with their tuition and living expenses whilst they’re at university, make sure you factor the costs into your own monthly budget. The financial commitment could soon mount up!
It might also be useful to involve your child in discussions about funding university. Even younger teens who are starting to think about career choices may benefit from being included. Planning how to cover the financial aspect of a degree can be a useful step in helping your child understand the commitment you’re making in their future. They can also pick up good tips on how to budget and begin to appreciate how sensible planning – especially around money – needs to be factored into any decision.
The information in this article aims to provide information. However, this is not intended to form professional advice nor should it be relied upon as such and before taking any particular action, specific and personal advice should be obtained. All levels and basis of, and relief from taxation illustrated here are subject to change. The Fry Group (Singapore) Pte Ltd is authorised to act as a financial adviser by the Monetary Authority of Singapore – licence number FA100057.