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  • Research by financial technology company Intelligent Environments finds three quarters of university students polled feel stressed about the amount of debt they are accumulating whilst studying
  • One in seven students surveyed have been chased by debt collectors and over a quarter have missed rent payments
  • Students admit debt-stress affects relationships, exam results and ability to afford basics such as weekly food shops
  • Banks can play a role to address the situation by providing students with the necessary digital tools to help them keep on top of their outgoings, with half (48 per cent) saying they would be less likely to get into debt with a digital app

It’s no secret that students get into debt whilst at university, but new research has found an overwhelming majority are feeling the stress created by their financial situation.

According to financial technology company Intelligent Environments, three quarters (75 per cent) of students polled that receive a maintenance loan feel stressed about the amount of debt they are accumulating while studying, the effects of which are wide reaching.

Over a third (39 per cent) said their debt has prevented them from being able to afford their weekly food shop, whilst over a quarter (27 per cent) have missed rent payments. A worrying 15 per cent have even been chased by debt collectors, demonstrating the severity of the issue.

Psychologically, the debt-stress students experience has impacted various areas of their lives, including relationships (35 per cent), friendships (34 per cent) and exam results (32 per cent).

The study highlights that almost three in five students polled (58 per cent) run out of money before their next payment is due, with the average week for student loan funds to run dry being week six.

Defying stereotypes of drunken nights and time spent socialising, the top three items students spend their money on were revealed to be rent (78 per cent), food (69 per cent) and utility bills (47 per cent).

To get by, a significant proportion of students with a maintenance loan surveyed now rely on additional sources of income to get through the term, with two thirds (65 per cent) turning to parents or other family in times of need. Others rely on their student overdrafts (58 per cent), dip into their savings (27 per cent), incur further debts on credit cards (6 per cent) and even take out payday loans (9 per cent) to help tide them over.

Given the impact of debt-stress on students, Intelligent Environments is calling on banks to provide their younger customers with tools designed to help them better manage their finances to help them stay out of debt where possible.

The call to action is supported by the research, which states that over a third (34 per cent) of students polled cite their bank as an organisation that could do more to help. Two thirds (66 per cent) say debt would be less stressful if their bank offered access to a digital money management tool or app to help them manage their maintenance loan incomings and outgoings, and almost half (48 per cent) believe they would be less likely to go into debt in the first place if they had access to this type of tool.

David Webber, Managing Director at Intelligent Environments, said: “The fact that students are taking on further debts such as credit cards, overdrafts and even payday loans to repay the money they already owe, is worrying. Debt can have a devastating effect on people, impacting everything from exam results to relationships with partners, family and friends.

“Banks need to be doing more to assist students in managing their finances responsibly to help them get through university without having to resort to more forms of borrowing. As younger generations look for digital solutions to keep on top of their spending and debt repayment levels, banks need to adapt and provide students with the digital tools to improve their relationship with money. This will help them keep on top of outgoings and monthly budgets. Greater visibility around spending habits will make people more aware of their bank balance, making it harder for them to go into debt unnecessarily.”

Shelly Asquith, National Union of Students (NUS) vice president (welfare), said: “Students are being mounted with colossal levels of debt that are increasing year on year. NUS is concerned about the impact this has on the likelihood of working class students to apply to university. We also believe that increased poverty and debt is a major factor in the sharp increase of students experiencing mental ill health.”

“NUS research also shows that almost 60 per cent of graduates still have existing debts left over from their degree, most commonly bank overdrafts, credit cards and loans from friends and family.”

 Case study

Fionnuala Allen, a 2nd year Nutrition student at Manchester Metropolitan University said although she loved university, she was regularly stressed by her finances.

“I receive the maintenance loan and work around 30 hours a month but most of my money goes to rent, food and utilities. My maintenance loan runs out really quickly and my job is a zero-hours contract, so I can only work when there are shifts available. I regularly go into my student overdraft to get by, and in the past I’ve had to borrow money from my dad. Before Christmas I had to ask my estate agent if they were ok with me paying my rent a month late. My housemates and I were also on a diet of rice and peas because for a week because it’s cheap and you can buy it in bulk.”

“People assume students spend their money on nights out, but I regularly have to choose not to go out, so I can buy food. I’ve also had to miss classes and delay assignments when shifts become available and I have to take them when I can. It’s really stressful constantly thinking about money when I should be focusing on my studies. Having to worry about this kind of thing really takes its toll sometimes.”

Miss Allen said extra information and tools about managing money would really help. “We didn’t get taught how to manage our finances at school and instead of my bank sending me information about how to manage my money, I get sent credit card application forms. I’d much prefer to be able to better manage my money using proper budgeting tools.”

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