Tuesday 24 October 2017

Five things that you must know in order to get a student grant

With just three days to go to apply for a student grant for the first time, get cracking if you want your money in time for college, writes Louise McBride

The grant for day-to-day living costs (known as the maintenance grant) is up to €3,025 for eligible undergraduate and PLC students - or up to €5,915 for students from families in most financial need. (Financially disadvantaged postgraduate students can also now get the €5,915 grant). Stock photo: Getty
The grant for day-to-day living costs (known as the maintenance grant) is up to €3,025 for eligible undergraduate and PLC students - or up to €5,915 for students from families in most financial need. (Financially disadvantaged postgraduate students can also now get the €5,915 grant). Stock photo: Getty
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

A student grant can be worth as much as €12,000 to some students, and first-time applicants now have only three days left to apply for the grant. Having a late application in could delay your grant - meaning it could be well into the college year by the time you (or your child) receives it, if they get it at all.

The grant for day-to-day living costs (known as the maintenance grant) is up to €3,025 for eligible undergraduate and PLC students - or up to €5,915 for students from families in most financial need. (Financially disadvantaged postgraduate students can also now get the €5,915 grant).

There is also a grant worth as much as €6,270 towards the cost of tuition fees, essential field-trip expenses and the student contribution charge. This grant, known as the fee grant, is available to eligible undergraduate and postgraduate students. Some students qualify for both the fee grant and the maintenance grant.

Here are five things you need to know if applying for the student grant this year.

The deadlines

The deadline for applying for the first time is July 13. You don't need to fill out a new grant application if you are merely renewing your grant, although you do need to apply to renew the grant. As the closing date for renewals was June 15, you have already missed that deadline if you haven't yet renewed.

You might still be able to renew if you missed the deadline, but get in touch with Susi as soon as you can. "We will still be open for grant applications for a certain amount of time after the deadlines but we will prioritise the applicants that come into us before the deadlines," said Graham Doyle, a spokesman for Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi), which runs the grant scheme.

Should either or both of your parents be self-employed, don't wait until they have filed their tax return before you apply. This is one of the biggest mistakes made by students, according to Doyle. It is income earned in 2016 which must be declared on the application forms.

As the latest deadline for self-employment tax returns for 2016 is mid-November 2017, many self-employed parents will not have made a return for 2016 by the time their child needs to apply for the grant. However, students with self-employed parents should still apply on time and give an indication of their parents' income for 2016, advised Doyle.

Waiting until the Leaving Cert results or CAO offers are out before applying for the grant is another mistake often made by students, according to Doyle. "Students should apply to SUSI and put down their first choice of course on their application," he said. "They should also make sure to tick the Susi option on their CAO forms."

The income to tot up

About 22,000 people were refused a grant last year and one of the main reasons was because their income - or the income earned by certain people connected to them - was too high, according to Doyle.

The income earned by parents, guardians, spouses and students comes into play when determining whether or not a grant is paid.

The income of your parents or your guardian will not be taken into account if you are applying for the grant as an independent student. To be treated as an independent student, you must be a mature student who does not ordinarily reside with your parents or guardian.

Remember, if you are an independent mature student who is married, in a civil partnership or living with someone, the income of your spouse, civil partner, or cohabitant - as well as your own income - will be taken into account for your grant application.

It is not just the income earned in a job which matters for the student grant. Various sources of income are considered, including rental income; income from investments, savings and private pensions; lump-sum payments from retirement and redundancy; gifts or inheritances; the state pension and certain other social welfare payments; and income from the sale of property or other assets.

Some income is disregarded for the purposes of the student grant and this includes child benefit, the blind pension, rent supplement, and up to €4,500 of income earned by a student during the Christmas, Easter or summer holidays.

The income limits

Undergraduate or PLC students won't usually get a full grant if their income, or their family's income, is over €39,875. However, should there be more than three dependent children in the student's family or more than one child in the family attending college, the student could get a full grant even if their income is above €39,875 - depending on exactly how much income is earned. For example, a family with between four and seven dependent children, could earn up to €43,810 and still qualify for the full grant, while a family with eight or more children could earn up to €47,575.

You may still qualify for a grant if your family's income is over these limits -but it would be a percentage of the full grant.

Remember, it is the number of dependent children in a family which is taken into account when deciding the income threshold for the grant. Susi considers a dependent child to be one who is under the age of 16 or a child aged 16 or more but in full-time education or unfit to work due to a medical condition.

For those students who are from families in most financial need and who qualify for the higher grants of €5,915 (maintenance grant) and €6,270 (fee grant), the total household income should be no more than €23,000.

Along with income, how near a student's home is to college will determine whether or not he or she qualifies for the full grant.

Students who live more than 45km from their college are entitled to a higher grant than those living within a 45km radius.

The latest changes

There have been some changes to student grants this year, which could make it easier to get one. For example, the higher maintenance grants of up to €5,915 are available to financially disadvantaged postgraduate students again. The reintroduction of this grant for such students reverses a budgetary cut in 2012.

Under another change, students who previously dropped out of a college course, and who are returning to third-level education to study after a break of five years, can now apply for the student grant. It is also possible for the student to complete a PLC course within the five-year break period, receive a maintenance grant from Susi for that PLC course and still qualify for a higher-education grant when he or she returns to college (as long as the five-year break rule from higher education is met). Should you have received a grant for a college course before, it is still possible to get a grant from Susi under this so-called 'second chance' provision.

The alternatives

Should you find that you or your child no longer qualifies for a student grant - or you expected to get one but didn't, you may be able to get a student or educational loan from your bank. Some banks offer interest-free overdrafts and loans to students which could be worth exploring - as long as you can afford to repay the loan on time.

Bank of Ireland, for example, offers an interest-free preferred faculty loan to certain students. The bank also offers a student loan of up to €1,000, which charges 1pc interest.

Avoid student credit cards as the interest charged on credit card purchases starts from 18.25pc, with higher interest charged on cash withdrawals.

This is expensive credit and could lead to debt problems down the line.

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