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uSwitch Students — Real advice for getting real savings on your bills

If going to university means your first time living away from home, then you'll probably need a crash course in the basics of 'life admin,' including finding the best and cheapest deals on your basic bills (it's easier than you think, we promise).

uSwitch Students is a collection of our best deals and tips, especially for you. Let's get started ...

Broadband

broadband

Consider dedicated student broadband deals

Most broadband packages last for 12 or 18 months, which may be too long for you if you're going home in the summer. Some larger providers, like BT and Virgin Media, offer broadband packages tailored specifically to students that run for nine months.

These deals are tailored to students and offer some perks, including free BT Sport and vouchers, and you'll be able to go back home for the summer without worrying about needing to pay any bills.

When you're looking at setup fees, don't forget that you may have to pay for a line installation at your home, even if you don't plan on using a landline. Providers should list this conditional fee upfront.

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Don’t necessarily rule out standard 12-month deals

Alternatively, sometimes standard 12-month broadband packages actually work out cheaper than the nine-month student broadband deals.

The nine month student contracts offer you perks and ease of mind, but that flexibility comes with some additional costs, namely set-up fees or higher monthly prices.

This is an area where it pays to take out your calculator and see if it's cheaper to pay for the additional three months, or to double-check what early termination fees you'd be liable for if you decided to cancel earlier. Also, ask yourself if you really need the perks attached to student deals.

What broadband speed do you need?

In multiple occupancy student homes, the sheer range of laptops, smartphones, games consoles and set-top boxes connected to the internet simultaneously puts significant strain on your download allowance and on the speed of your connection, particularly if you're fans of streaming or gaming.

For that reason, if there are three or more occupants in your digs you’ll almost certainly want to choose a broadband package with no usage limits and that delivers a speedier fibre broadband service.

Mobile broadband can be a viable option

Depending on your university's location and the quality and speed of mobile internet provision, you could try ditching a home broadband service altogether and opt for mobile broadband instead.

The major advantage of mobile broadband over home broadband is that you won’t have to pay line rental fees, which means more money to spend on alcopops, weighty Russian novels and liquorice roll-ups.

The downside is that 4G dongle and MiFi deals that feature unlimited downloads are quite rare, so you’ll have to ration your usage — plus, 4G is a slower service than home broadband and it’ll be a less robust connection too.

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TV

television

NOW TV: a flexible way to watch Sky Atlantic and other pay TV

You can still watch pay TV without signing up for an expensive long broadband and TV contract. With NOW TV, you can stream box sets and live TV from popular pay channels like Sky Atlantic, FOX and Comedy Central for less than a tenner a month — much cheaper than the fines you could face by streaming illegally.

What's more, you can add and remove the NOW TV pass without paying any penalty fees, and the passes last for only a month. If you're more of a sports fan, you can pick up the NOW TV Sky Sports Pass, and cinephiles can grab a NOW TV Sky Cinema Pass.

Or watch through your parents’ Sky Go account

Sky Go lets you nominate two devices on which to watch Sky’s TV output live. As long as you’re studying in the UK, you just need to make sure the laptop or tablet you’re taking with you is registered.

Football’s free on BT

Watching Premiership football on TV can be an expensive habit. If you sign up for one of BT's student packages, you'll be able to get the BT Sport App free for nine months, so you can still watch Premier League and UEFA Champions League matches.

Depending upon your setup, you may be able to 'cast' this app onto your TV to watch these matches on a big screen.

Make sure you claim your TV license refund

Planning to watch BBC output live on your laptop, smartphone or tablet? Or record programs live? Then sorry, but you do in fact need a TV license. While a halls license will cover you in communal areas, it won’t when you’re holed up in your own room.

The good news is that you’re not liable to pay for it during the summer months when you’re home. Over three months, that’s a saving of £40 or so.

The less good news is that to qualify, you’ll need to claim it back when there are three calendar months or more remaining on your license. And you’ll need to be sure you won’t need it again before it expires.

In the market for a broadband and TV bundle?

Choose from our picks of the best

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Energy

pylons

If you've only ever lived with your parents, you may not be well acquainted with an energy bill. Unfortunately, you'll now have to get to know those confusing pieces of paper a bit better.

Find a cheaper energy supplier

If you're moving into a student rental where you're responsible for paying the energy bill, you're entitled to shop around in order to find a cheaper supplier and tariff for the home’s gas, electricity, or both (dual fuel).

Running a comparison and switching energy only takes around 10 minutes, and could save your house up to £482 a year.

You'll need to register with the current energy supplier first, but after that you're free to switch.

Things to do:

  • Ask your landlord or letting agent who the current energy suppliers to the address are
  • If they don’t know, you can call these numbers and find out
  • Ask your landlord or letting agent where the energy meters are for your home as you’ll need to submit readings regularly

Why pay more for the same energy?

Find and switch to a better energy deal in minutes

Energy switching tips

If you’re not sure where to start with reading and understanding your energy bill, our helpful guides should answer any questions you have about the different sections and jargon.

In general, fixed energy deals are cheaper than variable tariffs. These are deals which have set unit rates that can’t be increased — however these plans have an expiry date (usually 12 months). Your plan may also come with early exit fees, but suppliers are sometimes lenient with charging these if you’re simply moving out of the home.

There are some variable plans on offer that could still save you money, but bear in mind that you run the risk of price rises.

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Insurance

table with gadgets Whether you’re packing light or bringing everything but the kitchen sink to university, it’s likely your gadgets will be coming with you. But are they insured against theft, damage, or being left on the bar of the students’ union?

Gadget Insurance

With a specialist gadget insurance policy, you can safeguard your gadgets, including your:

  • Mobile phone
  • Laptop
  • Tablet
  • Games console
  • Headphones
  • Smartwatch / fitness tracker
  • TV

Compare gadget insurance

Search for a range of gadget insurance quotes and deals with uSwitch and money.co.uk

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Contents insurance

If you’re taking other valuables besides gadgets, you may want to go one further and take out a contents insurance policy. Standard home insurance policies don’t tend to be suitable for students living in student halls or shared accommodation, but a specialist provider should be able to help.

It may also be possible to extend your parents’ household insurance policy to cover your possessions away from home, but be aware that any claims could increase their home insurance premiums next year. They’ll also have to pay the excess on their contents insurance for any claims, which is typically a larger sum than those on standalone gadget insurance or student policies.

Car insurance

And while you’re thinking of insurance, it’s important to consider your car too. If it will be staying with you in student residences during term time, it’s important to inform your insurer of your new address. Bear in mind this might change the cost of your premium, but you could be committing fraud if you don’t declare your move.

If your insurer tries to hike your costs too much, you might be able to get a cheaper deal by shopping around and switching insurers. Run a comparison for your new address.

Compare car insurance quotes

Search for car insurance prices at your student address, or set up a reminder for when it’s time to renew your policy

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Banking

paying with card

Get a student bank account

Make sure to get a student current account. Banks offer lots of perks to students, such as large, interest-free overdrafts or travel cards.

Overdrafts - what to look for

The main perk for students is a 0% overdraft, giving you an interest-free borrowing buffer. However, make sure you always stay within your limit and, if you can’t, ask your bank for an extension.

Also consider if the account offers an interest-free overdraft after you graduate. This can be very handy to get you on your feet when you leave university.

Look for other perks

Some student accounts offer a free student railcard or coachcard, saving you a third on eligible journeys. This is very useful if you’re travelling home a lot.

The Santander Student Account comes with a free four-year 16-25 Railcard:

Other accounts offer perks including Amazon Prime membership or discount cards for dining out, and some banks will let you choose which benefit you get.

While these freebies can offer good value, you should always measure out your estimated savings against other deals (like a bigger overdraft limit).

Pay the bills and improve your credit score

Your credit score is like your financial CV — the better it is, the easier it is to get the best credit cards and loans in future. The key to a good credit score is to show you can pay back debt, so don’t leave the bills to your flatmates. Even paying the TV licence will stand your credit file in good stead.

Should you get a credit card as a student?

Your bank may offer you a credit card, but you could get a better deal somewhere else so it could pay to shop around. As a rule, don’t take cards you’ve been offered in shops, bank branches or in the post (the same rule as applies to sweets from strangers, really).

The main (and arguably only) reason to get a credit card as a student is to improve your credit score by spending responsibly (i.e. only spend what you can afford to pay back each month). It can also provide a last-resort emergency fund (but really this is what your overdraft should be for).

Unfortunately, most students won’t have a good enough credit history to qualify for the best card deals. So, a good bet is to pick a no-frills card with the lowest interest charges (referred to as APR), or a ‘credit builder’ card used carefully.

Credit builder credit cards:

Don’t use payday loans

If you do find yourself over your overdraft limit, avoid using a payday loan at all costs. Interest rates are extortionate, and the cost of the debt can easily skyrocket.

If you're struggling to make ends meet, contact the National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA), who will be able to advise you on the alternatives.

Get a TOTUM card

TOTUM, the new name for the NUS extra card, unlocks more than 200 UK student discounts with online and in-store retailers, including ASOS, Co-op and Odeon.

You can choose from a one-year card for £12, a two-year card for £22 or a three-year card for £32.

Pay the right tax (i.e. none)

If you get a job while at university, providing your total earnings for 2018/2019 come to less than £11,850, you don’t have to pay income tax. If you have paid tax, visit the HMRC website for advice on how to apply for a refund.

If you're a full-time student living alone or with other students you don't need to pay council tax, regardless of how many of you are living in the property.

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Mobiles

mobile phone

Cheap SIM-only deals are out there. Track one down.

Happy with your phone? Not fussed about owning the latest smartphone with all the bells and whistles? Good for you — that means you can take advantage of a SIM only deal.

Not only are you not tied into a lengthy contract with SIM only, but at the value-end of the market, you can get pretty generous data, calls and texts allowances for around a fiver per month.

giffgaff

Budget option giffgaff will include the option to tether your phone to your laptop and share your data allowance between device.

With plans starting from as little as £5 a month, you switch up your tariff whenever you like. So you can change, upgrade or take a break from your plan as it suits you.

VOXI

Open exclusively to under 30s, VOXI offers a variety of data-heavy, competitively priced SIM-only deals that are perfect for students.

VOXI customers can use social media apps, such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp without using up any of their monthly data allowance. And, if you recommend VOXI to one of your friends, you’ll both get a £10 Amazon voucher when they sign up.

Best of all, there’s no lengthy contract and no credit checks. So you’re completely free to switch to a different provider.

iD Mobile

iD Mobile offers a range of great SIM-only and mobile phone contracts at a price that won’t eat into your maintenance loan or beer budget.

You’ll also get inclusive roaming in 50 European destinations, as well as data rollover, so you can keep your unused data to use the following month.

And right now, iD Mobile has some particularly good back to school offers.

Find a cheap SIM only deal

Use our SIM only comparison

Compare deals

Look for student discounts

A caveat: not all smartphones are included in O2’s offer and you’ll need to register your claim for money-off within 28 days of signing up.

See what your broadband provider offers mobile phone customers

The more services you take from a single provider, the less you'll pay for them than you would if you took them from separate providers.

  • BT broadband customers can get a SIM only mobile phone deal from BT from just £5 per month more
  • Virgin Media, EE and TalkTalk SIM only deals are comparably priced too
  • Better yet, TalkTalk broadband customers who also take Plus TV on-demand TV service get a free SIM with usage that’d normally set you back £90

Use Billmonitor.com

Approved by the telecoms regulator Ofcom, this service lets you take control of your usage. It does this by showing you how much of your texts, minutes and data allowance you get through every month next to what you’re actually paying for.

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