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Student finance statistics 2021

87% of full-time students are stressed about their financial situation.

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Being a student usually means late nights at the library, cheap drinks at the local bar and finally learning how to cook your own meals. But unfortunately for the majority of students in Australia, it also means being financially insecure and having very little income and savings.

Finder's Consumer Sentiment Tracker has collected data from over 25,000 Australians, and the results show that students are struggling significantly more with their finances than those working full-time.

But if you are a student, don't fret – there are plenty of ways to set yourself up for a financially secure future.

The average student vs the average full-time worker

Full-time employeeFull-time student
Personal income$86,462$13,632
Amount in savings$33,492$8,354
Savings per month$1,191$441
Can survive off savings for 4 weeks or less42%56%
Financial stress74%87%
Struggle to pay rent22%35%
Amount of rent increase that would cause financial distress$243$154

The financial position of students

Not surprisingly, students have substantially lower incomes than full-time workers. The average full-time student in our survey earns $13,632 per year, compared to $86,462 for full-time workers. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Australians earning less than $22,168 per year are defined as living below the poverty line, placing the average student well into poverty.

To pay their way through university, close to a third (30%) of full-time domestic undergraduate students work more than 20 hours a week, with 10% working more than 30 hours. This has increased from 24% in 2012, indicating that students are increasingly needing to work more hours to get by.

Finder's research shows that students also have substantially less in savings ($8,354) than those working full-time ($33,492), and they are able to save less money each month ($441) than full-time workers ($1,191). Concerningly, more than half of students (56%) could only survive off their savings for 4 weeks or less, compared to 42% of full-time workers. Unfortunately, this has a direct impact on living standards and health outcomes for students. A study from Universities Australia found that an alarming 15% of domestic undergraduate students regularly go without food or necessities because they can't afford them.

Student wellbeing and financial stress

Your years at university should be some of the best of your life, but Finder's data shows that students (72%) report significantly lower levels of overall happiness than full-time employees (82%). Students are also more likely to report having financial stress (87%) than full-time workers (74%), including a concerning 24% who report being extremely stressed about their finances.

While we can only speculate on the various factors that might make full-time employees happier than students, research consistently shows that there is a link between overall happiness and financial security.

Finder's data shows that students' most stressful expenses are rent or mortgage payments (36%), groceries (31%), petrol (18%) and their mobile phone bill (16%). Additionally, students who are renting are more likely to say that they struggle to pay rent (35%) than those working full-time (22%). On average, students say that just a $155 increase in rent would cause them financial stress, compared to $243 for full-time employees.

Student debt is rapidly rising

Unfortunately, the cost of higher education follows us into the workforce. Data from the ATO shows the total amount of outstanding HELP debt has nearly tripled from $23 billion to $66 billion between 2011 and 2020. The average HELP debt is $23,280 as of 2020.

The average outstanding debt has increased by 62% since 2011, while the consumer price index (CPI) - a measure of the cost of a typical basket of goods - has grown by just 18% over the same period. The second chart below shows just how the rate at which the average HELP debt is rising when compared to the rate of CPI increase.

While you can't necessarily control the amount of debt you'll be left with after university, the good news is you won't owe a cent before you start earning above $46,620 per year. To keep track of how much debt you owe, you can check your balance online at myGov or by calling the ATO.

It's important that you know how much of your HELP debt remains, particularly if you're looking to take on further debt through a mortgage for example, as this can further reduce your disposable income. If you can, opting to make voluntary repayments on your student loan will help to reduce the amount you pay through indexation charges.

How to manage your finances as a student

Set up good financial habits. Try creating a weekly budget and depositing whatever money you can into a savings account. This will make you feel more in control of your money and give you a financial buffer for a rainy day. Budgeting tools like the Finder app are also a great way to track your income and expenses all in one spot.

Get a casual job. Jobs like food delivery, rideshare driving and tutoring can help you earn money and they can also fit flexibly around your study schedule. You can also sign up as a participant in surveys or research groups, which often pay with money or vouchers. Check out Finder's guide to side hustles if you're in need of inspiration.

Take advantage of student discounts. Every little bit helps, so make sure to get yourself a concession card. These are available to students in all states and give you discounts on things like public transport, cafes, bars and movie tickets. Some tech companies even offer discounts on laptops.

Consider government assistance if you need it. If you're studying full-time or undertaking an apprenticeship, you might also be eligible for government assistance, depending on how many hours you work and whether or not you live with your parents.

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