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BAföG – Can I receive student grant to study in Germany? How long do I receive BAföG?

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Reason for BAföG: Despite the fact that German universities charge zero or extremely low tuition fees and that the cost of living in Germany is very low in comparison to other countries, two-thirds of international students choose to work part-time to cover their living expenses.

There are two additional sources of funding for students during the corona pandemic:

1. Grant – Students can apply for a monthly grant of up to 500 euros. You can find the form for the bridging aid on this online portal. You can get the money until the end of the summer semester. However, you have to submit the application anew every month and only for the current month.

2. KfW student loans – between May and the end of 2021, you do not have to pay any interest on any existing or new student loans from KfW. Foreign students have also been able to apply for the loan since June. With the loan you get up to 650 euros per month in your account. Further information is available from KfW (as of May 25, 2021).

Schoolchildren, apprentices and students can get money from the state if they are otherwise unable to make a living. These grants are regulated in the Vocational Training Promotion Act – better known under the abbreviation Bafög.

The aim of Bafög is to give everyone the opportunity to get an apprenticeship, a degree and a school leaving certificate – even those who could not afford it without financial support. In 2019, 680,000 people were supported by student loans, of which around 191,000 were schoolchildren and trainees. The numbers have been going down for years, and the Bafög amendment of August 2019 does not change anything. In 2019, around every sixth student received funding.

Who gets Bafög at all?

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The first big hurdle that you have to overcome is to find out whether you are eligible for student loans at all. The state only steps in if you or your family cannot cover the costs of your studies or apprenticeship yourself. If you meet the requirements, student loans should be an integral part of financing your studies or training. Because you get at least half of it for free – you often only have to pay back a small part of the amount.

Whether your vocational training, your school education or your studies can be funded by Bafög depends on your training institution.

The following applies to students:

In principle, only full-time studies are funded. You will also only receive funding for your first degree; for a second degree only if it builds directly on the first degree. This is the case, for example, with a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree. Those who change their subject for a second degree are no longer entitled to student loans.

The same principle applies to first and second training. With the so-called Auslands-Bafög you can also get funding for an apprenticeship abroad or a semester abroad during your studies (§ 2-7 Bafög).

In addition, you must meet two basic requirements for student loans, regardless of whether you are an apprentice, pupil or student (§ 8-10 student loan):

  1. Citizenship: You have to be a German citizen to receive student loans. However, it is also possible to receive state subsidies without a German passport. The decisive factor here is whether you will probably stay in Germany for the long term after your apprenticeship period. Especially among people from other EU countries there are many for whom such a permanent residence is an option. The first point of contact is the international office of the respective university. This can often help.
  2. Age: At the beginning of the apprenticeship or studies you must not be more than 29 years old. For a master’s degree, the upper limit is 34 years. In some special cases, you can also be older, for example when you graduate from secondary school or if you have a child.

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How much student loans can you expect?

The maximum rate of 861 euros per month is often just enough for housing, food and learning material (§ 11-14 Bafög). You will also have to use the money to pay your health and long-term care insurance. The Bafög office only offers lump-sum funding – no matter how much you have to spend on your apartment, for example, you only get 325 euros for rent and ancillary costs. As a student, you are only entitled to student loans within the standard period of study. It doesn’t matter how many semesters you receive student loans.

Bafög has a reputation for being chronically short. The Federal Administrative Court also came to the ruling that the student loan rate in the past was partially below the subsistence level. Therefore, the Federal Constitutional Court must now decide whether Bafög alone is really enough for living and studying.

Apprentices and students get the student loan as a free gift

There is less student loans for trainees and schoolchildren than for students. The exact maximum amounts depend solely on the type of training facility. In contrast to students, schoolchildren and apprentices receive the Bafög entirely as state funding, basically for as long as they attend the training facility. This also applies if they have to repeat a class. No matter how long or how much you receive, you do not have to repay anything from the so-called student student loan.

It looks a little different with students. Half of the Bafög consists of the donated funding and the other half of a long-term loan. The terms of the loan are extremely advantageous, however, so that the following also applies to students: If you are eligible for Bafög, you should definitely claim the funding.

Does your parents’ income matter?

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Bafög is intended for everyone who cannot finance their education themselves. The parents are obliged to provide maintenance to the trainee or student, even if he is of legal age and has moved out of the parental home. The same applies to spouses and registered partners. If they earn too much, you will receive less funding.

Therefore, when applying for a student loan, you must also disclose the income of your parents and your spouse and submit the tax assessment for the penultimate calendar year of your parents and your partner to the student loan office.

If your parents are likely to earn less money in the current year, you can also state that. So you may receive more student loans. This is especially recommended if one parent retires or only works part-time.

If your parents earn less because of Corona, you can submit an update application for the current student loan approval period and thus get more student loans. For more information, click here.

This is how much your parents can earn

The Bafög office takes into account certain allowances for the parents’ income. If the parents are married to each other, an allowance applies to both of them together. If the parents are separated, a separate allowance is taken into account for each parent. The respective exemption also increases with every dependent child who has to be looked after by your spouse or your parents. The amount of the exemptions was last adjusted for the 2019 Bafög reform.

We recommend that you do a single calculation before applying to see whether your parents’ income is above the student loan exemptions listed in the table. This gives you some planning security, as you can only apply for student loans a short time before the start of your studies or training. You can find an online calculator, for example, at bafoeg-rechner.de.

Don’t let the low-income limits discourage you too quickly. Because with the bill from the Bafög office, numerous factors work in your favor – such as social security contributions, income-related expenses or Riester contributions. The best way to determine the so-called lump-sum net income that matters is with the most recent tax assessment from your parents. But even if your parents earn more, you can still receive partial funding.

Example of parents’ income

If your parents are married, you must expect the first loss of student loans from a gross income of 30,000 euros per year (employees, no further children). Often, however, you can also receive a partial grant if your parents earn 45,000 euros. Government funding is rather unlikely if the joint salary exceeds 60,000 euros per year.

On the information portal of the family ministry bafög.de, there are some concrete examples of when and how much funding is given. In contrast to income, your parents’ savings are irrelevant; the income they generate from their assets, however (capital income, for example, also counts as income).

What can you earn in addition to the student loan?

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The parents’ saved assets are not included in the Bafög calculation. But if you have saved more than 8,200 euros yourself, you have to use up your reserves first. With life partner and children you can have more money on the high edge (each 2,300 euros more for each person in your household).

If you work in systemically relevant industries in the current Corona crisis, your earnings will not be counted towards the student loan grant. For more information, click here.

If you earn enough yourself to finance your studies or get paid during your training, you will not get any student loans. Mini-jobs, for example, are excluded from this. There are allowances here that allow you to earn a small amount of money without counting it against your student loan.

On top of the exemptions, the Bafög office also suggests costs for social security contributions and the flat-rate allowance for income-related expenses. The basic tax exemption for own income of 290 euros per month increases to a flat rate of 450 euros. This applies to the entire approval period (usually twelve months). A part-time job during the holidays or in the lecture-free period can therefore bring in more, as long as you earn less than 5,400 euros a year. If your training is particularly cost-intensive, if you have children or if you support your spouse, higher allowances apply.

If you receive an orphan’s pension or a scholarship, you only have to have it credited to your student loans if you have higher amounts. If the money from the scholarship is earmarked, such as a lump sum for books, it does not count and you can therefore keep more than the allowance for scholarships of 300 euros.

Who can get parent-independent student loans?

In some cases you will also receive student loans, although your parents could actually support you (§ 11 student loans). This is possible in the following situations:

Parents refuse maintenance – If your parents do not pay maintenance, although they are obliged to do so, the student loan office steps in. You will then receive student loans, but in return you will transfer your maintenance claims towards the parents to the office.

Abitur on the second educational path – If you attend an evening grammar school or a college, you do not need to provide the Bafög office with any information about your parents’ income.

Training begins after the age of 30 – if you receive student loans after your 29th birthday due to an exception, you do not have to worry about your parents’ income.

Already worked for five years – if you decide to study after starting your career, you will receive a student grant that is independent of your parents. However, you must have worked for at least five years since you came of age, or six years if this included training.

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What is important for your first student loan application?

If you meet all the requirements, the actual application begins. Above all, you should not underestimate the wealth of documents that you have to collect for your application. For example, it can take some time to get your parents’ income receipts.

Therefore, take care of your application as early as possible. If you are dependent on the funding right at the start of your training or studies, you should have organized the necessary documents beforehand.

The best time to apply for student loans

In principle, you can only apply for student loans if you know where you are studying or doing your apprenticeship. If you can already estimate where you will end up in the end, it is worthwhile to submit the application before the acceptance and to send the enrollment (matriculation) afterwards.

At the latest in the month in which you start training or studies, you should initiate the application; There is no retroactive student loan. For the winter semester at the university, October 31 is enough.

Many a cost item accumulates, especially at the start of studies or apprenticeships. If you find it difficult to bridge a month or two financially until the student loan is paid, it is best to contact your clerk personally. Often, the employees in the student loan office understand difficult transition phases and deal with urgent cases more quickly. You can also apply for unemployment benefit II for the transition period.

You need these documents

The application consists of various forms that you have to fill out and submit to the Bafög office. You can also fill it out electronically and send it in. Normally, you and your parents also have income receipts on top of that, as well as proof of your financial situation and the approval of the training center.

Every year anew: apply regularly for student loans

The Bafög office usually only grants funding for one year. After the so-called approval period, you have to resubmit the relevant forms and documents for the following year. Over time you will get into it. You should consider the following over the years (§ 15-17 Bafög):

Proof of achievement – For the fifth semester, students must prove that they have attended enough courses or seminars and passed the necessary intermediate exams to complete the course within the standard period of study. So you shouldn’t let your studies slide too much.

Those who could not take their exams because of the corona pandemic do not lose their entitlement to student loans. For more information, click here.

Change of subject – In the bachelor’s degree, students can choose another subject up to the fourth semester. With the change, the standard period of study and thus also the duration of the Bafög benefit period starts again.

Help with graduation – If there are still a few months left to graduate after the standard period of study, students can apply for a specially subsidized bank loan in the amount of their Bafögs. This KfW loan is cheaper than an ordinary KfW student loan.

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How can your funding period be extended?

According to the Federal Statistical Office, fewer than 40 percent of Bachelor graduates completed their studies in the standard period of study in 2019. The rate was even lower among all students (33 percent). The Bafög office also knows that there are good reasons why studying can take longer.

This can be, for example, a semester abroad. It does not count as part of the standard period of study, even if it is funded by foreign student loans. Especially in combination with the Erasmus exchange program, you can get one or the other certificate at a foreign university without running into time constraints. In addition, the following exceptions extend the funding period:

Illness – A serious or protracted illness prevents you from taking an important exam.

Chaos at the university – Something goes wrong in the planning of the university, and it is not even possible for you to complete the course in the standard period of study.

University committee – You are a member of a university committee, such as Asta or study parliament, for at least one semester.

Failed Exam – Even the best student can fail an exam. If you need a second attempt for a certificate, you will receive student loans for half a year longer – even if the failed attempt is not counted towards the final certificate at all.

Disability – If you find it more difficult to master your studies because of a disability, this is also a reason to receive student loans for a longer period of time.

Pregnancy / bringing up children – If you have a child, the Bafög office also understands that studies cannot simply continue as before and grant longer funding periods.

How much student loans do you have to pay back?

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You will receive at least half of the student loan grant. In addition, you never have to pay back more than 10,010 euros, no matter how much student loans you have received over the years. Five years after you graduate, you have to start paying back your loan; usually in installments of 130 euros per month. However, you only have to repay this interest-free government loan if you are earning accordingly.

It is best to repay all at once

It is often worthwhile to save up the money for the student loan in the first five years of employment and to pay off the entire sum at once. In this case the state grants considerable discounts (§ 18-20 Bafög). If you do not have the money on the high edge, it may even be worthwhile to replace the loan with a loan. This is especially true if the interest on the loan is lower than the discount for the repayment of the student loan.

For example, if you have received exactly 20,000 euros in student loans, you have to repay half of it as a loan – i.e. 10,000 euros. With the discount for the one-time repayment of 21 percent, you only pay 7,900 euros back, so you save 2,100 euros.

Anyone who has more student loan debts has also received EUR 2,100 waived since April 1, 2020 if they repay the sum all at once. If you have to repay less, the savings with a one-time repayment shrink according to a discount table.

Good grades have not counted since 2012, but student loans have become statute-barred

Until 2012 it was possible to reduce the amount of the loan by finishing before the standard study period or by being in the top 30 percent of your class. If you started repaying in 2018, it could be that you still benefit from the old regulation. If you completed your studies after 2012, you no longer have any chance of this discount.

Anyone who received student loans for the first time from September 2019 does not have to pay off the loan for more than 20 years, regardless of whether they were able to settle their debts in that time or not. For example, those who have not earned enough for many years will at some point no longer have to worry about their remaining debts.

What are alternatives to student loans?

If you don’t get a student loan, it doesn’t have to mean the end of your study plans. The alternatives include scholarships or a student part-time job. Maybe you need a little longer if you have a job, but you can also gain professional experience directly. It looks similar with a dual course of study.

If your student loan application is rejected because of your parents’ income, you have the right to maintenance. But you don’t have to threaten your own parents with a maintenance lawsuit right away. A private loan from relatives can also help out through hard times. Student loans should always be the last resort, as they put a lasting financial strain on you. This also applies to the state-sponsored KfW student loan.

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Michelle Halterman
USA, China, South Africa and now Munich - Michelle has come a long way in the world. She is an outdoor person and loves to be in nature with friends and on her mountain bike. Or she meets up with friends for pasta, vino, cappaccino & Co.
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