Education and training are vital for personal growth and professional development. It can be a transformative experience, shaping your future and opening doors to new opportunities. However, the financial aspect of pursuing higher education and training can sometimes be daunting. That’s where Study Training and Support Loans (STSL) come into play.
In Australia, the Government offers these loans to provide the financial assistance you need to pursue your educational dreams. These loans aim to alleviate the financial burden while enabling you to expand your knowledge and skills.
This article will explore the different types of loans that fall under the STSL category, the tax implications associated with these loans, and other complexities you need to be aware of regarding these loans under Australian tax laws.
IN THIS ARTICLE
- What is STSL?
- Types of Loans
- What is STSL Tax?
- How Does STSL Work?
- How To View Your Loan Account Online?
- STSL Monthly Tax Table: Guide for Employers
- How To Repay STSL?
- What Are Compulsory Repayments and How Do They Work?
- What Are Voluntary Repayments?
- Repayment of STSL From Overseas
- Deferring Compulsory Repayments or Overseas Levy
- Recent Updates on STSL
What is STSL?
The Australian Government provides a range of loans through Study Training and Support Loans (STSL) that individuals can utilize to finance their higher education, trade apprenticeships, and other training programs.
These loans operate on an income-contingent basis, where repayment obligations are activated when the borrower’s income surpasses a specific threshold. The tax system facilitates compulsory repayments, while borrowers can make voluntary repayments to accelerate loan clearance.
Types of Loans
There are five types of loans available under the STSL Australia program. These include:
1. Higher Education Loan Program (HELP)
HELP loans assist eligible students in covering their student contributions or tuition fees for higher education provided by universities and other institutions. Recipients can access different types of HELP loans based on their individual circumstances, resulting in the acquisition of a HELP debt.
2. VET Student Loans (VSL)
The VSL program focuses on vocational education and training qualifications that meet industry needs, providing enhanced employment opportunities. Eligible students pursuing diploma-level and above courses can benefit from income-contingent loan support. An eligibility tool is available to determine qualification for VET Student Loans.
3. Student Financial Supplement Scheme (SFSS)
The Student Financial Supplement Scheme (SFSS) was a loan program designed to assist students in covering their expenses during tertiary education. While the scheme ended in 2003, any outstanding SFSS debts are still being collected through the taxation system.
4. Student Start-up Loan (SSL) and ABSTUDY SSL
SSL and ABSTUDY SSL were introduced as voluntary loans to replace the Student Start-up Scholarship payment. You can avail these loans if you are eligible higher education student who receives Youth Allowance, Austudy, or ABSTUDY Living Allowance. Services Australia administers the distribution of these loan payments.
5. Trade Support Loan (TSL)
TSL provides loans over a four-year period to eligible Australian apprentices. Upon completing the apprenticeship, a 20% discount is applied to the loan. The Australian Apprenticeships Centres and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations oversee the management of TSL payments.
All these STSL loans play a vital role in enabling you to achieve your educational goals and contribute to building a skilled workforce for the future of Australia.
What is STSL Tax?
STSL (Study and Training Support Loan) tax in Australia refers to an extra tax obligation on top of PAYG (Pay As You Go) tax. It is important to note that regardless of whether an employee has an STSL debt or not, their PAYG amount remains unchanged. Some payroll systems combine PAYG and STSL into a single amount, making it difficult to distinguish between the two.
How Does STSL Work?
STSL operates through a simple process. Once you acquire an STSL, you will receive a loan account number, which enables you to monitor your loan balance and repayments effectively. Repayment obligations commence when your income surpasses the minimum repayment threshold.
It is important to note that the repayment threshold and rate differ depending on the type and amount of the loan you have acquired.
To be eligible for STSL, you must be an Australian citizen or a permanent resident. You must also enroll in studies or training at an eligible institution.
How Much is STSL?
The amount of STSL (Study and Training Support Loan) you can borrow is determined by several factors. These include:
- The type of course you are undertaking: higher education courses borrowing limit differs from vocational education and training courses
- Your income level: lower-income individuals may be eligible for a higher loan amount
- Study load: full-time students have a higher borrowing capacity compared to part-time students
To estimate how much STSL you can borrow, use the ATO website’s Study and Training Loan Repayment Calculator.
How To View Your Loan Account Online?
To conveniently view your loan account information, including your payment reference number (PRN), you can utilize the available online services. By creating a myGov account and linking it to the ATO, you will gain access to your loan details at any time.
If you already have a myGov account linked to the ATO, log in to access your loan account.
The online loan account provides a comprehensive record of your loans, displaying essential information such as indexation amounts, voluntary and compulsory repayments, and overseas levy amounts.
STSL Monthly Tax Table: Guide for Employers
The STSL monthly tax table is a valuable tool that enables employers to calculate tax withholdings accurately. It is specifically designed for payments made between 1 July 2022 and 30 June 2023. This guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to use the tax table effectively.
1. Determine Eligibility
Firstly, ensure that the employee has provided a Tax File Number declaration or Withholding declaration.
Also, confirm if the employee has a debt under any of the following loan programs:
- Higher Education Loan Program (HELP)
- VET Student Loan (VSL)
- Financial Supplement (FS)
- Student Start-up Loan (SSL), including ABSTUDY SSL
- Trade Support Loan (TSL)
2. Calculate Monthly Income Thresholds
- For employees claiming the tax-free threshold, withhold the study and training support loans component if their monthly income is $4,030.00 or more.
- For employees not claiming the tax-free threshold, withhold the component if their monthly income is $2,513.33 or more.
- Exclude employees who have completed a Medicare levy variation declaration claiming a reduction or exemption in the Medicare levy due to spouse, dependents, and low family income.
3. Withhold the Study and Training Support Loans Component
- Add the study and training support loans component to the standard withholding amount calculated using the Monthly tax table.
- Include all earnings, such as taxable allowances, bonuses, and commissions, in the withholding calculation.
- Exclude the study and training support loans component from lump sum termination payments.
The Study and Training Support Loans Monthly Tax Table provides employers with an efficient way to calculate tax withholdings accurately. By following the step-by-step instructions, employers can ensure compliance with their obligations. Access to this table and other PAYG withholding publications is available on the official website, enabling employers to streamline payroll processes effectively.
How To Repay STSL?
When your repayment income exceeds the minimum repayment threshold, you must initiate compulsory repayments for your study or training support loan. This requirement applies even if you are still pursuing your studies or apprenticeship.
The repayment thresholds undergo annual adjustments to align with changes in average weekly earnings. You will make compulsory repayments through your tax return, and you can voluntarily repay at any time to reduce your outstanding loan balance.
1. What Comprises Repayment Income?
Your repayment income is calculated by considering various figures from your tax return and payment summaries. These include:
- your taxable income, excluding any assessable amounts released under the First Home Super Saver (FHSS) scheme
- any reportable fringe benefits you receive, regardless of whether your employer is exempt from providing them
- your total net investment loss, which includes any losses from rental properties
- your reportable super contributions
- any income earned from foreign employment that is exempt from taxation
The table summarizes the different components used to calculate repayment income with fictitious figures:
|Net investment loss||$1,250|
|Reportable fringe benefits||$4,560|
|Exempt foreign employment income||$2,580|
|Reportable super contributions||$15,000|
2. Repayment Thresholds and Rates For STSL
Repayment thresholds and rates for study and training loans are revised yearly and applied to various loan programs. The following hierarchy determines the order in which compulsory repayments are allocated:
- First: Higher Education Loan Program (HELP)
- Second: VET Student Loan (VSL)
- Third: Student Financial Supplement Scheme (SFSS)
- Fourth: Student Start-up Loan (SSL)
- Fifth: ABSTUDY Student Start-up Loan (ABSTUDY SSL)
- Sixth: Trade Support Loan (TSL)
For the 2023-2024 financial year, the repayment income thresholds and rates are as follows:
|Repayment Income (RI)||Repayment Rate|
|$51,550 – $59,518||1.0%|
|$59,519 – $63,089||2.0%|
|$63,090 – $66,875||2.5%|
|$66,876 – $70,888||3.0%|
|$70,889 – $75,140||3.5%|
|$75,141 – $79,649||4.0%|
|$79,650 – $84,429||4.5%|
|$84,430 – $89,494||5.0%|
|$89,495 – $94,865||5.5%|
|$94,866 – $100,557||6.0%|
|$100,558 – $106,590||6.5%|
|$106,591 – $112,985||7.0%|
|$112,986 – $119,764||7.5%|
|$119,765 – $126,950||8.0%|
|$126,951 – $134,568||8.5%|
|$134,569 – $142,642||9.0%|
|$142,643 – $151,200||9.5%|
|$151,201 and above||10%|
These rates indicate the percentage of your repayment income you must pay towards your loan based on your annual income. The repayment rates increase as your income goes up.
3. Repayment Obligations for Overseas Residents
When you move to another country and have a Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), VET Student Loan (VSL), or Trade Support Loan (TSL) debt, you are still obligated to meet the same repayment requirements as individuals living in Australia.
This obligation applies whether you are already abroad or planning to spend more than six months overseas within 12 months. It is important to keep your contact information updated through the online services provided by myGov.
Furthermore, if your income exceeds 25% of the minimum repayment threshold for the year, you must inform the authorities about your worldwide income and fulfill the compulsory repayments. The same rule applies if you need to pay an overseas levy toward your debt because your income surpasses the minimum repayment threshold.
If you have an outstanding debt from the SFSS, SSL, or ABSTUDY SSL and you move abroad, your loan account will remain active. The outstanding amount will continue to accrue indexation until it is fully repaid. Even while living abroad, you still have the option to make voluntary repayments.
4. Deceased Estate and Loan Repayments
When an individual passes away, the trustee or executor is responsible for completing any pending tax returns until the person’s death.
If there are any compulsory repayments or overseas levies mentioned in the notice of assessment pertaining to the period prior to the person’s passing, those repayments must be made from the estate.
The remaining debt is then forgiven, relieving the deceased person’s family and the trustee from further payment obligations.
5. Bankruptcy and STSL Loans
Under the Bankruptcy Act 1966 provisions, loan accounts, including STSL debts, are not discharged through bankruptcy proceedings. Consequently, if declared bankrupt, you are still legally obligated to repay your STSL debt as if the bankruptcy had not occurred.
What Are Compulsory Repayments and How Do They Work?
Compulsory repayments for your STSL are processed through the income tax system. The ATO detemines your compulsory repayment. It includes it in your notice of assessment if your repayment income exceeds the minimum threshold, regardless of whether your tax return covers a year before you began studying. The repayment rate increases as your income rises, based solely on your income.
1. Exemption for Spouse or Dependents
If you have a spouse or dependents and qualify for a reduction in the Medicare levy or are exempt due to low family income, you are not obliged to make compulsory repayments. In such cases, you can request your employer not to withhold additional amounts from your pay by completing the Medicare levy variation declaration form (NAT 0929).
It’s important to note that voluntary repayments remain an option.
2. Advising Your Employer
You must inform your employer about your STSL. Within the PAYG withholding system, your employer deducts an extra portion from your earnings as a provision for your compulsory repayment.
To fulfill this requirement, tick the appropriate box on either the Tax file number declaration form (NAT 3092) or the Withholding declaration form (NAT 3093), depending on your employment situation. Once your loan is fully repaid, complete a new Withholding declaration to update your loan status.
3. Additional Amounts and PAYG Instalments
If you earn business or investment income and participate in the PAYG installments system, your debt is taken into account when determining your PAYG installment amount and rate. You have the flexibility to adjust your installment amount or rate based on your circumstances.
4. Remittance of Additional Amounts
Any additional amounts withheld by your employer to cover your compulsory repayments are remitted to the ATO as part of their PAYG withholding obligations. These additional withholdings are applied to your loan account once you have lodged your tax return, and the ATO has calculated the compulsory repayment based on your repayment income.
What Are Voluntary Repayments?
Voluntary repayments allow you to reduce your loan balance whenever you choose. They are independent of compulsory repayments or overseas levies. However, if you still have an outstanding debt or your repayment income exceeds the minimum threshold, compulsory repayments or overseas levies may still apply.
To optimize the benefits of a voluntary repayment, making the payment before submitting your tax return or reporting worldwide income is recommended. This ensures that your repayment is credited before any potential compulsory repayment or overseas levy is included in your notice of assessment.
Additionally, making a voluntary repayment before the annual indexation applies on 1 June can be advantageous.
To guarantee that your voluntary repayment is processed before indexation, it is essential to allow ample time for the payment to be received and finalized.
Remember, voluntary repayments should only be initiated after you have incurred a loan.
Indexation Rates for STSL
Each year, on 1 June, study and training loans undergo indexation to account for the portion of the loan that has remained unpaid for over 11 months. This applies to all STSL programs.
Indexation ensures that the loan retains its real value by adjusting it according to changes in the cost of living, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI). The indexation rate is determined annually following the release of the March CPI figures. It is based on financial data the Australian Bureau of Statistics collected over the preceding two years.
For 2023, the indexation rate applied to all study and training loans is 7.1%. This rate reflects the adjustment necessary to maintain the loan’s value relative to inflation and the cost of living.
Repayment of STSL From Overseas
If you are planning to live and work overseas while having a study or training support loan, there are certain obligations you need to fulfill:
- If you plan to live abroad for 183 days or longer within a 12-month period, it is important to update your contact information and notify the authorities within 7 days of leaving Australia.
- Report your worldwide income or submit non-lodgment advice. This requirement applies to individuals with loans under the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), VET Student Loan (VSL), or Trade Support Loan (TSL).
What is Worldwide Income & How to Report it?
Your worldwide income consists of two key components: repayment income and non-resident foreign-sourced income. Repayment income encompasses your taxable income, while non-resident foreign-sourced income refers to earnings from sources outside Australia during your non-resident period. Combining these components helps determine your repayment obligations accurately.
You can report your worldwide income through ATO online services on myGov or engage an Australian registered tax agent to assist you. The deadline for reporting your income for the Australian income year (1 July to 30 June) is 31 October. It is crucial to lodge on time, even if you cannot make the payment immediately, to avoid late lodgment penalties.
If you use a tax agent, they can lodge your report after the usual 31 October deadline, with the specific due date determined by your personal circumstances. It is recommended to consult your tax agent for guidance in this regard.
Notice of Assessment
Once you have reported your worldwide income, you will receive a notice specifying the amount you owe, the refund you are eligible for, and the payment due date.
Your student or training loan will continue to accrue yearly indexation until fully repaid. While residing overseas, you can make additional voluntary repayments at any time to reduce the loan balance.
It is important to note that these voluntary repayments will not offset any compulsory repayment or overseas levy obligations you may have.
Deferring Compulsory Repayments or Overseas Levy
If you cannot make your compulsory repayment or overseas levy to the ATO on time, you can apply for a deferral or amendment. This allows for temporary relief from the repayment obligation or a reduced repayment amount.
1. When to Apply for Deferral
You can apply for a deferral or amendment of your compulsory repayment or overseas levy under the following circumstances:
- If making the repayment would cause you significant financial distress.
- In case of special circumstances such as natural disasters affecting you, death or serious illness, or other challenging situations.
2. How to Apply for Deferral
To apply for deferral or amendment based on serious hardship, you must submit a detailed statement outlining your household income and expenditure to support your claim.
Additionally, you may be asked to provide further evidence, such as your most recent payslip.
For those with special circumstances seeking to defer or amend their repayment, the process involves completing the “Defer or amend your compulsory repayment or overseas levy” form (NAT 2471).
Thus, the option to defer or amend compulsory repayments or overseas levies provides temporary relief to individuals facing financial hardship or experiencing special circumstances.
By submitting the necessary documentation and completing the designated form, applicants can seek consideration from the ATO and potentially receive adjustments to their repayment obligations.
Recent Updates on STSL
HELP Debt Reduced for Rural Doctors/Nurse Practitioners
The Australian Government recently introduced the HELP for Rural Doctors and Nurse Practitioners initiative to encourage healthcare professionals to work in rural areas. The initiative allows eligible doctors and nurse practitioners to reduce their outstanding HELP debt by fulfilling specific work requirements in designated regions.
Start-up Year Program
The Australian Government has proposed creating the Start-up Year program, which aims to provide additional assistance through the HELP system. The program would offer income-contingent loans to final-year undergraduate, post-graduate, and recent graduates to support their participation in accredited accelerator programs.
The loans provided would assist in funding the costs related to engaging in the accelerator program, up to the maximum allowable annual student contribution at Band 3 within the HELP framework.
This article is for general information only. It does not make recommendations nor does it provide advice to address your personal circumstances. To make an informed decision, always contact a registered tax professional.