If you're ineligible for a Masters loan, the Professional and Career Development Loan (PCDL) could give your career the kick-start that it needs

What is a career development loan?

The PCDL is a commercial loan offered by the Co-operative Bank. Worth between £300 and £10,000, it can be used towards tuition fees, study costs and living expenses - but you must provide evidence of what you're borrowing the money for.

Career development loans can cover up to 80% of your course fees if you're in work, or 100% if you've been unemployed for three months or longer. The Co-operative pays your institution directly (in four equal instalments, if your course costs at least £2,000 and is more than three months long).

The PCDL can also cover learning-related costs such as books, travel and childcare, while those employed for fewer than 30 hours a week and not receiving any other grants or state benefits can use the loan to cover living expenses such as food, rent and clothing. This money is paid directly to you (in stages throughout the academic year if your course is more than 12 months long).

Is my programme eligible for a PCDL?

Your programme must help with your career, but it doesn't have to lead to a qualification. It can be taken on a full- or part-time basis, but mustn't last any longer than two years (or three if it includes a work experience element).

The PCDL therefore covers many:

However, several study options - including the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) - aren't eligible.

Your course provider must be on the PCDL Register. If the provider isn't on the PCDL Register, you can apply for it to be added.

Am I eligible?

While regular loans are widely available from many banks, they're nowhere near as favourable to students as PCDLs and often come with complicated eligibility criteria. The PCDL is much simpler - to qualify, you must:

  • be aged between 18 and 69;
  • be a UK citizen;
  • intend to work in the UK, European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) after graduation;
  • not have had any County Court Judgements (CCJs), been declared bankrupt or defaulted on any credit agreement in the last six years;
  • be unable to pay for the course yourself, and not have savings of more than £16,000.

Be aware that taking out a career development loan could affect your benefits entitlement.

When will I repay my career development loan?

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) pays the loan interest until one month after your course is completed - giving you time to find a job. Repayment terms last for between one and five years, but you can also repay in one lump sum. Interest rates are fixed at 9.9% APR representative.

While spreading your loan over a longer period will lower your monthly repayments, the overall cost of the loan may be higher due to the interest accrued. This means that: a £300 loan taken out over a three-year term will cost you £346.49; a £5,000 loan taken out over a three-year term will cost you £5,775.43; and a £10,000 loan taken out over a five-year term will cost you £12,623.58.

Before you apply, think carefully about how you'll repay the money. The Co-operative will require the loan to be fully repaid even if you change or leave your course, so not borrowing more than you can afford is very important. You should also aim to repay the loan immediately after your course finishes if you can afford to do so.

How do I apply for a PCDL?

You must complete an application pack within eight weeks of the start date of your chosen course. You'll then arrange an appointment with the Co-operative to discuss how much money you'd like to borrow and agree on your repayment schedule.

It takes between one and three months for the Co-operative to process the application, so you should apply well in advance - especially since banks are often very busy in September and January.

If your application is successful, you'll receive a credit agreement that you must sign and return to the Co-operative, and a Course Start Notification form to part-sign and take to your programme. Funds are released once your learning provider has signed and returned this form. If your application is rejected, you can appeal.