The Money Charity suggests that student finance and university accommodation rent should be paid out on a monthly basis rather than each term, so that a student's outgoings and incoming cash more closely mirror the financial life that they will experience after they have graduated, when they are likely to receive a salary and pay rent on a monthly basis.
The charity, which has compiled responses from more than 150 universities from across the UK, also said accommodation costs should be presented in a way that is clear and easy to compare.
It argues that under the current system it is "pot luck" whether a student will end up at a university where they can afford the accommodation.
The body said that while politicians in recent years have put out a message that "everyone can afford to attend university," in reality, the principle of fair access will be undermined if more is not done to tackle expensive accommodation costs.
The Money Charity calculates that students from England could face needing to find as much as £750 a month extra on top of their financial support, whether from family, working, or turning to loans and overdrafts, to meet their overall living costs.
Michelle Highman, chief executive of the Money Charity, said: "For some families this will be possible, but for others, the level of contribution they need to make - which could be as high as £750 every month - will come as a huge, unwelcome shock."
She said that students from the lowest-income backgrounds could find the maintenance support they receive does not cover their living costs, and because they are less likely to have money available from their families, this leaves them having to get paid work or rely on credit just to get by.
The charity said governments should conduct regular research into the cost of student living to inform the setting of levels of maintenance loans and grants.
Governments and student finance bodies must explain to parents clearly and "at the earliest stage possible" how much they are expected to contribute, so they can plan ahead financially, it said.
Information on annual accommodation costs should also be displayed clearly online, so that students can easily compare it with what the support they will get, it argued.
The charity has produced a free "Student Moneymanual" guide to help students manage their money while at university, which is being made available through student unions, schools and colleges.