After weeks of finals, projects and transitioning back home for the summer, students on summer break may just want to kick back and relax, but dropping the ball on their responsibilities can make it that much harder to return to campus in the fall.
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Using the summer months to re-charge and get financial and academic issues organized can give students an advantage for starting off the semester on the right foot and be prepared to handle their school expenses, says Scott Gamm, founder of HelpSaveMyDollars.com and author of MORE MONEY, PLEASE: The Financial Secrets You Never Learned in School.
“It’s a several month period where you don’t have the pressure from school and although you do have different pressures, it’s important to use the time to catch up on stuff perhaps you wish you had accomplished during the school year,” he says. “It’s a great time to really set your goals for the next year and think about what else you can be doing to move towards them.”
Here are four financial and academic tasks experts say should be on every college student’s to do list this summer.
Task No.1: Re-evaluate Your Budget
Students need to create a budget for the summer as well as for the school year to make sure they stay within their spending limits and avoid falling into debt.
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For students having trouble coming up with an estimate, Gamm suggests tracking and recording all expenses for a month or two to figure out where they are overspending, how much income they are bringing in and expected future expenses.
“From there you can think about how do I make this budget work?” he says. “I’m going to have to sign a lease for an apartment because I’m not going to be able to live on campus anymore, how am I going to come up with that security deposit? How am I going to make the rent or what if the rent happens to increase?”
Task No.2: Review Income/Funding for School
Many students work part or full time over the summer and to help build up a financial cushion to get them through the year, students should create an automated savings system, says Erica Sandberg, personal finance expert and editor at large for Bankrate’s Credit Card Guide.
“You may still be getting cash from your parents or you’ve got student loans, grants or some other cash source but if you’re working, this could be some extra cash,” she says. “Save as much as possible and try to save at least 50% of it. Make it simple, make it a habit.”
Students should also make sure their tuition and other educational expenses are in order to avoid any financial aid issues or out of pocket expenses, says Stephanie Kaplan, CEO of Her Campus Media.
“Check with your school's financial aid office to make sure their records are up to date, and update them on any changes to your family's situation that may qualify you for additional aid.”
Task No.3: Keep Your Brain Active
Having time off can be the perfect opportunity to prep for standardized exams like the LSAT, MCAT, GMAT or GRE, study for classes and get ahead in other subjects like languages, says Chuck Cohn, founder and CEO of Varsity Tutors.
“They can avoid the stress of trying to fit test prep into their busy schedules or worrying about falling behind or passing a subject they struggled in last semester,” he says.
Although their break is just beginning, students who avoid thinking about the start of the semester until the week before may find themselves scrambling at the last minute, says Kaplan.
“Students should scope out their fall courses and course reading lists so they have time to shop around for the best deals on textbooks, and should think about any items they'll need for their dorm rooms and get those sooner rather than later before the back-to-school shopping rush.”
Task No.4: Get Rid of Debt
Whether students are a co-signed or authorized user of a credit card with a parent or have their own, it’s best to start off the school year with a clean slate when it comes to debt.
“Don’t ever be complacent about credit card debt--it is not something that you should hold onto,” says Sandberg. “You figure out a way of getting that debt down before you start the new semester because you’re going to have it hanging over your head.”
Rather than sticking with the minimum payments, Gamm suggests putting as much money towards the monthly bill as possible.
“Pay for as much as you can and aim for double the minimum payment--if you can’t make double, then anything over the minimum payment, even if it’s $10 more,” he says. “If you ever have access to money where you can pay it off at once, maybe you got a bonus or you’re doing freelance on the side, pay it off in full.”