Here’s the first lesson every college freshmen needs to learn: How you handle your finances in college will set the financial tone for your entire adult life.
Parents and high school teachers work to prepare students for college academics and how to live independently, but they tend to overlook teaching an important subject matter before shipping kids off to school: personal finance.
A survey conducted by education technology company EverFi shows that more than a quarter of students believe they will be unprepared to manage their finances upon high school graduation. (http://www.everfi.com/)
What’s more, surveyed students demonstrated that they do not understand basic financial facts and concepts. Case in point: Onaverage, students believe a good credit score is about 500 and over a third believe that a good credit score is 300 or less.
One of the toughest parts for students making the transition from living at home under their parents’ rules to living in a dorm room or apartment is learning how to create a budget and live within their means, says David Jones, CEO of GiftCard.com.
“Just because you’re out from under your parent’s roof does not mean you have zero responsibility,” he says. “This is the perfect time for college freshmen to get off on the right foot by avoiding major debt and creating positive financial habits from the get-go.”
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Here are three of the top tips from financial experts on how freshmen can avoid taking on major debt and creating bad financial habits.
Tip No. 1: Find and Use the Right Banking Tools
Having a checking account and debit card with no fees, no minimum balances with online monitoring is essential for incoming college students to easily track their spending habits, says Jim Kelly, head of direct banking at Capital One.
To avoid overdrawing their account, students can use mobile banking tools and free alerts to give them quick access to account balances and notifications if the account falls below a certain amount.
“While overdrafting your account won't necessarily affect your credit score immediately, an overdrawn account is a sign that you're spending more money than you have and you may be taking on more debt than you could afford to repay -- and you'll likely get dinged with a fee along the way,” says Kelly.
Finding their bank’s branch or ATM closest to campus through online research or bank mobile apps can also help students avoid additional fees for withdrawing money outside of their bank’s ATM network.
Tip No. 2: Build Your Credit
Freshmen can start establishing positive credit history with their own credit card account with a parent co-signer or as an authorized user on their parent’s card.
Students and parents should research credit card options together and make sure to shop around for the best interest rate rather than choosing a card for the rewards or perks, recommends Kelly.
“Look for credit cards that reward you for good credit card behavior, such as paying your credit card bill each month on time,” he says.
Freshmen should understand why their credit score is so important, how to pull a free copy of their credit history once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com and how even a few late bills can bring their score down significantly, says Tom Karsten, certified financial planner and president of Karsten Advisors.
“It’s more than just the amount of debt and letting that pile up, it’s addressing those types of issues or disputes when they come up to make sure they’re resolved so their credit score isn’t negatively impacted by it.”
Tip No. 3: Understand Your Student Loan Obligations
Massive student loan debt can be financially crippling and extend far into students’ adult life so students should understand how their loans work and only take out what they need to cover their tuition bills.
Freshmen with the attitude that they'll borrow money now and worry about it later are setting themselves up for a potentially disastrous financial situation, warns Kelly.
“Defaulting on student loans has very serious implications - for example, credit ratings can be damaged, which could in turn jeopardize career options and the ability to borrow money in the future,” he says.
Students can keep their borrowed debt to a minimum by continuing to seek out sources of “free aid” that do not need to be repaid, as there are often financial aid opportunities available to students throughout the year, says Karsten.
“As they look at funding options for their college, they need to be aware of what the other options are in addition to just straight out loans—they’ve got aid, other scholarships, avenues for work study or other ways to generate revenue for their college expenses.”