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College freshmen across the country are heading to campus for the first time this month. It’s an exciting time for students full of potential and possibility. It’s also a great time to really start thinking about your financial future.
Here are a few things any college freshman – or college student for that matter – should consider to set themselves up for financial success during and long after their college years.
The first time being out of the house on your own can be great, but the overwhelming freedom can lead to some poor financial decisions. That’s why setting a monthly budget BEFORE you get to campus is a good idea.
Along with ensuring all your bills get paid, budgeting is a good habit to start early, which can benefit you the rest of your life.
You can go old school by tracking everything with pen and paper. There are also a lot of budgeting tools available online as well as in mobile apps. Mint.com in particular is free to us and it helps you get an overview of where your money actually goes each month.
For parents who contribute to their kid's expenses, set boundaries and expectations for what the funds are for and what responsibilities the child will have. Communication is also key here so that everyone knows the expectations.
Getting into the habit of saving money now will make it easier later in life. A good way to do that is to not even have to think about it or give yourself the choice of putting money away or keeping it to spend.
Especially for students who plan to work during college, it’s important to pay yourself first. That means setting money aside into a savings account, just like you would pay a bill, before counting what you have to spend on wants.
You can put that into a savings account with a high-interest rate. You could also consider a Roth IRA, which lets your savings grow tax-free. Not only does money in a Roth IRA compound tax-free over time, but withdrawals are tax-free after 5 years and age 59 ½. Contributions to a Roth IRA (but not earnings) can also be withdrawn at any time without a penalty, so this money can be accessed if you truly need it.
Wherever you choose to store your savings – and more than one place isn’t a bad thing – be sure to set up automatic deposits so funds go there before they touch your hand.
College years are a time to grow your mind beyond just what you learn in class.
Taking time on your own to educate yourself on how finances work – from keeping a budget and saving for retirement to utilizing the stock market – can really pay off throughout the rest of your life.
Apps like Zogo, Investmate, iGrad, and Spent all offer financial education in a variety of ways – some even with financial incentives – that surely everyone can find one that appeals to them.
After college, you’re going to want to do things like buy a car or a house, and start a family. That will be a lot easier if you’ve already built good credit.
Start building credit by using various apps and tools to make sure rent payments, utility bills, and even subscription services are reported to the credit bureaus. A popular app used for this purpose is Experian Boost, mostly because it’s easy to set up and is entirely free for consumers.
You can also get a credit card, but be careful here. A good place to start if you’re going this route is to look for a student card that doesn't have fees, and then only charge purchases you can afford to pay off right away. Be sure to pay your credit card balance in full each month. The average credit card interest rate right now is currently over 17%.
Another credit card option would be to ask a parent with good credit to add you as an authorized user on their credit card account.
Before you hit the bookstore or completely fill up that dorm room, start looking for ways to save now.
Thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace, and websites like Offer Up are great places to get gently used furniture, decor, and even clothes, to fill up your space.
As for books, don’t buy new ones if you don’t have to. There are likely used textbooks at a store near campus.
You can get access to course materials and textbooks for free at Project Gutenberg. There is no fee or registration required to access more than 60,000 free ebooks, which you can download to a Kindle or read online.
You can even rent textbooks via Chegg.com, Textbookrentals.com, and Amazon.com rather than buy.
If you’re living on campus, you might as well take advantage of everything you’re already paying for.
Don’t waste that college meal plan. The dining hall is likely to have better food than you think and since it’s already paid for, you can save money for more fun and interesting things.
Same thing goes for the school library, fitness center, computer labs and student clubs. These amenities are often included in your tuition or offered at a discounted rate.
When you do spend money off campus, be sure to take your student ID card and ask if there are any discounts available. You can save some good money on things like clothing, food, entertainment, and electronics.
Whether you’re living on campus as a freshman or off campus as an upperclassman, it’s important to have renter’s insurance.
If you are living in the dorms, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners says college students may be partially covered by their parent or guardian's policies. It's a good idea to know the policy's coverage limits for personal property just to make sure.
It's also important to note that certain items, such as musical instruments or expensive jewelry, may have coverage limits. If the policy's limits aren't enough to cover the items you'll be bringing to school, your parents may be able to add to their policy to cover them.
Once you move off campus, your parents’ insurance won’t be able to cover you. You’ll want to get your own renter's insurance policy to help pay to replace or repair your belongings if they are stolen or damaged by a covered risk. A renter’s insurance policy also includes liability coverage, which may help prevent you from paying out of pocket if you are found legally responsible for someone else's injuries or accidental damage to their property (including your landlord's).
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