Smart Money Moves for College Students

College is a time to grow and explore, and also a time to work on responsibility. If this is your first taste of freedom, you may struggle to balance classwork with extracurriculars. Managing your grades is important, but there are other responsibilities you will face, and you need to meet those as well. Money and credit may seem abstract as a new high school graduate, but it pays to take them seriously once you start college.

Once you are 18, you are an adult, and any mistakes you make can follow you for years. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any fun while earning your degree. You need to understand some basic money facts so you can make smart decisions.

Determine the Best Way to Pay for School

Paying for college can seem overwhelming. Even if you plan to stay in-state, costs can add up quickly. Don’t be discouraged at the thought of coming up with the funds you need; there are a variety of options available. Grants are an excellent starting point. The benefit of grants is that you don’t repay them. Another source of funding you don’t need to repay is scholarships. Academic scholarships are one option, but there are also many local and special interest scholarships available.

Data analysis and research

Spend some time on the internet researching scholarships and apply for any that seem like good matches. After lowering the cost of tuition through grants and scholarships, you can cover the difference through student loans. Taking out student loans through a private lender is a common method of paying for tuition and other expenses. Lenders who offer private student loans can guide you through the process.

Keep Track of Your Finances

With the widespread use of online banking and using debit cards to pay for most expenses, it is easier than ever to keep track of your money. You may be tempted to avoid looking at your account if you know the balance is low. The key to taking charge of your finances is to stay informed. Not keeping track of your balance doesn’t change the amount of money you have available. Frequent check-ins allow you to track your spending patterns and quickly notice if there are any fraudulent charges on your account.

Consider Getting a Job

Not everyone can work while going to school. If you can, you can ease some of the financial stress. Even a very part-time job, working one or two shifts a week, allows you to earn some spending money. Working over the summer, either at a traditional summer job or through a paid internship, allows you to put some money in your savings to get you through the school year.

A student using a laptop

Begin Establishing Credit

Now is the time to begin building your credit, but it is important to use it wisely. If you begin the process while you are in college, you will be well-established when you graduate. This allows you to rent an apartment, and many employers run credit checks before making any hires. Student cards are generally easy to obtain. The limit may be low, but that is fine. Paying your balance in full, before the due date, is all you need to do. The issuer will increase your limit as you develop a history with them.

Never use these cards to pay for things you cannot afford. Your goal is to build your credit, not to build debt. Use credit responsibly by paying a small recurring expense, such as a streaming service, with your card. Then pay your card off in full. Another option is to use your credit card as your daily card but pay it off in full at the end of each week. This is a good option if your credit card offers rewards, but be vigilant about your spending. It can be tempting to fall into the habit of carrying a balance, which then progresses to creeping into credit card debt.

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