As you head back to campus, you may be thinking about reuniting with friends, selecting your classes, or enjoying the freedom of living on your own – but you’ll want to think about your finances, too. We’ve put together a list of five money moves you should make before heading back to college this semester.
Considering how important your credit is for all the things you want to do in life, checking your credit before your head back to college should be a priority. Typically, you can access your credit report once a year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re able to pull your credit report weekly until April 2022. Be sure to use www.AnnualCreditReport.com, as it’s the only website authorized by the government to provide you with this information.
When reviewing your credit report, you’ll want to make sure everything is accurate – including your personal information, trade lines, and account history – and that no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name. If you find errors on your credit report, you’ll need to contact the credit reporting bureau to have it updated.
Your free credit reports don’t include your credit score. In fact, there’s no law requiring any organization to provide consumers with their credit scores for free. Some financial institutions, however, have taken it upon themselves to offer this service to consumers. PSECU provides eligible members with this information through our free credit score service*.
As a college student, you may not be using your credit much now, but it’ll impact a lot in the future – your ability to get a car loan, whether you’re approved to rent an apartment, and even your car insurance costs. Keeping tabs on your credit now will set you up to be knowledgeable about this important topic and get you into the good habit of monitoring it regularly.
Take the time to put together a realistic budget for the upcoming semesters. First, determine your income and see if any amounts have changed. This can include income from work, financial assistance from parents, or funds from financial aid. Next, make a list of what costs you’ll have this year – like meals, cell phone bill, school supplies, housing expenses, and discretionary spending (sometimes called “fun money,” or what you might use for meals out or movie nights with friends.)
Once you have your income and expenses listed, have a conversation with anyone who may be involved in your finances. Parents, grandparents, and even roommates can have an impact on your bottom line. Discuss who’s paying for each expense and how those payments will be made.
If your parent is keeping you on their cell phone plan, will they pay it completely or expect you to transfer funds to them to cover the cost? Will a roommate with a shared electric bill transfer money to you so you can make the payment, or will they cover a portion of the transaction through their own accounts? Clear communication now can reduce financial stress and confusion when payments are due later.
When crunching numbers, don’t forget to account for savings. Setting aside funds can keep you afloat if you’re faced with an unexpected expense or an emergency. If you need help putting your budget together, download our free budgeting worksheet to get started.
Your student ID can provide money-saving opportunities throughout your time in college. Many retailers and streaming services offer discounts to students on items you may regularly purchase, like clothing, school supplies, and music subscription services. When you’re around town, ask if local businesses offer a student discount for entry to events or on products. This is a great way to keep your entertainment costs low. Although, if money is really tight, the best way to save is to check out any free events offered on campus.
When heading home for a weekend or holiday, college students are typically traveling during peak times, which amounts to higher transportation costs. Before you book any travel, see if your student ID can provide any discounts on airfare, car rentals, and more.
While using your student ID for discounts, be sure you’re only purchasing items you truly need. It can be tempting to get a discount wherever you can, but if an item or event isn’t necessary, you could end up overspending instead of saving.
The last thing you want is to be surprised by a large tuition bill. Check in with your financial aid office and make sure all your required documents are submitted and your tuition is covered. If your tuition isn’t fully covered by financial aid, discuss what options you have for payment plans. Ask about any future documents they may need, like an updated FAFSA, and make note of the deadlines in your calendar. Submitting your financial aid documents early or on time means you won’t miss out on any funding.
While you’re at the financial aid office, ask about scholarships you can apply for – both from the school and outside organizations. There may be a billboard posted outside the office with a list of scholarship opportunities or an email list you can sign up for to stay updated. Typically, you don’t have to pay back scholarship funds, so they’re a great way to help reduce your tuition bill without taking on more debt. Financial aid offices can give you an idea of what scholarships are available, who qualifies, and when you need to submit applications so you don’t miss any deadlines.
Whether your funds are limited or you’re trying to get ahead, find ways to make some extra cash. Before you head back to campus, see if you have any unused items or old books that you can sell. Other students may be looking for deals on used books or dorm room supplies. Cash in and sell off any items you no longer need.
Are you an ace in math or a computer whiz? Consider becoming a tutor. Share your services on social media or ask your academics department if they have any on-campus tutoring jobs to help you earn some extra money.
If you’re living on campus, you may be able to become a resident assistant, or RA, in your dorm. These positions typically have flexible hours, so they won’t interfere with your classes. You may receive a paycheck or a discount on your housing costs, depending on your school’s policy. Visit the Residence Life department to see what opportunities are available on your campus. In addition to earning some cash, you can list this role as work experience on your resume to give it a boost.
Effectively managing your finances in college can get you closer to reaching your goals during and after school, too. To keep yourself organized, you’ll want to choose a financial institution that works for you, like PSECU. Want to learn more about how we can help you manage your money and save? Check out our banking options for college students.
*PSECU is not a credit reporting agency. Members must have PSECU checking or a PSECU loan to be eligible for this service. Joint owners are not eligible.