If you’re a soon-to-be college student, regardless of whatever courses you may be taking, try to master some financial lessons, as well.
Of course, many students already have at least one foot in the “real world,” because, in addition to taking classes, they’re working many hours a week to help pay for school, rent and living expenses. But even if you’re a full-time student, living on campus and paying for school through a combination of grants, loans, savings and help from your parents, you can learn some financial basics that can help you throughout your adult life.
Specifically, consider these suggestions:
• Don’t overuse credit cards. Credit card marketers aggressively target college students, so you’ll need to be vigilant about all the offers that will bombard you. While it might not be a bad idea to carry a single credit card for use in emergencies, it’s very easy to over-use the “plastic” and rack up big debts. You’ll need to discipline yourself to save for the things you want, rather than charging them.
• Shop around for financial services. You’ll find plenty of banks willing to give you a T-shirt or a frying pan for opening an account with them. But these places may not be offering you the best deal on checking or savings accounts or loans. It pays to shop around.
• Keep track of your student loans. Make sure you understand all the terms of your student loans: how much you’re expected to pay each month, when payments are due, what interest rate you’re paying, what credits may be available for on-time repayment, etc. You might be able to achieve a more favorable repayment schedule by consolidating two or more loans. Once you start repaying your loans, do whatever you can to stay on track with your payments.
• Never stop looking for financial aid. The aid package you may have received as an incoming freshman doesn’t have to be the final word on financial assistance. Colleges offer some scholarships based on college-level academic achievement or real-world experience — both of which you may have accumulated since your freshman year. Study your college’s scholarships and be aggressive in going after them.
• Estimate your future income. You may not know exactly what you want to do when you graduate, but if you have a career path in mind, try to learn what sort of salary you can expect during your first few years out of college. Once you have a realistic idea of how much you’re going to earn, you may have the motivation you need to avoid bad financial practices, such as accumulating big debts.
College should be a learning experience — in many ways. If some of the knowledge you obtain during your college years can help you develop sound financial habits, so much the better.
[blockquote class=blue]Jean Kim Sears is a Financial Advisor at Edward Jones in Irvington. Tel. (914) 591-7800.