College is the time to try new things, meet new people, and enjoy new experiences. With all your new freedom comes more responsibility. Managing your finances is one of those responsibilities and if you plan accordingly you will be off to a great start!
1. Lay out goals
Have the end game in mind. What type of degree do you want to obtain at college is one of your most important decisions. Ideally you want to find a career that you enjoy doing and will compensate you enough to live the lifestyle that you desire.
Once you have a general idea of what you want to study find careers that you can enter with that degree. If you find a job that you like, research to see what you need to do to land that job and find out roughly what your salary would be. Many universities have resources that help you find internships and information on what kind of salary you can expect out of college.
2. Start building credit now
To build credit from scratch consider getting a credit card. Use it responsibly and make sure to pay it off on time every month. If you pay late, you could be charged 20%+ on interest. Paying late fees should be avoided at all costs so make sure to pay on time! Paying late will also damage your credit score.
The two main reasons to use a credit card are to build credit and to get the rewards. If you build good credit at a young age you improve your chances on receiving a lower interest rate on future loans such as a car loan or mortgage for your home. Another reason people use credit cards is to get rewards. Many cards offer 1-2% cash back on purchases or other rewards like free miles for flying. While in school it might be better to use the card for minor expenses you can easily pay off each month. Remember not to fall behind.
3. Build a budget
If you have a problem of overspending, create a budget. An example of how you could split up your spending into different categories would be:
- Entertainment/Going out
You can track this using Excel or a website/app like Mint, Tiller, or YNAB. This all comes down to personal preference as these are all perfectly good options. If you constantly spend freely with no plan in place it is easy to run out of money.
4. Careful with Student Loans
If you plan to take student loans make sure you are taking them out for good reason. For example, it may not be a good idea to attend an overpriced school that does not have a strong program in the field you want to pursue. Lenders will gladly loan you money and for them the more you borrow the better. They do not care if you leave college with $200K debt and have a career paying $40K a year. At the end of the day they still get paid with interest.
Remember student loans are not your only source of money! You can fill the FASFA form, receive grants/scholarships, or even work park time.
5. Financial Aid
Make sure to fill out FAFSA as early as possible to see if you qualify aid. FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for financial aid. It is based mostly on income and relatively liquid assets, so don’t assume that you won’t qualify for aid.
This is another option that is free to apply. There are all different types of scholarships, some as low as $50 and some allow you to attend college completely free. Look at different websites to find ones you can apply for. Every dollar off helps!
Work Part Time
Many college students work while attending. You don’t need a full-time job while taking classes, but you can find part time work all around campus. There is no shame working a job at campus. When I attended Michigan State, I was a moving helper part time.
If you are fortunate enough to still have money left over after addressing all the topics above, starting to invest at a young age would be a smart move. If you have earned income a Roth IRA is a great place to start. If not, a non-retirement brokerage account is another option. If you are starting with less than $10,000 a S&P 500 index fund gives you diversification at a low cost.
Please consult your financial advisor regarding your specific situation. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor. Stocks investing involves risk including loss of principal. Rebalancing strategies do not ensure a profit and do not protect against losses in declining markets. Rebalancing may cause investors to incur transaction costs, and when rebalancing a nonretirement account, taxable events may be created that may affect your tax liability.