In a week or two, thousands of young adults will be heading to college for the first time and they’ll be faced with a lot of financial choices.
I wonder how prepared they will be.
It’s not enough to hope they will be ready to handle their money. As the good book says, “faith without works is dead.” Good money managers aren’t born; they’re trained.
So, as your college freshman is packing up, there’s one piece of luggage that needs to have all the right stuff: the financial suitcase. Here’s what should be inside:
• The right debit card. Before heading off to school, make sure your child has a debit card that will work well at his or her college location. That might mean opening an account with a different bank or credit union that has ATMs on or near campus to avoid an out-of-network fee. Double-check that you can easily and quickly transfer money into the account without incurring fees. For this reason, you may also want to get an account at the same financial institution.
• Mobile bank alerts. If your freshman hasn’t done this already, he or she should set up alerts connected to the debit card. Alerts can be customized to report deposits, withdrawals and bill-due dates. Cardholders can also be notified when the account balance is getting low, which in turn will help avoid overdraft charges and other fees. Just be mindful of alerts received as text messages, which may incur fees from a mobile provider.
• Box of envelopes: Budgeting may not be easy at first. If you know your child is challenged in this department, try the envelope money-management system. Envelopes should be labeled the following way for the four major spending categories: eating out, clothes, entertainment and transportation. Every week, two weeks or month, depending on how your child receives income or spending money, put budgeted cash for each category into the envelopes. When the money is gone from one, there’s no more spending on that category.
• Commitment to save and not just spend. Yes, even students on a tight budget should save. If your student is getting a stipend or spending money from you or a job, encourage him or her to start the habit of saving something — anything — from the funds they receive not allocated for tuition, room, board and books. Suggest a “Life Happens” fund, which is different from an emergency fund. Money in this account can be used for pizza, parties, clothes, spring-break trips, concerts, etc. But when the money is taken out, your student should have a plan to replenish it.
Here are some things that students should not take to college:
• Credit card: I know you’ve heard that it’s important for your child to establish credit. But it’s not time for that yet. As your student gets closer to graduation and needs to build credit to get an apartment or car loan, he or she can open a credit card account. But for now, as a freshman, consider credit an unnecessary luxury. Besides, debit cards with either the MasterCard or Visa logo can be used for almost any purchase. My daughter is a junior in college and she hasn’t had a need for a credit card.
• Expectation to spend excess student-loan money: Talk to your child about not accepting a student-loan refund, which is money in excess of the cost of attendance. If there is money left over, he or she may get a refund check. This is not free money. It’s a loan with interest that must be paid back.
• Entitlement mentality: Leave at home the attitude of having to experience everything. Going on that spring-break trip may not be feasible, especially if your child has student loans.
As your freshman is going over the checklist of things for college, make sure his or her financial suitcase is stuffed with tools and strategies that will help to avoid any money missteps.