Dozens of students and some parents mingled at a recent new-student event at the University of Utah, chatting, eating and learning about clubs, parking and other aspects of campus life. Incoming freshman Melissa King picked up a few brochures on money management and budgeting workshops.
“I want to try and graduate with no student debt, so I think I want to work hard for more scholarships,” King, 18, said.
Buying toasters and lining up dorm rooms have long been part of the campus experience, but real fears of crushing student loan debt and possible rising student loan interest rates have more new college freshmen thinking about ways to stay financially afloat while pursuing that degree.
Understanding student loans, setting up a checking account and creating a monthly budget should be on every freshman’s college prep to-do list, says Ann House, coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at the U. of U.
“I had a freshman ask me what the difference was between a savings account and a checking account,” she said. “It’s all the way from the most basic things to helping students avoid bankruptcy.”
House says students need to figure out why they are going to school — for job training, personal enrichment or to explore their academic options before choosing a major. Assessing those goals will help students figure out how much student-loan debt they should take on. Borrowing money for higher education is fine, House says, as long as you have a strategy to pay your debts when you’ve graduated.
“[Loans] may be the only way that you can go to school if your parents haven’t been saving for the last 18 years,” House said. “It’s OK, if you have a plan.”
But she says she sees too many students caught off-guard by post-graduation loan payments.
“They don’t know how much they have in student loans. They haven’t kept track of how much they owe. They don’t know when it’s due,” House said. “They don’t know how much they owe and they’re just kind of scared.”
Parents can also help prep their college-bound kids on the basics of bank accounts, good spending habits and monthly expenses.
Kristy Jones of Sandy has a daughter who will attend the U. in the fall. The daughter will live at home and has a scholarship that will put off the financial realities of adulthood for a little while.
“Poor thing, she’s probably not going to need to learn anytime soon,” she said.
U. freshman King said she earned a scholarship and plans to live with her parents in Cottonwood Heights while working part time at Red Hanger Cleaners to keep her finances afloat during school. She recently opened her first checking account.
“I think most of the [financial] responsibility will fall to me,” she said. “[The job] is just minimum wage, but it helps.”
Smart money tips for college freshmen
Define your financial goals • How will you afford books next semester? What kind of lifestyle do you want in 10 years or 20 years? Thinking about the future will help you set realistic financial objectives.
Create a budget • Do you know where your money goes every month? Track your income, where you must spend it, and where you might be able to save a few dollars.
Be careful with credit • Paying your bills on time and paying off a credit card balance every month (and keeping just one credit card) can help you build a good credit record.
Learn about financial aid • File a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year, look into scholarships and grants, and use student loans as a last resort.
Source: 40 Money Management Tips Every College Freshman Should Know