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Financial Tips for New College Students

New College Students | Financial Tips | SOLFCUIt’s graduation time, and many of us know a high school senior who is graduating this month and moving on toward college in the fall. It’s never too early for these students (and their parents) to start talking about the best practices for their finances that will carry them through college and beyond.

Find the Right Bank or Credit Union for Your College Situation

The bank or credit union that worked during the high school years may not be ideal for the student who is moving away from their hometown for college. Consider many factors with your current account and check in to options that may make a new financial institution attractive, including mobile apps for deposits, online banking and online BillPay

Keep Your Personal Finances Mobile

Many financial institutions and third party apps offer great options for tracking your finances via your phone and computer. In addition to Mobile Banking, apps like Level (which gives you a real-time image of your spending and savings) and Mint (organizes your spending into categories) are great options for college students to keep track of their finances on the go. 

Use Credit Responsibility

During your first few weeks on campus, you will likely be bombarded with credit card booths and seemingly friendly salespeople. Don't be tempted to open a credit card just because they give you a free t-shirt, cash back or a large pizza. Building credit is important, so be sure to take the time to understand the fine print to you and look for a card with no annual fee, good rewards, and the lowest interest rate possible. Don’t be fooled by “one-day only” offers – if it sounds too good to be true or has a ticking clock attached, it’s best to walk away.

Be Smart About Recurring Expenses

The campus bookstore is the most expensive place to buy the books you need. Instead, check out online resources like Amazon, Ebay, Half.com or even the school library (and borrow them for free!).

The same is true for any other expenses, so check into a dining plan vs. buying your own groceries for the most economical options, as well as extras like Internet and utilities if you’re living off campus. Don’t forget that in some cases, you can negotiate for a better deal.

Be Transportation Savvy

Freshman should leave the car at home their first year and instead take advantage of the plethora of public and college transportation options available to them. Don’t forget about Uber and Lyft too! While you’ll be spending some money on transportation, you’ll be saving in the long run on gas, parking and insurance, and car maintenance costs. Apply those savings to your pizza fund instead.

Don’t Take Out More Student Loans Than You Need

There's free money out there in the form of grants and scholarships, and it can be yours for the taking. Soon-to-be freshmen should do some research and see if they're eligible for any of these awards. Make up the difference with low interest subsidized federal student loans and skip the private loans (with much higher interest) if you can. A little research on the front end will save you thousands of dollars and years on repayment of student loans.

Save a Little Each Month

This may seem like an impossible task for the new college student, but a little savings goes a long way over time. Start by collecting all your loose change in a container and depositing it in a savings account (without an ATM card attached to it to decrease the temptation of withdrawing for an emergency pizza run). Increase your savings by $5 per month (or per quarter, if money is tight) and your money will grow and accumulate over time. More importantly, you will be creating a lifelong savings habit that will benefit you for years.

Find a Flexible Job

Finding a flexible job on campus is a great way to not only earn some money, but also get some of your homework done at the same time. Many on campus jobs, like running a resource center or checking student IDs at the dining hall, require a little attention but a lot of activity that would take you away from studies. Use the money you earn for some fun, but also to pay down student loans and other debts.

Max Out Your Class Load (and Minimize Your Debt)

Think about it: the more classes you take beginning your freshman year, the faster you will complete your degree. If living expenses are constant, the less time you spend living on or near campus, the lower those costs will be. Granted, more classes mean higher tuition rates, but over time, paying a little more in tuition but saving on living costs makes financial sense.

In addition, the faster you get your degree, the faster you will get to graduation and finding your first job!

Make Connections for Your Future

One thing that Freshmen can do is work on their professional network. Use your professors, work supervisors, parents of friends and roommates and your friends to expand your network. You never know who will make the connection to someone offering a great internship or co-op opportunity in your field of interest, or will have a lead on a job once you graduate.  

Freshman students should also consider finding a mentor or mentors in their desired field, or at least start identifying potential mentors. A mentor can help you navigate professional obstacles and can offer great advice as you move into the workforce.

Solidarity is here to help you make the smooth transition to campus. Be sure to stop by one of our branch locations and speak with one of our member services representatives today to find out which services we offer that are right for you.
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