As a student, you have a lot of things going on. But it pays to set aside time to keep your finances in working order.
Managing your day-to-day finances, credit card spending and overall debt can seem like a complicated assignment. But trust us, anyone who can get into college and do the tough course work can learn to handle their finances. Here's a little help:
Credit Card Management
With the right credit card management, you can learn to use your card responsibly, helping you avoid the stress of unnecessary debt.
- Be cautious when signing up for a credit card: Always read the fine print and pay close attention to and understand all the terms and interest rates. If you are applying for your first credit card, make sure you familiarize yourself with credit card terminology. This will help you make more informed and well-prepared decisions. To learn more about signing up for a credit card, visit the Federal Reserve Credit Card Education website.
- Stay within your credit limit: Make sure you never exceed your credit limit. If at all possible, try to only use up to 50% of your limit.
- Keep track of your spending: Keep a record of each item purchased with your credit card. Consider saving the receipts and recording them in your monthly budget. By doing this, you will know exactly how much you will owe when your credit card bill arrives. Check the accuracy of your credit card statements by comparing the statement to your spending record to make sure all items are accurate. If you find a discrepancy, report it immediately.
- Strive to pay your monthly bill in full: If possible, be prepared to pay your card off in full when the bill arrives, as this will prevent you from paying interest on the card. However, if you are unable to pay off the card balance in full, pay at least the minimum balance due. The more you pay upfront, the less interest you will pay over time.
- Pay your bill on time: Strive to pay your credit card bill on time, as this will help you avoid late payment fees or possible interest rate increases. Also, late payments have the potential of harming your overall credit score.
Tips for Graduating With Less Debt
It probably comes at no surprise that college is expensive. But remember that you are investing in your future. By making informed and knowledgeable decisions, you can enjoy your college experience knowing you are taking proactive steps to minimize your debt. Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Take advantage of Advanced Placement courses: Many high schools offer advanced placement courses for students. Once you complete the course and pass the end-of-the-year exam, you can obtain college credit. Before enrolling, check with your high school counselor to make sure the college of your choice will redeem the credits.
- Complete your core classes at a community college: Community colleges are typically less expensive than four-year educational institutions. For those who are eligible, many community colleges offer scholarship and grant programs that cover all or most of the educational expenses. You may want to consider completing your core classes at a community college and then transferring to a four-year college or university. Before enrolling, check with your preferred four-year college to make sure they accept the credits coming from the community college.
- Attend college in state: By attending school in state, you may qualify for lower tuition and many in-state grants and scholarships. If you are determined to leave home, take the time to research out-of-state schools. Though most have higher tuition cost for out-of-state students, a handful actually offer discounts.
- Buy used books: Consider buying used books from online reputable merchants such as textbooks.com and amazon.com. You might even want to consider renting textbooks through sites such as chegg.com.
- Get a job: Consider applying for a part-time job or paid internship. The income you make from these jobs could help to decrease the amount of money you have to borrow.
Creating a Budget
When it comes to financial decisions, we want you to make well-informed decisions. Creating and sticking to a budget can help decrease stress caused by overspending and could help you avoid unnecessary credit card debt.
- Create a budget worksheet: A monthly budget will help you manage how much money you are able to spend each month. To get you started, download a budget worksheet. You can edit the spreadsheet as needed to fit your lifestyle and habits.
- Determine your monthly income: Income is anything that brings in money. Examples include salary from jobs, work-study income or allowances. After determining your monthly income, record it in the spreadsheet.
- Determine your monthly fixed expenses: Fixed expenses are expenses that stay constant from month to month. Examples include rent, monthly cell phone bill, monthly car payments and insurance. Recording fixed expenses in your budget is easy because they stay the same every month. After determining your monthly fixed expenses, record them under the “Budgeted Amount” column in the appropriate categories within your budget spreadsheet.
- Determine your monthly variable expenses: Variable expenses are expenses that change from month to month. Examples include the grocery bill, gas, entertainment and eating out. To help determine how much you should allot on average for each variable expense, keep track of your spending habits for a couple of weeks. Record every penny you spend and how you spent it – whether you paid with cash, check, debit or credit card. Begin to keep all your receipts, as this will help you keep a more accurate record of your spending. From your recordings, you can determine the amount you spend on average for each variable expense.
- Always record. After analyzing your variable expenses, record the amount you think you will spend on each variable expense under the “Budgeted Amount” column in the appropriate categories in the spreadsheet.
- Tweak your budget: After inserting your income and expenses into your budget, you will notice one of three scenarios. You can quickly determine which scenario you fall into by observing the “Cash Flow” box on the spreadsheet.
- Negative cash flow. If your total budgeted costs (expenses) are greater than your total income, then you have negative cash flow. To fix this, you will need to lower your variable expenses.
- Positive cash flow. If your total budgeted costs (expenses) are less than your total income, then you have positive cash flow. You can spread the additional money into other categories or increase your savings category to start establishing a rainy day fund.
- Flush cash flow. If your total budgeted costs (expenses) equal your total income, then you have a flush cash flow. This means that you have successfully created your budget.
- Maintain your budget: Now that your budget is established, you must maintain it. Every time you spend money during the month, record it in the “Actual Costs” column under the appropriate category on your budget worksheet. Remember, the goal is to only spend what has been allotted for within your budget. Quick Tip: By observing the “Difference” column for each category, you can keep track of how much money you have left to spend during the month, for each category.
- Analyze your budget at month's end: Observe the difference in your “Total Budgeted Costs” versus your “Total Actual Costs.”
- If the total difference is 0, then congratulations! You have successfully stayed within your budget for the month.
- If your total difference is positive, you spent under your budgeted costs for the month.
- If your total difference is negative, then you spent over your budgeted costs for the month. Sometimes this occurs, especially if unexpected expenses emerge. During the following month, try to only spend what has been allotted for in your budget.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.