July 1st, 2012

Learning to Save in College

For many young adults, the college years are the beginning of the “real world”. A time when you need to begin thinking about which bank accounts will help you best control your finances and manage a budget. If you learn to save money while you’re still in college, you will have a much easier transition to life after college, and maybe even graduate with manageable amounts of debt instead of becoming another college student debt statistic. Here are some tips for saving money in college:

  • Choose the Right Bank Account

If you don’t already have a checking account and a savings account, now is a good time to get one of each. Ideally, you will open your accounts at the same bank – or at least make sure the banks you choose allow bank-to-bank transfers so you can move money between your accounts.

The best checking accounts for college students are those without monthly maintenance fees, do not require you to maintain a minimum balance, and offer online banking services. If you can find interest checking accounts, these are great for earning a little money from the money in your account – but make sure that they don’t require a minimum balance you can’t maintain because that will normally result in a monthly fee. For savings accounts, look for an account with a good interest rate and no fees. And if you don’t trust yourself enough to keep from spending the money, consider looking at CD rates, which offer higher interest rates and make it harder to access your money.

  • Credit Cards for College Students

College is also the time when most young adults are introduced to their first credit card. Credit cards can create problems for college students, and a study of student financial habits from previous years revealed the average credit card debt of undergrads was over $3,000.

If you think you’re able to make your credit card payments on time and can avoid spending more than you can afford to pay back, look for credit cards with no annual fee and a rewards program. For example, if you are a student who will need to fly home on holidays and summer break, a credit card with a travel based rewards program might be something to consider.

  • Establishing Good Financial Habits

As you probably have some monthly bills at this stage of your life, you want to make sure you get into the habit of paying all of your bills on time. When you pay late or forget to pay a bill, not only does it usually cost you in the form of late fees and interest rate increases; but it can cause problems for you the next time you want to apply for credit or financing. You may have no interest in buying a house or new car right now, but when you graduate from college, you don’t want your ability to obtain credit to be ruined by mistakes you make as a student. Consider setting up automatic bill payments for the bills you have, so you know they will never be late.

The only way to make sure you have the money to pay your bills on time is to manage your money with some type of budget. You don’t need any fancy software or complicated spreadsheets to keep track of your money, but make sure you know exactly how much you earn each month and how much your living expenses and bills are. If you find you aren’t making enough to cover your expenses – it’s time to remove all unnecessary spending or increase your income!

To avoid overspending, get in the habit of keeping “spending money” in your wallet and depositing the rest of your income into your savings account to pay your bills each month. Figure out what percentage of your monthly income you can save, and set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account – just like it was a necessary expense each month.

Rob Toledo was a bank teller in college on a university campus, which allowed him to witness a large spectrum of student financial habits. He can be reached on Twitter @stentontoledo

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