The first year of college can be tricky: you’ll be adapting to so many new things, like living on your own, setting your own schedule, meeting new people, doing your own laundry (yikes!) and managing your own finances. As a young adult, you may suddenly feel bombarded with offers for credit cards, student loan opportunities, and auto loan promotions — all of which can be overwhelming and hard to navigate.
We’ve put together a few tips to get you started on the path to financial success. You and your money are going to have a long relationship, and the effort you put in now will help set the stage to make it a successful one!
6 MONEY HABITS TO GET YOU ON THE RIGHT PATH:
Use credit cards carefully
Now is the time to start building a good credit history. Over time, it can become one of your most powerful financial assets. Getting a credit card is a great way to get started, but it’s generally wise to start off slowly with just one card. Remember, credit is a loan, not free money — you have to pay it back.
When you are new to having a credit card, it can be hard to resist the urge to splurge; so spend cautiously and be diligent about paying off your balance in full every month. Before you apply, be sure to shop around for a card that offers low interest rates and no annual fees. You can make your money work even harder for you with a rewards credit card that offers travel benefits, retail discounts, or other perks.
Pay your bills on time
This may sound obvious, but it’s critical to get in the habit of paying your bills on time (and in full). If you don’t, you will likely end up owing interest charges and late fees in addition to the principal. Then, before you know it, you could be dealing with collection agencies. Even worse? All of this can negatively affect the credit history you’ve been working hard to build. So, don’t be sloppy with your finances. Paying your bills on time will help you establish your credit history early, and you will have a much easier time qualifying for your first home or auto loan later on.
Create a budget
Before building a budget, have a “money talk” with everyone involved in financing your education: parents, grandparents, or anyone else who is contributing. This will help ensure everyone is in the loop and on the same page with their expectations. Try to anticipate all your expenses (textbooks, school supplies, room and board, transportation, etc.), then take a close look at your current spending habits and see where you can cut back. Not sure where to start? Check out our six easy steps to create a realistic budget!
Apply for grants and scholarships
Grants and scholarships are known as “gift aid,” meaning they don’t need to be paid back. Gift aid can help reduce your overall debt load, since every dollar you receive from a grant or scholarship may translate to one less dollar you’ll have to borrow. Grants tend to be based on financial need, while scholarships are more often based on merit, such as achievement in academics or athletics. Many businesses, foundations, and other organizations provide scholarships based on a variety of factors, such as community involvement or field of study, so it’s a good idea to cast a wide net in your financial aid search. If you’re a graduating high school senior who plans to attend an accredited college or university, be sure to check out MCCU’s Future Leaders Scholarship Program if you haven’t already!
Protect yourself from fraud
Identity theft and fraud happens daily, and often without warning. The best way to protect yourself is to pay close attention to your finances and be smart about who you disclose your personal information to.
Be diligent about checking your accounts daily. This will alert you to fraud early and give you the best chance to report it before too much damage has been done. Use online banking and mobile banking apps to review your transactions and account balances daily; not only will this help you spot fraud, but it will also help you keep close tabs on your spending!
text banking is another great way to stay on top of your account information by setting up custom alerts.
Include financial topics in your studies
Strong personal finance skills are a key ingredient for success. Set yourself up to succeed by making a point to learn more about money and finances, whether in the college classroom or on your own. The more you understand about money management, the more likely you are to develop good saving and spending habits that will benefit you throughout your life.
As a first-year college student, your world is about to get a whole lot bigger. We’re rooting for you, and we hope you enjoy your college experience! Remember, by developing good money habits now, you are investing in yourself and paving the way for financial success in your future.
The information provided is general in nature and may not apply to your specific situation. MCCU does not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult with your personal financial advisor.