What We Wish We Knew About Finances in College

Being on your own for the first time is one of the most empowering feelings. Whether you’re living in a dorm, an off-campus apartment, or are commuting from home – college life will give you your first taste of independence. And while adulthood may sound glamourous, there’s certainly more responsibility to manage – and that includes your finances.

One of the most important factors of growing into adulthood is how you manage your money. Those habits you make now will have a lasting impact on your financial wellness down the road. Here’s what we wish we knew about money management when we were in college.

Start building credit, but avoid credit card debt

You might be thinking more about classes right now, but after you graduate college – your credit score will have an even bigger impact on your life. Your credit score essentially determines your creditworthiness to lenders when you apply for a credit card or a loan. So, if you have a low score, it will be far more difficult to buy a car or even secure housing in the future.

Start by working on building your credit now. You can do this by applying for a credit card and having your parents added as authorized users (or vice versa). At First Financial, we offer a Visa® First Step Credit Card that’s specifically designed to build or establish your credit.*

Having a credit card is crucial for building credit, but you need to also make sure you’re paying it off in full each month. It can be easier than you think to pile on credit card debt. Some people use their cards like they’re free money, but in reality – you should only be making purchases that you can afford. Otherwise, paying your balance will become more difficult and interest will quickly add up.

Check out our blog post on credit card tips for beginners to learn more.

Always have an emergency fund

Part of adulting is having a back-up plan for when things go wrong. And most of the time, that means having a lump sum of emergency funds in case you have a large medical expense or car repair. As you get older, saving money will become increasingly important – so getting in the habit now is a great way to set yourself up for success.

Open a separate savings account and deposit a small amount of money into it regularly from any paychecks or gifts you receive. The amount you choose should be based on what you can afford. Even starting with putting away $25 per paycheck is a great, because it will add up overtime. The goal is to eventually allocate 20% of your paycheck to your savings, but everyone has to start somewhere!

Utilize student discounts

Companies know college students are on a budget, and many create affordable deals and memberships just for them. Don’t overlook how much money you can save by asking for a student discount. Trust us – you’ll miss it as soon as those perks go away! Many services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Amtrak, and more offer discounted subscriptions and fees for students. Even insurance companies may offer lower rates for those in high school or college full-time.

While it’s important to balance your classwork while managing your money, you should also prioritize fun and safety. College goes by faster than you think – and the more you learn and enjoy yourself during these years, the better!

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*APR varies up to 18% for the Visa First Step Credit Card when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Balance Transfer and Cash Advance Fees of 3% or $10, whichever is greater; Late Payment Fee of $29, $10 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of $29. No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.


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