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Updated on Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Dear College Student –
I envy you. Not for the football games, the keg stands nor the ability to arrange your schedule for constant three-day weekends. Okay, I miss that last one. But I primarily envy you because you have a simple advantage when it comes to finances.
Over the course of your college career, you’ll make a lot of decisions that will impact the course of your life. Some of them will be academic, a few will be social, but plenty will be financial.
Before you even entered the hallowed halls of your university, you may have signed a dotted line that put your young financial life into the red. Student loans are major issue for college students – more so than actually picking a major – but we’re here to help to minimize all other debt and maximize your financial health. School may be preparing you for getting a job, but here at MagnifyMoney we want to educate you on what comes after.
Step One: Build Credit History
Grades don’t stop after you hand in your final exam, in fact you’re going to be graded your entire life. A credit score is how a lender will determine how risky you are. If you’re looking to buy a car, rent an apartment or apply for will a mortgage (lucky you), then your credit score will be pulled. A high score can help you edge out other applicants for an apartment or give you bargaining power for a lower interest-rate on a loan. The lower your score, the risker you’re going to appear.
Even your employer could end up pulling a credit report to assess your responsibility. A credit report doesn’t contain your score, but will show if you’ve been late making payments, defaulted on a loan or even filed bankruptcy.
Fortunately, you have four years of college to be building your credit history so you graduate summa cum laude – with a high credit score and impeccable credit report. If you’ve taken out student loans in your name, then you’ve already started the process of establishing credit history. However, we still recommend that you consider getting a credit card. Part of your credit score is determined by the types of credit you have as well as payment history.
A credit card is a simple way to establish credit history, but you must be using it responsibly.
Pay off your balance in full each month – carrying a balance just costs you more money
Keep your utilization rate low – only use 30% of your available credit. So, if you have $500 a month, then don’t spend more than $150 per month. If you really want an A+ in credit card use, try just spending $5 a month and have an insanely low utilization, which translates to a high credit score.
We have a list of college credit cards on our Cash Back Rewards page. You can also consider applying for a secured card, which helps you establish credit history by putting down a deposit of your own money to prove your responsibility.
Read more about building your credit history here
Step Two: Avoid Credit Card Debt
Opening up a credit card can be like walking into a frat party when you’re trying to avoid drinking. It opens the door to a whole lot of temptation, which is why it’s incredibly important that you use the credit card to only purchase items within your budget. Using it as a tool to buy expensive clothes, get the latest gadgets and open up a tab at the bar for all your friends will land you in a lot of financial pain.
Credit card companies may try to entice you to spend more by offering sign-on bonuses or cash back rewards. Don’t let this fool you into spending more than you can afford. If you get into debt, then you’ll be paying a lot more than you made from the sign-on bonus or cash back rewards. Plus, the interest rates on college credit cards are usually insanely high and that means debt at a high interest rate.
The simplest way to avoid consumer debt is to pay your balance off, in full, each month. Carrying a balance doesn’t help your credit score; it simply incurs interest you have to pay off.
Step Three: Consider an Internet Bank
You’re part of a generation reared on the rise of technology. You already know “there’s an app for that” – so why waste your time and money by banking at a traditional brick-and-mortar bank branch?
Putting your money into a savings and/or checking account is essentially giving the bank a loan. They are able to lend your money to someone else at a high interest rate while paying you less than 1%. Then they have the audacity to charge you heinous amounts of money if you go overdraft (the act of making a transaction without enough money in your account).
Now, Internet banking can help you save more money and there are, of course, apps for that.
Internet banks offer:
Higher interest rates on your savings accounts
Lower fees on your checking account
Overdraft fee protection and reimburse you for ATM fees
The ability to cash checks with your smartphone (or a scanner)
Internet banks are FDIC Insured just your brick-and-mortar bank, so they’re entirely safe.
Read more about Internet Banking here
Graduate with a Degree and Financial Competence
The next four years of your life are about so much more than good grades, parties and your cute study partner. They’re an opportunity to do the incredibly simple work that builds a foundation to pass a life-long exam. Taking the time to understand your financial situation in college will pay huge dividends once you graduate. Unless you do actually just want to live in Mom and Dad’s basement because you can’t afford anything and no landlord will take you without a decent credit score.