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Navigating college life as a freshman is tricky enough. Add on the first taste of financial freedom, and many students are bound to stumble.
For incoming students, college means a slew of new responsibilities. There's getting used to course work, classes and making new friends. Campus life also marks the beginning of financial independence. With that comes many opportunities for failure, along with lasting consequences.
"Our nation's kids are graduating high school without so much as a course in economics," Corey Carlisle, executive director of the American Bankers Association's ABA Foundation, said of most freshmen's under-preparedness.
"Other than sex, finance is one of the hardest things for parents to talk about with their kids," he said.
To break the ice, here are the top money mistakes college freshmen make (and how to avoid them):
"The first time you go with your first child to college, a parent will look at the list of required and suggested books and they buy them all brand new and they spend a fortune," said Daniel Pantucci, a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch and the parent of two college students. "Those books could have been bought used or rented," he said. If you must have the newest edition, opt for an e-book.
If the bookstore is sold out of used texts, try Amazon, Pantucci advised. That's where Pantucci recently found a used version of a $250 business law book for his son for $39. "There are huge discrepancies in price," he said.
Undergrads may think that living off campus will save money, but that's often not so. In fact, those apartments further from school can come with higher transportation costs and hefty utility bills, Carlisle said.
Transportation costs increase along with commuting distance, according to a report by the Center for Housing Policy. Nationally, for every dollar you save on housing, you could add 77 cents in transportation, the report said.
"I advise the kids to talk to kids that currently live there to find out what their bills are like so they know what they're in for," Pantucci said. A security deposit is another hidden expense to consider, he said. "Every time you change apartments, you could lose your deposit or a big portion of your deposit," he said.
Late night pizza delivery is the hallmark of the freshman experience (hence "the freshman 15" pound gain), but all of that take out will take a toll on any undergrads' budget.
These days, most schools have amped up their dining amenities and mealtime offerings and baked that into the tab. As a result, "a meal plan could be a much more cost-effective choice," Pantucci said, particularly if your kid is a big eater. For those on a meal plan, eating out is a prime unnecessary expense.
Since the Credit CARD Act was enacted, in order to get one, students must either put down a deposit in exchange for a secured card or get a parent or other adult to be a co-signer, which means the co-signer is also on the hook should the student fall into debt. That can lead to big problems, not just for students, but their parents.
Pantucci suggests supplying your children with a credit card well before they set out on their own, then explain the APR and how much they would be paying in interest if they missed a single payment. Or, pick a credit card alternative, like a debit card linked to a checking account, or a prepaid card, which act as a defense against overdrafts.
Finally, set them up with a mobile app to track their spending once they're on campus, Pantucci said.