College freshmen might feel like they have a lot to worry about. They have to juggle making new friends, taking rigorous classes and learning how to be independent.
At the same time, students have financial interests that need protecting. Most students take on loans to cover the cost of college and many will be managing their own finances for the first time. A student who has never balanced a checkbook before may suddenly be responsible for overseeing tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt and making regular tuition payments.
Unfortunately, college students are also prime targets for scammers. To avoid being taken advantage of, students need to learn how to recognize financial traps.
Here are three common campus-focused scams students face, and how to avoid them:
There are thousands of legitimate scholarships available for students but unfortunately, some scammers will take advantage of desperate students by advertising fake scholarships as a way to gain sensitive financial information.
"Today, college students are bombarded with all kinds of scams, which can come via emails, text messages and phone calls," Beverly Harzog, consumer finance analyst and credit card expert at US News & World Report tells CNBC Make It. "These scams might involve scholarship offers."
If a scholarship you have never heard of or applied to reaches out to you, be sure to do your due diligence. Research the scholarship online and ask professors and administrators if it is legitimate. Avoid giving personal information such as your name, social security number and bank information before you know that the scholarship is the real deal.
One of the most common traps that students can fall into is amassing credit card debt. Students should be particularly wary of cards that are advertised aggressively.
In 2009, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act banned banks from aggressively marketing credit cards and financial products on college campuses, but this regulation does not stop banks from actively pursuing college students through other avenues like email or social media.
"There are regulations that are still in effect, but students still need to do a little bit of homework," Suzanne Martindale, a consumer finance expert and attorney for Consumers Union, tells CNBC Make It. She explains, "A lot of times these companies have marketing deals with the campus that make them look like the 'school approved' product, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the school has made sure that those products are in fact the best products for their students."
In order to avoid falling into one of these traps, students should arrive on campus with one credit card in hand and a plan for paying off their balance each month. John Ganotis, founder of CreditCardInsider.com, recommends the Capital One Journey Student Credit Card to CNBC Make It.
According to Harzog, there are two traps that students can fall into when it comes to student loans. The first is scammers posing as lenders who are actually trying to steal your identity.
"A fraudster will contact the student posing as a loan company or even claim to be associated with the student's university," she says. "This can lead to identity theft, which is serious and can be prevented by not giving away too much personal information online."
The second, and perhaps more common, trap that students need to avoid is taking on private loans that seem too-good-to-be-true.
"If you're searching for student loans, don't fall prey to websites that offer better student loan rates for a fee," explains Harzog. And be wary of lenders that guarantee approval. "Loans depend on a number of factors and guarantees simply aren't possible," she says.
Before taking on private loans, students should make sure they have taken full advantage of subsidized federal student loans. Federal students loans are a reliable and safe way to borrow for college and offer flexible repayment plans as well as low — and often the lowest — interest rates.
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