(NEW YORK) — You just started college — hooray!
Between purchasing books, dealing with student loans and going out with your friends, we understand if you feel like your wallet is crying.
That’s why ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis is here with her five tips on managing your personal finances as a college student.
1. Get a credit card and pay it off right away
The earlier you can get a credit card, the better, because it helps you establish a strong credit history as soon as possible.
“But in order to [establish a strong credit history], you need to be really thoughtful about how you’re using it and also what credit card you sign up for,” Jarvis said.
One important factor that Jarvis advises students to consider when looking at credit cards is the cost.
“A lot of these companies are going to charge an annual fee, but you don’t have to pay that annual fee because there are a number of credit cards that have a zero-dollar,” she said. “That means no cost to annual fees, and those are the cards you should be looking for as a college student.”
Jarvis’ rule of thumb when it comes to using a credit card while in college: “You shouldn’t spend more than 20% of the limit in a month on your balance … If the limit on your credit card is $1,000, you shouldn’t be putting more than $200 on that credit card.”
Another important note to keep in mind: Get into the habit of paying off your full balance every single month.
Jarvis suggests that a good way to do this is to set your credit card account to auto-pay.
“If your objective is to create good credit based on having a credit card, you need to be paying off your credit card every single month to get that good credit,” Jarvis said.
2. Choose your major wisely
“The average student is now graduating with almost $30,000 in debt,” Jarvis said. “It’s important to think about how you’re going to be paying that debt off in the future.”
“STEM majors — science, technology, engineering, math — they tend to be some of the highest paid majors post-graduation, as do business majors,” she said. “Humanity majors, on the other hand, don’t necessarily have jobs that will ultimately help you pay for that education.”
Hiring managers have told Jarvis, however, that the most important traits that they look for in candidates are “a good bedside manner [and] communication.”
“Bringing that sound communication to the table, both in person and in writing, will really set you apart,” Jarvis shared.
3. Consider your fixed costs when creating a budget
Let’s face it: budgeting can be difficult when you’re simultaneously trying to save for the future and live your best life with your friends.
Jarvis strongly urges students to focus on the fixed costs in their daily lives when building a budget.
“For example, if you’re paying rent, if you’re paying utilities, if you’re paying [for] groceries, these are, generally speaking, fixed costs,” she said. “Add them all together and when you know exactly what your spending is, then you know what you have available to either save or spend money on things like entertainment, having fun.”
Another pro tip that Jarvis has to offer: Put those fixed expenses on your credit card.
“If you already know the amount of money that you’re spending, it’s a great way to start building credit as long as you’re paying off the bill every single month in full,” she said.
4. Complete prerequisites at a community college
“If you are budget-constrained, a very good thing you could do for yourself is finish some of the introductory courses at a community college,” Jarvis said. “Check with your dream school and make sure they will accept those credits.”
Another way you can save money is by living at home.
“Think about it as, ‘I’m going to set a foundation for myself, financially I’ll be in a better situation and, in the future, if I do all of these things correctly, I will be able to take even more advantage of spending time in a great college experience, spending time on that first job,'” Jarvis said.
5. Negotiate your financial aid package
This tip can help prospective students who are still on their college search.
“It’s important for people to know that they can appeal their financial aid decision,” Jarvis said. “If a college comes back to you with a financial aid package that doesn’t meet the needs of you and your family, you can appeal that decision by going back to the college’s financial aid office and asking them to take a second look.”
Jarvis speaks from experience, because she actually negotiated her own financial aid package at the college of her choice, which found a way to add money to her package.
She also advises presenting the financial aid office at the college of your choice with another financial aid package from a different college or university, if you have one, that’s competitive or better.
“Tell them, I will attend your university if you can give me the same deal as this other college,” she said.
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