5 Tools to Help College Students Manage Their Money

Alex Grieb, age 18, and her mother Joy Cohen, both of New Orleans, Louisiana, tour the campus at Johns Hopkins University during a welcoming for admitted students in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., on Tuesday, April 7, 2009. Johns Hopkins and other schools such as Amherst College, Cornell University and Bowdoin College are planning to increase student populations, according to the schools' admissions and public-relations officials. Photographer: Dennis Drenner/Bloomberg News
Dennis Drenner, Bloomberg News


It's normal for parents to worry about sending their kid to college, but it's not just their academic performance they are worried about, they're also worried about their children's financials.

According to a 2012 survey by MasterCard, parents of college students were significantly more likely than parents of high school upperclassmen to report being worried about their child's ability to manage money and spend wisely, at 69% compared to 58%.

What's more, 40% of parents with an upcoming high school junior, high school senior or college freshman reported they believed their child would run out of money within their first month of being on campus and asking for funds.

Constantly borrowing money from the bank of mom and dad is damaging to both parties since a lack of financial literacy is leaving students underprepared with little to no financial training as they enter college, says Scott Gamm, author of the new book MORE MONEY, PLEASE: The Financial Secrets You Never Learned in School.

"As a result, money management for the younger generation is now trial and error, which is a recipe for financial disaster," he says. "Students need to be familiar with common financial terms and the steps necessary to get out of credit card debt or to build strong credit history."

To put freshmen on the right track to understanding money management and the importance of building a positive financial history, here are five tools parents can give their student to guide them through the process.

A Low Interest Credit Card

With the restrictions of the CARD Act, parents will likely have to co-sign on a credit card with their student under age 21.

Parents and students should research different credit card options before committing, says Shelley Solheim, director of Financial Education at Capital One Bank.

"Make sure you shop around for the best interest rate--don't get a certain credit card just because they are offering you something for free or giving something away," she says. "Look for a rewards card which gives you the ease and flexibility to earn and redeem rewards without any hassles."

If the parent has a solid credit history and wants to exercise a little more control over their child's credit use, adding the student as an authorized user on the account can help them to establish their own history with a safety net, says Steven Smith, CEO of Finicity.

"This scenario allows parents to monitor credit card charges on a daily basis, plus the parent can choose to remove the child from the account once any set rules are 'violated,'" he says.

A Secured Card

Another way to teach responsible credit use is through a secured card, which requires a cash deposit that then becomes the credit line for the account.

"Since you're providing the credit limit on a secured card, there's little risk for the issuer, which is why it's easier to get approved for a secured credit card, even if you have no credit history," says Gamm.

Smith recommends parents and students do their research on cards that would be a good fit and watch out for high fee cards.

Explain Free Credit Reports

While it's essential for students to learn the ins and outs of how credit works, parents can discuss how it can affect their long term financial future by helping them understand how credit history is reported, suggests Solheim.

Parents can show students how to pull a free copy of their credit report once every year from AnnualCreditReport.com.

"Be sure to review your credit reports for accuracy at least once a year and report any errors immediately," Solheim says.

Savings Account

Depending on the bank, parents may be able to establish a restricted savings account that requires students to think twice before withdrawing money.

"It is a good way to help them grow savings while putting controls in place to teach them to 'leave the money alone,'" says Smith.

Gamm suggests students with part-time jobs open an automated savings account to teach them accountability and how to factor saving into their monthly budget.

"Have the bank transfer 10% of the income from the checking account and into the savings account - it will force you to make do with less, while building up your savings at the same time."

Tax Preparation Software

Whether students plan to work part-time while in school or hold a job during the summer, it's important to ensure they are correctly filing their tax returns, so they are comfortable with the process before their returns become too complicated.

Gifting students tax preparation software is a cost-effective option that can take the guesswork out of preparing a return for the first time, says Gamm.

"There are even apps where you can take a picture of your W-2 form, answer a few questions and file directly on your app," he says. "If you're a little uneasy about doing this yourself, head to a local tax preparer or accountant, though there will be a fee involved."


Originally published