We are always pleased to see credit unions providing insights into college life. From our experience, credit unions are a great source of insight for college families.

A recent article appeared by Tim Blanford, of the Collins Community Credit Union, that contains some useful reminders and tips for college students.   His article is a good reminder that college can be one of the best times of your life, albeit stressful and difficult at times, but a valuable point in one’s personal life and growth.  College can also be one of the most expensive.  As we have written before, the average 2016 college grad left college with $37,172 in student debt.

For our purpose, we have applied his tips and expanded but made edits to his original content.  What is noteworthy are the practical suggestions and topics.

1. Know your financial options  – Most students can’t pay for their entire college out of pocket, which is why most rely on financial aid.  There are many scholarships out there that can help you save money and avoid borrowing. One resource is the U.S. Department of Labor’s research tool at www.careeronestop.org.  If you do have to borrow money — don’t worry, most do — understand the differences among the various student loans available to you.  Speak with your college financial aid office to understand the alternatives available to you.

2. Cut expenses – Look for ways to save money, like selling your car and using public transportation, making meals at home or sharing a Netflix account with your roommate.  Avoid paying fees for using a non-networked ATM.

3. Budget – When it comes to college, you are busy with classes, a part-time job and a social life. You need an agenda or planner to keep you organized. The same is true when it comes to your finances. Have a running tally of what your costs are each month. There are a variety of ways to create a budget and track your expenditures, including apps and online tools, your financial institution’s online banking or even an old-fashioned check register.  College Parents of America recommends students use a service such as Mint.com

4. Build your credit – The simplest way to establish a credit history is to get a credit card. However, be careful and use it responsibly. Review credit card options with your family before you head back to the college campus. The best plan to build your credit is to use the card each month for a set purchase like gas, then when you receive your statement each month, pay it off in full. This will build payment history while avoiding excessive interest.  Look for a credit card that has no annual fees, a rewards program, and a decent interest rate. Consider getting a credit card from your local credit union — they often have lower interest rates and lower fees.

5. Protect yourself – Make sure that you have health insurance coverage. Take advantage of coverage from either your family health insurance or school insurance program.  If neither are available to you, consider purchasing a short-term medical insurance plan and rely on your campus health center for primary care.  For many college students other than your health the other large loss you may face involves your personal property.  For about $.50 cents a day, consider purchasing renters insurance to replace your stolen or damaged property and protect yourself from unintentional damages you may be found responsible for.