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Financial advice for people heading to college this fall

Brooklyn College students walk between classes on campus in New York. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)
Brooklyn College students walk between classes on campus in New York. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Leaving for college gives many young people their first taste of financial independence, which can be difficult to adapt to.

How should you budget for living on your own? What should you look out for when buying necessities like groceries? CBS News business analyst and host of “Jill on Money” Jill Schlesinger says it’s important for college students to keep track of how they spend their money.

“This is probably the most important and most overlooked part of financial wherewithal,” she says. “You really get a sense of what’s going on when you’re tracking what comes in and what goes out.”

3 questions with Jill Schlesinger

How should students track their finances?

“For a college student, it might be money from work study. It might be your part-time job. It might be money from your family, but that’s your inflow. Outflow is the expense side. And this is the first moment where I think many people start to get a sense of like, ‘Wow, it’s expensive to live out there.’ So I think it’s very important to do this.

“You can use apps. You can use spreadsheets. You can use mortar and pestle. I don’t care what, but you can chop it up and get it to the place where you understand what’s going in and out.”

Is it important for students to build credit with a credit card?

“If you are over the age of 18, you can apply for a credit card, but to get one when you’re 18 to 21, you really have to have independent income.

“So parents, you have a number of choices here. First of all, it is clear that you can say, ‘Okay, fine. Just a debit card.’ That will not help build credit, but you could potentially also say, ‘Hey, you know what? You could be an authorized user on a parent’s credit card account.’ This will allow kids to spend and build a credit history. They’ll be helped by your good credit.

“Another thing you can maybe contemplate is something called a secured credit card. It’s kind of like [if] a credit card got married to a gift card and they had a baby. And that card basically is a card that requires a refundable cash deposit, which is essentially the credit limit of the card. A lot of people love using this because it helps build credit history, but it’s not great for an emergency because it’s usually limited.”

What should students know about student loans from the start?

“I think that it makes a ton of sense to really go through this with your kids, because if they are going to be on the hook to pay for these loans, they have to understand years ahead of time, what that means.

“So what you’re trying to do is not connect, ‘you’re going to owe $20,000. That stinks.’ You connect it in a much more granular way: ‘You’re going to owe $20,000. You’re going to have 10 years. It’s going to amount to $355 a month.’ That may mean, ‘Your $355 a month you thought was going towards rent and blowing out of your parents’ pad, not happening until that debt is paid off, or you have to forego other things.’

“If the kids know this, even if they’re not paying attention to it, they are aware of it. They build it into their own plans.”

Julia Corcoran produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtGrace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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