As college students, the pressure to manage tuition, courses, and outside jobs can be stressful and overbearing as you learn how to balance financial stressors. Financial Wellness involves the process of learning how to successfully manage these financial expenses. In order to be fully financially responsible and independent, it’s important to learn how to maximize your financial wellness now so you can feel prepared to handle stressful financial situations in the future.
- Savings fund – This is a typically smaller fund that is intended to help pay for something you want to buy in the future, or just to pay for unexpected costs that come up. This could be to fix a broken part on your car, or to pay an unforeseen medical expense.
- Emergency fund – This is a fund you keep that could potentially pay for your mortgage, rent, utilities, etc. It should be intended to cover your major expenses for 6 to 9 months. Ideally, it’s separate from your savings account and only pays for items in emergencies. It’s okay if this seems too daunting to start; you can start with focusing on just 3 months or building up from your savings account.
- Checking account – This is the account where most of your daily transactions, such as paying bills, paying for food, clothes, etc., will be drawn from. Money in this account typically does not stay for long, because that is not its intent. Many times, a checking account will not have a limit on the amount of transactions you can make, when a savings account more than likely will.
- Credit Score – This is a score you earn that indicates to banks your ability and likelihood of paying back a loan. Better credit scores can typically help you get a lower interest rate on a loan you take out, such as for a house or a car. Credit scores range from 300-850, with 700-850 being very good. Something that could help you boost your credit score as a college student is by applying for a credit card. These can be dangerous of course, but making timely, regular payments on your credit card bill can show banks that you’re capable and responsible enough to pay back a large loan.
- Budget – Simply put, your budget is a list of your income compared to your expenses. They can be monthly, weekly, or even yearly depending on your needs and timeline. Creating a budget can help you maximize your paycheck. After creating a budget list, you might notice an area where you could reallocate your expenses in one area to allow for greater expenses in another. For example, you might realize you can easily cut back spending on groceries by $20, which might be just enough to let you go out to dinner with your friends a couple more times per paycheck. Learning how to budget now will help you start to create savings and emergency funds.
Making Big Purchases
Most of us will have to make large purchases at one point or another – from necessities such as getting treatment for a serious medical condition, buying a car to drive to work, or purchasing a washing machine, to more desirable items that you might come across and buy spontaneously as you reward yourself for hard work or use it as a way to cheer yourself up.
Regardless of the item, the first step to making a major purchase should go through these steps:
1. Do your research.
- Figure out the specific item that you need/ would like to purchase and potential use for it (e.g., car to drive to work, painting to hang on a wall).
- Go to a reputable website, such as Consumer Reports and Kelly Blue Book, to get more information on the quality of a product (if it is mass produced), especially if you are buying technology or looking for a vehicle.
- Once researched, get an estimate of the cost.
2. Check your finances.
- Is this purchase a need (medical treatment, car to go to work, etc.)? This is where having an emergency fund or money in savings can be extremely helpful.
- Is this purchase a “want” (nicer phone, computer, TV set, etc.)? Is it practical?
- Can my current income support this purchase? If you can’t pay your electricity bill, that nice Mac might not be as important.
- If it is a “no” to above, consider how much debt you might have already and whether purchasing that item will be worth potentially incurring more debt on your credit cards/loans.
3. Address practical concerns.
- If I buy that car, will I be able to finance the upkeep? Will the painting fit in my room? If I buy these concert tickets, will I be able to pay my rent?
4. Don’t give in to temptation.
- Before you make any purchase, consider how you generally shop: For example, do you buy your groceries impulsively or do you make and follow a list? Knowing your spending style can help you be aware of (and avoid) temptation to make larger purchases impulsively.
- Buying the latest model of Audi might seem like an amazing idea when you’re at a car dealership looking for your first car. But it is important to take a few moments to consider your current and future finances, as well as the upkeep required, before you sign the contract.
- Figure out the reason you want to buy that particular item at a particular time. That is, are you trying to cheer yourself up, relieve anxiety, spontaneously reward yourself for getting that raise today, or is this a one-time sale of this collectible that you have been searching for all your life (and that you must have)?
Reducing Credit Card Debt
What is a credit score and why should I care?
Credit score, calculated from credit card and loan history, allows lenders to determine your risk as a borrower. The score ranges from 300 to 850, with the higher the score signifying less risk (so, lenders are more likely to give you more credit/loans).
How can I find out my credit score?
Credit scores are often reported to you and the creditor/lender requesting them when you apply for credit/loans. But you can also check your score online. The cheapest (it’s free!) and safest (supported by the government) source is annualcreditreport.com. However, be aware that the federal law allows you to check your credit score only every 12 months. So, take advantage of the free check only when you are sure you need to check your credit score history.
How do I improve my credit score?
There are 5 factors that determine your credit score:
- Payment history (35%): Lenders want to make sure you are reliable enough to keep paying off your expenses (at least at a minimum rate). So having a mostly consistent payment schedule of at least the minimum rate is very important.
- Amounts owed (30%): Amount owed can ding your score, but it’s not just the amount – it is the ratio between credit available and debt incurred that matters most (so if your credit line is $8,000 and you have spent $1,900, the score will be better than for someone who has a credit line of $2,000 and owes $1,900). Why a ratio? This is lenders’ way to make sure you don’t overextend yourself and end up maxing out your cards. So, best practice is to not exceed 25% of available credit.
- Length of credit history (15%): While having too many credit accounts/loans open can be harmful to the credit score, having little credit history is not any better. Why? Lenders want some proof that you are able to handle several accounts with increasing sums of money. How many? It depends on your credit/loans history and your goals.
- Types of credit in use (10%): Interestingly, managing several types of credit (e.g., credit cards, student loans, car loans, mortgage, etc.) well can boost your score. Of course it doesn’t mean that you should have one of each, but having a loan and some revolving credit is considered to be good practice.
- New credit (10%): Finally, opening several accounts within a short period of time can damage your score, especially if you have a short credit history. Particularly, it is the “hard” inquiries (i.e., when you apply for a credit card or a loan and a lender or creditor requests your score or credit history) that can lower it. These can affect your score for 12 months and will remain on your credit report for 2 years. Tip: If you are shopping for a loan, having multiple inquiries made in a 2-week period counts as only one inquiry. So, if you are looking for a good rate, do so quickly! “Soft” inquiries, such as pre-qualifying checks, credit checks requested by an employer, landlord, or your lender’s request to review your account with them, or your request to review your credit report directly from a credit reporting agency, do not affect your credit score.
How can I reduce my credit card debt?
- Figure out how much you owe now. Which purchases are mostly recurring essential expenses (e.g., paying bills) and which are more desirable unnecessary items (e.g., going out)? Which are one-time-only purchases? Make a budget and stick to it. There are many online budgeting tools to help you do this easily without intense math skills.
- Make at least the minimum monthly payments, on time. Adding even $10 dollars to your monthly (or weekly, if you can) payments can add up quickly to pay off your card. If paying even the minimum is hard, start small – again, even $10 a month can make a difference! Which card to focus on? One with highest interest and largest amount owed. Also, having automated payments set up insures you don’t forget to pay it off on time.
- Track your progress of paying off your debt. Sometimes having something tangible can be motivating to keep paying off the debt: Make a graph tracking your debt reduction.
- Commit to a debt-free date. Calculate the debt-free date if you continued to pay the amount you allotted (minimum or fixed amount). Put it on your calendar/phone/somewhere visible.
- Reduce the number of credit cards/loans you have. https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/consolidation can help you determine whether it is beneficial for you to consolidate your loans and how to fill out the application for free.
- If you want to pay off debt quicker, work a few more hours here and there, do some babysitting, or reduce your going-out/entertainment budget. Remember fun can be low budgeted – have a pizza/movie night with friends at home, go hiking, or have a potluck, instead of going out.
What about student loan debt?
While figuring out student loan debt repayment can be confusing, overall, similar principles, as paying off a credit card, apply: Make consistent payments towards your loan, set a debt-free date, and make a visual to help you keep track of your payments and you going (slowly, but going!) debt-free. For more information on loan repayment, consolidation, and other financial questions, go to https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans