By Regina Carmon
August 21, 2018
Incoming freshmen head off to their first day of college with an incredible amount of knowledge gained in the years leading up to adulthood. However, they can benefit from additional insight that may not necessarily have been acquired in their formal education.
I remember my first thought after freshman orientation – FREEDOM! However, I wish someone had warned me about the practical side of freedom that comes with the choices I would soon be making on my own. I did not want help from an ‘adult,’ because I was grown and free to make my own decisions. Funny, my daughter and her friends felt the same way their first year.
By way of background, my parents did not have a 529 college savings account allocated for me. Therefore, with the help of financial aid and student loans, I was all set for year one as an in-state, on-campus, full-time student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
As I look back, there were a number of choices I made on my own that I wish I had sought guidance about before making. I will share two of the most important financial lessons I learned.
Lesson 1: Avoid applying for unsubsidized loans and accepting surplus student loan money.
Unfortunately, not having this knowledge led me to accumulate a large amount of debt over the years, before wising up in my third year of college.
Tip: Financial aid is useful and may include grants, scholarships, work-study and loans. However, try not to take the unsubsidized portion of the aid and additional student loans. Instead, use some of your 529 college savings (if you are fortunate enough to have saved) and apply for your college’s work-study program.
Tip: Take time to explore the many varieties of scholarships available.
During my third year of college, I googled ‘free money’ and that web search led me to scholarships specific to me in my field of study. And, all I had to do was write a winning essay. So I did and this helped me to secure finances to assist with my educational costs.
Lesson 2: Think twice and read carefully before accepting credit cards
Tip: Nearly every retailer, bank and credit card company is willing to give you a credit card. Freshmen beware! Be sure to read all of the terms and conditions associated with these cards.
Tip: A good rule of thumb is not to spend any money you are not prepared to pay back. Remember, it’s okay to live within your means (or slightly under) and focus on your studies.
I definitely passed along these tips to my daughter, niece and nephews, and friends. As an advocate for college savings, I also started saving toward my daughter’s higher education in a 529 account. This has encouraged her to contribute small amounts periodically as an investment in herself. Further, I encourage all of my friends and family to do the same for their own child(ren). They know my motto: A dollar saved today is a lot cheaper than a dollar borrowed tomorrow with interest. It’s never too late to save and you can continue to save during the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior school years — and even through graduate school. It’s never too late to save!
About the Author
Regina has been a professional in the 529 industry for over nine years. She is responsible for marketing, sales and managing the relationships with select state partners.