College may be the first time in your life that you were expected to be in charge of your finances. This can create a great deal of stress at a time when you are already facing many other changes. Finances are different for every college student, so no one guide will work for everyone. There are some universal rules to consider that can help you navigate this world.

Be Slow to Apply for Credit

College students are often attractive targets for credit card issuers. While starting to build your credit at a young age is valuable, it can also create problems if you are not responsible. It is easy to get in over your head financially very quickly. Only consider a credit card if you know you will not put unnecessary expenses on it and will pay it off each month. If you use your credit card responsibly during your college years, you will be pleasantly surprised at your credit score when you graduate. This allows you to qualify for a nicer apartment and otherwise eases your transition into working life.

Creating a cushion for emergency expenses reduces the odds that you will run up credit card debt. Even if your emergency fund is small, it can provide security. The ability to pay for unexpected expenses rather than putting them on a credit card debt builds good habits that will serve you well once you graduate. Put unexpected monetary gifts or a small portion of each paycheck you receive in a separate account and don’t touch it unless necessary.

Use Student Loans Responsibly

Student loans are a great way to make a college education attainable for everyone, but you should use forethought when taking them out. Taking out loans to pay for tuition, room, and board, and living expenses allows you to get a college education without any distractions. You can, however, minimize the number of loans you take out by cutting your college costs.

Scholarships and grants do not have to be repaid and can lower your college bill considerably. Working as a resident adviser is generally a low stress position and typically comes with free housing. Work-study options offered by your school may be general, such as working in the cafeteria, but as you get further along in your degree, you may find jobs related to your field, such as helping a professor with research or working in the tutoring center.

Work When it Makes Sense

You don’t want your academic career to suffer at the hands of a job, but if you can work over the summer, or take a job at a coffee shop in your college town for a few hours a week, you will be surprised at how quickly this money adds up. While it may not put a dent in your tuition bill, it can pay for extras, such as going out with friends, as well as books or other supplies. It can also lower your overall expenses by giving you something to fill your free time with, so you have an excuse to pass on evenings at the local, overpriced, college bar, or coffee shop.

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