Money management is a bigger issue than ever on college campuses. Parents and students should start working on the student's financial future so they’re ready for freshman year.
Put credit on training wheels: It’s one thing for a teenager to use their parents’ credit card while they’re still living at home. It’s quite another when they get their first taste of freedom hundreds of miles away. Parents may co-sign the student’s credit card, but keep it in the student’s name. That way, parents will know when financial missteps occur, which will be a strong incentive for the student to keep their credit rating clean for the next four years. Most important: Parents should do whatever it takes to make sure the child doesn’t sign up for any credit cards on campus.
Bank smart: Students need to get some familiarity with the banking system before they head to college. Kids generally should set up a checking account on campus, but talk to them about debit options and fees, particularly for overdrafts. Also have your child ask the bank about direct-deposit options if you’re planning to deposit money for their tuition or agreed-to spending needs.
Work with them to set up their first emergency fund: A young person should get used to the idea of savings and reserves for unforeseen events such as emergency trips home or related expenses. Make it clear that late-night pizza is not an emergency.
Put the student in charge of maintaining their financial aid: While parents need to run the financial aid process, students need to be equally aware of how their education is paid for. It might also make sense to take your child to your tax preparer to make sure you’re taking advantage of the child’s “tax capacity” and other income tax opportunities. It will be a good learning experience.
Make them budget: If they’re leaving for college with a new computer, consider giving them personal finance software to track their everyday expenses and make sure the computer has a security password — keeping track of spending by calculator is fine, too. Work together to determine necessary realities about everyday expenses, tuition and financial aid. Then tell your kid that when he or she comes home at Thanksgiving, you will sit down again to review those figures and make reasonable adjustments. You obviously need to trust your kids, but you might want to do this for as long as it takes them to develop solid and consistent money habits.
Schedule a holiday budget and credit check: When the triumphant freshman returns home for the holidays, schedule some R&R, home cooking and the first reading of their fall budget figures and their credit reports. Since credit reports can be ordered online, parents and student should sit down with each of the child’s three credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax and review them for activity and errors. Everyone is entitled to one free report from each of the agencies each year. Get a credit report.
Help them open their first Individual Retirement Account (IRA): Get some advice on this from a trusted financial planner, but if your 18-year-old child is earning wages by working part-time at school, at home during breaks or for your own company, have them open a Roth IRA in a growth fund. Make sure they understand this is essential to their future savings so they don’t cash it in.
Discuss identity theft: Personal financial data left on laptop computers, cell phones and other electronic devices can be readily stolen on campus or in a dorm or roommate environment. Tell your kid to keep all paper records in a safe place and introduce passwords to keep all their digital information safe.
Get them networking: Internships and jobs in their chosen field during summer breaks can give your student a head start on their career path. Encourage them to research these opportunities freshman year so they’ll be in the front of the line when it’s time to apply.
Handle mistakes the right way: Most kids will make money mistakes in college. If they overdraw a checking account or overdo it with their credit card, make the criticism constructive but firm and always come up with a corrective plan you’ll work on together.