Whether you’re in college or are planning to attend, it’s a good idea to be ahead of the curve with your finances. Even though many don’t do it, whenever you make big purchases like buying a house, buying a car or going to school, it’s a good idea to be prudent and plan! CNNMoney reported on a Fidelity survey that the average student debt load of 750 graduates in 2013 was $35,200. In the article the students mention in retrospect they would have saved more and research harder for financial aid. With college, planning is hugely important because there are many questions that’ll ultimately set the course of the rest of your life: 1) what degree will you earn; 2) how are you going to pay for it. Ok, well…those are the two really big ones. Especailly question number 2 as that one seems to stick with students years after they graduate.
Regardless, there’s definitely a clear trend. Bloomberg reported that, overall, the cost of tuition has increased at a rate of 1,120 percent over the past thirty-five years. You’ve heard the saying knowledge is power, well…it takes quite a bit of dough to get that power. But don’t fret, there are things you can do to help minimize the debt-load after you graduate from college. It takes money to earn the knowledge (degree) that will help you increase your standard of living, but it’s also prudent to seek after the kind of knowledge that’ll keep you out of debt. So what are a few things you can do to improve your financial life in college?
Find Creative Rewards Programs
Since debt is such a huge issue in our nation, there’s an avenue for businesses to find creative ways to help solve that problem. One company doing just that is SimpleTuition. They offer a Smarterbucks service which is an interesting and unique rewards program that helps you pay down your student loan quicker. After signing up to the program, you simply select which student loan you want help paying off. Then you do all your shopping through the Smarterbucks program to earn rewards (up to 10% cash back on select purchases) that you can then apply toward your student loan. At the end of each month, if your rewards are at least $10 or more, that amount will become an extra payment on your designated student loan. So in addition to your regular monthly payments to your loan (whether during or after college), the normal everyday purchases you make (clothes, electronics, shoes etc) through the Smarterbucks program result in extra payments. You can also earn rewards by allowing friends and family members to shop through your Smarterbucks to increase the amount of cash back rewards you receive each month. Taking online surveys on the website and selling back your used textbooks and electronics to their sister company Valore earn you rewards as well.
Another company offering a unique rewards program is SaveUp.com. Basically, as you make financially sound decisions like paying down debt or depositing money in a bank account, you’ll earn credits that you can use to win prizes like electronics, travel, cars and even a $2 million jackpot. It’s out-of-the-box as far as business models go and it’s free. Just link your bank accounts to the website, manage your money wisely and earn credits.
Consider Online Banking
When setting up a bank account, to get the most bang for your buck, it’s a good idea to shop around because some banks offer a better return than others. If you want higher yield for your money, some of the best banks to setup accounts with are those that operate solely on the web (i.e. direct banks). Online banks minimize overhead costs because they don’t have to deal with the expenses brick and mortar banks normally deal with (building maintenance, extra staff). One such institution is Bank5 Connect. This direct bank offers high yield checking (.76% APY) and savings accounts (.90% APY), has no monthly maintenance fee, offers free ATMs and has a neat little UChoose Rewards program that allows you to earn points for the purchases you make. All you need to start earning interest with Bank5 Connect is $100. You really don’t want to put your money in a bank that’ll just suck your checking account with fees and earning points is always a plus. Other notable direct banks that allow you to start earning interest with no minimum balance in checking include Ally Bank (.25% APY), FNBO Direct (.65% APY) and Capital One 360 (.20% APY).
Apply for a Credit Card
The sooner you’re able to build-up a solid credit history the better. Having a good credit score can help lower your interest rate when making that first home purchase or buying a car. There are many student credit cards out there that offer two distinct types of incentives: rewards points and cash back. The Discover Student Credit Card allows you to earn 5% cash back in categories that rotate every quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases. You’ll also be able to receive a free FICO Credit Score on your monthly statement, there’s no annual fee to worry about and if you’re late on your first payment the penalty fee is waived. The Citi Forward for Students offers ThankYou points instead of cash back on items that you purchase. With these points you can get free stuff. They also have their Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa Card for College Students that earns you 5% cash back on various items. You can use your student credit card to purchase textbooks and other college related expenses and earn points!