Make A Money-Smart College Start

Freshmen_ADoes your college-bound freshman know how to handle money at school?

Campus life can test even the most disciplined young adults on money matters. In the final weeks before you help your student pack up for the dorm, it’s a good time to pack in some money lessons as well.

Start with what college will cost. On average, the Class of 2015 graduated with a little over $35,000 in student loan debt, according to Edvisors of The Wall Street Journal. Depending on your financial situation and how you’ve planned for your child’s college education, start with an overview of how your student’s college costs will impact your finances now and after graduation.

If your child will be paying off personal or student loans once they graduate, discuss how that reality should define financial choices throughout college. That doesn’t mean saving every penny and having no fun at all, but such a talk should reinforce how handling money intelligently, setting priorities and getting a jump on savings can position your child for a much stronger financial start upon graduation.

Train them to budget

If your child hasn’t learned budgeting skills (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/budgeting),it’s time for a crash course. Budgeting is the first essential skill in personal finance. Teaching children to budget now gives them a head start on dealing with post-graduation debt or long-term goals like affording a home or car. Because teens often live their lives on smartphones, familiarize yourself with the growing range of budgeting apps to keep their money management on course.

Talk through on-campus banking and credit needs

Many parents start their kids with custodial savings and checking accounts at their local bank when they are younger. If your bank has branches in the teen’s college town, that relationship can easily continue. Responsible credit card use is also wise to start in college. Keep in mind that The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (or Credit CARD) Act of 2009 requires that anyone under 21 without independent income have a co-signer to qualify for a card. As such, you’ll be able to keep track of your child’s credit use. However, if they default, you’ll be on the hook—so monitor your child’s bank and credit relationships closely until you agree they’re ready to manage them on their own.

Cover credit monitoring and identity theft

With smarter online thieves emerging every day, your child is at risk of identity theft from the minute he or she is assigned a Social Security number. While most teens generally don’t have a credit report until they start earning a paycheck at age 16, be on the lookout for fraudulent activity earlier and make sure they get in the habit of ordering the three free credit reports (www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action) they are entitled to each year. Throughout college, consider sitting down with children so you can review their annual credit reports together.

Bottom line: There’s plenty to do in the final weeks before your kids leave for college. Don’t forget to reinforce important money lessons before they go.

Jason Alderman writes for VISA’s Practical Skills.

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