• Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

4 Personal Finance Lessons For College Students

4 Personal Finance Lessons For College Students

When I was in college, I lived a relatively frugal lifestyle.

I commuted to campus from home (where I prepped most of my meals for the week) and only occasionally spent money on fun like going out to dinner with my friends. My main expenses were transportation and sometimes food, which I could afford with the money I earned from my work-study job and internships, along with the help of my parents.  

While this no-frills lifestyle helped save me money, I now realize a couple of financially savvy moves could have helped me achieve the same result without quite so much sacrifice. If I had the chance, there are a couple of changes I would make to how I managed my money back in college.

Open a (high-yield) savings account sooner  

Living at home with my parents meant being able to save money I otherwise would have had to spend on student housing and meals. Aside from paying the tuition, my parents also made sure that I had some money in my checking account if, for example, I needed to buy food. At the time, I had a Chase College Checking℠ account with my mom, so she could conveniently transfer money into my account whenever I needed it.  

During the second semester of college, I started earning some of my own income through my work-study job, until I graduated in 2020. On top of that, I also earned minimum wage from internships I worked during my last two semesters in college.  

A lot of this money went toward paying my essential expenses like transportation, college supplies and food. But I did sometimes have some extra cash. For three years, I let it sit in my checking account where it didn’t earn any money. When I finally did open an account my senior year, it was a Chase Savings℠ Account that only gave me a measly .01% interest each month.

While getting a savings account was the right idea, I should have gone with a high-yield savings account like the Marcus by Goldman Sachs High-Yield Savings Account, which currently earns a 4.30% APY. The Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings Account also earns a competitive 4.50% APY as of writing with no monthly fees and offers convenient withdrawal options.   

Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings

Goldman Sachs Bank USA is a Member FDIC.

  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

  • Minimum balance

  • Monthly fee

  • Maximum transactions

    At this time, there is no limit to the number of withdrawals or transfers you can make from your online savings account

  • Excessive transactions fee

  • Overdraft fee

  • Offer checking account?

  • Offer ATM card?

Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings

Synchrony Bank is a Member FDIC.

  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

  • Minimum balance

  • Monthly fee

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

  • Overdraft fee

  • Offer checking account?

  • Offer ATM card?

Learn how to properly use a credit card 

I got my first credit card when my mom added me as an authorized user to her American Express® Gold Card before I left to study abroad during the fall semester of 2018. While I would use the card every once and a while to book trips while abroad, I mostly stayed clear of it because I was afraid of credit card debt.

But while my fear of credit cards kept me free of debt, it cost me in other ways. For example, had I known about the American Express Travel portal, I could’ve earned 3X membership rewards per dollar on flights booked.  

American Express® Gold Card

On the American Express secure site

  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points at Restaurants (plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.) and at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months of card membership

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

Even after I graduated from college and got a credit card of my own — the Chase Freedom Unlimited® — I still wasn’t using the cash-back rewards in a way that would maximize my money. Instead of redeeming my points to pay for new purchases with Amazon, where the value of each point was only 1 cent, I could have redeemed them for travel-related expenses where I would get 1.5 cents for each point.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

  • Rewards

    Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 1.5% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn an extra 1.5% on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) – worth up to $300 cash back. That’s 6.5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 4.5% on dining and drugstores, and 3% on all other purchases.

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

  • Member FDIC. Terms apply.

Start paying off student loans in college

Although I earned grants, scholarships and work-study funds for my undergraduate college program, I still had to take out student loans to pay off the rest of the tuition that we couldn’t afford out-of-pocket. I planned to wait until graduation, land a job and then start paying off my student loans after the six-month grace period expired.  

But I would have been far better off if I hadn’t waited until graduation to start chipping away at those loan payments. This is because once I started paying off my student loans, I realized that I owed about $400 in interest on my unsubsidized loans. I wasn’t aware that unsubsidized loans accrue interest from the moment they’re disbursed. This means that interest accumulates not only while I’m in school but also during certain deferment periods. Having to pay a few hundred dollars in interest didn’t ruin my financial future, but it’s something I would have tried to avoid if I had known better.

Learn more about real-world finances

I used to frequently worry about not having enough money but I didn’t realize it stemmed from my limited knowledge of money management. Managing and understanding money can be tough and the complicated jargon and countless acronyms don’t make it any easier.

Still, I wish I had made a little more effort during college to level up my knowledge of the basics. It would have given me a leg up on building good habits like budgeting and saving and spared me a lot of sleepless nights.

Bottom line

Looking back, I could have saved myself a lot of money and stress if I had taken the time to better understand my personal finances. But I’ve come to realize that the best thing you can do for yourself is to be patient with yourself.

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