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A College Student's Guide to Financial Success

The time has finally come! You have received your high school diploma and are now ready to embark on a new journey towards higher education. As you pack your bags and bid farewell to your loved ones, you may be excited and overwhelmed by what’s to come. College is a time to meet new people, explore interests, and gain a taste of independence. As you navigate adulthood, it’s important to make decisions that set you up for success!  

Preparing for college can be an expensive task from financial aid to shopping for dorm or apartment supplies. Elements is here to assist college students in developing healthy money habits to help them continue learning and succeeding. As you gear up to start your first year of college, consider all the following primary money-related behaviors this summer.  

SPENDING  

Unfortunately, most high schools don’t teach students how to manage finances. That’s why it’s important to think and talk about it and have a plan before you depart:  

  • Have an account in your name. This might include savings and checking accounts, a debit card, and possibly a credit card. Most financial institutions offer joint accounts where the joint account holder can monitor transactional activities. Having a parent or guardian set you up as a primary will help with building credit at an earlier age which can help you get apartments and loans over time.  
  • Determine a weekly or monthly budget that you can spend. Many college students can gain funds from a summer job, local scholarships, and/or graduation gifts from family and friends. It’s important to create a budget that works with your lifestyle. You can visit elements.org/budget to learn how to build your personalized spending plan.   
  • Track your expenses. Like your budget, monitoring your spending is a great way to hold yourself accountable and ensure that you are being financially responsible. As a young adult, you probably never had to manage finances before. It’s completely normal to feel lost or confused with the topic. Remember that you’re never alone and you can always reach out to a parent, guardian, or a trusted financial expert. They can help guide you and answer any questions you have.  

SAVING & INVESTING  

If you and your family saved well for college up to this point, you don’t have to stop. And if you haven’t, it’s not too late to start. A 529 account is typically the savings vehicle used for education.

According to Indiana’s CollegeChoice 529, “the money in your 529 account can be used for any purpose. However, to qualify for federal tax-free withdrawals and avoid penalties, the money must be used for qualified higher education expenses for the beneficiary at an eligible educational institution such as tuition, computers, mandatory fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance; certain room and board costs if the beneficiary is enrolled at least half-time; and certain expenses for a special-needs student.”1

It's also important to become familiar with expenses that do not qualify for fee-free withdrawals. For instance, transportation costs and insurance premiums do not qualify.2

Lastly, about 529s, there is no age limit for an account, so it’s not just for children and any unused funds are typically transferable to other family members. That’s why, as you begin college, you can keep on saving in an existing account or even start an account now.3

EARNING

There are plenty of parents and guardians who contribute to college expenses. Sometimes that parent or guardian can decide that you should contribute partially or fully to teach them responsibility. If this is your case, discussing it with the contributor in depth is important. Figure out ways to earn income whether that be from work-study programs or finding part-time work. You can even get creative and open an Esty shop and sell products online.      

BORROWING

You likely have a solid plan for your upcoming studies this fall. However, if the cost of your education or training exceeds your savings and financial aid package, you may need to look for other sources of private funding. This is where Elements can help you. Our student loan experts are available to assist you this summer.

Contact Elements Financial for support of all your current financial needs — and congratulations on starting a new chapter! This is an exciting time. Embrace it, stay calm, and have fun!

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