Forget the "freshman 15," the dreaded additional pounds freshmen frequently pack on when they settle into life on their own. More important are the 15 smart financial moves you need to know to get through freshman year and beyond without racking up unnecessary debt.
"Waiting until after college to take control of your finances could cost you," says Nick Certo, senior vice president in University Banking at PNC Bank. "And like any good fitness regimen, getting started is half the battle."
Here's how to pass finance 101.
1. Be careful with credit
Free T-shirts are the late-night burritos of finances, Certo says. "They look good now, but you'll pay later. Think twice before signing up just to score some cool swag," he says.
It's not worth it to saddle yourself with a high-interest, annual-fee credit card that you don't need. Buy a T-shirt instead, and your bank account will thank you later, says Jackie Warrick, the chief savings officer at CouponCabin.com.
Remember that a credit card doesn't equal free money. If you can handle a credit card, start with a $1,000-limit card that offers points or other rewards and pay your balance monthly. "Don't look at your credit limit as a goal for spending," says Steve Weisman, a senior lecturer at Bentley University. "Carrying too high a balance on your card can hurt your credit and cost you more." Late fees can add up quickly.
Research which card makes the most sense given your spending habits and paying ability. Look at the annual percentage rate, annual fee, grace period and penalty fees, says Todd Mark, vice president of education for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas.
Also, keep track of your credit score and your credit report.