College is supposed to be a breeze. It's a giant cage where you grow up, make friends for life, recover from your mistakes, and create your own identity. But there are some logistics that you must get out of the way before embarking on your journey. After you've settled the microwave/TV/couch debacle with your roommates, it's time to break down your finances so you're set for the rest of the year. There's nothing worse than going into that Bursars office -- believe me, they don't want to see you either -- and bargain with them to get your meal plan and laundry back for a couple of weeks before you finish up your loan payments. Nikki Lavoie from Sallie Mae Communications shared some helpful tips with me for incoming students.
1. Have a plan for all. FOUR. YEARS. Too many families -- that's right, your whole family is involved in this process, not just you -- go through the process of paying for college year by year. If you have a plan for all four years, it takes a huge burden off of everyone you have to work with in order to pay for school: your family, the loan provider, and the financial aid office at your school. Stop asking how to pay for your first year, and be realistic about your income in the present, not the future in order to pay for college efficiently.
2. Look at your loan provider for hidden scholarships. There are millions of dollars worth of scholarships out there for students. One of the places people never think to look is their loan provider. www.collegeanswer.com has billions -- yeah, with a b -- of scholarships for students all across the country. If you think there's not enough money out there, or that financial aid is your only option, think again.
3. Speak the language. Financial literacy is tough to learn, especially right before the most fun time of your life, but you have to at least learn the basics. Know the limits of your work study job, have a basic tuition payment plan, and inquire about your interest rates early on. You can make small payments toward your loans while you're in school as well; $25 a month all four years will go a long way toward deducting your interest rates when you get out of school. Proactively participating in the financial conversation early, along with whoever else may be paying your bills, will help you immensely in the long run.
4. Know how to ask for help, If you need help, ask. But don't go to your economics teacher (unless you know they were a former student loan customer service rep). Get help from someone who will be patient with you, talk to you and your family about your options, and will break down your payments for you. Anyone in the financial aid office at your school, and the customer service representatives from any loan company can assist you with any issues that come up.
5. Never, EVER take out more than you need. If you think your loans can pay for your groceries, rent, and club entrance fee, you are sadly mistaken. You'll be paying that plus interest after you graduate, so focus on getting a part time job while in college (there are usually tons of great jobs on campus, and some are even tax-free) and pave your way with your own money.