Paying for College

I Wish I Knew This When I Was in College!

Tips focus on student loans, budgeting, credit cards, and credit score
Students walking through a college building

At MEFA, we often get questions related to borrowing for college, budgeting, and understanding what happens when a credit card is opened. As a relatively new college graduate (read: in the last decade), I have found myself thinking "I wish I had known about this when I was in college!" Here are some of the common questions we get, and their answers.

What should I have in mind as I consider using student loans to help pay my college costs?

  • Remember, when thinking about college expenses, think about it for all 4 years – and grad school, too, if you're thinking of continuing right after undergrad.
  • Ask yourself the hard question: is this a want or a need? Then decide if it's really worth borrowing to pay for it.

What are some budgeting tips for college life?

  • Work part-time when you can, and save that money as part of your emergency fund during each semester.
  • Take advantage of student discounts and free events on campus.
  • Track your expenses, use your meal plan, and set up a budget and use it.
  • Remember, you don't need to take advantage of all college experiences at once, especially those that have a cost, and spending beyond your means will get you into trouble.

What should you know about using credit cards in college, and what affects your credit score?

  • It's good to have a credit card available for emergencies, but if at all possible, don't use it. It is too easy to spend more than you have.
  • Only spend what you can pay off at the end of each month.
  • Be sure to read the fine print to understand the interest rate that you will be charged if you don't pay your balance all off at once. Credit card interest rates can go as high as 30%!

Finally, the FICO website is a great resource for understanding credit scores and how they are affected by your credit activity. Be sure to pay on time!

This is such great information and so important for students to understand before they start on their college journey. As I said at the beginning, I wish I had known this when I was in college!

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