Financial Downfalls of a College Student

Every college freshman is confronted with new finance problems and issues. Out of their parent’s house, not having to report where they are going or explain what they are doing all the time. It is like finally understanding what freedom is supposed to feel like. Cloud nine feels pretty good for a while. You are floating along, going to parties, going out to eat, spending all the money you saved from the summer before or all the money Mom and Dad sent you off with when suddenly, the money and the cloud are gone and you are left sinking into a major money problem, with a bank account sinking as well.
Financial Downfalls of the College Student

Don’t be ashamed. It happens to almost all of us incoming college students. Here are a few helpful tips to keep you in line during your first year and keep you on that cloud and out of debt.

1. Find a job.

This may seem obvious to those who worked during high school, but for those who did not need to, this may seem like a last resort. You may begin looking at all the negatives of what getting a job can mean; less study time, less social time, and more responsibility on top of your school work. Now, push those thoughts out of your mind and look through the positive ones. You will make money and new friends with your co-workers, gain good real world experience, and create new opportunities for yourself. Look for places where you have the possibility to move up, or that have benefits for college students. I currently work for a grocery chain in the Midwest, Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee offers a 401 K plan for everyone ages 19 and over. This is the kind of benefit I am talking about.

2. Find the right bank.

Look at the banking options you have around you. Check out the savings account and checking account options. Which one has the highest interest rate? Do any of them offer start up or joining benefits? Pick the one that seems like the best fit for you and go start a bank account! I highly recommend starting out with a checking account. Once you’ve accumulated around $500, start a savings account. Usually savings accounts have to be started with a $100 deposit. Once you do this, start a monthly automatic transfer of a small sum from your checking into your savings. This way, you will be automatically saving money and not even needing to think about it. A small amount, such as $10, $15, or $20 will not be missed during the month.

3. Create a budget.

This may seem like the solution to all your problems. “Oh I’ll just start a budget and stick with it. No problem.” Well, it is actually a lot harder than it seems. First, take a look at the things in your life that are costing you money, like driving, eating out, groceries, going out with friends, other car expenses, rent, utilities, etc. Then take a look at how many hours you work during a week. This may seem overwhelming, but once you know where all your money is going, where you can cut back, and where you can afford to give more, you will feel much more confident in your financial situation. Make a list of all things you cannot live without, like driving, groceries, rent, utilities, etc. Now, plan out how much you can put towards these items each week. Remember; do not plan out on spending all your paycheck on these things every week. You will want to have a little “random” fund set aside in case of emergencies or something comes up that you had not thought about. If you are planning on creating the savings account with the automatic transfer of money, do not forget to budget that in either.

Once you figure out where all your money will be going, you will feel so much more secure in your financial situation.

4. Take advantage of your options.

If you are attending school in a big town, like I am in Iowa City, take advantage of the buses. Many times the “Cambus,” or the university’s bus system will be free. If you can use their buses, you will save your gas money for the week.

Look for coupons online and at the grocery store you use. I am not recommending that you become an extreme couponer or anything. Just think about what you are buying and where you can afford to save money.

Find the free shows downtown or go to the park and play Frisbee golf with friends! Activities that are free usually tend to be a lot more fun for you and your pocketbook. Jump into your new financial situation with confidence and knowledge, and have a great time doing it! Check back often for more great easy to understand financial advice, that every college student is going to want to know about.

Where to Live at College?

One of the first things students think about when college comes around is, “where am I going to live?!” For some students, living on campus in the dorms is where they belong. The dorms are close to class and student activities, and cluttered with other students just begging for a study buddy or a friend. For others, off campus living holds many benefits. Conversely, living off campus can be a make or break move financially for any young and eager student. There are generally two options a student has when it comes to off campus living; rent an apartment or live at home.
Renting an apartment can be a large commitment for a new student with a full class load. Rent can range anywhere from $500-$1000. However, there are also things like internet and electricity bills, not to mention things like cleaning, which can really take a toll on your checking account and free time. Students who make the decision to rent an apartment usually find themselves working at least a few nights a week, taking up valuable study time.

I, like many other students, have taken option number two; living at home. After moving to Iowa City from a little town in Illinois to attend college, my grandparents graciously offered my twin sister and I one of the apartments they rent out or a room in their basement. I was prepared to jump into apartment living. The excitement of living on my own was almost more than I could handle. I was ready to sign the lease when my sister stopped me and said we should consider living with our grandparents. Forgive me if I didn’t find as much excitement in living with my grandparents as I did with living on my own. Thoughts of curfews and homework checks clouded my mind. But, then I sat down and figured out how much money I would be spending renting an apartment. With a $500 rent, at least $100 in groceries every two weeks, and a little extra gas money driving the extra distance to class, living in the apartment began to lose a lot of its appeal.

My second semester of college and of living with my grandparents is rapidly coming to an end and I could not be happier with the decision I made to live with my grandparents. The money that I saved not renting an apartment now populates the empty space that I once called my savings account. The education I am receiving at college is paid for and I am able to afford filling up my gas tank to visit home every now and then. The choice I made to live with family instead of renting an apartment on my own was one of the best decisions I could have.

Four Great Graduation Gifts

Graduation is right around the corner and that means the parade of graduation parties have only just begun. For many of you, this also means time to begin picking out graduation presents. Here are a few no fail gift ideas that are sure to help make your graduates first year of college a little easier.

Graduation Gifts

1) Gift Cards

Though this may not seem like an exciting gift, gift cards actually can be one of the best gifts for a busy college student. Going off to college opens up a new world of expenses for the student. Anything from rent to gas money can take a huge chunk out of anyone’s income, let alone a student. Grocery store gift cards, gas gift cards, restraunt gift cards, target gift cards, and more allow students to get what they need, when they need it, and not having to worry about the whether they will have enough money for rent at the end of the month.

2) Dorm Room Accessories

Dorm life can be one of the hardest things to get used to in the transition from high school to college. A good gift idea for a graduate is anything that can make life a little easier, such as accessories for their dorm room. Printers, mini fridges, microwaves, towels, toiletries, lamps, even stock piling the student with granola bars, water bottles, chips, soup, and ramen noodles will always be much appreciated and very important.

3) How To Books

This may seem like a boring gift that will get you a fake smile and forced thank you, and at the time, this may be true. But a how to book on resume writing, essay writing, or scholarships could become invaluable to a college student. Many students will begin applying for jobs, internships, and scholarships all that will require resumes, essays, or both. All the help available on topics such as these comes in handy.

4) Alarm Clock/Watch

When Mom is not in your dorm room waking you up every day, an alarm clock can be the difference between making it to class or failing. Get an alarm clock with the biggest and brightest digital screen possible and tell the graduate to plug it in across the room from their bed. They’ll have to get up and get in and, in the process, wake up! Watches can be a great gift as well. Nowadays, students check the time on their cell phones. College professors, however, do not allow cell phones in their classes and will often times ask a student to excuse themselves when they see them paying more attention to their cell phones and not the class. Watches are a much easier and college approved way to go.

Take some time to look into these gifts before you begin hiking through the mountain like pile of graduation parties that are sure to be heading your way. These gifts are guaranteed to help make the first year of college life successful. Your graduate will thank you!

An Introduction to Online Banking

Online banking has many online benefits and may be one of the best financial moves a student can make. John Schickedanz, a personal banker and consumer lender for MidWestOne Bank in Iowa City, has given his insight and advice when it comes to this new mode of banking. Online banking establishes many benefits. “After you establish your online banking account,” Schickedanz explains, “you can transfer funds between accounts, set up automatic payments and transfers, access Bill Pay, view all statements within the last 18 months, view images of the checks you’ve written, and place a hold on a check you’ve written.” The account holder is able to check their account 24 hours a day. This allows you to better protect yourself against fraud. In his professional opinion, Schickedanz believes this to be one of the best features of online banking.

One common misconception of online banking is that it will be difficult to maneuver. College students, however, tend to find the process extremely easy and usable due to their advanced knowledge of new and different forms of technology. Schickedanz highly recommends online banking to all college students. College students are busy; there is no denying that. Between work, classes, exams, social lives, we can hardly find time to breathe, let alone make it to the bank. “Online banking gives them a resource to review their banking history from the convenience of their own homes,” Schickedanz says. MidWest One bank also offers Mobile Banking Services. Through this program you can view your account through a smart phone as text message, downloadable application, or mobile webpage. This service even has a built in protection plan, allowing you to access your account safely while on the go.

As an avid user of online banking, I discovered just how much I need my online account when my debit card was stolen out of my car three years ago. By checking my online account, I was able to see where my card had been used and how much was spent. After cancelling the card over the phone, the thief was no longer able to use the card and the rest of my money was safe. If I had not had my online banking account, I would not have realized my card had been stolen as soon as I had and would not have been able to take the steps that I did to protect myself.

Through my online account, I take advantage of the automatic withdraw that comes along with online banking. After transferring a specific sum into a new savings account, I set up a monthly $25 withdraw from my checking account into my savings account. I can view the growth of both accounts through my online banking account. This route of savings also comes highly recommended by Schickedanz.

“We have become a society that finds it very difficult to save money. Let’s be honest, we all enjoy going on shopping sprees and don’t have time to come in to the bank to set aside money. By establishing a free, recurring, automatic transfer, you can ensure that money is automatically put aside for a rainy day. In addition, if you establish Bank Your Change at MidWestOne, each transaction made using your debit card is rounded up to the next whole dollar. Then the rounded amount is transferred to your savings free of charge. By creating this type of transfer, you save money without even thinking about it.”

As a college student, my online banking account has not only saved me time, it has also saved me money. It is a feature that all students should look for when choosing and opening a bank account.

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Before starting a savings account, making investments, and making your own financial plan, you have one choice to make. Should you put your trust in a bank or a credit union? From the outside, the two financial institutions appear the same. What you do not know, however, could be the difference between becoming a member of a local bank or the local credit union.

Charles Funk, president and chief executive officer of MidWestOne Bank in Iowa City, Iowa delves into the subject.

“From the outside, banks and credit unions look basically the same,” Funk says of the two financial institutions. However, there is one distinct difference. Credit unions were created with the goal and mission to serve the under served. Taking a quick look at how credit unions have grown into a large brand shows how the original goal has been strayed from.

Banks have common stock and shareholders, whereas credit unions have members instead of shareholders. This also means that, unlike banks, credit unions do not pay income taxes. This allows them to use more of the money the collect for profit.

Banks and credit unions both offer similar services, from checking to savings accounts but how they operate on the inside is not as similar as the outside appears.

When it comes down to it, the choice between using a bank or credit union is up to the student. The thing to remember is to check all available options and find the one that works best for you.