When we think about sending children off to college, the first thing that comes to mind is “how much will it cost.” Unfortunately, the kids are thinking about roommates, friends, and parties!
There are some key considerations it is important not to overlook during the first few weeks of college:
Help your child start off on the right financial track
- Shop for a bank or credit union as carefully as you shopped for their school.
- Compare fees! – there can be a large variance, and they can add up over time.
- Some banks offer special accounts to students in their area.
- Make sure they sign up for online banking – so they can keep up to date with their balances and avoid overdraft fees.
- This is a good time to help your child learn to use a credit card responsibly. They should be used for emergencies and expenses – but must be paid in full each month.
- One of the best ideas is to get them a credit card with a low limit of say $500, on which you are a co-signer.
- They can also have a secured card backed by a savings account.
- Transactions should be checked online frequently to avoid fraud or bank errors.
- It is important that your child understands the importance of building a strong credit rating when they are in college.
- Help your student understand the impact that bad financial decisions during college years can have on their future.
- Once they graduate and are independent with a good credit rating you will not have to co-sign on leases and loans.
- Responsible use of bank accounts and credit cards can help build this credit.
Students over 18 are adults
You will not be able to get information about your children’s academic work, health situations, or finances even if you are paying the bills. We suggest you do the following before they start college:
For access to academic records:
Get your student’s login information if you want access to grades. There are no “report cards”.
Healthcare and legal issues:
In case of an emergency, you will need to be named as agent on the following documents to access your child’s information:
- Durable Power of Attorney: This will allow you to intervene legally on your child’s behalf if they are in an accident or out of the country.
- Health Care Proxy/Advance Medical Directive: This gives you access to medical information and allows you to make medical decisions if your child is in an accident or severely ill.
The person who is the agent on these documents should have access to them and keep them in a safe place.
Don’t forget about insurance for your child at college. Better to be safe than sorry
- Check your homeowner’s insurance to see what is covered in a dorm room. For items like musical instruments, computers, jewelry, or sports equipment you may need a rider on your policy to be covered.
- If they are living in an off-campus apartment you may need renters insurance for their belongings.
- Check with your carrier about policies on change of location of your cars. You may have to change the garage location on your policy. Also, check state regulations for coverage if your student is studying in another state.
- Speak to them about what to do should an accident occur: What information they need to collect and about getting pictures of damages. It may be best to have a law enforcement person document the accident.
- Review your policy to understand coverage. Many only cover emergencies close to school, but the student may have to return home for other care within the network of the plan.
- Make sure the student has a medical ID card and understands when referrals are necessary
- Student health plans offered through the school may have limited benefits and more exclusions. They may also have limited catastrophic coverage.
- Understand the meal plans and use one that works for you.
- Avoid vending machines and convenience stores.
- Buy snacks in bulk to alleviate that late-night hunger when the dining hall is closed.
Skin in the game
Make your student responsible for some expenses and hold them to it. It helps prepare them for the “real world”.
Help them budget so that their savings will last the semester.
Suggest they give themselves an allowance for discretionary expenses.
Some examples of things they could be responsible for are:
- Books – Look for deals online, used, or rented books
- Car expenses if they bring a car to school
- Food outside of the meal plan
- Spring Break trips
We hope that this article is helpful in managing the transition of any children in your family to college. Proper planning prevents future problems and allows students to focus on academics, making friends, and exploring all their college has to offer!
As a bonus, download our free guide “Is the Distribution from my 529 Plan Subject to Federal Income Tax?“