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  • Writer's pictureJill Schlesinger, CFP

Jill on Money

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College bound financial advice

Millions of families are packing up to send their kids to college. Before starting the journey, hopefully they are spending as much time on course selection as on preparing students financially for the transition.

To help, here are some broad categories to cover:

Track money—If money habits are formed early, then this is the foundation from which every other habit derives. Start with inflows (money from work-study, a part-time or summer job, or from the family) and then address the dreaded expense side of the equation.

Apps abound, but a simple spreadsheet can also do the job. If parents are helping with college costs, there needs to be a serious discussion about what is (books, food) and is not included (beer, concerts) as a family-covered expense.

Choose a bank—Peer-to-peer money transfers are convenient, but college students also need to establish a banking relationship with a bank, a credit union or an online institution.

Many parents prefer that college kids remain at their own bank and link accounts, in order to keep an eye on what’s going on and to transfer money to the account seamlessly. As the process unfolds, don’t forget to provide graduates with a lesson in compound interest; insidious fees, like minimum balance and overdraft protection; and electronic bill paying.

Have the (credit card) talk—Way back when, before the 2008-2009 Great Financial Crisis and Great Recession, college students were bombarded with credit card offers. The companies would set up shop on campus, give away shirts, frisbees and lure blithely unaware students into signing up for a credit card, which sometimes wreaked havoc early on in the student’s financial life.

Thankfully, those days are over. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (“CARD Act”) established stricter rules surrounding the issuance of credit cards to minors and students by limiting marketing activities and raising the age bar for credit.

While anyone can apply for a credit card as early as age 18, they must have independent income to do so. Without that independent income, those under age 21 must have a co-signer on the account.

You might think the easiest way to avoid credit card problems is to use debit cards, but they do not help establish that all-important credit history, which will become the backbone of your child’s future ability to borrow money at preferred rates.

Explain repayment and credit scores—It’s hard for anyone to take in the magnitude of a big number like $1 trillion of outstanding credit card debt. But one way to make the point about how important it is to pay down debt is to connect the idea to something that will impact your student’s life.

“When you don’t repay debt in a timely fashion, not only do you have to pay more in interest, but you may also make it harder on yourself to rent an apartment, buy a car and eventually purchase your first home.”

You should also have students review their free credit report at

Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, she welcomes comments and questions at Check her website at ©2023 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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