Its Not Too Early for College Freshmen to Get Serious About Personal Finance
Yesterday Huff Post College ran an article, Top 5 Tips for College Success and Beyond, co-authored by Lisa Kaess, founder and producer of Feminomics.com and myself. This is the first of two articles where Lisa and I will provide personal finance tips for incoming college freshmen. This first article covers “macro” tips on credit, banking, saving and more. Our second will be “micro,” discussing college costs.
In working on these articles with Lisa, an economist and expert on many business topics, we hope to help college freshmen make better-informed personal finance decisions. Given that college students need more “stuff” than the college students of four decades ago, and they have more access to credit than the college students of four decades ago, our articles could not be more timely.
In 1978, when I was among college freshmen, I did not have a credit card. I could not get one on my own. Nor could my father get a low-balance card for me in case of emergencies. I typed papers on the electric typewriter that my uncle had given me for my Bar Mitzvah five years before. I watched baseball and football games as well as M*A*S*H episodes on a 12-inch black and while TV with “rabbit ears.” On the flip side I drove gas-guzzling American cars with V-8 engines that I could not afford to fuel today.
The car was my largest expense outside of tuition and fees, room and board. That’s one of the few things that has not changed for the college students of today who also have cars, though the cars are much better on gas. Other things that have not changed: the need for extra-long sheets for the twin bed in the dorm room and the forced rip-off prices to rent an “approved” refrigerator.
Today college freshmen can obtain credit on their own. They need access to computers. Most are likely to have a laptop or tablet that they or their parents bought for them in high school. When they arrive at college it is quite likely that they will be “encouraged” to upgrade from the decal-laden machine with the software that spell-checked and grammar-checked their high school papers. They can watch TV and play music on their computers, use them to keep up with their friends–and also use them to spend money on their new credit cards.
Today’s college freshmen are burdened with student loans, far more so than college freshmen in my day. In the late 1970’s a college student could probably earn enough by working 10 to 15 hours a well, full-time during the summer to cover room and board for the school year. The job and the student loan could cover the full direct costs—tuition and fees, room and board–to attend most state universities in state. It was not uncommon for students to take the student loan check and put it into a money market account.
Today, college freshmen have loans on top of the Federal loans when there is a gap between the aid awarded–loans count as aid today though they did not 40 years ago–and the total cost of attendance. They can be in a larger credit hole after freshman year than most graduates ever were–after they had earned their undergraduate and post-college degrees!
Then there are the college freshman who qualify for more generous rides, or have the resources within their families to pay for college. They borrow, like the college freshmen of the past, even if they don’t need to take out student loans. But a loan is not “free money.” It’s a loan, with interest, that must be repaid. Not to mention that the lender, the college, takes an “origination fee” off the top. Why subsidize banks? Paying the origination fee is like paying for air. A nice check out the door for essentially nothing.
College freshmen of today go out and have fun like the college freshmen of days past. But they have more opportunities to spend money without leaving their room. They must learn personal finance earlier in their lives. In my home state of New Jersey, it’s a mandatory course. But given the credit problems discussed in the media who cover Millennials at work and school, I do not believe that the education is enough.