7 Common Financial Problems for College Students & How to Avoid ThemSeptember 7, 2022
As a college student, you may think that covering tuition is the only financial hurdle you’ll encounter. However, several other money-related problems can pop up and derail your plans. A recent study found that 51% of college students who dropped out of school pointed to lack of money as the root cause.
You can avoid the most common financial issues for college students by learning about them and preparing ahead of time.
7 Prevalent Financial Issues for College Students (And Their Solutions)
Financial issues for college students can range from being unprepared for emergency expenses to money management challenges. Below are some of the most common finance problems (and solutions):
1. College Students May Not Consider All Education-Related Expenses
When planning for college, many students focus on the major expenses: tuition and room and board. However, other education-related expenses can add up. If you’re not prepared, you could end up struggling financially and have difficulty making ends meet.
What to Do:
Make sure you have a plan that accounts for all of your expenses, including textbooks, classroom supplies, class fees, transportation, car insurance, and healthcare.
If you aren’t sure where to start, talk to your school’s financial aid office to find out what the typical student budget is; a financial aid representative should be able to tell you the cost of attendance for your program, which you can use as a starting point. Be sure to account for other necessary expenses that may not be included in the cost of attendance.
2. Students May Not Know How to Use Credit Cards Wisely
For some college students, leaning too heavily on credit cards can become a major problem. According to a 2022 College Pulse and Inside Higher Ed study, 23% of college students had credit card debt.
Why is credit card debt so prevalent? As a college student, you may have access to a credit card for the first time in your life. And if you don’t know how credit cards work, you can quickly rack up debt, and your balance can grow due to high interest rates.
What to Do:
To avoid costly interest charges, try to pay your statement balance in full every month — not just the required minimum payment.
Only use your credit card for essential purchases to ensure the payment is manageable. For example, you can use your card to pay for gas for your car so you can get to class or buy groceries for the week, but don’t use your card to pay for dinners out with friends or for spring break trips.
3. They May Not Have a Source of Income
When you’re in school, you may be overwhelmed by coursework, and the idea of working may seem impossible. But not having a source of income beyond your financial aid package can make it challenging to cover your expenses, and you won’t have any extra cash. Without an income stream, an emergency expense could leave you scrambling to cover the bill, and you could turn to expensive debt like credit cards or auto title loans.
What to Do:
Consider picking up a part-time job — even working just one evening a week — or taking on a side gig where you babysit, walk dogs, deliver groceries or drive for a rideshare service. You can save your earnings for emergencies, and your income can give you more money for discretionary purchases — like your spring break plans.
As a bonus, working in school gives you something to put on your resume, making it easy to secure an internship or a job after graduation. Many colleges even offer work-study programs, which generally have flexible schedules, to help cover tuition costs.
4. College Students May Not Utilize All Financial Aid Resources
In a study, 30% of college students said they had never contacted the financial aid office. Not taking advantage of financial aid could mean leaving money on the table as a college student.
The financial aid department can be invaluable and connect you to institutional aid, private student loans, and even emergency grants or loans provided through the school.
What to Do:
Reach out to your financial aid office as soon as you realize money is tight. You may be eligible for additional aid. And at some schools, you may qualify for an emergency loan or grant if you have an unexpected expense — such as a medical bill or car repair — threatening your education.
5. They May Not Know How to Create a Budget
College may be the first time you’re responsible for managing your money. If you don’t know how to create a budget or track your spending, it can be easy to overspend and end up in debt.
What to Do:
Creating a budget doesn’t have to be complicated. Start tracking your regular income if you have a part-time job. Then list your expenses, such as rent or cell phone bills. Once you have a handle on your spending and earning, you can develop a budget that works for you.
Many helpful budgeting tools and apps are available to make the process easier, such as Mint or You Need a Budget.
6. Students Often Miss Out on Gift Aid
Many students miss out on valuable financial aid through grants and scholarships. For example, the National College Attainment Network reported that $3.75 billion in Pell Grants went unclaimed in 2021.
What to Do:
For a student struggling with money, gift aid can be a lifesaver. To ensure you don’t miss out, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can also contact your financial aid office to see what institutional grants or scholarships are available.
You should also research financial aid opportunities offered by non-profit organizations or companies. You can find available grants and scholarships using The College Board’s scholarship tool.
7. They May Not Have Basic Financial Literacy Skills
Financial literacy isn’t always taught in high school, so many college students enter school without a good understanding of personal finance. This can lead to problems like not knowing how to create a budget and not understanding how interest rates affect your student loan repayment.
What to Do:
Spend some time on your own learning the fundamentals of personal finance. Your college’s office for student services may have some resources for you. Still, you can also find free courses from 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, a program offered by the American Institute of CPAs.
Preparing for College
Students often have difficulties adjusting to college life and managing money independently. The seven problems listed are some of the most common financial issues for college students, but there are ways to overcome these challenges. By utilizing financial aid resources, creating a budget, and learning the fundamentals of personal finance, students can make smart money decisions that will help them throughout their education and beyond.
Check out the ELFI blog for more information about common personal finance issues and tips on managing your money.