Practical money skills and financial tips for college students

Classes may vary from calculus to chemistry, but there’s another lesson worth learning as a student: money management. Here are eight bits of money knowledge worth studying up on.

Tags: Budgeting, Credit score, Goals, Loans
Published: February 17, 2022

Students have a lot on their plate with classes, clubs and homework. As busy as you are, taking just a few minutes to learn about smart money moves and common financial pitfalls will be time well spent. So read on, collegian! This is knowledge you can take to the bank.   


Be the boss of your student loans

If you borrowed money to pay for college, dig into that debt. Keep tabs on the loan balance, make a note of when to pay back the loan and start chipping away at payments as soon as you can. Think of yourself as the boss of your debt – you want to control it, not let it control you.


Keep track of your accounts

“One of the biggest things I’ve noticed with college students and young adults is that they’re not keeping track of their accounts,” says Belinda Hampton, manager at St. Louis University’s U.S. Bank branch. “Smartphones make it easy to view balances quickly, but students really need to dig into that balance and look at transaction histories. They need to see what payments and debits have cleared or not cleared.” When you know the hard facts about your money in real-time, you’re better equipped to make smart choices.


Create a cash flow worksheet

Cash flow worksheets (aka budgets) are beautiful things. They allow you to track when money is coming in and when it’s going out. And if you dream of a senior spring break in Cabo with your buddies, budgets allow you to be disciplined about saving money ahead of time. (Because you are not funding that trip with your credit card, right? Right.) Plus, learning to budget now will make you a true cashflow pro later in life, when your budget will be bigger and more complex. “Your adult self will thank you for building a budgeting habit now,” Hampton says.


Your local bank can give you a quick tutorial on budgeting, or explore budgeting apps on your phone.  


Make the most of your local bank

Establishing a relationship with a bank on or near your campus will have big benefits. “Parents and other financially savvy family members or friends can be good money-management resources, but financial institutions have the advantage of access to timely information and services directed specifically to students and young adults,” explains Amy Staven, manager of the U.S. Bank branch at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.


Open a checking or savings account at your campus-area bank and get to know the banker or manager who will be assisting you throughout your college career. “Students can come in here and ask me any question,” Staven says. “We really want to be a resource for students and help them with their overall financial well-being, not just now but also to set them up for a successful future.”


Watch out for scams

Unfortunately, college students are highly susceptible to fraudulent schemes. Both Staven and Hampton counsel at least two or three students a week who have fallen prey to scam artists. “If a situation seems too good to be true, it probably is,” says Hampton.


What should you do if you’ve been approached with a sketchy opportunity or received a shady email? “Go to your bank right away, show them whatever communication you have received, and be honest about what information you’ve already shared or steps you’ve already taken,” Hampton advises. Your bank will help you navigate what needs to happen next.


Protect your identity

According to Consumer Reports, student loan fraud surged more than 120 percent in 2017 – and that’s just one kind of crime foisted on young adults by identity thieves. Stay alert and on guard. Create complex passwords. Use security features on your smartphone. Don’t carry your Social Security card. Never share personal information just because someone asks for it. These are just a few of the precautions recommended by the U.S. government.


Spend wisely and start saving

Similar to the development of any habit, becoming a smart money manager takes repetition over time. As a college student, you’re in a great position to practice minimizing your expenses. Just one example: Opt for study sessions at the library over meeting at a local pizza place, where you’ll be tempted to spend money on food and drinks. Take the money you would have spent and deposit it in a savings account – or use it to pay off other debt.


Bottom line: Don’t spend money you don’t have. Remember, you’re a college student, and college students are supposed to live lean. Save money now, and you’ll be in a much better financial position later on.


Build your credit score

Your credit score is like a life-long GPA of sorts – it’s the “grade” that lenders use to determine how likely you are to pay off a loan on time. The better your credit score, the more likely your future ability to make big-time purchases, including cars and homes. Future employers might even look at your credit score as part of their hiring decision. Learn the ins and outs of building your credit score here.

Ready to talk to a banker about ways to manage your money? Find a local U.S. Bank near your campus.