Off to college: Have you had “the talk”?

Posted by on August 24, 2012 @ 9:00 am in Personal finance

Back-to-school commercials have quickly replaced those featuring summer getaways. For those about to head off to college for the first time, returning to school is taking on an entirely new dimension.

While there’s usually a lot of discussion about what courses to take, where to live, and what the dorm room will look like, too often there isn’t enough time devoted to “the talk.” No, not that talk—I’m talking about how to manage finances in college.

While the student loan issue can often dominate these conversations, it’s just as important to discuss the day-to-day finances of college life. For example, how will your kids handle discretionary spending? I used money I had earned from summer and campus jobs—and when it was gone, it was gone. Some students may use a credit card “for emergencies.” If this is the case, make sure there’s a clear understanding of what constitutes an emergency. A friend of mine got a $5,000 credit card bill one month that included “emergencies” such as shopping trips and buying dinner for friends!

This may also be the first time a bank account is being opened in your teens’ names. Be sure they know how it works, including the debit card. This is especially critical when it comes to understanding the various fees associated with the account. In fact, a number of schools’ student ID cards now serve as debit cards. While this can be a great convenience, there may be fees associated with each transaction. Don’t forget about inactivity and overdraft fees. According to a 2011 Bankrate.com survey*, the average fee banks charged their non-customers to use their ATMs was $2.40. If they used an ATM that wasn’t in their bank’s network, the average was $3.81; overdraft charges $30.83. Better to have your son or daughter ask ahead of time than to find balances eaten up by fees.

The reality is that many students are already well acquainted with personal finance, having worked prior to going away to college and possibly having had a joint bank account with a parent. Much as the newfound freedom that comes with college can influence your kids’ personal decisions, it can also impact their financial lives. Just make sure they’ve given as much thought to the latter as they have to what they’ll hang on the walls of their room!

* Consumer Reports, February 2012

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