collage of money, charts, student working and graduating

Financial Tips for College Students

by Ryan H. Law

Around the country college students are beginning a new school year in the midst of rising tuition and living expenses. Many college students are on their own for the first time and, for many of them, that includes being on their own financially. They are expected to earn money and manage their own finances along with their busy college schedules and social lives. Taking a few simple steps now to plan and properly manage your personal finances will lead to much more positive outcomes down the road.

Here are some financial tips for college students beginning the new school year:

  • Buy used textbooks or e-books when possible and compare textbook prices online
  • Don’t be tricked by credit card offers that come with a bag of candy, free shirt or free pizza
  • Before signing a lease, be sure you understand the entire contract
  • Educate yourself about student loans – know what types of loans you have, how much you owe, your interest rate, and what your monthly payment will be. For information on your federal loans, visit:
  • Before turning to private loans to help pay for your education, visit your financial aid adviser to be sure you have exhausted all federal loan opportunities.
  • Stay away from payday loans – they carry very high interest rates and can trap you in debt for years
  • Shop around for a bank account.  Different banks and credit unions offer a wide variety of products – from free checking to low rates on loans. You also want to consider convenience – it is helpful if there is an ATM or branch on campus or close to where you live.
  • Learn how to budget your money, including any refund checks you get from financial aid
  • Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet, and don’t give your Social Security number to people that don’t need it. The only thing thieves need to steal your identity is your Social Security number.
  • Watch your eating out, entertainment and clothes spending carefully.
  • Track spending to help avoid buying more than you can afford.
  • Time is your best friend when it comes to saving for retirement – start saving now if you have a job and can invest a little for retirement.
  • Become financially literate – if possible take a class in personal finance and learn how to manage your money. For students at the University of Missouri the Personal Financial Planning department ( has classes that will help you learn how to budget, manage your credit and debt, invest, manage risk and much more. It’s a great complement to any major as you will use the knowledge gained throughout your life.

Ryan H. Law, M.S., CFP®, AFC®

Personal Financial Planning Department
Office for Financial Success Director
University of Missouri Center on Economic Education Director