Debt management tips

Whether just starting college, continuing your education in graduate school, or leaving school to enter into a new career, new financial challenges will come your way. If borrowing is part of your financial history, you will want to educate yourself about the consequences of excessive debt, the rights and responsibilities of a borrower, and managing finances while in school and after graduation.

The following tips can help you avoid common financial pitfalls:

Use VCU's free financial literacy resources.
VCU offers a number of financial literacy resources to students that can help you create a budget and spending plan. Short video clips on VCU's Financial Aid TV provide general information to help you navigate the financial aid process  Another financial literacy resource available to VCU students is SALT®, a free resource that can help you to take control of your finances and student loans. SALT® offers financial literacy guidance and tools to college students and alumni, so you can use this tool throughout your college career and beyond. You can sign up for free at https://www.saltmoney.org/register.

Live within your means.
Budget your expenses. Live like a poor college student now so you won’t have to live like one once you are out of school.

Watch your “extra” expenses.
Keep your phone bill down by using email, go to matinees instead of evening shows, and try not to eat out too often. Little savings like these can add up.

Buy used books.
Save money by buying used books at the bookstore or from other students. When you are finished with your books, you may be able to sell them back to the bookstore as well.

Consider sharing expenses with a roommate(s).
If you are living off campus, a roommate can reduce your monthly living expenses.

Work while you are in school.
Studies indicate that college students who work less than 20 hours per week actually get better grades than students who do not work. Evidence suggests this is because working students are better at managing their time and have an appreciation of the cost of their education. Visit the University Career Center’s Web site or look in the local newspaper.

Do the math. Graduate on time.
Students who are newly admitted to an undergraduate degree or certificate program beginning in or after the fall 2013 semester are classified as non-block for tuition assessment purposes. Non-block undergraduate students registered in less than 15 credit hours are charged a per-credit-hour tuition rate. If registered in 15 or more credit hours, tuition for the additional credits (15 or more) will be assessed at a reduced per-credit-hour-rate. This means that taking a minimum of 15 credits each semester is actually cost-effective. By taking 15 hours a semester rather than 12, you can graduate in four years, rather than five or six and you can reduce the amount of student-loan debt you’ll have down the road. Do the math: Graduating on time means you can start your future sooner — either by beginning a career or entering graduate school.

Try to “pass out” of courses in advance.
If you are taking college level courses in high school, your may get credit for these courses. An alternate way to obtain credit is to take the CLEP tests.

Limit credit card debt.
Limit the number of cards you carry and your total available credit. Pay the balance each month to avoid finance charges.

Pay the interest on unsubsidized federal and private loans, if possible.
Paying interest as it accrues while you are in school can greatly reduce your debt upon repayment.

Keep accurate financial records.
Be sure to track your monthly finances and keep copies of financial aid correspondence, loan documents and tax returns. Keep a log of calls you make to the Office of Financial Aid and lender of your student loans. Include the date, with whom you spoke and what the conversation was regarding.

Don’t overestimate your earning potential.
Keep debt manageable based on your career choice and the average salary earned in that area. Estimate your budget for when you are out of school before you borrow student loans or accumulate credit card debt.