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"Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on the 'gotta have it' scale."   -Zig Ziglar

Money Management for College Students

Each student enters college with their own unique living arrangements, cost of tuition and other additional expenses. Your personal finances may range anywhere from loose change to thousands of dollars. No matter what number you’re working with, learning how to manage your finances now is a valuable tool for staying stress-free in the future. Visit  Oakland University Financial Services at 120 North Foundation Hall for tuition-related assistance.  

Understand your banking, financial aid, and credit options. The National Endowment for Financial Education has created a comprehensive guide for this purpose. Download or print the PDF. You will find detailed information on
  • Checking and savings
  • Financial Aid
  • Working
  • Living on or off campus
  • Cutting expenses
  • Managing credit and debt

Opening a checking or savings account can provide you with a variety of benefits. Checking accounts function like a wallet, while Savings accounts serve as an indestructible safe. Many banks offer joint checking and savings accounts with no monthly fee for enrolled students. They may also offer online account management through their website or mobile applications. Consider these factors when choosing where to open your account(s). Explore the general advantages of each account type below.

Checking Accounts
  • Spend and receive money without carrying cash
  • Use a debit card to make purchases or withdraw cash at an ATM
  • Set up direct deposit for your paychecks 
  • Track your finances through online or paper statements 
  • Automatically pay bills 

  • Safer to carry a debit card over cash 
  • Funds in your checking account are insured by the FDIC
  • Online records or a canceled check are proof you paid a bill
Savings Accounts
  • Money is set aside but available when needed 
  • Interest may accrue over time
  • Fees are minimal or nonexistent 
  • Set up automatic deductions from Checking to Savings 
  • Monthly withdrawals are limited to ensure you ARE saving
  • Deposits to your savings account are insured by the FDIC
  • Cash can be lost, stolen or destroyed (ie. Fire)
Using Credit Cards

Establishing good credit as a student can help you down the road, and is oftentimes necessary for financing a car or a first place. While credit is easy to build, bad credit is nearly impossible to erase. It can turn loan applications, mortgages and even cell phone contracts into nightmarish tasks. Higher insurance premiums and interest rates are also a side effect of bad credit. Ideally, you should have your balance paid off every month, rather than let interest compile. Building positive credit history now will make your transition into adulthood, as well as your future finances, that much easier. If you decide to open a credit card, consider the following: 

  • Purchase Power - Credit cards make it easier to buy things. You won’t need to keep cash on you or be looking for an ATM. Credit cards are oftentimes necessary for travel-related expenses, such as airline tickets or hotel reservations. A credit card also enables you to make fast, convenient online purchases.  
  • Protection of Purchases - Credit cards can offer you protection if something you have bought is lost, damaged, or stolen. Your credit card statement can serve as a receipt of the purchase. Some credit card companies offer insurance on large purchases.
  • Building a Credit Line – Your credit history will impact whether or not you can open a credit card. Having good credit history is also important when applying for loans, rental applications, or even certain jobs. Paying off your balance each month will help you build good credit history.
  • Emergencies - Credit cards can be useful in the event of an emergency. Emergencies often lead to larger purchases (ie. Car repair). A fashion crisis or Game Stop withdrawal are not really emergencies. 
  • Record Keeping- Credit card statements can be used to track your expenses. Look over these statements carefully- if there is any uncertainty over a charge, follow up with your credit card company.  
  • Free Perks – Many credit cards offer incentive programs for certain types of purchases, rewarding you with discounts from particular companies or bonuses such as free airline miles. 

  • Blowing Your Budget – Credit cards encourage people to spend money that they don't have. Most credit cards do not require you to pay off your balance each month, which makes it easier to overspend. The longer you wait to make the payment, however, the more money you will owe due to interest. 
  • High Interest Rates- Credit card companies will charge you massive interest on your balance if it is not paid off each month. It’s how they make their money- and how people wind up in debt. 
  • Credit Card Fraud – Credit cards may be physically stolen or charged by obtaining your credit card number. If you lose your credit card or believe you are a victim of credit card fraud, contact your credit card company immediately. While they may charge a small fee, you are not responsible for purchases associated with the theft. 

Prevent credit card fraud:
  • Shred documents containing any financial information
  • Look over monthly statements closely and match up receipts 
  • Only give credit card information to secure, trusted websites (Look for “https”)
  • Avoid using your credit card over the phone 

For information on opening a student credit card, visit the Oakland University Credit Union.
The Takeaway

Checking and savings accounts can both help you get a grip on your finances. Credit cards, when used correctly, are a great tool for establishing good credit. The Money Management for College Students guide provides further explanation on these resources and many others. You can also visit Oakland University’s Student Financial Services for tuition-related assistance. Follow the “golden rules” of money management: 

  • Track your purchases 
  • Implement a budget plan
  • Pay off your balance at the end of each month
  • Be cautious with your credit card information
Additional Resources