Why Financial Literacy is Important as a College Student

By Autumn McComas

Finances are sometimes the farthest thing from a student’s mind during college. There are so many other things a student must think about–class schedules, textbooks, degree plans. Learning how to be smart with money can be put on the back burner, but having financial literacy is critical for life long success. Setting up good financial habits now will benefit you in the future. During this time in your life, it’s likely you will open a credit line and start building credit. The decisions you make during your four-to-five year stay in a university can set up your future financial success or failure. Don’t fret! The good news is that the University of Central Florida (UCF)  provides many resources catered to financial wellness for students. The Office of Financial Aid offers a financial literacy program called Centsible Knights. Not only do they teach healthy spending habits, but Centsible Knights also teaches how to manage student loans, credit scores, and investments. They also host workshops throughout the school year.

Tips & Tricks for Students

I asked Dr. Manselle, Associate Director of the Office of Financial Aid, for her top three money management tips for college students. She suggests creating a spending plan outlining expenses and resources. Formulating a budget creates the opportunity for students to know where there is a surplus–or a lack of–resources. “The second tip would be save…save…save,” Dr. Manselle emphasized.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the amount, as long as you are putting away money according to your budget. This is to help develop a habit of saving in intervals. “The third tip is for student borrowers. If student loans are necessary to fund your educational expenses, only borrow the amount you need. Also, if you have borrowed it is important to know all of the various repayment options available to you.

Saving for Retirement

For the longest time, I didn’t know the difference between a 401(k) and an IRA. The main difference is a 401(k) is offered through employers while an IRA can be opened by individuals. You might be wondering, “Why do I need to learn about retirement right now when I haven’t even started my career yet?” When asked about retirement, Dr. Manselle stated, “Students should care about retirement because it is important to plan for your future. While retirement may seem very far away, life has a way of moving rather quickly.”

Dr. Manselle gave me great information on 401(k)s and IRAs. “401(k)s and 403(b)s are retirement saving plans established by employers. Often, employers will contribute to these retirement plans. An IRA is an investment retirement account that is not tied to an employer. There are tax benefits and implications for each type of investment plan and there are also maximum annual contribution amounts based on the investor’s age and the account type.” Students should research all of their options regarding retirement, as there are options they can utilize now. A great website with resources on financial literacy is NerdWallet. NerdWallet has many articles on topics such as creating savings, establishing emergency funds, and creating a retirement fund while in college.

Credit Scores

Credit scores can be confusing. It seems like an arbitrary number with too many consequences attached. When asked about the importance of establishing good credit, Dr. Manselle stated, “Credit worthiness can impact a person’s ability to make major purchases such as cars and homes, but credit can also impact your ability to get car insurance or secure utilities.  Additionally, many employers include a credit review as a part of the hiring process. To maintain good credit it is important to pay your bills on time, keep your balance on credit cards low and be cautious of the amount of new credit inquiries you initiate.” 

Student Loans

Perhaps the biggest financial impact students face are student loans. For most students, it’s a primary source of income while in college. These loans can feel like the lifesaving buoy you need to stay afloat during your college years. This lifesaving buoy can have a huge impact on your financial wellbeing years after you graduate from college. It’s important you are informed of how student loans impact not only your finances, but also your credit. Student loans attach high interest rates to themselves. 

Dr. Manselle stressed the importance that “student loan borrowers should ensure they are informed about the type of loan they are borrowing and the interest rate at which they are borrowing, as interest accrues on unsubsidized federal loans once they disburse.” Borrowing only the amount you need will save you money in the future. Student loans accrue interest until they are paid in full, so Dr. Manselle recommends visiting the U.S. Department of Education’s website to read a full breakdown of repayment options available to students. 

Money management can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. As you learn and grow, it will become easier and more like second nature. Educating yourself while in college will set you up for success and serve you into adulthood. The Office of Financial Aid located in Millican Hall offers great resources for students. For a list of the topics covered, you can visit their website.

Photo “Losing Hand,” by Damian Gadal at Creative Commons.