7 Money Tips for Parents of College Students

Help your child avoid financial pitfalls while they’re away at school by following these six steps.

Don Milne Aug 14, 2019

Content originally published on Aug 14, 2019, and refreshed on Dec 7, 2020

Every year thousands of high school graduates head off to college and many of them are not financially prepared. Yes, they are adults and responsible for their choices, but parents can help them avoid financial pitfalls by reviewing the following financial checklist with their college-bound children.

College student money tip #1: Have a checking and savings account

The accompanying debit card that can be ordered with a checking account is a convenient way to handle day-to-day spending while at school.

A savings account is a good place to keep money for emergencies. Most students drive older cars that will likely need unplanned repairs. Having at least $500 to $1,000 in a savings account, set aside for emergencies, is a must.

College student money tip #2: Establish a budget

There is a lot of stuff going on when attending college for the first time. Only a small number of students will naturally take to budgeting. (Actually, only a small number of any adults take to budgeting.)

College student money tip #3: Understand how to spend 529 plan money

If your student is fortunate enough to have a 529 plan set up with college savings, you need to be careful how you spend the money at college.

Tuition and books are a “yes.” Transportation and extracurricular activities fees are a “no.” Room and board is a “maybe.” Consult 529 plan rules and talk to a tax adviser so you don’t get in trouble with the IRS by spending funds on non-qualifying expenses.

College student money tip #4: Look into renter’s insurance

If your student is living away from home, their personal belongings may not be covered by your insurance. They are at risk if stolen or destroyed in a disaster like a fire. While most students don’t have a lot of belongings of value, many do have expensive computers or musical instruments. Renter’s insurance is reasonably priced since students don’t typically require a large amount of coverage.

College student money tip #5: Get a part-time job

College is expensive. Only a small percentage of students can attend with 100% paid for by grants, scholarships and family assistance. Working part-time while in school will reduce the need to rely on student loans.

Working a job also teaches life skills that will carry into adulthood that you can’t get from a classroom. A student who goes through college without holding any kind of a job is at a disadvantage when entering the workforce after graduating.

College student money tip #6: Avoid identity theft and fraud

A young college student has limited experience with money so they can be an easy mark for identity theft, phishing, and other tricks to steal their money. College students should be trained to avoid identity theft pitfalls and use tools like purchase alerts and mobile card fraud alerts to flag unauthorized spending from their bank accounts.

College student money tip #7: Review your bank records at least monthly

Many people don’t bother to review their monthly bank statements. They may check their balance, but as long as their debit card is working, they don’t bother looking at their past spending.

Don’t make this mistake. Your student may overlook that they are paying extra fees for using a non-bank ATM or that their account is in overdraft and they are spending more than they have available. Your student may have unintentionally set up an automatic subscription that is billing them every month.

Attending college is a fun and exciting time with lots of surprises in store. Follow this checklist to make sure those surprises don’t pertain to money.

Zions Bank makes it easy to track your spending — and saving — anytime with convenient online and mobile banking tools. Open a checking or savings account online, or visit with a Zions Bank representative near you to learn more.

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