A whopping 70 percent of college students will graduate with student loan debt, which averages to about $37,000 per student, according to a recent Fidelity Investments survey. This is one of the many sobering realities for young people and one of the reasons why it’s such a good idea to get a firm grip on money management basics. The Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) highlights five important financial facts and what they mean for you.
#1: There Are Good Reasons to Go to College
There’s ample evidence that a college degree increases earnings. People with a bachelor’s degree earn about $17,500 more annually than those who have a high school diploma, according to a Pew Research Center study. If you’re uncertain about whether to plunge into college now or put it off until later in life, know that it could be tougher to go back once you’re working or have family responsibilities.
#2: There Are Smart Ways to Cut College Costs
Want to know one great way to graduate from a top-notch school without taking away a heavy debt burden along with your diploma? Begin your studies at a community college then transfer to a four-year college later. Tuition at community colleges is generally less expensive, so this is a cost-conscious way to build credits toward a bachelor’s degree and still receive a diploma from a four-year school. Just be sure that the college you’d like to transfer into will accept credits from the community college you choose, and that the classes you take match the course requirements for a degree at the four-year school.
#3: Start Saving Now
You’re thinking there’s plenty of time for that later, right? Well the beauty of saving early and often is that it makes it possible to build up an impressive nest egg over time. Once you start getting a paycheck, it will be tempting to spend every bit of it, but give serious thought to having a portion deposited automatically into a retirement or emergency savings account. It can be tough to set anything aside when you’re dealing with student loans, entry-level salaries, and the costs of renting or buying and furnishing your first home. You can dial back your saving if you have to, but don’t let the challenges you face prevent you from doing it.
#4: Be Careful with Credit
If you learn how to live within your means now, it will serve you well throughout your life. When you use a credit card to finance your purchases, you’re paying extra every time because of the interest that the credit card companies charge you. Avoid splurging on things you can’t afford, and save up for expensive items over time. If you do use a credit card, make sure that you pay it off in full each month to avoid hefty interest charges.
#5: Keep Track of What You've Got
It’s difficult to make sound decisions if you don’t have a firm grasp on your current financial situation. Get into the habit of reconciling your checking and credit card account statements each month so you know your account balances and understand your spending. Make a monthly budget and compare these statements against it to make sure your spending remains on track. Get to Know Your Local CPA Managing your finances can be daunting, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact your local CPA to discuss all your financial concerns. CPAs help individuals at all stages of their financial life make the best financial decisions. To find a CPA in Pennsylvania by location or area of expertise, ask family and friends for recommendations or use PICPA's CPA Locator
Original publication date: Nov. 1, 2013