U.S. Markets closed

3 Money Lessons for Your Kids Before They Go to College

Christine DiGangi

University campuses are bustling once again as students arrive for the fall semester, some moving into their first dorm room or signing up for their first college campuses. As parents send off their children and talk to them during their first days as college students, there are all sorts of things they want to say, but among the traditional exchanges of “I love you,” “Be careful” and “Don’t forget to call,” there needs to be a conversation or two about money.

You may not want to kiss your kid goodbye with a lecture on finances, but making poor money decisions can follow your child for years, so it’s worth taking some time to go over potential consequences. If nothing else, here are three conversations you should have about finances early in their first semester:

1. Learn to Bargain Hunt

No matter the living conditions they’re used to at home, teenagers need to get used to living like students. Even if parents are helping their kids pay for college and any expenses they have while in school, that student will eventually have to learn to be financially independent, and college is a good time to start teaching that lesson, if you haven’t already.

Plenty of resources will be available on campus, but they may not be the most affordable ones. Help your student learn the value of research by having them compare prices at the bookstore, used book sales, textbook rental sites and the library. Many campuses will have convenience stores and other places to purchase necessities, but it might be much more expensive to buy on campus than to take a trip to a local big-box store. It’s important for young adults to learn that their student loan refund, campus credit or funds from Mom and Dad aren’t funny money. Otherwise, they may run into spending problems when they graduate and try living on their own.

2. Your Credit Report Is as Important as Your Report Card

Yes, it’s important to learn a lot and do well in school, but if you have student loans or a credit card while in college, you also need to pay attention to how well you manage your finances.

“You (college students) probably won’t make as much as you think when you graduate so don’t run up debt assuming you can just worry about it later,” said Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s director of consumer education. “Even if you do land a job with a good salary after graduation, there will be a lot of new financial demands. Keep your debt low and you’ll always have more options.”

If your student gets a credit card, they’ll face a lot of temptation to spend more than they can afford to repay. Other students may have more spending money than yours, and your child may want to use a credit card as his or her means of keeping up. It can also be a go-to tool for late-night spending and party-throwing, when the possibility of having fun trumps the desire to be responsible. Explain to them how credit card debt will affect their credit history and how long they’ll be paying for things charged to a card that isn’t paid in full. If you need refreshers, here’s an explainer on how APR works and how credit card use affects your credit score.

Don’t be afraid to talk about life after college. Chances are, they’ll be thankful for the advice years later when they’re not struggling with debt or budgeting problems as a result of cluelessness at age 18.

“Your credit report will count more than your report card,” Detweiler said. “Most employers won’t look at your report card — certainly not after your first job — but they may review your credit report. So making sure you check yours once you’ve started establishing credit and then make sure you pay accounts on time.”

3. You’ll Pay for Skipping Class

Find out how many courses your child is taking and how often they meet, and use that information to calculate the cost of every class. Every time your kid skips a class, they’re wasting that money. This is especially important for students borrowing money for college, because whether or not they learn anything, they’re going to have to repay the loans.

If your student makes the most out of his or her college days, ideally he or she can get a good job and repay student loans without an issue. There are millions of students who have dropped out of college or graduated with unmarketable skills, making it extremely difficult to make a good living and repay education loans. Considering that student loans are rarely discharged in bankruptcy, you and your child will want to do everything possible to stay current on those payments.

You can introduce your student to free tools like those on Credit.com, where he or she can get two credit scores for free each month. It’ll show them how their credit card use and student loans are affecting their credit standing while they’re in school, and as a bonus, they’ll be able to continue the good habit of monitoring their credit once they enter the workforce and take on more financial responsibility.

More from Credit.com