- Start teaching your kid about money and credit way before college.
- Help your teenager find and use a money-tracking app they actually like.
- Make sure you share a payment platform in case of emergencies.
So it’s almost time to send your kid off to college and you realize you’ve forgot to teach him or her anything about money. Whoops. Like saving for college, a financial education is best started early. Very early. Like when your tyke first learns to recognize the music of the ice cream truck.
But if that time has long past, don’t despair. Here’s a cheat sheet for what your college-bound student needs to know. And whether your child is still in braces or shopping for a college dorm room, the best time to get started is now.
Have them get their first real job
Having a first job is about much more than earning money. That’s the obvious benefit, of course, but it’s almost the least important one. Because other than the money, here’s what your kid will learn by having a real job:
● How to put the best foot forward in an interview
● How to interact with adults other than teachers and parents
● How to manage his or her time
● How to fill out employment paperwork
● What the heck is FICA?
In other words: having a job teaches life skills. Think of it as an internship for life.
The money is important, too. So be clear with your student what he or she is responsible to pay for in this new phase of their lives. The list of possible expenses is long: tuition, fees, books, room and board, travel, personal and school supplies, even pizza. Make as comprehensive a list as possible beforehand and discuss with your student who is paying for what. This will help eliminate potential sources of conflict down the road.
Help establish good spending habits
Having that first job of course leads to a paycheck, which necessitates the need for a bank. This generation is almost exclusively a mobile banking generation, so it’s important to have a conversation with your child about which apps they’ll be using to keep track of their money and stay on budget. An added bonus is many of these apps are free. Ask if your student has one they prefer, and if not, suggest they do some research to find a good fit.
At the end of the day, your child needs to learn two important banking skills: how to make sure they have enough money in the bank to cover spending, and how to set money aside in savings. There are countless apps to help with budgeting and saving, but it’s your job to impress on your kid why these things are important – such as reminding them that you’re not paying for their Spring Break trip or midnight pizza runs.
You can also encourage your child to take advantage of something that electronic banking has on its side: automation. With account tracking, automatic bill pay, and low fund alerts offered by nearly every bank out there, there’s no reason your kid should be slammed with late fees or surprised by insufficient funds. Help to get them set up before you drop them off at college so he or she starts on solid financial ground.
But even though you’ve done your best to teach your child your best financial lessons, there will be a time sooner or later when he or she has an emergency and needs you to transfer money.
In times like these, you and your child will need to share an app to make a quick, easy exchange of money possible. That could be your bank’s mobile app, or an independent one like PayPal or Venmo. Ask your child if he or she is currently using an app to exchange money with friends for things like concert tickets or dinner. They may be, in which case it might be time for you to jump on board with that app as well.
Have the credit conversation, often
You probably remember offers of pizzas and t-shirts in exchange for completing credit card applications on campus. Banking legislation has restricted that practice, but college students can still get into trouble with credit.
At the same time, a good credit history is more important than ever, as it affects a young adult’s ability to rent an apartment, buy insurance, and even get a job.
Discuss the responsible use of credit before your child goes to college. Well before. Continue having those discussions as the credit card offers keep coming during your child’s college years. Make sure they don’t get wide-eyed with offer letters and instead know the impact on their credit scores of opening too many cards at once. (P.S. This may require that you brush up on these topics yourself, which is not a bad thing.)
Make a FAFSA plan
If your child is headed to college next year, now is the time to make a plan for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – or FAFSA. Completing this form will help determine how much financial aid your child is entitled to. This form is not fun. It’s a beast for parents, let alone students. But it’s important that you take the time to figure it out.
The form is made available at FAFSA.gov on January 1 of each year, and there are different federal, state, and school deadlines for filing. Some forms of financial aid are on a first come, first serve basis, so it’s important to file early, even if it’s with estimated numbers. If you do end up waiting until February 1, you can have your IRS information retrieved and transferred to the FAFSA for you, which might simplify things a bit.
Taking a little time to research this now will make things much easier when next year rolls around.
Having money conversations with our kids is a bit like flossing: our intentions are often better than our follow-through. Let this list serve as your inspiration to get going, whatever stage you find yourself at. It will pay dividends down the road.