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10 Smart Financial Steps to Take Right Now

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Regardless of how much money you have now, you can take several steps to ensure a bright financial future. Here are 10 tips:

1. Stay out of debt. You may have student loan debt, but that’s a lot different from other kinds of debt. Student loan debt is low interest and most school loan payments don’t start until you graduate. But credit card debt compounds rapidly. Do not use credit cards unless you pay off the balance every month. Car loan debt may land you a sweet, new ride, but it locks you into a hefty payment each month for five years or more. If you have any debt — especially debt with compounding interest such as credit card debt — pay at least double the minimum payment.

2. Work to finish school on time. “We can help students stay in school and get through in four years or what’s appropriate for them,” said Scott Furlong, provost and vice president for academic affairs at SUNY Oswego. “Staying for the extra semester or year causes a major financial concern.”

3. Get a job. In addition to providing income, working at least part-time will look good on your resume and possibly help build a professional network. But any type of work demonstrates work ethic.

4. Start a checking account. Choose a no-fee account at a bank with ATMs near your school so you don’t have to pay to use the account, either through fee or ATM convenience charge.

5. Save money. Any money you don’t need for tuition or pocket money, tuck in a savings account. A few dollars a pay period eventually adds up.

6. Set a budget. Track where your money goes for a week to see where you can improve. Plan to set aside more money for savings and paying off debt. Establish good money habits now.

“Cayuga has partnered with SUNY to provide students with an online series of modules that help students learn about budgeting and financial planning,” said Andrew Poole, public and media relations associate at Cayuga Community College. “It’s called the SUNY Smart Track, and it’s available on our website for students to review when they have time. It helps students and their families design a financial plan and understand college costs.”

7. Use what’s free. Instead of paying for entertainment, attend free events on campus. Borrow items if you can to avoid buying them. Barter skills. Re-purpose what you already have.

8. Build your credit rating. Sign up for a credit card with no annual fee, make regular purchases with it, but pay it off before interest accrues.

9. Keep looking for grants and scholarships. Any organizations to which your parents belong, community organizations, clubs to which you belong and even summer employers may offer scholarships. Don’t just shoot for the big ones, either. Several small ones add up.

10. Give back. It may seem counter-intuitive to develop a spirit of generosity and charity; however, learning to pay it forward helps you nurture gratitude–not the drive to keep up with the Joneses. When you help others who have less than you, you tend to feel more grateful for what you have. Giving of time, talent and money can also help you network with like-minded people.

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