July 10, 20237 Financial Moves to Make Your First Year of College

If starting college is your first time living away from home, then there’s probably a lot on your mind. Setting out on your own means more independence and all of the responsibilities that come with it, which can be both exciting and daunting. One thing you want to keep in mind as you’re starting the transition is your finances.  

Learning to manage your money early will set you up for more financial freedom later on and lead to less stress. There are steps you can take before you leave for school to secure your finances and moves you can make once you’re at school to maximize your funds. 

Here are seven financial tips for first-year college students. 

Before Heading to School: 

1. Open a Share savings and checking account. Both a Share savings and checking account are a must-have at college. They give you easy access to the money you will need to spend on food, rent, school supplies, and entertainment – along with a place to save funds for future expenses.  

Opening your account at PEFCU before you go to school has other benefits too. For example, it can easily be linked to your parents’ account so they can instantly transfer money into your account whenever you need it. Plus, viewing your balances and keeping track of transactions is easy with the mobile app, PEFCUMobile. 

If you’re not already a PEFCU member, you can apply for membership here. 

2. Open a credit card. It’s always wise to have a credit card available in case of emergencies. You can either open your own credit card at PEFCU or ask to be added as an authorized user on your parents’ card.  

If it’s your first credit card, you may consider a secured credit card – where money is put aside if you cannot make your payments. This strategy allows you to learn to manage a credit card while protecting your credit score in case you make mistakes or mismanage your card. Try to keep your credit card spending to a minimum because the balance can add up quickly and lead to financial challenges if you’re not careful.  

PEFCU offers low, fixed-rate credit cards with great rewards—even if you’re approved for a secured card. Learn more here. 

3. Apply for a personal loan. If you or your parents plan to make larger purchases before you head to school, such as for a new computer or textbooks, consider opting for a personal loan. Personal loans at PEFCU offer set monthly payments, which can help you pay off the debt quicker. Plus, the interest rates are usually less than traditional credit cards – allowing you to avoid costly interest charges.  

PEFCU offers several types of personal loans, including personal lines of credit and more. Learn about all of your options here. 

When at School: 

  1. Create a budget. When in a new place and living a different lifestyle, it’s easy to get distracted – especially when it comes to your money. Spending time making a monthly budget to ensure your funds will last you throughout the semester or school year is essential. During your first month at school, write down all your expenses to get a better idea of everything you’ll need to pay for regularly.
  2. Locate a surcharge-free ATM. When you get to school, look up an ATM on the credit union CO-OP ATM network in your area. That way, you can make surcharge-free cash withdrawals when needed without costly bank ATM fees. Over the course of your time at college, this could save you hundreds in ATM fees. 
  3. Maximize your included benefits. Identify what perks and amenities are included as a student. If you’re living on campus, do you have a meal plan? Does your dorm offer access to complimentary washers and dryers? Determine all your perks and fit those into your budget. Maximize your free and included benefits so that your spending money can be focused on more important expenses and use the leftover for recreation and entertainment. 
  4. Work a part-time job. Consider a part-time job if you want to increase your budget or put more money towards student loans. Working a part-time job will allow you to save more money and have greater flexibility with your budget. Plus, many colleges offer positions on campus – working at the coffee shop, school store, library, etc. This provides the added benefit of meeting more people earlier on at college and expanding your network to coworkers and customers, all while earning money. Working on campus can also lead to other benefits, such as discounts at the school bookstore or cafeterias. 

We’re Here to Help! 

If you’re heading off to your first year of college this fall, we can help you get your financial ducks in a row. From opening your account and learning to utilize our digital tools to getting your first credit card, our team is here to financially prepare you for the next stage in your life.  

Please stop by any of our convenient branch locations or call 800-226-6673 to ensure you’re all set before you head to college. 


Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact PEFCU when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.


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