In today’s automated and internet-based world, where information is readily available with just a few clicks on a phone or computer, many of us, especially students, are still financially illiterate.

Many teenagers hold part-time jobs and don’t understand the information on their paychecks and W2s or even how to file a tax return. These same students are about to enter college and will be faced with making decisions for themselves on many levels.

Students, are you ready to make basic decisions about money? Here are the basics every college student should know.

How to open and balance a checking account

The basic concept of a checking account is a powerful tool. Students need to understand the basics as well as the fees associated with checking accounts. Is there a minimum balance that needs to be maintained? What are the fees, and what is the cost? Does the account pay interest? Can I get a debit card with my checking account? What are the transaction fees associated with a debit card?

What is a loan?

Many students will have to borrow money to help pay for college. Do you understand the mechanics of a loan? What is the interest rate? Is it a fixed rate over the life of the loan or a variable rate that is tied to some market rate? Is the loan interest compounded? What are my payment options? Interest only? Interest and principle? What is the term of the loan? 10 years? 15 years? 20 years? When do I have to start making loan payments? What happens if I cannot make a payment?

Credit Score

A credit score is the basis of all borrowing in the United States, such as obtaining a credit card, buying a car, obtaining a mortgage, and getting insurance to cover your car, home, or life. A bad credit score will cost money. A great credit score will open doors. It is important! Do you understand that missing loan payments or making late payments can negatively impact your credit score? It is important to understand how to create and maintain a good credit score.

Credit Cards and Debit Cards

Credit cards can get students into a lot of trouble. A credit card is not the same as a debit card. If you are using credit, you are taking out a loan subject to fees, interest, and payment terms. You must make payments on a credit card just like any other loan. For debit cards, there must be money in your checking and savings account that is associated with the debit card.

Savings

Our society is more into spending than savings. How do you prioritize the following each month? Taxes, debt payment, savings, lifestyle? Most people put savings last, when we should be putting savings first. Yes, we have to pay our bills, but shouldn’t we also pay ourselves first? Without adequate savings for emergencies and goals, people resort to credit cards and loans. It is important for every student to get into the habit of saving, whether it is $5 or $50 a month. Learn to focus on needs, not wants.

Compound interest

Einstein said that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. To realize the magic, you need to start saving and investing early. Understanding the power of compound interest is the basis for financial success in later years. The reverse of compounded interest? Increasing debt! You don’t want to be paying interest on interest on credit card debt. You want to be earning interest on interest on your savings.

Understanding gross versus net wages

Many students do not understand that what you will be paid is not what you will receive. There are mandatory deductions from every paycheck, such as social security taxes, federal, state, and local taxes, unemployment insurance, Medicare taxes, health insurance, etc. Before making decisions on borrowing and loan payments, understand what your net wages will be every month. Understand how much of your net wages will have to be allocated to loan payments. Understand how payroll deductions work and what adjustments you can make to maximize net wages.

Budgeting

In order to pay yourself first and use compound interest to your advantage, students will need to understand how to create a budget for themselves. Do not use credit for “wants.” Save first, and then buy. Credit should not be used for short-term wants, such as entertainment, video games, clothing, etc. Credit and loans should be reserved for purchasing something that will have and maintain value over time.