Top 3 Financial Things Incoming College Freshman Need to Do

1. Open a checking account.

If you don’t have a checking account already, now is the time to open one. You can have your parents on the account as joint account holders, as well, but you should be the primary account holder.


  • If you are working during school, you will need a checking account in order to have your paycheck direct deposited into your account.
  • A debit card provides a safe way to pay for things without carrying cash.
  • Having a checking account allows your parent/guardian to deposit money for you to purchase books or pay school fees with your debit card.
  • Mobile Banking apps let you keep track of your balance, transfer funds, track spending and pay bills, all from your phone.
  • You can connect your checking account to Venmo or CashApp for fee-free person-to-person transfers and deposits.
    • If you attached a credit card, these apps charge up to 3% per transaction.
    • You can also transfer funds from the Venmo or CashApp back to your checking account for free when you select the 1-2 day deposit option instead of instant (1.5% charge)


Visit your local credit union’s website and look at their checking accounts. Look for a free checking account that does not require a minimum balance. Or, find a reward account like CCF’s Rewards Checking that rewards you monthly for everyday spending.


2. Establish credit.

Establishing credit isn’t about needlessly spending money or going into debt, it’s about getting on the FICO scoreboard.


  • The “length of credit history” factor is 15% of your calculated FICO score.
  • Establishing a credit account for something you already buy, like gas for your car, allows you to build credit without the temptation to run up a huge balance on a credit card.
  • The longer credit history you have, the better for you when you need to buy/lease a car, rent an apartment or apply for additional school loans.


If you are taking your car with you to campus, or commuting from home, find a gas station that is on your route and apply for a gas-station specific credit card with a small credit line (max $250). Once you receive the card, set up online payments through the company’s website so you can have your bill emailed to you, and pay your monthly bill online.

If you do not use a car on campus, talk to your credit union about opening a credit card with a small credit line (max $500). You can use this card for a few small purchases per month and pay it off in full each month.

Set a reminder in your phone to check the card balance at the end of each week. Don’t allow friends to use the card. This is not free money; this is a bill that will arrive at the end of the month that you need to pay in full. The “on-time payment” factor is 35% of your FICO score, so paying on time is very important.

3. Make a plan to manage student loan debt.

Four years seems like a long time, but college will be over before you know it. Don’t let student loan debt dictate your life after school.

Students should always borrow as little as you need, not as much as you can.  A good rule of thumb is to aim to have total student loan debt at graduation that is less than your annual starting salary.

College students need to look at financing their education as part of a three-step process:

  • First, you want to bring money to the table through part-time jobs, savings, gifts from family, grants and scholarships.
  • Second, you want to max out al that’s available for the student to borrow when it comes to federal student loans. Federal student loan rates are low and you may later qualify for some benefits.
  • Third, you often need to fill that gap with more loans.


  • Compounding interest stacks up every month on unsubsidized Stafford loans, which, if left unchecked, can majorly increase your final balance once you graduate.
  • Private student loans accrue interest every month right after you sign for them, so just paying the interest on these loans will keep the principal from growing.
  • Determine which loans are subsidized (no interest until 6 months after graduation) or unsubsidized (interests starts to accrue immediately after the loan is issued).


Have an open conversation with your parent/guardian about who is responsible for which loans and payments and calculate how much total debt will be accrued by the end of your education. If you are working during school, calculate your income and figure out what that income will be used for.

college checklist Download and print the full College Financial Checklist.