Spring Clean Your Finances

Spring is here! Some people will be "spring cleaning" their living spaces, but we think you should also consider giving your finances a spring cleaning, as well! Here a five tips on how to clean up and organize your finances:

1. Check your credit report Go to annualcreditreport.com and get your FREE credit report. Your report will contain previous address, loans, and any other accounts open in your name. If you see an account opened that you think may be in error, you will have the option to dispute it. It’s important to check your credit report routinely to check for identity theft or fraudulent activity (accounts opened in your name that you didn’t authorize). Note: when you enter your information to get your credit report, they will ask verification questions. Some of these questions are trick questions, such as "With which company did you have a mortgage with?" even if you've never had a mortgage. You would select "none of the above" option and continue answering the verification questions.

2. Create a financial to do list A few things to include on your list:
  • create an emergency fund of at least $500-1,000; this money should only be used in an emergency
  • consider opening a Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account); it’s never too early to start socking away money for retirement
  • calculate your net worth; your net worth are your assets (savings, car, stocks, jewelry, electronic equipment) minus your debts (student loans, car loan, credit card debt). You can calculate your net worth using our calculator.
  • pay any late fees and/or fines; don’t let parking tickets or library fines accumulate--the sooner you take care of them, the better.


3. Review next year’s financial aid package and/or you plan for paying for college Students should start receiving their financial aid packages soon. Review these and make thoughtful decisions on how to pay for tuition and costs. Remember, you don’t need to accept everything that is offered. For example, if you’re offered a $10,000 federal student loan, but only need $5,500 to cover your out of pocket costs for college, then only accept $5,500, not the full amount offered. Additionally, try to find a few more scholarships to apply for and consider the new payment plan.

4. Plan for next year—roommates, housing, job, internship, etc.
  • If you’ll be living off-campus next year, you should have your housing and roommate situation pretty figured out by now. If not, it’s not too late! You can visit the Off-Campus Housing and Neighborhood Relations and they can help you find housing for next year.
  • For those students interested in studying abroad, make sure you plan for the semester you’ll be gone—you might need to find someone to sublease your place, find somewhere to store your stuff, and let your roommates know that you’ll be out of the country for awhile.
  • If you’ll be graduating within the next few semesters, make sure you’re doing everything you can to have a great resume. Along with good grades, consider volunteering or getting an internship, to make you a great future candidate for your dream job.
  • If you haven't started a budget, now is a great time to start.


5. Clean your space This one is simple: throw away papers you don’t need anymore, start selling unwanted items on Craigslist, buy a few plastic totes to store things in. Getting—and staying—organized will make your life much easier in the long run! You’ll be happy you did once May is here and it’s time to move.

spring cleaning

7 Ideas for a Spring Break Staycation

Spring Break is right around the corner—do you have plans yet? Not everyone can afford to fly somewhere warm for a week. Instead, grab some friends and plan a “staycation” right in Boulder. Below we’ve got a few ideas on how to have a frugal Spring Break Staycation without breaking the bank.

7 FREE Ideas:
  1. Attend an author reading/signing at a local bookstore.
  2. Rent movies from the library and have a movie night at home (try picking a theme: documentaries, foreign, thrillers, mysteries, etc.).
  3. Graduating soon or want a summer internship? Craft your resume and get your references lined up.
  4. Visit www.meetup.com to get together with other like-minded people who also want to hang out.
  5. Throw an old-fashioned game night and play your favorite board games (Monopoly, Twister, Scrabble to name a few).
  6. Check out the Buff Bulletin board, Boulder Weekly, and The Daily Camera for free cultural events.
  7. Get your finances in order; work on a budget, sign up for mint.com, track your spending. Visit cumoneysense.colorado.com for more ideas on how to get your money organized.


to do list

How to Avoid Fraud

by Danielle Meltz, Student Blogger

Unfortunately, fraud can happen to almost anyone. Here a few ways to prevent it and what to do in case you are a victim of fraud.

1. Look for skimmers

A common way thieves retrieve information is by attaching a skimming device to the exterior of an ATM. Look there are any visible traces such as glue or scuff marks around the PIN pad or the place where you insert your card. A few seconds could prevent you from credit card fraud.

2. Banking online in public

Whether it’s at a café, or checking to see if you have enough for lunch during class, beware of logging into your bank account on a public wireless network.Hackers are capable of hacking into wireless networks and are able to intercept online transactions if you’re on a public network.

3. Responding to phishing messages

Most banks will not ask you to use your log in or account info over the phone, email or text. If you haven’t contacted your bank and you receive a message asking for information, stop to double check with the bank.

4. Not using fraud protection

Fraud protection is available for free by numerous card issuers. For example, Verified by Visa program allows Visa cardholders to use an additional password when they shop online.

  What to do if you suspect you have been a victim of credit card fraud:

1. Contact your credit card company immediately

They will help you verify whether fraud has occurred and remove fraudulent charges. They can also close your card to prevent any further fraudulent transactions, and issue you a new card. The Federal Trade Commission says that you aren’t responsible for any charges made on a stolen account number after you report identity theft.

2. File a police report

The police department will probably not be able to help you figure out who did it, however, a police report is necessary to create an identity theft report to present to creditors. Report the fraud to the authorities, ask for a copy of the report, and keep it in safe place.

The idea of debit or credit card fraud can strike cold fear into even the most tech-savvy consumer. Once someone possesses your credit card or debit card number, you're looking at a passel of phone calls to your card issuer, filling out police reports and possibly a delay before the issuer credits your account.

   

How to Fund Your Study Abroad Trip

by Danielle Meltz, Student Blogger

Studying abroad is more than exploring a new city and living somewhere else for a few months. It’s one big adventure that combines finding more about who you are, while helping you achieve what you want out of college. It helps you learn how to adapt to new cultures and makes you a more appealing applicant for future jobs or graduate school. Not to mention the friends that you make and the experiences you have will surpass every expectation you have going into it.

The truth of the matter is, I believe, that you can’t afford to not go.

study abroad

Here are the ways I funded my study abroad experience:

Exhausting every opportunity your school has for you

Financial aid

If you are someone who receives financial aid, you will likely be able to transfer that money over to your study abroad program. This is a great way to make studying abroad more feasible if you chose a program that costs less than the university you are currently attending.

Scholarships

Universities often set aside a large amount of scholarships for people who want to study abroad. Look at your schools study abroad finance page (here’s CU’s) and talk to your financial aid office about all the possible scholarships you are eligible for. Some scholarship deadlines are more than a year before the program, so the earlier you look the better.

  Personal savings

If you are already paying for college yourself, it can be difficult to save money to fund your study abroad experience, but it is possible. One of the biggest struggles of funding your own study abroad trip is having all of the money upfront. The trip might work out to be cheaper, but the flights, housing, and food might need to be paid before you even leave. That along with not being able to work while you’re abroad makes the trip look unfeasible to a lot of people.

This can be avoided by doing two things: knowing how much you need, and splitting up payments. Instead of taking your ‘estimated cost’ at face value, do some research into it. How much do plane tickets actually cost? Will you be traveling apart from your trip? What activities will you are doing abroad?

Then, split up the costs. If you’re planning for a trip that’s a semester away, try buying plane tickets one month, take a month off to save, pay for housing the next month, and so on. This helps you work towards smaller goals instead of the larger more intimidating number. Saving for two semesters in the span of one is difficult, but a great way to focus on it is by readjusting how you spend your paycheck or allowance. As soon as you receive it set money aside for things that are not adjustable, such as rent or tuition. Then put 50%-70% into your savings account. This forces you to be more frugal when it comes to what you spend money on, and makes you realize how much more cost efficient grocery shopping might be over eating out.

  Be aware of hidden expenses

Credit cards

Something I realized really fast while I was abroad, but took a while to fix was using my credit card. The main idea here – avoid withdrawing money from an ATM at all costs. Withdrawing money in a foreign country can cost around 20% of what you take out.

You can avoid this by going to a bank when you get there and exchanging money, which also helps you visualize how much you’re actually spending on your trip.

Trinkets

Visiting a market the first day you are in a new country might use up a week’s worth of expenses. Buying things while your abroad is a great way to bring back memories with you, but you do not need little touristy trinkets or a gift for everyone you know back home. Go in with an idea of how you want to spend your money, be it experiences, food, or more travelling and you’ll be far better off half way through your program.

I’ve never met anyone who’s ever gotten back from studying abroad and said they wish they’d never done it. It gives you more experiences and stories than you could ever re-tell, as well as opening you up to a ton of new opportunities. If you don’t think studying abroad is possible, talk to an advisor and look into it before you shut the idea down. The fact that you’ve read this article shows that you’re already on the right path.

 

5 New Year’s Financial Resolutions

by Niomi Williams, Associate Program Director, CU Money Sense new years resolutions

Some people may not believe in making New Year’s Resolutions, but everyone should at least have financial goals. Below are five tips/goals/resolutions to consider this year:

1. Keep track of your spending. Try using a financial app like mint.com (free) to help you keep track of where your money is going.

2. Review your monthly and yearly expenses. Determine if you should spend less, focus on debt, or save more.

3. Create a budget. We say this all the time, but budgets really are awesome. It helps you tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went. Schedule a one-on-one financial coaching session with CU Money Sense to help you plan out a budget for the new year.

4. It’s never too early to think about retirement. If you’ve ever worked part-time or full-time, chances are that your current or former employer enrolled you in a retirement plan, such as a 401(k). There might not be much in the retirement account, but even if there’s a few dollars in it, you have some options on what to do with that money. Take the time to find out which (if any) retirement accounts you might already have—you can do this by contacting your (former) employer.

5. Live like a college student. Let’s say you received a refund check this month, after paying all of your tuition, books, and expenses. I know from experience that it’s so tempting to spend that refund on fun stuff—new clothes, dining out, ski trips, going out with friends, etc—because it can seem like FREE MONEY. But then two months later, you bank account has less than $50 in it and you’re suddenly panicked because you’re broke and can’t remember what you spend all that money on! I see it happen all too often with students, which is why is it’s important to embrace the “poor college kid” perception and try to keep your lifestyle within your means (by not spending more money than you have).

These are just a few ideas to help you get on track with your personal finance. If you have any questions about ways to best handle your money, remember that we are here to help! Schedule a one-on-one appointment with our Certified Personal Financial Manager; appointments are confidential, personal, and specified to your needs.