Before stepping onto campus for the first time, there are three things every Freshman should know about finances. It's important to get acquainted with a these three financial instruments; they'll not only be important throughout college, but the rest of your life. They'll serve you well if you serve them well, but before you can begin to serve them well, you must understand them.
Learning about these three critical instruments could be the most important life skill you take from college. The earlier you learn, the better off your financial life will be.
Your checking account will be your base camp as everything will flow through this account. It is important that you know how to handle it and you use it wisely. It really isn't that difficult to maintain as long as you know how to add and subtract; no fancy logarithms, you don't have to stand on your head and spit wooden nickels, just basic first grade math. You open it up with money, and as long as you keep track of all your checks and debit card transactions, you know all that is going out of the account.
You say, what about bank charges? You won't have them as long as you add and subtract correctly. I went to the University of Virginia as an undergrad, and the university has an honor code; it was considered an honor offense to knowingly write a hot check.
Shop around and find a free account. As a student, that should be fairly easy to do. If you can't find a free account that is convenient, then yes, you'll be charged a monthly fee, so always remember to subtract the fee from your balance at the beginning of each month. You'll also learn the advantages and disadvantages of overdraft protection and if it's worth it to you.
Are you kidding me? Nope, I'm not. You should open a saving account and begin depositing money in it! Learn the value of compound interest; according to Albert Einstein, compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. This will serve you well and just like your checking account, you'll use it many years beyond your college years.
A Credit Card
Due to the Credit Card Act of 2009, anyone under 21 cannot get a credit card unless co-signed by a parent. If your parents are reluctant to co-sign, see if they'll add you as an authorized user on their card; either way, you'll build your credit rating which will be necessary for renting an apartment or taking out service with the electric company.
If your parents do in fact co-sign on a card, it will probably have a low limit. This is fine, as the card should only be used in the case of an emergency. Pizza does NOT constitute an emergency. Having to go to the student health center for a shot to get rid of the flu does.
If you're a student, or ever were a student, do / did you have all three of these valuable instruments?