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Archive | August, 2014

Creative Dorm Room Decorating Ideas For College

Creative Dorm Room Decorating Ideas For College

dormdecoratingLet’s face it, dorm rooms can be a very dull place. Cinder block walls, a plastic twin mattress and florescent light bulbs don’t scream cool or hip or have any of your creative flair. Consider the ideas and tips below to spruce-up this no-frills space into the room of your college dreams.

Hide the Floors

Add your personality from the floor up using decorative rugs, carpet squares or floor cushions. They can be eye-catching and bring texture and warmth to a white-washed bedroom. Just be sure to leave enough clearance for door swings and make sure you can navigate around the room safely. You’ll also need to purchase a small hand-held vacuum, especially for allergy victims. The last thing you want are allergens and dust mites building up!

Add Spice to Your Mattress

Make your standard dorm bed more luxurious with a headboard crafted from an old sheet or fabric and a sturdy piece of cardboard. It will add some punch to your all-white abode and can travel easily if you need to move rooms. When it comes to sheets, first check to confirm if your bed is standard or extra-long. Once you’ve determined the appropriate size, look for textured fabrics, which not only disguises any dirt or stains but also add interest to the room.

Be BFFs With Washi Tape

Washi tape, a colored paper tape, is an absolute essential when it comes to dorm room decor. Like painters tape, it can be removed without residue, meaning its a great temporary fix. Use it to line your shelves, to create make-shift frames for your poster collection, to add a geometric pattern to the back of your door or to customize storage boxes. If you really want to go washi crazy, A Night Owl has 100 ways to use washi.

Decorate Your Walls

You have nearly endless options when it comes to giving your dorm room walls a makeover. Accessories are typically reserved as gorgeous accents for your wardrobe, but consider displaying them in your room. Buy a few sticky hooks or a cheap bamboo ladder to add scarves, jewelry and head pieces. If you prefer to dress up your windows, add drapes or shades to bring pattern and color into your new space. Just use curtain rings and a decorative tension rod to stay within dorm room rules. Lastly, try removable peel-and-stick wallpaper in a bright, geometric pattern behind your bed or to line the sides of your standard-issue furniture.

Add Your Own Lighting

There’s nothing worse than those florescent fixtures. Eliminate the need for such harsh, overhead lighting with desk lamps or other task lighting. They will lend a softer glow to the room and reduce eyestrain, glare and mental fatigue, none of which are good for those late night study sessions. If you attend school in a city with a long, cold winter, consider adding a mood elevator light, which mimics natural sunshine. Lastly, for those night owls, respect your roomie and snag a compact LED lamp or focused reading light.

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6 Finance Management Tips While Away At College

6 Finance Management Tips While Away At College

BudgetSignCollege is a time for learning and growing as a person, for figuring out who you are on your own. Learning responsibility in your finances is also an important skill to learn during college. The spending choices and habits you make now can affect your credit for years to come. If starting out on your own financially is a bit daunting, don’t fear—some simple practices can help you learn financial responsibility before you even step on campus.

Make a Budget

The most basic piece of advice for healthy finances is to make a balanced budget. Start with any money coming in—what is your average monthly earning? If you don’t have a steady income, start with items you know you’ll have to pay for each month.

Once you allot for rent, tuition, a meal plan and books, set aside a little each month for incidentals. You may ideally want the most frugal budget possible, but be realistic. College is a time for learning, but also for fun. It’s finding the balance between a well-deserved night out and an overspending habit you’ll need to navigate.

Learn the Difference Between Wants and Needs

A helpful tip for setting up your budget is learning the difference between wants and needs. You need food, shelter, and to pay your bills. You want to go to Key West for spring break. Wants should go to the bottom of the budget for when every bill is paid and all needs are taken care of. There’s nothing saying you can’t indulge a want every once in a while. It’s letting the wants come before the needs that could be a problem.

Create a Work Schedule that Works for You

Many college students work part-time in addition to taking a full course load. This comes with time restrictions and added demands on your schedule, but studies show that with more structured time, students tend to complete their assignments more efficiently, and many students with part-time jobs have higher than average GPAs.

The money you earn working is money you won’t have to pay back later, so if you can fit it into your schedule, go for it. Some students even consider working full-time and taking courses at a university or online part-time. Ask yourself what your financial goals are. Do you want to be debt-free when you complete your degree? Working full-time may be your best option.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Sometimes, you might run into an unexpected bill, or your car will break down. In these cases, if your parents are in the place to help and are willing too, don’t be afraid to ask. Your parents want to see you succeed, and when you’re establishing your financial independence, they’ll understand if you don’t have it completely together just yet. Transferring money on the go is easier than ever—Ria Money Transfer allows parents to help via debit, bank account or credit card.

Build Credit, Don’t Wreck It

A credit card always seems like a good idea, and can be a valuable tool in building credit and your financial responsibility, but be careful of offers made specifically for college students. Some banks promise low introductory interest rates, only to raise it dramatically after a year or six months.

Be sure to know what you’re signing up for, what your interest rate is, and avoid treating a credit card as extra money. Any charges you put on the card should be taken from your budget, so your balance can be paid in full each month.

Save For the Future

The future doesn’t have to be ten years down the line. However, you do want to build good saving habits so you can be in a good place to cover unexpected expenses when you’re out of college. Try choosing a small amount to save each month and stick to it—most university bank accounts offer free interest-accruing savings accounts.

College is a time for learning and growth, and hopefully a time to make good financial decisions that will make your life easier for years to come. So, make a budget and start today!

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What to Know When Buying A Car In College

What to Know When Buying A Car In College

SmartCarCollege students need to get around just like everyone else. Unfortunately, few of them have enough money to buy new cars without sacrificing necessities like food and lodging. If you want to buy a car while in college, you’ll need to know a few things to get a good deal on a reliable vehicle.

Set a Firm Budget Before You Start Shopping

Since college students usually don’t have much money, it’s important to set a firm budget before you even start exploring your options. If you know that you can afford to spend $400 a month, then only look at cars that cost $400 or less per month. If you plan to buy a car with cash (good for you!), consider that you’ll have to pay taxes and fees on top of the vehicle’s price. Include extra expenses so you know which cars really match your budget.

You may face difficult financial decisions if you exceed your budget. You really could find yourself choosing between this month’s rent and this month’s car payment. Don’t put yourself in that kind of situation.

The Less You Borrow, the Less You Repay

A lot of people use auto loans so they can afford to buy cars. If you don’t have much money saved, this is probably your only option. Unfortunately, borrowing money increases the overall cost of purchasing the vehicle.

Let’s say used cars on KBB.com are listed at $8,000. You have $1,000 for a down payment, so you need to borrow $7,000. If you get a three-year loan with 4.7 percent interest, you’ll repay the lender over $7,500.

$500 is a lot of money when you’re trying to buy a car on a tight budget.

You can often lower the repayment amount by making a larger down payment, negotiating for a lower interest rate, or choosing a short-term loan that you repay in a year or two.

Know How Much it Costs to Own the Car

Buying a car means having to take on new financial responsibilities. According to some research, it costs the average person $8,876 to own and drive a sedan. You’ll have to pay for fuel, oil changes, maintenance, repairs, insurance, and taxes.

Some cars cost a lot more to own than others. As a broke college student, you should find an inexpensive car that doesn’t cost a lot to own. Look for fuel efficient cars so you can save money on gas. Also, contact auto insurance companies to compare rates for different cars. You might find that you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars just by choosing one car over another.

Looks are Less Important Than Functionality

Nearly all drivers prefer cars that look nice. Those used vehicles, however, usually cost more than those that show their age. Since you don’t have a lot of money to spend, you should focus on what’s really important. You need a car that performs well. Aesthetics come in at a distant second place. Since there are people who will try to charge high prices for fancy cars with mechanical problems, you need to get as much information about the vehicle as possible.

Have a certified mechanic inspect the used car for signs of damage. If the mechanic finds problems, then you may want to choose another car that’s more reliable. If it gets a clean bill of health, then keep that car on your list.

Buyers should request maintenance records so they have evidence that the car’s owner cared for it. If the seller has receipts showing that the car got regular oil changes, then you know the previous owner took care of it. Buyers should also request the car’s license plate and vehicle identification numbers. You can use these numbers to get a vehicle history report that includes information from insurance companies and DMV offices. If the car has been in several accidents or disasters, the report should list that information.

Having a car in college makes it a lot easier to commute, visit family, and get away from campus when deadlines start stressing everyone out. What advice would you give college students who need to follow a strict budget when buying cars?

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Money Management Tips (video)

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The Scary World of Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams

The Scary World of Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams

scamFamilies that are paying for college are facing one of life’s biggest expenses. To make college affordable, students often search for scholarships to help themselves pay for school. Unfortunately, although many legitimate and generous scholarship opportunities exist, there are also scammers that prey on vulnerable students and their families.

Online financial scams are getting more and more common. In fact, people who earn a Certificate in Financial Crime Investigation often spend their careers rooting out online fraud. To read more about using due diligence before paying someone who approaches you over the Internet, visit this page. Then, before you commit to a school, familiarize yourself with some of the most common scholarship and financial aid scams.

“Come to Our Free Seminar!”

If you get a direct mail or email invitation to a free scholarship seminar, you’re usually better off staying at home. When you show up to the seminar, you’re more likely to hear about annuities, insurance and other investment products than scholarships. Presenters might also ask for money to enroll you in a scholarship matching service, or they might offer student loans with exorbitant fees and interest rates. Always verify the identity of the company that’s hosting the event. If the company doesn’t list a legitimate phone number, it’s a scam.

hooray“You’ve Been Pre-Qualified for a Scholarship”

Scholarships are competitive, and there are usually many qualified applicants. No scholarship has to try to recruit students via email. If you receive an email saying that you’ve been pre-qualified for a scholarship, delete it immediately, and never click on any of the links.

Also, beware of pop-up windows that say, “Congratulations! You’ve just won a $10,000 scholarship!” Be especially cautious if you’re told that scholarships are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

“Please Send Your Application Processing Fee”

Legitimate scholarships don’t ask for a fee when you apply, and neither do legitimate financial aid offers. If you’re asked to provide a credit card number or bank account number to hold your scholarship, never provide the information.

Most scholarships are paid directly to the university, not to the student. Even if the disclosure statement offers a money-back guarantee, never ever pay a fee to hold a scholarship or student loan.

“We’ll Do All the Work”

Some companies offer to help you apply for grants, work-study, loans and other kinds of aid. They say that they’ll fill out your paperwork for a “nominal upfront fee.” The only way to get federal student loan funds is to fill out a FAFSA, and you never have to pay to submit your FAFSA. Also, don’t be duped by testimonials praising the company’s amazing service. Most of the time, companies pay for these testimonies, or they make them up entirely.

Other Signs of a Scam

The scams described here are just some examples of potential scenarios. Fraudsters are dreaming up new kinds of scams all of the time. However, by recognizing some of these additional warning signs, you can steer clear of almost any scholarship or financial aid scam.

  • “You won’t find this information anywhere else.” Legitimate scholarship programs are transparent about what they offer, and they’re eager to give away their funds. If someone promises special insider scholarship information, then it’s probably a scam.
  • “You’re a finalist — even though you never entered the contest.” Scholarships have a competitive application process. People who award scholarships probably aren’t going to cold call you or send you an unsolicited email.
  • “You get a scholarship, or you get your money back.” Some legitimate services do enter your name and qualifications into a database and match you with available scholarships for a fee. However, no legitimate service guarantees that you’ll win a scholarship or get your money returned to you.
  • “This offer won’t last long.” Most scholarship applications have strict deadlines, but you’re not going to be pushed to apply. If a salesperson is pressuring you for money for a limited-time opportunity, then the salesperson is probably shady.

What If You’ve Been Scammed?

If you’ve been victimized by a scholarship or financial aid scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and contact your state attorney general’s office. You might feel embarrassed to admit that you’ve become a victim, but your report might help someone else to avoid the same fate.

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Good, Bad and The Ugly: College Freshman Purchases

Good, Bad and The Ugly: College Freshman Purchases

warningspeedbumpsStarting college is an extremely exciting time for most freshmen-to-be. In addition to planning class schedules and looking forward to meeting some new friends, many students are moving out of their home for the very first time. In order to make the transition to college life as smooth as possible, incoming freshmen should be sure they have the following items:

Must Haves

Keurig coffee maker: After long days and nights studying, chatting with new friends and watching their favorite television shows, it can be really hard for new college students to wake up in the morning. As Lansing State Journal notes, a Keurig coffee maker can help slug-a-bed freshmen get up and get going. Not only is the coffee tasty, but a Keurig can help freshmen avoid spending a lot of their money on much more expensive Starbucks drinks.

A really good chair: Many dorms supply wooden desk chairs to the residents that have been sat on by about a thousand students since the Nixon administration. In order to keep freshmen backs in good shape, invest in a really nice, supportive chair. In addition to keeping the various vertebrae happy and healthy, a high quality desk chair will help keep freshmen comfy as they study, which will keep them focused on what they are doing and less likely to want to get up and wander the halls of the dorm looking for new friends and the vending machine.

George Foreman grill: As College Fashion notes, this handy little plug-in grill is ideal for freshmen who cannot look at another portion of mystery meat in the dorm cafeteria, or who are — gasp — sick of pizza (yes, it really can happen). The George Foreman grill heats up quickly and is extremely versatile, allowing hungry freshmen to make everything from paninis to burgers and more in no time flat.

Tool kit: A handy item to have in a dorm room is a basic tool kit that includes commonly-used items like a couple of screwdrivers, a tape measure, and a small level and picture hanging tools. There is nothing worse than buying the perfect framed poster to hang over a bed and then have no way of getting it up on the wall.

Earplugs: From the budget-friendly foam varieties found in most grocery and drug stores to the more spendy noise-canceling headphones, ear plugs or another noise-blocking device are a must-have for college freshmen. From blocking out a roommate’s loud music to helping stay focused while studying, earplugs will definitely come in handy.

Don’t Need ’em

While these five items will help college freshmen have a seamless transition into college, they should avoid spending their money on the following:

Pizzas and sodas galore: As Forbes notes, one of the best ways to avoid gaining the legendary “Freshman 15” is to avoid eating out as much as possible. This includes resisting the urge to order a bunch of late night pizzas and stocking up on sugary beverages like sodas and energy drinks.

Really killer computer speakers: Although freshmen might love listening to tunes at volume level 11 while studying, their roommate and residents in surrounding rooms might like things more quiet. Noise complaints can be pretty common in dorms, and the last thing a new freshmen needs is to be branded as “The really loud one” by the resident assistants. Instead of expensive computer speakers, freshmen should buy a nice pair of headphones.

Budget for Fun

Before you go crazy buying furniture and cooking supplies, make sure you budget for hobbies and fun time. That panini grill is no good if you can’t afford to get out of your dorm room every now and again. If you have a hobby like rock climbing or dirtbiking, account for this in your budget or buy new gear before the school year starts. It’s a lot easier to buy new dirtbike pants when you have a summer job than when you are scraping under the cushions during the school year for a few dollars for the movies.

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What NOT to Do When You Can’t Afford College Without Parental Help

What NOT to Do When You Can’t Afford College Without Parental Help

Your parents probably started pushing you to attend college when you began preschool. They insisted that you join every extracurricular activity at your school in hopes of earning scholarships. Then, when they saw how much college was going to cost you, they turned out their pockets and said, “Sorry, we can’t help you.”

If your parents encouraged you toward the college route but were unable to assist to the level that they had hoped, or if your family had severe financial struggles and truly couldn’t afford to help, you still have options for getting a college degree. Don’t become one of those students who try to defraud the system. You can find legitimate options to fund your education.

Grant Fraud? Don’t Even Think About It

The U.S. government distributes Pell Grants totaling as much as $5,500 to needy students, and it sends the grant money directly to the students’ colleges. Colleges deduct their portion of tuition and give the money to students to help students pay for room, board and supplies. Unfortunately, some fraudsters called “Pell runners” target inexpensive online schools or community colleges, apply for and get accepted to low-cost degree programs.  When their Pell Grant disbursements come, they take the cash, drop out of school and disappear.

In some cases, studied by students at a school that offers an accredited MS in Criminology program, Pell running is the work of gangs of students (to read more about how gangs have branched out into white-collar crime, visit this page). In Arizona, a student named Trenda Halton recruited over 60 fake students to sign up for college, get the Pell Grant money and give her a $500 to $1,000 cut. Colleges and the Department of Education are cracking down on Pell running; Halton and her cohorts were all sentenced for their crimes. Complete your FAFSA and take advantage of Pell Grants if you can, but don’t attempt to get cash by committing grant fraud.

crossingfingersLying on the FAFSA? Not a Chance

If your parents either refuse to help or can’t help you pay for school, you might think that the best solution is declare yourself an independent student. The bad news is that if you don’t meet government requirements for independent students, then declaring your independence requires lying on your FAFSA.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to be declared an independent student. You have to do more than move out of your parents’ house. You’re not even considered independent when they don’t claim you on their taxes. Unless you’re an Armed Forces member or veteran, supporting dependent children, considered an emancipated minor, going to graduate school or past your 24th birthday, then you’re considered dependent no matter what your parents do.

If you’re caught committing FAFSA fraud, you could get up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine. You would also have to reimburse the government for any money that you received, and if your school has an honor code, you’re likely to be expelled.

So What Are Your Options?

If you received an acceptance letter only to discover that your parents can’t pay, you can try other options to get your degree.

  • Pick a cheap school. You might have to get an affordable undergraduate degree at a less prestigious school. On a positive note, since grad students are considered independent, your parents’ income won’t count when you go for your master’s or doctorate. So, for your graduate degree, you can swing for the fences and apply to a great school.
  • Investigate scholarships. Even if you have to take an extra year to line up money, take some time to look into available scholarships. Hit up community groups, religious groups and industry groups related to your field. Also, use the Department of Labor’s scholarship search engine.
  • Get a job. Many employers offer at least partial tuition reimbursement. Some employers, like Starbucks, have agreements with colleges and universities so that their employees get a free or reduced-price college education.

Remember that your parents’ inability to pay your tuition isn’t about you; it’s about them. Also, when you’re trying to go to school, don’t be shy about searching for financial assistance and assertively asking for available money. You deserve to build a great future whether you are getting help from your parents or not.

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6 Steps to Achieve Financial Independence at College

6 Steps to Achieve Financial Independence at College

moneytreeIt’s no secret that going to college these days is both intimidating and expensive. If your parents aren’t in the place to help, or the thought of student loan debt haunts your nightmares, adopting some simple pre-grad behaviors can help you gain the financial independence you want, while you earn that degree.

If You Qualify, Apply

Did you know there’s a scholarship for wearing duct tape to prom or reading an essay aloud? You do now. Scholarships are helpful in gaining your financial independence because unlike loans, they don’t need to be paid back. Apply for any scholarships you qualify for—sometimes lesser-known scholarships only have a few entrants and your chances are higher.

Go Your Own Way

Everyone’s path to a college diploma is different, so don’t feel pressured into going to a four-year university the second you graduate high school. If you’re putting yourself through college or are contributing a significant part of your education funding, you may consider earning an associate’s degree at a local community college and transferring to a university later. You may also consider forgoing campus altogether—many public universities offer full degree course offerings online. If the pressure of working and courses is still too much, consider working full-time and taking classes part-time.

Be Separate

Many money-conscious college students think staying on mom and dad’s family plan is the most cost-effective solution to not having an early 2000s flip phone in college. But in taking steps to earn your financial independence, having your own phone on your own plan is a good step. For example, you can get affordable individual data plans from T-Mobile, even if you are on a Ramen noodle budget. Starting at just $50 per month—that’s five meals out—you can definitely find the plan that works with your social calendar and lets you text your lab partner as much as you want.

Buy Groceries

Groceries can help you become more independent? Since when? Buying groceries is not only cheaper than eating out—$4 for a jar of pasta sauce and a box of linguine, as opposed to $11.99 for the same at a restaurant—they promote healthier eating habits. When you buy fresh groceries regularly, you’re more inclined to learn what to do with them.

Only know how to make that one dish? Eventually, you’ll get sick of eating the same thing and you’ll look for new recipes to liven up your meals. Learning new recipes will also teach you to be more comfortable in the kitchen — an important skill in any self-sufficient adult.

Work Hard, But Not Too Often

Working a part-time job as a full-time student can help you earn your financial independence while also boosting your GPA. Busier students tend to focus more on their studies and procrastinate less because they have less time to do so. More isn’t better though. Working over 20 hours a week as a full-time student can lead to the opposite of productivity. Anxiety, forgetfulness and decreased focus come with the territory of spreading yourself too thin. So while it’s good to work steadily, make time for yourself too.

Save, Save, and Save

The best amount to save will vary by source—some say $200 per month and others say each $5 bill you earn in tips at your serving job. But the decision is up to you—you’re the one seeking financial independence. Instead of setting an amount goal and maybe not achieving it, consider setting a percentage goal of savings. Saving 10% of your income adds up quicker than you might think, and it’s an amount you won’t miss too terribly. Saving by percent and not amount also lets you account for different earnings each month.

Financial independence in college may seem too good to be true, but with some smart saving and wise money decisions, you can make the future you want, both financially and educationally. Maybe after graduating debt-free you’ll be tempted to move on to even higher educational pursuits or have the financial freedom to travel for a year. Who knows? Put your financial plan into action today and take hold of your future — without relying on anyone but yourself.

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