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Financial tips for college students

January 29, 2014
By MOLLIE WARNER - Staff Writer , Times Leader

College is expensive enough without racking up huge bills for living expenses. However, knowing some important tips can help college students manage their finances while earning their degrees.

Billy Petrella, president of Petrella Wealth Management, says the first step to any good financial foundation is setting and keeping a very strict budget.

"Whether it means you can't go on spring break, or have to pick up a part-time job, you don't want to go out of your budget," he said.

He also has advice about student loans.

"Just because they're going to give the money doesn't mean you should take it. Take only what you need for tuition and room and board. Don't take $10,000 when you only need $6,000."

Petrella also warns against rolling a balance on a credit card. Pay credit card bills every month, to avoid racking up interest.

"Getting caught in that debt trap is very difficult to get out of and you could be paying that for decades," Petrella said.

It's a good idea to look for internships at least a year before graduation. Paid or not, internships hold the best opportunities for networking, and the work experience is valuable. Some companies offer students jobs immediately following graduation if they've done well in an internship.

Though not the most comfortable idea to consider, Petrella recommends looking into life insurance. Life insurance covers student loan debt, which would free family members from the burden.

Petrella says that anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 can be saved by commuting to school. He recommends taking advantage of Commuter Grant programs, and looking into community colleges.

"There's huge discounts for people who go to school locally, even if you later transfer," Petrella said.

Going to a community college, even if only for the first two years of a four-year bachelor's degree, can save a student huge amounts in tuition costs. Eastern Gateway Community College offers the Horizon Grant for Jefferson County residents, while Belmont College offers the Trustee Scholarship for high school students that graduate from schools in Harrison, Belmont, or Monroe counties.

Petrella's final bit of advice is to consider future earning potential when choosing a degree. While it's important to choose something you enjoy, it's also important to look for fields that have a high earning potential. If a degree has low earning potential, there may be a similar field with a better outlook.

Additional tips:

-Know how to find cheaper textbooks. School bookstores are overpriced because they are the most convenient option. Brand new hardcovers can cost upwards of $300. That convenience is not worth the cost, so consider going online to find textbooks. and offer deals on used textbooks, and some books can even be rented. Or consider investing in a Kindle, iPad, or other tablet which can be used to download books. Ebooks are usually cheaper and have the added bonus of relieving shoulder strain from hauling around heavy textbooks.

-Keep scholarships in mind. Many students earn scholarships for their freshman year of college, then forget about them and don't bother applying anymore. There are many scholarships available for upperclassmen. Schedule an appointment with an advisor to look for them and learn how to apply.

Warner may be reached at



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