Bills, bills, bills

One of the biggest challenges for college students is gaining more financial responsibility. Whether it is a hefty rent payment or the freedom of having a credit card for the first time, bills in college can often be the catalyst for a future financial disaster.

Tony E. Dalton, Bank of America manager at the 2001 Pennsylvania Ave. branch, works with many college students because of the bank’s proximity to GW’s campus.

“The most common problems college students face are overdrawn checking accounts and bounced checks,” he said. “Not only is there a $30 charge for each bounced check, but bad credit history is a risk students should avoid.”

Living off campus can add to the stress of managing college finances. Sophomore Rennie Freidman lives in the Claridge House at 950 25th St., where utilities are included in the rent each month.

“I find that paying rent, cable, internet and phone bills is tough, unless I keep things in order,” Freidman said.

Junior Zoe Freeman said college life has helped her appreciate things she pays for now.

“When you start to pay your own bills you realize how important it is to do little things like turning off the lights,” she said. “When your parents are paying (the bills) you take these things for granted.”

Students also face financial obstacles on campus. Freshman Alex Borgelt said he struggles with the responsibilities of using a credit card and a checking account.

“I bounce checks all the time. I spend too easily, like it’s not real money,” Borgelt said.

While the University Counseling Center does not provide sessions specifically for financial management advice, it does have personal development and self-help options that sometimes address staying on top of bills. At the center, literature is available to browse through or borrow to answer questions about money matters. Whether meeting with a private counselor or looking through pamphlets, any distressed student should consider visiting the Counseling Center to get help with financial dilemmas.

The Bank of America provides suggestions for staying on top of bills. Representatives advise first and foremost that students always pay bills on time. If this becomes a problem, they said, stay in contact with the creditor and admit to struggling with financial responsibilities. The internet offers one more option to keeping track of bills.

“Online banking is something I suggest both personally and from a business perspective,” Dalton said.

NIH, at 2100 Pennsylvania Ave., also provides 24-hour free online banking by logging on to the Web site, nihfcu.org. This option is secure and allows the viewing of balances and tracking of monthly statements. Online banking not only helps with organization, but also eliminates hassles of dealing with postal services or extra trips to the bank, especially since requesting bank statements can come at a small fee.

Most banks offer special services geared towards college students with no previous credit history. By providing minimum liability, students are able to establish a good credit history. Many GW students take advantage of the NIH Federal Credit Union Student Visa card. This credit card can prevent debt by offering a low annual fee of $15, easy payment methods, a grace period of 25 days for repayment of balances for purchases and a system that offers the cardholder higher limits based on good payment performance.

NIH’s Prescription Newsletter offers several ways to handle debt: pay off your highest-rate debts first, consider paying off a high-interest rate loans in one shot, consider consolidation loans and seek advice when necessary.

Dalton said the worst thing a student can do when drowning in bills is to avoid contact with the creditor. Instead, recognize how common financial difficulties are, and realize that bank representatives know the best way to get you back on track. An overdrawn checking account or an exceeded credit card limit is no reason to panic. With a little organization and a new strategy for keeping records, the problem of staying on top of bills can be solved.

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