Dollars and Cents: All About Cash and Credit

Most college students endure some sort of financial hardships throughout their higher education. The following general financial information can help you avoid problematic situations.

Ultimately, you want to find the right account at your financial institution that best fits your financial situation. There are banks, credit unions, savings or investment firms. Carefully evaluate the different qualities of institutions you may be interested in joining.

For college students it is important to find accounts that do not charge fees, usually called student banking accounts. These accounts typically do not require a minimum balance or charge a fee per month or for ATM withdrawals. Some checking accounts give you rewards, such as cash back, every time you use your debit card.

If you are attending school further from home, research possible branch locations or ATMs that will not charge you a fee that may be close to your campus. Convenience stores often offer surcharge-free ATMs regardless of the financial institution. It is important to keep in mind that while these ATMs do not charge you for withdrawing money, your financial institution may charge you for using an out of network ATM.

Some financial institutions offer free classes and seminars specifically geared to teach students about banking and avoiding financial trouble throughout their education.

For more information on finding what financial institution is right for you, visit

Online Banking
Most financial institutions enable members and customers to enroll in online banking. You can make online payments, transfer money and manage your account without having to go into a branch or sending a payment in the mail.

Online banking also allows you to monitor your account. As the world grows technologically, it is important to be cognizant of any fraudulent transactions on your account. There may be a phone number or web address associated with the transaction where you can call or visit. Sometimes transactions you authorized are posted under another name that you may not recognize. If the transaction is indeed fraudulent, contact your financial institution right away.

You still may be liable for a certain amount of fraudulent activity that occurs on your account so it is up to you to remain vigilant and active with your banking. It is important to do your due diligence and as much research on a company or website prior to releasing your debit/credit card information.

Student Loans
By filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you could be eligible for federal, state and school aid programs that can help pay your way through college. Beginning January 1 of each calendar year, visit to fill out the form and determine if you are eligible or not. You must renew this application every year you intend or want to receive financial assistance.

You may also seek financial help through programs such as the state grant program, work-study employment, military and PA National Guard aid and several other educational aid options.

It is important to recognize that these are still loans and MUST be repaid.
Evaluate what your options are and find the best rate for you.

Students generally receive two types of student loans

For more information on general student loan information, visit For student loan information and resources within the state of Pennsylvania, visit

What is Credit?
Webster defines credit as “something entrusted to another, a loan.” Credit and credit cards are borrowed money and must be paid back.

Credit terms to know

Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
The rate of interest charged for using the bank or credit card company’s money.

Fixed APR
The APR does not change but rather stays the same for a specified period of time

Variable APR
The APR changes and can be adjusted sometimes as frequently as monthly

Introductory rate
A temporary lower APR that usually lasts for about six months before converting to the normal fixed or variable rate

Default Rate
The interest rate charged if you are late with payments

Grace Period
The time allowed to pay credit card purchases without being billed a finance charge and late fee

Minimum Monthly Payment
The lowest amount you are required to pay each month. Paying just the minimum amount does very little to reduce the amount owed because credit card companies calculate the monthly payments to cover monthly interest first and just a small fraction of your actual debt

Annual Fees
Some cards charge holders annual membership or participation fees

Finance Charge
The dollar amount you pay to use credit. In addition to interest charges, this may include other charges such as cash advance fees. These are charged against your card when you borrow cash from the lender

Credit should never be used as a way to live beyond your means.

You can improve your credit by making your payments on time, establishing a long term account with a reputable credit card company, not assuming more debt than you can handle and not getting caught up with credit card repair scams.

Factors that affect your credit are: how long you’ve had credit, your past payment history, how much debt you owe, how often you apply for new credit, any new debt and the types of financial obligations you have (credit cards, mortgages, etc.).

Your Credit Report allows you to receive a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. The website utilizes the following three companies to collect information and compute your credit score: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

You may get your credit report once a year for free from each of the three companies. Utilizing all three companies in one year, you can ultimately obtain your credit report once every four months.

A website or television promotion that may advertise their credit check services as “free” may not actually be without cost and your credit/debit card and/or bank account could incur unwanted charges.

Even in the most difficult of financial times, do not automatically turn to bankruptcy regardless of your situation. Always seek professional advice or speak to an attorney to review your individual case to determine the best course of action. Bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for ten years and can potentially affect your ability to get a loan, a job or a place to live.

Debts that CANNOT be eliminated through bankruptcy

Student loans
Child support/alimony
Criminal or civil fines/penalties
Debts originally not reported when filing for bankruptcy

Ways to avoid bankruptcy

Do not use your credit card as a way to live beyond what you can afford
Lay out your debts and figure out how much you owe
and to whom
Contact creditors and explain your situation

For more information on consumer banking, credit and bankruptcy information, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Banking at (800) 722-2657, or visit