Off to College

Going off to college can be both exciting and daunting – whether the school is in your home town or thousands of miles away. I remember when I left home to travel to an out-of-state university, I was more excited than nervous. We didn’t have to worry about identity theft or Craigslist rental housing scams. The college application process seemed so much simpler and less dramatic. You sent in a paper application with a check, took the SAT’s just once with no prep classes, and in many cases, went off to a college campus you had never seen before. On the other hand, what I wouldn’t have given for a laptop computer and the internet instead of my graduation-present Smith Corona electric typewriter (with a box of carbon paper and correction tape) and the hours upon hours spent at my school library’s using the microfiche machines to look for hard copy reference material for term papers.

These days, there are a lot more things to consider if you or a family member is starting college. With various scams so much in the news today, it’s prudent to be cautious.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants

According to Saving for College, the average cost of tuition for four years of college is between $39,000 for a public university and $134,000 at a private college. Most students have to rely on financial aid.

If you are applying for aid, be diligent about doing your research:

  • Be wary of any companies that want to charge a fee for a scholarship application or a grant. You should never have to pay a fee.
  • Don’t pay money to any company which offers to find scholarships for you. This information is readily available online, free of charge.
  • Shady companies will promise an unusually low interest rate for a student loan but have large fees attached. Instead, research loans that are offered through federal programs and local banks.
  • Delete any emails you receive that announce you’ve won a scholarship that you never applied for. This is a phishing attempt to garner personal and financial information.

Health Insurance

College students have several options for medical coverage. Most can stay on their parent’s health insurance policy until age 26. Be sure to check with your insurance company if you are going to college in another area as there may be out-of-network charges. A second option may be health plans for students offered by the college at an affordable rate. Coverages may be more limited than a parent’s group health insurance, so be sure to compare plans. A third option is to buy an individual health insurance policy through an insurance broker or the state’s insurance exchange.

Insuring Personal Belongings Dorms or Student Apartments

With students now overloaded with expensive tech devices such as computers, iPads, cell phones, digital music players, and bicycles (not including their clothes and books!), it’s important to properly insure these items. Most parent’s homeowner’s policies will cover their child’s contents in a dorm room, but the policy deductible (often $500) will apply. Coverages will include losses such as theft and fire, but not for lost items.

If living off-campus, a parent’s homeowners policy may still cover, but only up to a certain percentage. It may be best to buy an inexpensive renters policy. Note that if there are roommates sharing an apartment, each person should obtain their own policy. Check with your insurance agent to see what options work best for your family. Be sure to inventory all possessions by taking photos and writing down serial numbers.

For students venturing to college out-of-state who have a car, they may need to buy a separate auto insurance policy. Check with your insurance company to see if the vehicle can stay on your policy while away at college. Ask about any resident student discounts if they are away at school with no vehicle. As they are driving your vehicles less, the rates may go down but still keep them insured for their visits home as well as for the possibility that they may occasionally drive a roommate’s vehicle.

Off-Campus Student Housing

Craigslist scams for rental housing have become more and more prevalent countrywide. Scammers hijack existing rental and for-sale home listings and offer them as rentals for a really low price.  This is the number one red flag that the ad is a scam.

Other red flags to beware of:

  • The deal sounds too good to be true. It probably is.
  • The landlord is not in the area and only communicates through email.
  • The landlord wants the deposit wired. Remember – wiring money is the same as sending cash. If it ends up being a scam, you won’t get your money back.

It’s best to deal with local realty companies and word-of-mouth from friends. Ask for advice at the student assistance office on campus. And, visit the rental unit in-person.

Better Business Bureau urges parents and students to be wary of possible scams. Do your research at bbb.org and then invest in a bright future.

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