Managing Your Finances

Financial Literacy 101 for College Students

  • This interactive financial literacy course from the College Foundation of North Carolina, which includes videos and games, can help you make responsible choices about managing money. Learn how to avoid financial pitfalls such as overspending, misusing credit, and not budgeting. The financial literacy online programs and their instructor guides are available as a secure and integrated part of your CFNC experience through an agreement with Decision Partners, a financial literacy education organization.
  • The choices you make about how you pay for school have a long-term impact, so it’s important to understand your options and make smart decisions today that will help you in the future. GradReady is a valuable resource that can help you prepare for school.

Money Management Resources for Students

We want all of our students to become educated consumers so that they can make smart decisions when handling their finances. Testing your knowledge is quick and easy.

  • Mapping Your Future’s 12-step financial literacy online counseling session will provide you with some basic financial knowledge that will guide on the path to financial success.
  • The National Endowment for Financial Education developed the cashcourse.org web site specifically to help college-age students on campuses across the country. Money management skills and access to personal financial planning resources are necessary for college students to build a healthy financial future. We are pleased that we can offer this important resource to students.
  • MyMoney.gov is the U.S. government’s website dedicated to teaching all Americans the basics about financial education.
  • Manage your credit card debt: a consumers guide.
  • The Truth About Credit is a project of the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) that aims to raise awareness about the extreme credit card debt affecting many college students today.
  • The Education Finance Council (EFC) is an association of nonprofit and state-based student loan providers dedicated to the single purpose of making college more affordable.
  • The Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation offers Adventures in Education, a comprehensive site with dedicated pages for students of all ages.
  • Sallie Mae offers Be Debt Savy, a comprehensive website designed to help families plan for paying for college.
  • The National Student Loan Program offers a new Financial Literacy Online program.

Credit Scores

What is a Credit Score and Why is it Important?

Anytime you apply for a credit card, a student loan, a car loan, or a mortgage loan, the lender will look at your credit score to determine the likelihood of the loan being repaid and therefore whether or not they will loan you money. The better your credit score is, the easier and less expensive it is for you to obtain credit. Some employers also check credit scores when hiring to determine who might make a good employee. Your credit score will follow you for your entire life.

Not only does your credit score determine whether or not you’ll receive financing, it also determines how much it will cost you to borrow that money. People with higher credit scores are deemed to be less of a risk, and therefore will typically receive the lowest interest rates. Those with lower scores are viewed as more of a risk, so the lender will offset that risk by lending you money at a higher interest rate. With larger loans such as buying a vehicle or a home, just an extra interest rate point could add up to thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars wasted on interest over the life of the loan.

Most lenders will offer a lower interest rate to students who have a "credit-worthy" individual willing to co-sign their loan application. An individual who co-signs your loan application will be held legally responsible if you fail to repay your student loan. Most provisions in the Credit CARD Act of 2009 place new restrictions on credit card fees and interest rate policies.

FICO Scores

Major lenders utilize your "FICO" score, which helps determine credit risk based on a number derived from your credit history. FICO scores provide the best guide to future risk based solely on credit report data and are the standard score provided to lenders by the major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Scores range between 350 (extremely high risk) and 850 (extremely low risk). The higher the credit score, the lower the risk.

What Makes Up a FICO Credit Score

A FICO credit score takes into account a lot of different information from your credit report, but it’s not all treated equally. Some aspects of your credit history are more important than others and will weigh more heavily on your overall score. Your FICO score is essentially made up of the following:

  • payment history: 35%
  • total amounts owed: 30%
  • length of credit history – 15%
  • new credit: 10%
  • type of credit in use: 10%

The bulk of your credit score comes from your payment history and how much debt you actually have, which account for 65% of your score. These are the areas you’ll want to tackle first if working to improve your score.

Credit Score vs. Credit Report

A credit score and a credit report are two different things, although the credit score ultimately depends on your credit report. Your credit report is simply a detailed account of your credit history. The credit report will contain information such as:

  • current credit accounts
  • payment history
  • credit inquiries
  • credit utilization
  • bankruptcy

Your credit report itself does not have a FICO number. It is simply a report of your current and past credit history. Most credit history will only go back seven years, although a bankruptcy will stay on your report for ten years. Even though the scores are based on the same credit report information, you may have differing scores from the three major credit bureaus in the United States because the scoring systems are based on different criteria, which are weighted differently. A FICO credit score is based off of your credit history, but it’s not actually a part of your credit report. Instead, the three major credit bureaus will calculate your FICO based on your credit history they have on file. This means you can have up to three different FICO scores at one time.

Check Your Credit

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year. You can obtain these free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Call 1.877.FACT.ACT (1.877.322.8228) for more information.

You should review your credit report annually. Mistakes might be found on the report, which could negatively impact your credit score. Some mistakes could result from having a common name, a junior or senior in the family, or identity theft. A report could also reveal a medical collection that you did not even know about. Despite paying a medical bill, a clerical error could lead to inaccurate posting.

Your FICO score does not come with your credit report and it isn’t something you’re entitled to annually. You may have to pay a fee to actually receive your score.

Improving Your Credit Score

What happens if you have made some mistakes in the past and now your credit score is low? Don’t worry. The good news is that your credit score is constantly updating, so every month as you begin to make improvements to your credit history, your score will be sure to follow. But keep in mind that items on your report will stay there for seven years, so it will take some time for serious negative marks to eventually disappear completely.

Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to improve your credit score. Start with the basics and make sure you’re making all of your payments on time. Remember, payment history is the single greatest factor in your credit score. If you make payments over time, you’ll slowly start to raise that score. Second, reduce your total amount of debt. The second largest impact on your score is how much debt you have, so if you can put a dent in your overall debt you’ll also begin to make some serious headway. But don’t stop there:

  • Pay down your credit cards.
  • Don’t use your whole credit line every month.
  • Is your credit report correctly reporting your credit limits for your cards? If not, you can call your credit card issuer and ask them to update the list. You can also challenge the limits with the credit bureaus.
  • Don’t use credit card issuers who don’t report your credit limit.
  • Ask a trusted friend or family member to add you to one of their old cards as an authorized user.
  • Ask a creditor for forgiveness.
  • Get student loan payments current.
  • Dispute old negatives.
  • Get a collection agency to agree to remove a debt from your report if you pay it.
  • Dispute with original creditor.
  • Target “easy” errors — negatives that truly are not yours.

Additional Credit Score Resources