Navigating a Financial Hardship as a College Student

Navigating a Financial Hardship as a College Student

Updated on July 28, 2021

If you’re struggling to pay bills while putting yourself through school or if you’ve recently quit your job to devote more time to your studies, you may have questions about managing your money during a financial hardship. As you face various financial challenges, you may be looking for answers on how to get by. We’ve compiled some frequently asked questions and tips to address your concerns below.

“I’ve lost income from my part-time job and now I can’t afford to pay my bills. What do I do?”

There’s no shortage of costs for college students – from tuition and housing or rent to cell phones and car-related expenses. If you’re like many students, you may work on or off campus to earn the necessary funds to cover them.

So, what do you do if you find yourself with minimal or no hours at your job or have recently resigned to spend more time on your academic commitments?

While the exact steps you need to take to address each specific financial obligation may vary, there are a few general things to consider:

  • Get yourself organized – If you don’t already have a budgeting worksheet in place, put one together. Capture all sources of income and all expenses you’re responsible for. This will help you get organized as you determine where you may need to make cuts or ask for alternate payment arrangements.
  • Consider what you can cut – If you’re not able to make ends meet, consider what “nice to have” items can come off your expenses list. You may be able to put a gym membership on hold or temporarily cancel music or video streaming subscriptions.
  • Ask for help before your payments are late – If you know there’s a bill you can’t afford, reach out for help as soon as possible. Whether it’s a utility company (think electric or gas for your off-campus apartment) or a loan (think credit card or student loans that are in or approaching repayment), there may be options to skip a payment or be switched to an alternate payment plan. Don’t wait until your payment is late to ask for assistance. A missed payment could negatively impact your credit and remain on your credit report for up to seven years, making it harder to reach your financial goals in the future.

I need to move home and now have an off-campus apartment that I’m not using. Do I still have to pay my rent?

While it may not feel fair, you’re likely still on the hook for rent payments if you signed a lease for an off-campus apartment, even if you’re not living there. However, it may be worth it to reach out to your landlord to determine if there are options to relieve you of your rent obligation.

As you communicate with your landlord, make sure you capture any agreements in writing so that you can reference them later and have a paper trail if any issues arise. And more importantly, don’t stop paying your rent unless you’ve come to a written agreement that allows you to do so. As mentioned above, late bill payments can damage your credit and hurt your ability to reach financial goals in the future.

Have roommates? Make sure you’re all involved in the conversation, not only about rent, but about other shared bills, such as electric or Internet, that you’re no longer using. Clear communication is important so that everyone understands their responsibilities and can protect their finances and credit.

“I’m graduating this semester and don’t have a job lined up. What do I do?”

Don’t get discouraged, and make sure to keep your job search moving:

  • Get (and stay) connected – Whether it’s professors from school or business professionals in your desired geographic area, connect with those in your network who could help you land a job. If you don’t know where to start, check out existing networking opportunities being offered through your campus, local chamber of commerce, or other established networking communities
  • Keep your documents up to date – Your school’s career center is a great place to start to get any job-hunting documents reviewed and updated. You may be able to get feedback on resumes and cover letters or participate in mock interviews to be fully prepared when you’re offered an interview. If you can’t take advantage of these services before you graduate, you might still be able to afterward. Many schools offer help to alumni, too.
  • Sharpen your skills – While you’re likely still managing work from several courses, if you find yourself with extra down time now or after graduation, use the time to expand your knowledge. Many organizations offer free access to online courses in topics ranging from traditional academics to personal finance. Putting your free time to good use now could help you impress an interviewer or discover a better way to manage your future personal or professional life.

Choose a Financial Institution that Puts You on the Path to Financial Success

When you’re facing a financial hardship, it’s especially important to choose a financial institution that has your best interest in mind. Make sure you’re not being hit with fees for accessing your funds or being penalized for not having a high minimum balance in your checking account.

That’s where credit unions, like PSECU, come in. We offer financial products with low- or no fees, as well as the ability to manage your money from anywhere using our digital banking tools. Plus, we have free educational tools to help you learn about money management techniques in good times and bad. If you’re not already a member, learn more about who we are and what we offer.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.