Personal Finance 
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If Personal Finance Were A 4 Year Course in High School

Devin Wanzor is a senior at Oklahoma State University majoring in Finance. The majority of his spare time is spent golfing, reading personal finance articles/books, and renovating his condo and getting it ready to sell.

Majoring in Finance in college has helped me learn a great deal about taking care of my personal finances, as well as other advanced topics. What about people who aren’t Finance or business majors in college, or what about people who never go to college at all? I think that, in general, most of the classes I took in high school kept me busy, but lacked any knowledge that will be useful to me in my lifetime. There is one big topic that I think will be useful to everyone most of his or her life: money. It makes sense to me to teach these topics in high school, instead of having kids memorize vocabulary words that they will forget next week. I remember very little that I learned in high school, except for math and English skills.

You might think that since I am a soon-to-be finance professional, I would like to have a financial illiterate public to drive my business, but I believe that as more people learn about more sophisticated products (IRA’s etc.) then actually there would be more people in the U.S. seeking out advice and trying to make responsible financial decisions. In my opinion, a more informed customer is usually better.

Here is my 4-year plan of what kids should be learning in high school about money and personal finance:

Freshman:

1. Checkbook Mechanics – Writing, balancing, statement reconciliation, etc.
2. Saving for Larger Purchases

I cannot remember exactly when I had my first checking account. I don’t think it was before I was a freshman though. I think this is a perfect time to teach this skill, perhaps before that first checking account is opened.

Sophomore:

1. Earning Power – Jobs for young adults
2. Automatic Monthly Savings and the Power of Compounding
3. What Happened to My Paycheck? (Meet Mr. Taxman)

I think it is important for young people to understand taxes and exactly why the government is taking them (or why the government SAYS they are taking the money). Also, since this is around the time I turned 16, it is a good time to learn about jobs since they would be able to drive themselves to said job. Lastly, if a steady income comes about, this would be the perfect time to see how saving a little money each month can turn into huge amounts over time when the money is earning interest.

Junior:

1. College: It Will Cost HOW much?
2. Introduction to the time value of money: Today is better than tomorrow
3. Budgeting: How to spend less then you earn. (How to break the trend of a Negative savings rate in America)

I think people should understand the costs associated with college and learn how to make a plan to get there. I think the budgeting thing pretty much speaks for itself.

Senior:

1. How will I ever own a house? Introduction to Mortgages
2. 401(k)’s, IRA’s and other retirement savings vehicles
3. Investments: Stocks, Bonds, CD’s, Mutual Funds and other investments
4. How to use credit cards wisely

All of these are topics that will be important to all Americans. This tops off the list of some of the personal finance topics that I believe are very important to the financial health of Americans.

Are there any other topics you believe are important, yet not so advanced that a high school aged person could understand? Are any of my suggested topics perhaps too advanced?


 Personal Finance 
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PFCollege: Splurge Now, Save Later

Personal Finance for College Students Series Seal If you were like me, you probably had some odd jobs in college to earn a few extra dollars and you’re probably wondering what you should do with them. Should you open up a Roth? Should you start that emergency fund? How about some stock or a Treasury bill?

Well, I think you should spend the money. Don’t spend all of it, definitely put a little bit away for a rainy day, but you should spend it. Why? You’re young and you’re banking that much coin so it really won’t make a tremendous difference down the road if you saved the few bucks you did earn in a Roth or if you spent it on beer or a game or whatever it is you’re into. Sure there are those calculators that say $100 when you’re 20 will equal $2,453,441.88 when you’re 65 but you’re only 20 once. When your friends want to go out, go out; don’t tell them you’re saving up your money so you can fully fund your Roth.

$2,453,441.88 won’t seem like crap if you end up a boring old dude without any fun. :)

This article is part of a series I started a while back called Personal Finance for College Students (hence, PF College).


 Credit 
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PFCollege: Get A Credit Card

Personal Finance for College Students Series Seal In line with my advice in the past about establishing credit early, I wanted to give my recommendation as to my favorite of the student credit cards out there, it’s the Citi mtvU Platinum Select card and here’s why I like it so much (and why I’m using it now):

  • First, you get 5% cashback on a lot of things you are likely to spend money on while you in school, such as bookstores (including Amazon.com), movies, and restaurants. I’m not advocating that you spend your money in any category but the books, but if you are, you might as well get 5% back.
  • The points are convertible to dollars on a dollar to dollar percentage if you put it towards your student loans, that’s clutch.
  • You also get points for good grades, timely bill payment, and other good credit practice activities – so it’s positive reinforcement and it’ll develop into good habits.
  • No minimum income or co-signer required, both of which are crucial. No minimum income, which is probably close to what you earn if you’re still in school, is good because you won’t be rejected on the grounds you don’t earn enough. No co-signer is also good because your parents credit and their names aren’t on the line for your transgressions – though you will have none, right?

None of the other student cards can come close to those first three benefits provided by the mtvU card and I’m not sure about the fourth. For more information, I wrote this review of the Citi mtvU card a few months ago when the card was first introduced.

This article is part of a series I’ve started called Personal Finance for College Students (hence, PF College).


 Cars 
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PFCollege: Learn To Use Public Transportation

Personal Finance for College Students Series Seal Do you have a car? If you’re like most college kids, you either don’t have a car or it’s a piece of junk. College is the perfect time to learn how to use public transportation. You’ll save money on costly insurance (expensive for you folks under 25), costly gasoline (expensive for everyone), and costly parking (unless you like rolling the dice with street parking). Plus, added onto to all those personal financial benefits, you will be doing the environment some good by not consuming as much fuel, producing as much pollution, and all that other good stuff related to personal automobile use.

Back at my alma mater, we had a little sticker we put on our student identification cards that gave us “free” rides on mass transit (we paid $17 per semester for this). Since we had this seemingly free transportation, many of us learned the intricate bus routes for our area and we could easily get to where ever we wanted. Many of us got into the habit of taking the bus and that’s a good habit, especially if you end up living in a metropolitan area where the costs of owning a car are significantly higher than in the boonies.

What will you save? Well, if you drive 12,000 miles a year, have a 20mpg car and pay $2.50 per gallon on gasoline, that’s a cool $1,500 in your pocket. You also won’t need insurance or pay for maintenance or a lot of the other auxiliary stuff not on the price tag. For some quick math, just use the IRS business deduction for business travel, 44.5 per mile, on 12,000 and you can ballpark the costs at around $5,340 a year. That’s some good savings.

(There are inaccuracies to using the IRS business travel deduction in that way but I figure it’s close enough to give you an idea of how much you’re saving)

This article is part of a new series I’ve started called Personal Finance for College Students (hence, PF College).


 Frugal Living 
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PFCollege: Use Your College Facilities

Personal Finance for College Students Series Seal This isn’t so much a personal finance tip as it is a general tip for all you college kids out there: Use the various facilities at your college or university while you can (for free) because you’ll miss it when you’re gone. Think about it… you probably have a free gym, free internet, free television, and you’ll be close to a library; so take advantage of it! When you leave, you’ll pay a minimum of $30 a month for a gym membership (which you’ll probably have to drive to), a fat $80+ or so for internet and cable, and you’ll probably need to drive to the closest library. All those resources will likely be within walking distance.

Also, make it a habit to go to the library if you want to read a book, magazine, or newspaper instead of buying the book or subscribing to the magazine or newspaper. I almost never read a book cover to cover and I almost never read a book more than once, so why pay for the cow when you can get the milk for free? :)

Consider an even more drastic case in the event of magazines or newspapers, you will likely never read a magazine from two months ago or a newspaper from a week ago. I personally never read a newspaper because I get the most up to date information online (you should to if you’re concerned about timeliness) and I really don’t want to get a subscription because I don’t read the whole newspaper anyway. I never read the Style, Classifieds, Automobiles, or Sports (I’m not a fan of any of the local teams) sections so why waste the ink or the trees (or recycled paper) on pages I won’t even separate? But, if you are a fan of newspapers, your library will have them and you’ll only cut down a couple branches a year instead of a forest. :)

This article is part of a series called Personal Finance for College Students (hence, PF College).


 Investing 
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PFCollege: Try Paper Investing

Personal Finance for College Students Series SealIn college, you’ll find yourself with a whole lot of time but not a whole lot of money. So, why not try your hand at some investing on paper? Paper investing is where you simply sign up for a stock tracking service (Yahoo Finance is a good one and what I use to track my stocks outside of my brokerage accounts) and “pretend” to trade. Give yourself $10,000 and just start trading as if you really did put in $10,000 of your own hard earned cash. Be honest and faithful to paper investing and you can learn alot, both about yourself in terms of style and about the market. What you will not learn is how to navigate the brokerage sites and take advantage of “expert” information like analyst reports. While this isn’t a deal killer, paper investing is better than diving into investing blind.

As you mature in your investing, you’ll start learning various analytical methods which will become valuable when you trade for real. You may also learn that you’re simply not good at investing in stocks and learning with play money is a lot better than learning (losing!) with real money. If you’re like me, you’ll probably enjoy reading all that you can about investing and one of the greatest resources I’ve found has been the daily linkfests penned by Charles Kirk at The Kirk Report. (He didn’t pay me anything for that, I’ve been saying it forever) Charles compiles a list of pertinent and insightful links to articles that I certainly wouldn’t have found on my own. Check out his latest linkfest and tell me there was a chance in hell that you would normally find yourself reading The Insider Monitor for the top 50 insider buys and sells?

This article is part of a new series I’ve started called Personal Finance for College Students (hence, PF College).


 Career 
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PFCollege: Always Project Professionalism in Job Hunting

Personal Finance for College Students Series SealI found Anna Ivey’s blog, The Ivey Files: Musings on the big, bad world after college, because I saw through Technorati that she linked to me in her sidebar, and in digging around at her main site I found a great article about 5 Mistakes College Grads Make When Looking for a Job that you should read if you’ve been looking for a job. While she lists five mistakes, the main thrust of the article revolves around how you, as a job candidate, should try your hardest to project professionalism at all times. Give it a look at let me know what you think, she makes some good point.

This article is part of a new series I’ve started called Personal Finance for College Students (hence, PF College).


 Education 
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PFCollege: Use Student Loans for School Only!

Personal Finance for College Students Series SealStudent loans come in all colors, flavors and sizes but they mean one thing for a ‘poor’ college kid – easy money. I was lucky enough to get out of college with only $25,000 or so in student loan debt but all of the $25k went towards tuition. I actually didn’t even have the opportunity to test my will power because the proceeds from the loan were directly deposited into my account at the university, so I can’t take credit for not spending it on a nice flat screen television or a new computer. That being said, it’s critically important that you not spend your student loan check on anything other than student related expenses. In fact, if you are getting more money than you need, return it.

Some would argue that the generally favorable terms of a student loan represents easy access to funding that you could use to invest in the stock market or in a business idea. Some would say that you should take it and enjoy your college years, you have the rest of your life to be responsible. I say: resist the urge, return the money. This all goes back to the idea of keeping the financial hole you’re in as shallow as possible while you don’t have any appreciable income. When you graduate, you will be entering the work force and the debt you’ve acquired in college will only hold you back.

After the grace period of the loan expires, if a grace period exists, you’ll have to start making monthly payments on the debt. Those payments are going to be a drain on your financial situation because if you have any significant amount of debt, you’ll be paying it off for a very long time (at minimum amounts). If you’ve taken on the debt in order to get a degree, then it’s wholeheartedly worth it. If you took it on to “enjoy yourself” then you’ll be kicking yourself once you have more responsibility.

This article is part of a new series I’ve started called Personal Finance for College Students (hence, PF College).


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