When preparing for college, organizing finances probably falls somewhere below buying towels on an incoming freshman’s priority list – but it deserves more thought than linens.

Taking care of finances before coming to college is essential, said Renee Huefner, assistant director of financial aid at Gannon.

Many local banks may not have branches in Erie, and opening a checking or savings account close to campus may be helpful – but not vital.

“A local account is not absolutely necessary because of the GU Gold program we have,” Huefner said. “It’s better than carrying cash around, but access to money in case of an emergency is still a good idea.”

Gannon’s GU Gold program functions similar to a debit card – money can be added to an account and can be used at several on- and off-campus locations, including local pizzerias and convenient stores, by simply swiping a student ID card.

For other expenses not covered by GU Gold, a checking account may be useful. While most debit cards work in all ATM’s, banks often charge a fee for withdrawing money from other financial institutions, and depositing money and checks could become complicated without a bank in the area.

Huefner said many local banks offer free checking and savings accounts for students, and this may be easier especially for students with work study jobs.

“If you want to cash a check from Gannon, you typically need an account or have to go to the bank Gannon is affiliated with,” Huefner said. “Direct deposit is a good thing to have, and that is easier with a bank here.”

Savings accounts are also important to consider, especially for students working before college. According to Huefner, the ideal amount to keep in a savings account – untouched – for emergency situations is about $500.

Another viable option for students can be found with credit cards, though they should be used with caution. Huefner said credit cards are the best way to build credit for the future; some employers and landlords consider the credit reports of applicants.

“We want students to be responsible,” Huefner said. “Use them to buy books. Save up the money over the summer, pay for the books with the card and pay the balance the next month so there is interest.”

Huefner does not recommend using a credit card for non-essential, such as eating at restaurants or going to the movies.

“Work and save,” she said. “Do as much as you can with cash. The more you do with cash, the less you’ll have to borrow in the future.”

While over-extending student loans to pay for books or personal expenses may seem like an easy way to have extra money, Huefner urges students to borrow as little as they can.

“Interest rates are too high to over-extend loans,” she said. “Look at your finances and your budget and get rid of non-essential items; there are always ways you can cut back.”

Gannon has partnered with the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority to offer all students with a Gannon ID free bus fare; this is a convenient, cost-effective mode of transportation that is much cheaper than car insurance, gas and parking.

No matter what type of money-management system is used, prior planning is key. So do a quick search of the banks in the Erie area; banks located on the lower blocks of State Street are within easy walking distance of campus, and it will save you time and a headache later if you set up an account here now.

“Try to work and save as much as you can,” she said, “especially during breaks and over the summer.”

Looking for more info on Financial Aid? Check our our Q & A with Renee Huefner!