In March, you can kiss winter goodbye and say hello to daydreams of spring break and longer days of sunshine. Before you get ahead of yourself, though, do a few things to spruce up your finances.
Prepare your tax documents
If you’re still listed as a dependent on your parents’ tax return, you’ll have to file taxes if you received more than $6,200 in earned income in 2014. (Not listed as a dependent? The threshold is $10,150.) Or, if you used scholarship money to pay for anything other than tuition and required fees, you’ll need to file as well. Steps to get you started:
- Collect all documents you might need.
- Find out which form you need to file – a 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ.
- Know what kind of tax credits you qualify for.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- If you’re making payments on a student loan while still in school, you or your parent can claim at least some of the interest as a deduction, says Betsy Mayotte, director of regulatory compliance for American Student Assistance.
- If you have a student loan in default, it can affect your refund. “If there’s no resolution within a certain amount of time, the borrower will be subject to tax garnishment. Once that is put on, it won’t be taken off until the default is resolved,” Mayotte says.
- You can seek out a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site for help filing.
Save cash during spring break
Spring breakers need to take stock of what they can actually afford, especially if planning to travel. “It’s one thing if you have a job or Mom and Dad are paying and you want to blow a few thousand on spring break, but it’s different when someone who can’t afford it is putting themselves in debt charging the Cancun spring break trip to their credit card,” says Sean Moore, founder of SMART College Funding. “It can come back to haunt them for years and years.”
Here are some ways to save money and still enjoy your break:
- Avoid a bag check fee and take only a carry-on like the travel pros do.
- Split hotel, gas, food and other costs with friends.
- Stay in inexpensive, short-term rentals, such as an AirBNB host or hostel.
- Stock up on groceries to minimize restaurant spending.
- Consider a weeklong alternative service trip that includes lodging or travel. Find projects through your school or with organizations such as United Way or Break Away.
- Be a tourist in your own city or plan close-to-home day trips.
- Use your college ID to get student discounts.
Start looking for a summer job
It’s not too early to look for summer employment, especially since the youth job market isn’t what it used to be, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Working during the summer is a financial necessity for many college students, says Joe DePaulo, a former Sallie Mae executive and co-founder of College Ave Student Loans, based in Wilmington, Delaware. The experience also helps students understand the value of a dollar and puts loans and education costs into perspective.
“My son worked at the state park system — cutting grass, picking up garbage — and it was the best experience he could get. He had long hours, hard work and got paid, then had lots of money when he got back to school to help defray the costs,” DePaulo says.
Here are some tips for your search:
- Sign up for job fairs on campus or nearby.
- Get a head start on your career with internships related to your major.
- Get advice and resume tips from your school’s career office. Make use of your school’s online job board and alumni network for opportunities.
- Tailor every resume you send out to the specific job you’re applying to, no matter what the job is.
- Seek out better-paying seasonal positions, such as at local pools, camps or warm-weather-only restaurants — they usually pay above minimum wage.
You may think there’s always time to put off looking for a job, dealing with taxes or thinking about your future — especially with spring break in sight. Use these tips to get your finances headed in the right direction.
Illustration by Dora Pintek.