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Financial Emergencies: 6 Smart Student Funding Options

Financial emergencies are downright stressful and scary. Here are your options as a college student for funding during common financial struggles.

As exciting as a new college semester is, figuring out how to pay for it—or how to keep up your funding—can be worrisome. It’s especially challenging when unexpected emergencies impact your financial aid and budgetary plans. If you’re facing any of the following financial emergencies mid-semester, you still have options. Here’s how to handle these situations and smooth out your financial crises.

1. Needing equipment that exceeds your credit card limit

According to the College Board, the average annual cost of books and supplies for an in-state, four-year public school is $1,298 for a full-time undergraduate student. As a college student, you likely don’t have that kind of money on hand. A credit card can be a helpful tool to finance small purchases for a class like lab supplies, which you can repay later. But if the course equipment you need will push your credit card beyond its limit, you need to find another alternative. 

What you can do: Talk to your professor. They or the department might have the required supplies available for students in need to borrow during the semester. You can also reach out to classmates who you trust to see if they’d want to split supply costs and share them throughout the semester. If you’re going this route, it can be helpful to find a peer who’s taking the same course but on a different day or time than you. This ensures each party has access to the supplies without creating a conflict.  

2. Billing discrepancies with the bursar

Some students pay their tuition in full at the start of each semester, but some choose to pay in installments via a payment plan. Staying on top of your billing account is essential to avoid delays with class registration or disruptions to school benefits. 

What you can do: If you’ve noticed a billing error from your college bursar, address the discrepancy immediately. Different schools have varying process requirements for disputes. Some colleges require students to contact the bursar within a short time frame upon identifying the discrepancy, for example. At the very least, be prepared to contact your institution’s bursar with the following information:

  • Your billing account number
  • A copy of the bill 
  • The amount you believe is incorrect
  • Documentation to verify your claim (such as paper receipts or e-payment confirmations verifying how much you’ve paid toward your school bill)

Related: 6 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College

3. Struggling with paying rent

An emergency fund is helpful for short-term financial binds. But if you live off campus and don’t have an emergency fund large enough to cover a full semester’s worth of housing, you’ll need to come up with a long-term solution.

What you can do: Find a reliable roommate to help share the rent. Not only does having a roommate instantly cut your rent liability by 50% (even more with multiple roommates), but other community household expenses will also be split. Monthly expenditures like electricity, water, gas, Wi-Fi, streaming subscriptions, or cable TV—which tend to add up and become difficult to pay over time—will become joint expenses so you won’t have to shoulder the entire load.

4. Having difficulties affording groceries

In addition to tuition costs, other day-to-day expenses can be financially challenging for some students. If you’ve tapped out your financial aid award and nutritious food is cost-prohibitive, there are federal and local resources you can explore.

What you can do: Many cities across the world host free community fridges for residents in need, including students. For example, the University of California, Davis has two fridges on its campus that are stocked by individuals in the neighborhood who have surplus food they want to donate to the community. Whether people are going out of town for the week and don’t want food to go to waste or grow their own vegetables and have a bountiful harvest to share, community fridges offer free food with no strings attached. Find a community fridge near you

Another option to consider: Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), once known as “food stamps,” is a food program that’s available to those who meet program requirements and income limits. Although students generally don’t qualify for SNAP, eligibility is temporarily expanded right now. Eligible students can use SNAP benefits toward grocery purchases like meat, vegetables, dairy, bread, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages. If you’re struggling to afford food but are unsure whether you’re eligible for SNAP benefits, contact your local SNAP office to learn more. 

Related: How Colleges Are Helping Students Meet Basic Needs

5. Covering the costs of your textbooks

The average cost of textbooks per academic year is in the thousands. Some students’ financial aid awards only offer enough to cover the cost of tuition and fees for the semester. Only needing your books for a few months before moving on to a new class schedule means it’s wise to find creative ways to access textbooks. 

What you can do: Like with course supplies, an easy first step is asking your professor if they have extra copies of the textbook you can borrow. If they don’t, ask if they can put the required text on hold at the campus library. Held textbooks are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so if it’s not available immediately, you can be added to the waitlist. Another way to cut costs on textbooks is to buy used editions at your school’s bookstore or online. You can also rent used textbooks through websites like Chegg or eCampus.

6. Getting an unexpected hospital bill

If you sustain a significant injury or unplanned hospitalization during the semester, you might be facing a budget-crushing bill. Extenuating circumstances that severely affect your out-of-pocket expenses and ability to cover your tuition might justify a financial aid award adjustment. 

What you can do: Submit a request for a Professional Judgment from your college’s financial aid office. A Professional Judgment allows a school’s financial aid administrator to re-evaluate financial aid awards based on a change in your financial situation and your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Remember, an award adjustment under a Professional Judgment isn’t guaranteed and is considered on a case-by-case basis at your school’s discretion.

Related: Get More Money by Appealing Your Financial Aid Award

If a financial emergency is still weighing heavily on your funds after exhausting the options above, consider a private student loan only as a last resort. Paying off student loans years after graduating or leaving school can affect how quickly you can achieve life goals, like buying a home. Financial emergencies are never wanted, but they are manageable. Just make sure you’ve explored all alternative options before adding to your student debt.

You can also make ends meet by applying for more scholarships! Start looking for awards to ease your financial burden with our Scholarship Search tool.

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About Callie McGill

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