Archive for December, 2007

What is a Credit Score (and Why Should You Care)?

Your Credit Affects Your Future

Chances are you don’t know your credit score. In fact, a lot of students our age don’t even know what a credit score is—or how it can affect their future. Scroll down through this credit score quick guide to make sure you’re up on your credit info:

What is a Credit Score?
A credit score is a three-digit number (ranging from 340 to 850) that helps define your credit history and reliability—basically, the higher your credit score, the more trust you receive from those who look at your score.

Who Looks at Credit Scores?
This is the “why you should care” bit—your credit score matters to a lot of people. Take a look at these examples:

  • Loan Companies. Whether you’re taking out a car loan or a private student loan (remember to take out federal ones first—they have better terms!), lenders look at your credit score to help determine the interest rate to charge you—or if they will even give you a loan! If you have a high score, you will almost definitely be qualified and get a lower rate. (Another way to get a lower rate is to have someone with a good credit score co-sign your loan). Even mattress stores check your credit score before they’ll finance a mattress for you!
  • Credit Card Companies. If you apply for a credit card, a low credit score (or no credit score) could mean you get denied. My first card (which I got my freshman year) was a student credit card I got through my bank.
  • Cell Phone Companies. When Mom and Dad decide it’s time for you to get your own cell plan, your carrier of choice will probably run a credit check on you. A low credit score could mean higher rates or, once again, a denial!
  • Insurance Companies. Car insurance companies use a lot of factors to calculate your rate. Age and car model are two of them, but guess what? They also check your credit score. Same rules apply: a higher credit score usually means a lower rate!
  • Landlords/Apartment Complexes. If you’re renting off-campus, you will probably need a good credit score to rent an apartment. A low credit score—or no credit score at all—could mean you’ll have to find someone to co-sign your lease.

How to Get Your Credit Report
Want to see your credit report? The federal government created a law that allows you to get a copy of your credit report for free once every twelve months. Just go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get started. You should request your credit score from all three of these companies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax since your credit history is tracked separately by each company and may therefore have different information on each report. If you want to see your actual credit score, you will have to pay a small fee.

The most common score is called your “FICO” score that is calculated by a company named Fair Isaac & Co. and combines your credit information from all three credit reporting agencies. In 2005, the three agencies created their own combination credit score called “VantageScore” which calculates a scale of 500 to 990.

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Photo: Tramway by Herman Brinkman

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11 comments December 27th, 2007

Five College Relationship Mistakes you Might be Making

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You probably don’t know that I got married when I was 21, just before starting my senior year of college (unless you’ve made it to my About page). That said, I have to admit that I had a lot of “ups and downs” dating during college—I made a lot of mistakes, went on some bad (and a few VERY bad) dates, and I spent my first two years of college single.

Now, I’m pretty sure most of you aren’t ready to get married, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to have a successful dating life. So here is my bare-all list of the biggest relationship mistakes I made, and why you should avoid them:

1. Don’t Date your Friends’ Ex. Seems like common sense, right? But it can be tempting! About six months after breaking up with my first boyfriend, I started dating my friend’s ex-boyfriend on the rebound. I asked her permission first, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt her and make her uncomfortable. Four years later I’m not on speaking terms with the guy, and I’ve had to rebuild bonds with my friend. Trust me, it really is a bad idea, just like everybody says it is.

2. Don’t Hope Someone in a Relationship Will Break it Off for You. When I was a freshman, a junior guy in my history class started flirting with me. He told me his girlfriend was studying abroad, and that they were “having problems.” The big clue here (which I missed)—he still had a girlfriend. If he was really unhappy, he would have broken up with her already—before he started asking me on study dates. We never went out, but I ended up just feeling stupid for even spending time studying with him.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Do the Asking. I probably would have dated a lot more if I had been brave enough to ask a guy out. Unfortunately, after a bad date in high school, I promised myself that I would never ask a guy out again—I would just wait until someone asked me. (Ironically, the only guy I asked out after that high school date ended up becoming my husband. Haha).

4. Don’t Judge Yourself Against other People. This is really, really hard to do, but having strong self confidence is important if you want to date fun, interesting people–like attracts like. So if your roommate goes out on tons of dates and you don’t, remember that it doesn’t mean anything about you. And if (ahem) one of your dates brings you home after only an hour and a half, make the most of it—go out with your friends and enjoy the rest of the evening!

5. Don’t Give In on Your “Value Rules.” Everyone has a different set of “value rules” for the people they date. For example, I don’t drink, so I decided not to date anyone who did. Of course just before I met my now-husband, this very charming guy who drank almost every night asked me out—and I almost went. I actually said yes and then canceled at the last minute. It wasn’t so much because he drank that I didn’t want to date him, but because he didn’t understand and respect why I didn’t drink—his inability to understand my values would have made it difficult to have a good relationship with him.

Well, now you know all the things I try not to talk about when I mention dating in college. I’ve had a lot of good dating experiences, too, but I really learned the most from the bad ones. The real question is which big mistakes I’ve missed in this post—care to share your thoughts? I’ll add the best ones to a later post.

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3 comments December 20th, 2007

Cash In: How to Make Money Over Winter Break

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Who else wants to earn some extra cash over winter break? Don’t let these few weeks of freedom pass you by—here are a few ways to make a buck or two over the break.

Seasonal Employment
If you can think of a company that is busy during the holiday season, you can probably bet that they take on seasonal employees (people who work only during the busiest weeks of the year). Most retail stores are hiring extra help (check your local mall), or you can check with shipping companies like UPS.

Scholarships
In her post on 5 Ways for Students to Earn Cash this Winter Break, Deborah at the Pay for College Blog recommends using this time away from school to apply scholarships. You aren’t distracted by schoolwork, and you have time to do research on which ones in you might be eligible for (AND to research the sometimes random topics, like “Why are fire sprinklers so important?”)

Stock Photography
Kelly at Hack College suggests signing up at iStockPhoto.com and submitting your best photos as stock images. It’s an easy way to make a few bucks if you’ve got the time and talent for it.

Sell Your Textbooks
Don’t let textbooks sit under your bed collecting dust—sell them during break before the new semester starts! There are a lot of sites you can use—I usually go with amazon.com or half.com.

Work for Parents or Neighbors
See if you can pick up work for your parents, neighbors, or your friends parents over the break—you could serve at a party, do chores around the house, spring clean, babysit, wrap gifts, do yard work, shovel snow, clean out a garage, wash cars, or housesit.

Write for a Website or Magazine
Have an idea for an article—or even a short story from a class assignment? Try submitting to a magazine or website. Associated Content is one website that pays for articles. You can also check out a copy of The Writer’s Market from the library and submit articles or short stories to magazines.

Did you like this post? Don’t forget to share your own thoughts and money-making ideas in the comments, or subscribe to keep up to date on my latest college tips & tricks!

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2 comments December 17th, 2007

Inexpensive DIY Gift Roundup #4: Gifts for Teens & Twenty-somethings

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I’ve been busy making gifts for some of my family (including the Monster iPod Cozy for my brother!), and its actually been surprisingly fun–it seems much more personal. Here is a little assortment of fun DIY holiday gifts you can give to the teens and twenty-somethings in your life:

Redesigned Suitcase Backpack. To keep this unique project inexpensive, scour thrift stores for good-quality suitcases, and embellish with cool scraps you thrift or discover around the house.

Rice Heat Therapy Pillow. Schoolwork, new jobs, and all that comes with this age can mean stiff necks and headaches. This aromatherapy rice pillow will soothe all those aches and pains. This tutorial also includes ways to change the pillow into a cold pack and an eye-pillow.

Toaster Pastry iPod Cozy. This is the easiest iPod case I’ve found yet—just a needle, thread, and a couple pieces of felt. Plus it looks just like a Pop Tart! (Also check out the other iPod cases I posted in this entry and this one. I made the “Monster iPod Cozy” for my brother–it looks great and cost less than $5!)

Lavender Bath Salts. A bottle of these can cost $16 or more in stores, but they smell just as good (or better!) when you make your own.

Paper Lantern. Take your origami skills to the next level by making this gorgeous paper lantern for your friend, sibling, or roommate. It’s very straightforward, but looks stunning when its finished!

Recipe Book. Perfect for anyone taking on the first few years of living on their own, fill this book with favorite family recipes or scour the web for recipes you can make with just dorm supplies (microwave, fridge, toaster, etc.). To cut costs a bit, you can use a regular binder instead of a scrapbook album.

Want more low-cost and DIY gift ideas? Check out my other gift entries, below, or subscribe to keep up on my latest posts!

Photo: Christmas Decorations by alitaylor

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13 comments December 13th, 2007

Tests and Tragedy: Coping with College when Trouble Hits at Home

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I tried to write a detailed post this morning about how to cope with trouble back home while you are away at school, but I struggled to really put into words what it feels like, how much it hurts, and how to cope with it.

Two years ago this week, I was preparing for finals as my dad prepared to go into a surgery that we hoped would remove all traces of cancer from his body. Though I took all my finals and my dad made it safely through surgery, the weeks leading up to those days—and the months of hospitalizations, chemotherapy, and pain that my dad experienced afterward—were some of the hardest of my life.

Though its hard to give good general advice when everyone copes differently, there are a few things you should know if you find yourself in this situation:

  • Know Your Limits. You need to decide how much you will struggle in school based on whatever is going on with your family or friend. Decide if you think you can make it through the quarter/semester, or if this is such an extreme situation that you need to drop a class or take a break from school. Talk to a parent or adult that you trust to help you make this decision.
  • Tell Your Professors and/or Employer. Don’t feel like it is a cop-out to explain your personal situation to your professors and/or employer. Your professor may be able to offer you additional help, or refer you to someone who can tutor you if you find yourself struggling to keep up in class. Your employer needs to understand your situation because he/she may notice a change in your mood, and because you may need time off to visit home.
  • Search Out Support. The best support I got was from a friend who had been through a similar situation—he was able to help me understand that my feelings were normal, and was empathetic. You should also find out what your school has to offer. UCSD’s Student Health Services offered free sessions with a psychologist to all students, and also had student support groups for all different kinds of issues.
  • Reach Out to Others. One thing that is almost guaranteed to lift your spirits is to focus on helping other people instead of on your own worries. I made a lot of phone calls to my mom to cheer her up, and they cheered me up, too. Don’t feel that you have to help just one person or that you have to do a lot of big things—small, random acts of kindness to others will help you get outside your own pain, and even a small break from worrying is worth the effort.
  • Rest and Nourish. The health of your body affects your emotional state—you are much more likely to feel sad or fearful if you are tired. Worry, fear, and depression all take a lot out of you, so take good care of your body. Pay attention to what you eat, and try to keep eating healthily and on a regular basis. Also, understand that you might need more rest during stressful times—you might need to go to bed earlier or take a nap.

Remember, everyone copes in different ways. My younger brother couldn’t stand to go visit my dad in the hospital—it was just too painful for him. I was on the opposite side of the spectrum, and only felt good when I was sitting by Dad’s bed in the hospital.

If you have been through something like this, I encourage you to leave thoughts, ideas, and experiences in comments for your fellow readers—it really helps to know you’re not alone.

Photo: together by scol22

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4 comments December 10th, 2007

Inexpensive DIY Gift Roundup #3: Gifts for Kids

A lot of people are pledging to give handmade gifts this holiday season (and by the way, happy Hanukkah to those of you now enjoying the first few days of it!). You may not want to give all handmade gifts, but I personally like this idea because it can be much less expensive to make your own gifts (yay!) than to try to buy for everyone on your list. If you have kids on your list, I have a few fun and thrifty ideas for you!

Cardboard Kitchen

Build a Cardboard Kitchen. You know how parents always complain that little kids will play more with a big box than with a toy? For only $7 you can buy a pattern to build an adorable toy kitchen out of cardboard! (Check here if the first link no longer works, and check out the creator’s blog for tutorials on making more fun kid gifts, like multi-colored crayon melts).

Harry Potter Wands. Made with just paper, paint, and a glue gun, these wands are surprisingly cool-looking! Perfect for that young (or old) would-be wizard in your life. 🙂

Glitter Playdough. Easy, pretty playdough you can make with simple grocery store items. Give them with some cookie cutters for maximum fun!

Stuffed Felt Monster. My little cousins (a pair of energetic little boys) love anything “scary”—from ghosts to monsters, and anywhere in between. This clever photo tutorial shows you how to make one yourself.

Quick & Easy Snow Globes. Leave it to Martha Stewart to come up with a way to make snow globes yourself! These aren’t super fancy, but you can customize them to include favorite cartoon characters, dinosaurs, anything your little buddy loves.

A Recycled Dollhouse. Check out this cool dollhouse you can make using things from around the house—these ideas are just a start. Get creative and see what else you can come up with!

Paper Mice. A free downloadable pattern helps you make some teeny mice and a piece of cheese for them to play in! Remember, you don’t have to spend a lot of cash to make a little kid happy–they’ll love playing with these little guys with you, so start a game of pretend.

Is there anything else you’d like to read about? More gift ideas? Finals tips? Tips on making money over the school break? More holiday posts? Let me know!

I’ve got more ideas for you, so don’t forget to subscribe or sign up for email updates if you want to keep up!

Past Holiday Posts:

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1 comment December 6th, 2007

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