If any word can send a parent with teenagers into a bout of anxiety, it's likely to be "college." For every newly-minted freshman who enters college, the proud parents are looking at a yearly bill for tuition and fees of nearly $10,000 -- and that's for an in-state public university.
As if that weren't enough, a National Retail Federation survey found the average college-bound family plans to spend nearly $1,000 to get their little collegian ready for the school year. That hefty tag includes over $225 on electronics and more than $100 on dorm room or apartment furnishings.
With so much cash on the line, many students and parents are likely looking for savings around every corner. And while it's probably safe to say they have the conventional savings covered -- used books have the same information as new ones, after all -- there are a few more unconventional ways to save on college necessities, starting with your credit card.
1. Use Your Credit Card Rewards to Earn as You Buy
The most obvious on the list -- but often overlooked -- credit card rewards are similar to having a universal rebate for whatever you buy with your card. This can be especially valuable if your card bestows bonus rewards in useful categories, such as business credit cards offering bonus rewards for purchases made at office supply stores.
Perhaps the best part is that almost anyone can qualify for a credit card offering purchase rewards, including an array of student cards for first-time cardholders. Even those struggling with poor credit can find a rewards-bearing card, as some of the best credit cards for bad credit offer cash back rewards.
There are two things to keep in mind when it comes to saving with credit card rewards, starting with the fact that they’re only valuable if you actually redeem them -- which 31% of cardholders seem to forget. Even if your cash back or points won’t expire, they do you little good in your bank’s hands rather than your own.
Secondly, you shouldn’t purchase things on your credit card you can’t pay off quickly, regardless of the rewards. Interest fees can eat into your cash back quickly, so you’re better off with a lower-interest personal loan for purchases you’ll need to pay off over the long term. Even with a less-than-perfect score, you can get personal loans for bad credit, so don’t succumb to unnecessarily high interest payments to save a little in the short term.
2. Take Advantage of Extended Product Warranties When You Use Your Card
While purchase rewards are a well-known credit card perk, your card likely comes with a variety of lesser-known -- but potentially quite useful -- perks and benefits. Of particular interest to the cardholder with college shopping to do is likely the extended warranty protection offered by many of the best consumer credit cards.
In essence, when you purchase an item with your credit card that comes with a manufacturer’s repair warranty, your card network (e.g., Visa, Mastercard, etc.) will extend that warranty, typically up to one year. Keep in mind that not every purchase will be covered, such as those without manufacturer warranties, and most cards won’t cover computer software, vehicles, real estate, or used/pre-owned items.
Not only does a credit-card-provided extended warranty give you a little more peace of mind that your pricey new headphones won’t die just when your manufacturer’s warranty expires, but it can also save you a bundle by letting you skip the in-store warranty extension.
3. Find Exclusive Savings with Issuer Portals & Discounts
Although the majority of Americans have hopped online to enjoy the discounts and convenience of online shopping, few cardholders seem aware of the savings to be had from their credit card issuer’s own online offerings. In particular, many issuers have online shopping portals that offer discount and bonus rewards for shopping with issuer partners.
For example, the Ultimate Rewards program available to consumers with Chase credit cards gives cardholders an extra point per $1 spent on shopping portal purchases made with any of its 200 partner merchants. This can be done simply by logging into your Chase account and entering the shopping portal, which places a cookie in your browser to track your purchases.
To make the savings even more impressive, many of these portals are also filled to the brim with exclusive discounts from its partner merchants. These can be obtained by making your purchase online, or, in some programs, may be attached to your credit card for use on purchases made in a physical location.
Make College Affordable with Unconventional Savings
Taking a look at the typical costs of sending a child to college may have many parents missing the days when they were only on the line for food and diapers -- or maybe not. Either way, the eye-bulging budget for a college education likely inspires a desire to find any way to save, no matter how unconventional the means.
Be sure to take advantage of additional student savings offered through national retailers, like the Best Buy student discount, to save 10% on the cost of pricey electronics. There are literally hundreds of brands that offer student discounts to save on everything from books and clothes to food and transportation. And when you pull out the plastic, you can easily find a little extra laundry change by making use of some of your credit card’s overlooked or under-utilized benefits.
Editorial Disclaimer: Information in these articles is brought to you by CreditSoup. Banks, issuers, and credit card companies mentioned in the articles do not endorse or guarantee, and are not responsible for, the contents of the articles. The information is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted; however, all credit card information is presented without warranty. Please check the issuer’s website for the most current information.