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Renting Tips for College Students
While the time spent in college is often considered some of the best years in life, they are also often regarded as some of the most challenging. There is a good reason for this duality. Not only does this stage demand so much in terms of academics given project requirements like research papers and theses, but it also requires a student to leave their comfort zone. Writing the personal statement alone as part of the application process can be grueling.
One issue that’s becoming more pressing lately, however, is finding suitable living arrangements. The economic situation has been far from ideal for college students, especially in light of crippling student debt and the global recession that came in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, rising rents and shortages in affordable housing are leaving more and more students grappling with costs (Svrluga, 2022). The dire situation has prompted many students to look for ways to cut down on costs, from enrolling in the most affordable colleges in the US and taking on summer jobs to formulating business ideas and even leveraging social media for extra income.
In short, finding the right place to live is crucial for any student who has limited financial resources. Getting it right spares students a lot of stress and allows them to focus on their studies. But the trouble is, plenty of landlords turn students down due to the lack of both credit income and income. This makes finding an apartment to rent a daunting task. So how do you find the right place for you to live in? What can you do to avoid renting a place that’s beyond your budget or unsuitable for your needs? This post offers some tips that can help college students like you find a place that’s just right for you.
Preparing for House-Hunting
One of the common mistakes students make is failing to prepare for apartment hunting. Even if your financial resources are considerable, it’s always safer to take these extra steps before you start house-hunting. Doing these will make the process easier and faster.
- Think about what you want. Different students have different priorities. For some students, proximity to the campus is the top concern. For others, it’s the amount of space. Tour your campus and take note of considerations that crop up. Is the college easy to reach if you’re living off-campus? Are there nearby establishments that cater to students’ needs like shops, supermarkets, and restaurants? Is the neighborhood safe? All these and more should inform your decision.
- Stick to your budget. Who could ever say no to that luxurious apartment building you have been seeing on countless Netflix series? A rooftop pool and an expensive gym can be tempting to splurge on, but the truth is that you do not need them at the moment. Keep in mind that rent will be part of your monthly expenses now, so smart up and sign an apartment lease you can afford. While this sounds quite preachy, sticking to your budget is a smart thing to do. It will spare you the trouble of forcing ends to meet in the future.
- Start early. This is another important renting tip for college students. Remember that you’re not the only college student looking for an apartment close to the campus. Around 87% of college students live off-campus (Sharpe, 2016), and this means the competition will be ruthless. The best time to begin your search is during summer, which gives you enough time to find the perfect apartment that meets all your needs in terms of budget, location, safety, and a million other things.
- Keep a list. Actually visiting apartments will be part of your search, so keep a list of all of them. Be detailed. Write down things you like and dislike about the property. Are the furniture and appliances part of the rent or should you bring your own? Does the apartment get enough air and sunlight? Keeping track of them in a handy list is a classic renting tip for college students gathered from actual college students!
- Look for signs of poor maintenance. Are there any light bulbs in need of replacement? Is the paint peeling off the walls? Is the entire building being tended to? How about ample security? Not all landlords are the same, and many of them can be quite sloppy in their maintenance. If the apartment looks dingy and unkempt, chances are the landlord doesn’t pay enough attention to the needs of their tenants.
- Keep your deposit ready. Remember our previous discussion about competition? The market is highly competitive, and oftentimes it’s the one who’s most ready who gets a desirable apartment. So ensure that you can leave a deposit once you find the apartment that you like. But most college students will be required to present a co-signer, which is someone willing to place their name on the rent application. Since most college students will have little to no credit history, the co-signer will need to be someone who does. Essentially, their role will be to assume responsibility should they be unable to pay for rent. In most cases, this would be your parent or another family member.
- Read the lease carefully before signing. They say the devil is in the details, and this is especially true for contracts. Do not let the idea of reading fine print make you feel lazy. This is where the important details are spelled out including your responsibilities as a tenant, the landlord’s responsibilities, the amount of the security deposit, rental dues, and any penalties for late rent. Read the contract in its entirety and be on the alert for red flags.
- Maximize the use of your space. Since you will be paying for your own place, you need to maximize its uses so you won't end up calling mom and dad for help. Learn how to use the kitchen by looking up easy recipes for college students and preparing dorm meals on the weekends. Make your own coffee. These measures do not only help students manage their rent; they also teach life skills that help students learn how to survive college dorm life and even beyond.
Reviewing the Lease
As mentioned, the lease is a legally binding agreement holding all the necessary information. As such, it is crucial that you review it before signing. Here are some of the most important things you should look out for:
- Your lease term. A lease agreement usually lasts 12 months. But, of course, these terms can vary.
- Your security deposit. Every state in the US allows landlords to charge a certain amount of security deposit, but the amount varies depending on the state. Moreover, there is a limit on when these security deposits can be returned to the tenants. The general rule would be 30 days after you have moved out (University of Michigan, 2023), but the amount of which you shall get back and when will be written on the lease.
- Your rent due date. Apart from knowing the cost of your rent, you will need to know when your rent is due. Paying late could incur late fees, the specific terms of which are also discussed in the lease.
- The number of occupants in your apartment. Most apartments and leasing buildings do not allow more than two people to live per bedroom. If you are planning to move in with friends or roommates, check the number of occupants allowed.
Keeping Up with the Rent Costs
It is one thing to find an apartment, sign a lease, and hand in that security deposit. It is quite another to keep up with the rent expenses. Keep in mind that your rent will now be a part of your monthly budget, and as a student, it can get quite tricky. But there are ways to ensure that you can pay your rent on time. Here are some of the best tips:
- Create a monthly budget and stick to it. Start by listing down your monthly income (if you are a working student) or allowance (if you are receiving financial support) and all your expenses. This includes your rent, food, utilities, and personal expenses. Do not get overwhelmed by numbers and specifics. Just play on the estimates first and then adjust the numbers as you get a better idea of how much you’re spending. In time, you will have a more accurate idea of your spending habits. This will allow you to cut spending on things that are non-essential.
- Consider getting a budgeting app. As you build that habit of keeping up with your expenses, consider getting a budgeting app on top of the other best college apps you already have. There are many free ones available out there including LearnVest, Budget Ease, and Mint. These apps will do most of the work for you, and that massive feeling of dread in your stomach will disappear—a massive chore no more!
- Stick to the secondhand market. You are a college student trying to save money while paying the rent and utilities on time. To ease the financial burden, consider purchasing or renting secondhand textbooks. You will save money and live more sustainably. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone!
- Take advantage of discounts. Remember that you are a college student. Most establishments will be offering student discounts, and knocking a few dollars off your total costs will save you a lot of money in the long run. Just make sure you have your student ID at hand at all times! One more tip: clip coupons.
- Keep in touch with activities on your campus. There are plenty of student activities happening around the campus, so take advantage of these as well. They could offer snacks during a meeting, a pizza party during another event, or free dinner at a gathering. As someone staying within your budget, do not let these opportunities pass you by.
- Keep your credit card purchases small. That magic plastic card may feel magical, but not when the bills start piling up. Credit cards are dangerous to your budget and your spending habits can quickly become haywire if you relentlessly swipe that credit card. Credit cards are essential to building credit, but they pose the risk of overspending. So keep one, but never use it for more than what you can afford every month. Remember the renting tips for college students: your priority is paying rent! Trim down your list to the must-haves for college.
- Build your savings now. Yes, you read that right. As a college student on a budget, money will already be hard to come by. But trust us when we say that a little amount saved will go a long way in the future. You will be thanking us later, especially during emergencies. Even depositing $5 every month will change so much! Saving money while in college is one of the best things you can do to secure a better future.
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Sharpe, R. (2016, August 5). How much does living off-campus cost? Who knows? The New York Times . https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/education/edlife/how-much-does-living-off-campus-cost-who-knows.html
Svrluga, S. (2022, August 9). Rising rents add to college students’ scramble for affordable housing. Washington Post . https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/08/09/college-student-housing-costs/
University of Michigan. (2023). What is a security deposit? https://studentlegalservices.umich.edu/article/what-security-deposit
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