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College students and cars: Should your student have a car?

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    Along with pens, books, planners, and twin sized bedsheets, parents and students may be considering adding cars to their back to school shopping lists. Deciding whether your student should have a car at school is a difficult decision. It includes helping your student evaluate and manage their college expenses and making sure they can both navigate their campus efficiently at school and travel safely back home.

    Here are six questions to help you make the decision—and maybe save money along the way:

    1. What is the car's primary purpose?

    Many students don’t need a car at college, especially if they don’t have a reason to leave campus or if home is too far away to drive to over breaks. Transportation on college campuses has gotten significantly better now that college students have access to campus shuttles, bike-sharing, ridesharing and car sharing programs that didn’t exist decades ago.

    You’ll want to consider whether home is within a reasonable driving distance or if your student needs to travel off-campus often for work. You’ll want to weigh the total costs of alternative transportation options against all the costs associated with owning, insuring and driving a car.

    2. Does your student have a good track record?

    According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, drivers under age 20 are almost three times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than drivers age 20 and over. If your student already has a history of speeding tickets and fender-benders, factor that into your decision. This may be a pretty good indication not just of their driving, but also whether they'll make smart choices about when and how they'll use the car. 

    3. Will you need to buy a car?

    This is obviously a huge part of the decision. If your student already has a car available, the key financial considerations will be the cost of parking, fuel, maintenance and insurance. On the other hand, cost is a major factor if you’re buying a car as a college student. Explore ways to save for a car.

    4. How much is car insurance for college students?

    Besides the cost of the car itself, insurance is typically the biggest expense to consider. Insurance premiums are higher for younger drivers and registering a car in a different city or state could bump up your premium.

    Ask your auto insurance company about potential discounts for college students who earn good grades, which could reduce your premium significantly. Also, consider defensive driving courses for your student. They can lead to lower insurance rates. You might qualify for discounts if your student already has a car, but chooses to leave it parked at home, rather than taking it to college.

    5. What are the parking options—and costs?

    Having a car may add an extra element of stress for students navigating college life in an unfamiliar city. It's worth checking ahead of time to find out if the university offers parking permits to undergraduates. If parking on campus isn't an option, look for secure and inexpensive long-term parking off-campus. Parking on public streets can be a hassle: frequently moving the vehicle can be time-consuming.

    6. Is your student committed to maintaining a car?

    Ultimately, the truth is that having a car at college is still a privilege for most students. Parents and students should commit to an agreement about what conditions are necessary to keep the car at school. That might mean the student may need to share some of the costs with maintaining the car. Some maintenance items could include changing the oil, bringing the car to a mechanic when it leaks and funny noises start happening, even keeping the car washed, waxed and free of interior trash.

    In summary

    Deciding whether or not your student should have a car while away at college can be difficult. Exploring these six questions may help you determine if it makes sense for your college student to have a car while away at college.

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