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If the cost of tuition wasn’t enough, inflation means attending college or university in 2023 is even pricier than expected. What’s a first year to do? This story is part of a crash course in personal finance for students and parents. Read the full guide.

Over the first few days of the new semester, the courtyards and hallways of campus will be lined with booths: clubs and societies to join, information on the health care clinic, political petitions to sign, banks flogging credit cards and telcos offering cellphone deals.

Some of these booths offer valuable deals worth taking advantage of. Others are likely to lead to increased spending and debt.

Below, financial planners break down which deals to take advantage of and which to avoid.

Avoid the credit card booth

The No. 1 booth to be wary of is that of the bank offering credit cards, said Cindy Marques, a certified financial planner at MakeCents. Students often do not go into college armed with the financial literacy required to understand credit, she said.

Murray Baker, manager of financial empowerment at Family Services of Greater Vancouver and author of The Debt-Free Graduate, said first-year students should avoid credit cards if possible and learn to manage their household expenses without going into debt.

Mr. Baker said having a credit card is a valuable way to build a solid credit rating. But he recommends waiting until second year when students get a better handle on budgeting, at which point they should set low limits and only use them to pay off something small and predictable, like a phone bill.

Kingsley Chak, Scotiabank’s senior vice-president of deposits, savings and investments, says most students should simply put regular expenses such as subscriptions or their cellphone bill on a credit card and pay for all other expenses with a debit card. That’s because small transactions are enough to build your credit score and minimizing credit card use reduces your chances of overspending.

There’s another bonus for putting some bills on a recurring credit card payment: missing a payment actually hurts your credit score.

Take advantage of health care

Better access to health care and affordable dental care are major benefits available to most college students, Mr. Baker said. Notably, most universities offer on-campus mental health care that they may not be able to afford off-campus. After graduation, few employers offer access to such care. Non-student rates for a session can range from $50 to $240 per hour.

Students are automatically enrolled in the university plans but can opt out if covered under their parent’s medical and dental plans. The timeframe to opt out is often short, so students should tackle this in their first few weeks, Mr. Baker said.

Carefully think about cellphone plans

Students should also shop for cellphone plans beforehand, off-campus, when they can take the time to consider their options and decide which is the best plan for them, Mr. Baker said. Some providers will offer competitive student deals. Students can also bundle their plan with their parents’, which will almost always be cheaper.

Make the most of amenities

Students also often get cheap access to university facilities, such as a gym or swimming pool, and to public transit. They collectively pay for these services through their tuition, which brings down the cost. However, those who do not plan to use these facilities can sometimes opt out and get that portion of their tuition fees back, Mr. Baker said. Again, they should be aware of the deadline for opting out.

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