Comparing costs: residence halls vs. off-campus
"My roommates and I have to look for a place that’s convenient and isn't very expensive. Is it really worth living farther away in order to spend less? Or is it better to live closer to school and pay a little more?"
College students often think they can save money by living off campus. However, there are a lot of expenses that go with apartment living that you should consider before you make the move. Since you may or may not save money by moving out of the dorm, you’ll have to balance your reasons—which are not always just about money-with the costs.
Costs for off-campus housing add up quickly. To decide if it's going to be cheaper to live in the dorm or off campus, use the online financial calculator, Should I Live At Home, On Campus, Or Off Campus to estimate costs for the following items and compare the total to the cost of your current dorm living.
The following list will help you consider the costs that could be associated with moving off campus. If you have any questions about a specific item, refer to the descriptions below.
- Security deposit
- Credit report
- Renters' Insurance
- Household furnishings
Consider your portion of the monthly rent-whether you're living alone (and paying the whole cost) or sharing with roommates. The articles on understanding leases, choosing the right apartment and renting an apartment will provide you with information on how to apply for a rental, what your rental options are, and how your credit report might be used in the process.
A security deposit is money you pay to the landlord at the beginning of the lease. The amount is often the same amount as the first month's rent. The landlord holds the security deposit in reserve and uses the security deposit money in case you do not pay the rent or to cover any damage to the rental unit.
If you honor your lease by paying the rent on time each month and you have not caused any damage to the unit (other than normal wear and tear), you should expect to receive the full amount of the security deposit back at the end of your lease.
A future landlord is likely to run a credit check on you before deciding whether to rent to you. You may or may not have a credit history yet. It depends on whether you have had credit established in your name that required payment (such as a credit card or car loan). You may have to pay a small fee for them to run a credit check.
The credit report is used to:
- Verify your Social Security number
- Verify your driver's license number
- Verify your current and previous addresses
- Verify your current and previous employers
- List any credit accounts you have open and what your pay patterns are (for example, do you pay your bills on time?)
- List any collection, lien, or legal problems you may have
- List any bankruptcies
Be sure to provide accurate information to the landlord. If you had any credit problems in the past, you might want to tell the landlord what they were—and how you responded to the problems—before the landlord finds out on the credit report. Everybody gets in a bind once in a while. Being upfront about your difficulties and showing how you resolved them will show the landlord that you are reliable and trustworthy even in difficult situations.
Utilities: electricity, phone, Internet, cable
Many rental agreements require you to pay for your own heat, electricity, phone, and Internet and cable connections. The utility, phone and cable companies will likely require you to pay a service initiation fee and possibly a deposit if you have never had an account with the company before. The deposit is usually returned after a set period of time (often six months).
For Internet and cable access, you may also have wiring charges if you need connections in certain locations in the apartment or if the unit has never been wired before. A good payment history on utilities is a great way to build your credit history.
If you were used to a campus meal plan that provided two or three meals a day, you will now need to factor in the cost of food as well as time for food shopping and preparation. Check out tips in the articles on Eating healthy on a budget and Cheap eats.
Will you walk or ride a bike to campus? Use public transportation? Drive your car? If you are driving a car back and forth to school, you'll need to factor in the costs of gas, car maintenance, and parking. If you use public transportation, consider buying monthly passes. And remember, your student ID will often get you a discount.
The landlord's property insurance doesn't cover your possessions. To protect yourself if your possessions are stolen or destroyed by a fire or flood, you may want to get renters' insurance. This is usually very inexpensive; talk to your parents or ask an insurance agent. For information on renters' insurance, visit Getting renters' insurance.
You'll need furniture, dishes, pots and pans, linen and towels, cleaning supplies-all the things needed to create a home. This list can be long, so try to find creative ways to reduce these costs. Also, be sure to check with your future roommates to see what items they already have. Visit the article on Saving on furnishings to find affordable ways to furnish your apartment.
If you want to have pets in your off-campus housing, you'll need to factor in money for pet food, miscellaneous pet-care items, and their health-care expenses. You'll also need to make sure your landlord allows pets.
If you plan to have roommates, find out if your roommates are willing to living with pets. Remember, some people may be allergic to pets or just don't like dealing with pet hair all over the house. For more information on the costs of owning a pet, visit Adopting a pet.