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Residence Halls or Off-Campus Living: Which is Better for You?

You’re not alone in wondering if you can save money by living off campus. Be aware that 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.

Comparing 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 and compare the total to the cost of your current dorm living.

The following list will help you consider the costs that may be associated with moving off campus (each item is explained more fully below):

  • Rent
  • Security deposit
  • Credit check fee/apartment application fee
  • Utilities
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Renters' Insurance
  • Household furnishings
  • Rental fees to have a pet

Rent

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.

Security Deposit

A security deposit is money you pay to the landlord at the beginning of the lease. The amount of the deposit often is the same amount as the first month's rent. The landlord holds the security deposit in reserve and uses that money to cover any damage to the rental unit discovered after you move out.

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 receive the full amount of the security deposit back at the end of your lease.

Credit Report

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 the landlord 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 them—before he or she finds out by looking at your 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, Gas, Phone, Internet, Cable

Many rental agreements require you to pay for your own electricity, gas, phone, Internet and cable connections. Find out if you have to pay for water, too. The utility 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 also may have wiring charges if you need connections in new locations in the apartment or if the rental unit has never been wired before. (In advance of any having any new wiring installed, clear it with your landlord.)

Food

If you were used to a campus meal plan that provided two or three meals a day, you now will need to factor in the cost of food as well as time required for food shopping and preparation.

Transportation

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, insurance, and parking . If you use public transportation, consider buying monthly passes. And remember, your student ID often will get you a discount.

Insurance

The landlord's property insurance doesn't cover your possessions. To protect yourself if your possessions are stolen, damaged, or destroyed by, say, a fire or flood, you may want to get renters' insurance. This type of coverage usually is very inexpensive; talk to your parents or ask an insurance agent. For information on renters' insurance, visit Getting Renters' Insurance .

Household Furnishings

You'll need furniture, dishes, pots and pans, linen and towels, cleaning supplies—all the things needed to create and maintain a home. The list of needed items can be long, so try to find creative ways to reduce the costs. Also, be sure to check with your future roommates to see what items they can provide. 

Pets

If you want to have pets in your off-campus housing, you'll need to make sure your landlord allows them. Then you’ll need to factor in money for pet food, miscellaneous pet care items, and pet health care expenses.

If you plan to have roommates, find out if your roommates are willing to live with pets. Remember, some people may have animal allergies or just don't like dealing with pet hair all over the house. For more information visit The Bottom Line: True Costs of Owning a Pet.

After you’ve considered all of these factors, compare your monthly cost of on- and off-campus living in a side-by-side list. Then you can decide whether it’s a good financial choice to move off campus.

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