Students using a laptopWhen you want something in life, it’s best to have a plan for how you will get it. Everyone wants a life of financial security—the ability to save and invest so that your money is working for you in a way that enables you to fulfill your life’s goals. To achieve financial security, you need to create a financial plan.

Financial literacy (education on the management of personal finances) is an essential part of planning and paying for postsecondary education. Everyone needs to understand the options with respect to the vast array of financial products, services, and providers to make sound financial decisions.

A financial plan is simply a roadmap for how you will manage your money on an ongoing basis. At its most basic, a financial plan involves defining your money goals, identifying the steps it will take to reach those goals, and then following through with those steps. 11 Basic Financial Tips For College Students offers smart ideas to help you along the way.

Practice Good Credit Habits.

Even if you don’t need loans to pay for college, sooner or later you will probably need to borrow money. Your borrowing and repayment history is tracked by the financial industry to create your credit score, which helps lenders gauge whether you are a good credit risk. The better your credit score, the easier it will be for you to borrow money and the better terms you will be offered. A good credit score can save you thousands of dollars over your lifetime. Here are some ways to build and maintain a good credit score (typically a score of 700 or higher) and avoid financial headaches:

Always pay your bills and loan installments on time. To avoid late fees, note the due dates for bills and installments as soon as you receive them. Keep a copy of all bills and loan payments you make.

Don’t bounce checks. Bouncing a check means writing a check for more money than you have available in your account. Aside from hurting your credit score, banks usually charge you a fee for every bounced check. The fees are automatically charged to your account, which can cause subsequent checks to bounce, leading to more fees, more bounced checks, etc. Bounced checks can lead to real money problems and even get you into legal trouble. The good news is that with a little caution and diligence, you can prevent bounced checks altogether by being aware of the amount of money in your bank account and spending only what you can afford.

Use credit card sense. In college, you’ll get tons of credit card offers. Your best move? Shred them. Don’t sign up for a credit card just to get something for free. As attractive as easy credit might seem, credit card interest can put you in a very deep financial hole that can take years to dig out of. If you feel you need a credit card or you want to start building your credit history, apply for one credit card with a competitive interest rate, then charge only what you can afford to repay. Also, try to pay the balance in full each month to prevent interest charges from piling up.

Don’t ignore credit problems, get help ASAP. In spite of your best intentions, you may get in over your head. Credit problems include missed payments, bounced checks, and credit card debt; these problems lead to a lower credit score and a more difficult time when borrowing money in the future. Sometimes, people mistakenly believe that if they ignore their credit problems, these problems will go away. Instead, their credit problems will only get worse. If it happens to you, don’t feel foolish or ashamed, because you will be in good company; many well-intentioned people get into credit trouble. So get help immediately, nip credit problems in the bud and save yourself lots of stress. Your local financial institution or college financial aid office may be valuable free resources to help you get back on track.