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Financial Management for College Students: A Web-Based Tool to Teach

By Steve Anderson
Associate Director for Residence Life and Judicial Affairs
Elon University

Budgeting is one of the most important things in life you should learn that many schools never teach. But it is IMPORTANT to being successful in life. Budgeting is a way for you to live within your means and meet your future goals. A brief definition of budgeting is to set aside funds for saving, spending, and future goals. Budgeting means tracking where your money goes, so you still have some at the end of the month and don’t live paycheck to paycheck.

Why should students budget? A budget helps students to set goals for their money and makes sure they spend within their means. If students make a budget and stick to it, they can use it to finance their dreams.

In doing a little research on college students, credit cards, and their finances, this is what we discovered:

  • 88% of students signed up for a credit card because of free items given away at the booth. (Willis, 2002)
  • Students with credit cards went up from 67% in 1998 to 83% in 2001. (Barrett, 2003)
  • According to Nellie Mae, 54% of first-years and 92% of sophomores have at least one credit card. (Barrett, 2003)
  • On average, undergraduate debt totals $18,900. And the numbers are worse for the 27% of students who use plastic to finance part of the tab. They face median credit card balances of $3,400 and student loans of $21,200, according to Nellie Mae. (Willis, 2004)
  • Average credit card debt owed by college students is about $2,700! (Barrett, 2003; “Financial Traps,” 2001)
  • Nearly Ľ owe more than $3,000 and 10% owe more than $7,000! This is a 61% increase from 2000. (Barrett, 2003; “Financial Traps,” 2001)
  • Of students with credit card debt, nearly 20% of students owe more than $10,000! (“Financial Traps,” 2001)
  • 64% of students graduated with student loan debt; average student debt nearly doubled during the last eight years to $16,928. (“Student Debt,” 2002)
  • Of the 64%, 39% of student borrowers leave school with unmanageable debt levels (monthly payments are more than 8 percent of their monthly incomes). (“Student Debt,” 2002)
  • 71% of students from households making less than $20,000 graduated with debt, compared to 44% of students from households making more than $100,000. (“Student Debt,” 2002)

With a backdrop of rising higher education costs and student loans increasing, the prevalence of credit cards, and our students asking questions about money matters in the traditional classroom and the lack of a class on personal financial management, we embarked on a mission to create a tool that would help our students learn about budgeting and financial management.

Our goals for this project were to develop an interactive web-based application tool that could be utilized by our Elon 101 instructors to teach first-year students money basics, utilized by students to learn about money issues they will face upon graduation, and teach some basic budgeting skills and terms that are important in life during and after college.

We created our website Elon University’s Money Management: The College Years ( to meet these goals. Nearly all of our first-year students (over 1200 this past year) take Elon 101 during their first semester on campus. Elon 101 meets once a week and is a one credit pass-fail course. The most time that we thought we could reasonably expect a class to give to our financial management site is one class period. So we designed the tool to be used in under an hour. Because the tool is web-based with its own database, it can be utilized by our students and professors anywhere there is access to a computer and the web.

Our website offers information on several different areas of budgeting and personal finances, including credit cards, banking, personal budgeting, and a real life simulator personal finances game. We designed the website with many features, including a pretest on general finances that students take before they start using the website so their professor can have an idea of where each student is with personal finance issues and what topics might have the best impact in a classroom discussion. The professor can assign the student to use the site before class and the professor then can review each student’s pretest to see which sections each student completed. Then the professor can use this knowledge to focus the classroom discussion with the students during class.

A pretest is also included with the credit card section, since this is an issue that has dramatically impacted students’ lives over the past fifteen years in a variety of ways as seen by the statistics included above, many of them in a negative way. There is also an interactive area where students can compare different credit card rates (they are even able to plug in their rates from their own credit cards in this section) and see how each one works and the impact of interest and interest rates.

There is also a section that allows students to develop their own budget on the website to begin tracking income and expenses. At the end of the time period (week, month, etc.), they can assess how accurate their budgeting efforts were and utilize that information to develop their budgeting skills. Some of the features of our interactive budgeting section are the ability to add or remove categories and saving/printing each budget in your personal file in our database that can be accessed in the future. This is a great way to manage finances by seeing what is coming in (income) and what is going out (expenses). Hopefully for our students the income side of the equation is more than the expenses side.

In conclusion, our overall goal was to develop a site that offers students the opportunity to learn and to teach financial responsibility via the web. The site establishes this in a format that the students are comfortable with and familiar working with to learn these skills, and even includes an interactive simulation game. The site also offers a variety of online resources available to expose them to some of the more educational sites available




Barrett, J. (2003, October 7).  Excessive Credit Card Use.  Young Money. Retrieved December 7, 2004, from


Financial Traps for College Students.  (2001, August 9).  Young Money. Retrieved December 7, 2004, from


Student Debt on the Rise.  (2002, March 8).  CNN/Money. Retrieved December 7, 2004, from


Willis, G.  (2002, March 8).  Credit Card Cause Student to Drown in Debt.  CNN/Money. Retrieved December 7, 2004, from


Willis, G.  (2004, April 26).  Welcome to the Real World.  CNN/Money. Retrieved December 7, 2004, from


Additional Sites:




If you are interested in utilizing the site please contact Steve Anderson, Associate Director for Residence Life and Judicial Affairs at 336-278-7300 (email is  You are free to take our site ( for a test spin.

Click here for printable version