Campus Philly’s Financial Resource Guide, Presented by Citizens


Welcome to the Campus Philly Financial Resource Guide presented by Citizens. 

Financial literacy is one of the most important keys to success as a young adult in the city. There’s a lot to learn about, understand, and manage when it comes to money. When and how should you save? Do you really need to budget? When’s the best time to start planning for retirement?  

We’ve put together this resource to help you navigate the money-management conversation. This financial guide is packed with advice from Citizens experts, including tips, tricks, and resources on how to “adult with your finances.” We’ll be diving into topics ranging from opening a checking account, to saving for your first apartment, to finding the right retirement plan that fits your needs, and everything in between.  

Campus Philly’s Financial Resource Guide has been updated and enhanced for 2024 to share even more valuable financial information, particularly for anyone who is just starting their career, navigating first-job salary and benefits, and budgeting for daily life expenses like rent, transit, groceries, and more. 

Before we jump in, check out this breakdown on some financial words that you might come across as you’re looking over the resources below. Familiarize yourself with these key terms, or if you already feel good about the financial terms, jump into the guide!

Ready to get started?! 

Financial Term Dictionary

Budget: An estimation of how much money is made and spent over a certain period of time and is usually reviewed on a periodic basis. Budgets can be made for a person, a group of people, a business, a government, or just about anything else that makes and spends money. 

Income: Money or an equivalent value that an individual or business receives, usually in exchange for providing a good or service. 

Expense: The cost required for something. Common expenses for college students include payments for food, books, clothes, room and board, etc. 

Cash flow: The net amount of money being transferred into and out of a business or personal bank account. Cash coming in is called “inflow,” and cash being spent is called “outflow.” 

Refinance: Or “refi” for short, refinance refers to the process of revising and replacing the terms of an existing credit agreement. Usually when people “refi” it’s in relation to a loan or mortgage to favorably change their interest rate, payment schedule and/or other terms in the contract.  

Loans: A type of credit agreement where a sum of money is lent to another party in exchange for future re-payment. In many cases, the lender also adds interest in which the borrower must repay in addition to the initial balance. 

Overdraft: An overdraft happens when a bank account reaches zero dollars, but the bank still allows money to be taken out, meaning the person becomes indebted to the bank. If you happen to overdraft, there is usually an additional interest fee for every overdraft that must be paid back to the bank.  

Checking Account: A bank account held at a financial institution that usually allows you to place an unlimited amount of money in your account (deposit), and take money out when you need it (withdraw) in a convenient and accessible way. 

Savings Account: Similar to checking accounts, a savings account is a safe and reliable way to save cash through depositing money into a bank. However, savings accounts usually have some limitations on how often you can withdraw money.  

401K – A 401(k) is a retirement savings plan sponsored by your employer, where they typically match your contributions up to a certain percentage of your salary. For example, your company may say they can match any contributions you make up to 5% of your salary; to make the most of this savings program, you also would want to contribute the same amount into your 401(k)! 

Health Savings Account – An HSA is a tax-advantaged savings account designed specifically for healthcare-related expenses, like copays, prescriptions, and many more. Contributions could grow over time, similar to a 401(k), and funds roll over year to year. 

Emergency Fund  – An emergency savings fund exists to provide a financial cushion for unexpected circumstances that leave you without a steady income. Ideally, the emergency savings fund account will keep you financially afloat for anywhere from three to six months. 

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get into the deets. 

First Things First, Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Student Loans

  1. What is FAFSA and where you can find it

FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is used by many states and colleges to determine your eligibility for Federal student aid such as grants, federal student loans, and even work study. 

We recommend using the online FAFSA application to apply. Sending in your form via mail is also an option. Your high school guidance counselor or college financial aid office should be able to provide you with a paper form! 

  1. How often should you apply for FAFSA?

The FAFSA form should be completed each year you’re in college. After you apply every year you’ll receive a new financial aid award letter from your school.

  1. Looking for your official transcript? 

A transcript is your official academic record. It usually contains a list of your courses and grades, an explanation of your school’s grading scale, and a list of the school’s course offerings.

Your high school guidance counselor is the perfect resource to find out how to get transcripts sent to your selected colleges and universities. As you plan, keep in mind important deadlines and the possibility of a charge fee for your transcript to be sent. 

  1. Direct Loans 

Once you complete your FAFSA application, your school will be able to determine if you are eligible for a Federal Direct Loan. After that, you’ll need to complete a Federal Direct Loan Master Promissory Note, or MPN, for short. 

  1. Looking for a scholarship opportunity? Check out The Citizens Scholarship for undergrad and graduate students 

Citizens wants to honor the dedication of students and families pursuing higher learning! Fill out the registration form to be entered for a chance to win a Grand Prize of $15,000 to use towards school expenses or one of the $2,500 monthly prizes.

Budgeting Basics 

We get it, even though that pizza for lunch was totally worth it today, there may be ways to enjoy some of the best food in the city without splurging or going over your budget every week. 

The idea of budgeting may seem intimidating, but if you stick to these seven budgeting basics, it can be easy. 

  1. Figure out your net monthly income: Add up all your paychecks from the past month. That’s how much money you’ll have to work with in a typical month.

  1. Add up everyday expenses: How much do you spend each month on recurring everyday expenses like that morning coffee or bus fare? This can vary week to week, or month to month, so they’re harder to predict. But by looking back at previous months, you can get a general idea on how much you tend to spend on these recurring expenses.

  1. Tally up your bills: Most bills—rent, student loans, cable, Internet, insurance, gym memberships—cost the same every month. Therefore, they’re easier to account for. Add all your bills together to estimate your monthly expense.

  2. Calculate your savings potential: OK, time to put it all together. Take your net monthly income and subtract your everyday expenses and bills from that number. What’s left over? The money you can save each month, A.K.A. your savings potential.

  1. Choose your savings goals: Now that you know your savings potential, distribute those funds amongst all your goals. But first, what are those goals? What are you saving for? List out your savings goals so you can figure out how much to distribute to each one. 

  1. Divvy up savings potential to each of your goals: How much do you want to save monthly for each goal? Distribute your savings potential across all goals. Prioritize accordingly—you might want to save more for one goal if you need to reach it sooner or if it’s more expensive.

  1. Set up your automatic transfers: Last step! Now that you have separate accounts for each goal, set up the automatic transfers from each paycheck to cover each month’s totals. So if you get paid bi-weekly, that means you’ll usually have two paychecks each month to cover all everyday expenses, bills, and savings.

Have some fun with—take the Citizens Savings Personality Quiz to learn which style of savings is the best based on your individual personality!

Interested in other ways to save? Check out this article that shares 14 things you can do to start saving TODAY.

Checking & Savings Account 101 

A checking account is a bank account held at a financial institution that usually allows you to place an unlimited amount of money in your account (deposits), and take money out when you need it (withdrawals), in a convenient and accessible way. Below are some of the benefits that come with opening a checking account:

Let’s chat about overdraft fees, and how to stay away from them!

An overdraft occurs when you don’t have enough money available in your account to cover a transaction. 

This happens when your bank account reaches zero dollars, but the bank allows you to continue taking money out, meaning you become in debt to the bank. If you happen to overdraft, there is usually an additional interest fee for every overdraft that happens.

Here’s an Example: You just spent your last $20 dollars getting stir-fry and a honeybar dessert at honeygrow (trust us, it was worth it!), and now your bank account has zero dollars in it. However, you forget that your Apple Music bill is due today too. Since you have the student discount, $5 will automatically come out of your bank account to pay for your Apple Music membership. 

An overdraft has just happened because more money has left your account than what you had in it originally. You now are $5 in debt to the bank, plus they may charge you an additional overdraft fee, which could go as high as $35. 

The best way to avoid overdrafts and fees is to monitor your account balances and activity. Here are some tips that make it easy:

  • Set balance alerts: Set up Online Banking email and text alerts to be notified when your balance is low, and to monitor specific transactions.

  • Track your balance: Log in to Online and Mobile Banking daily to securely check your available balance and account activity. Remember to consider any outstanding checks or scheduled payments that have not been made.

  • Pay bills automatically: You can set up bill payments when you know you have money in your account (like on payday) and set reminders to ensure you won’t pay your bills late and incur costly fees.

  • Sign up for direct deposit: Have your paycheck automatically deposited in your account to get faster access to funds on payday and ensure your money is available when you need it.

Get Ready to Save!

A savings account is a safe and reliable way to save cash by depositing money into a bank. Savings accounts usually have some limitations on how often you can withdraw money, but they generally offer flexibility that’s helpful when you want to build an emergency fund, or even save for something like a car!

Whether you’re hoping to save $5 or $50 a month, Citizens has tons of savings options and resources to help you.

  • Check out their Savings Calculator to determine how much time and money you need to reach your goal!

  • You can set up automatic transfers so funds are automatically deposited into your savings account, learn how.

  • Waive monthly fees—they provide simple ways to waive your monthly maintenance fees.

  • Schedule an appointment to discuss guidance for personal savings!

So, are you ready to open a checking or savings account? Let’s do it! If you have questions as you go, just click the “Message Us” tab on the right side of the screen to chat with a Citizens rep.

How to Make Money While in College

Whether you want to make money out of necessity, or simply because you want to have some extra cash in your pocket, there are loads of money-making opportunities for college students like you. Check out some of the options below. 

  • Work-Study Programs: This is a nice way to get involved on your campus and make a couple of dollars all at the same time. Federal Work-Study program funds full and part-time jobs for students at most colleges. Eligible students must already receive financial aid and need additional support to pay for expenses while in school. 

  • Part-Time Jobs on Campus: Even if you don’t qualify for the official federal work-study program, you may be eligible for a work-study arrangement. Often, university funds are distributed to academic departments or offices for student hires. On-campus jobs can include barista, library aide, research assistant, etc.

  • Part-Time Jobs and Internships Off Campus: If you can land a job at a major corporation, you may qualify for tuition assistance, with the benefits kicking in immediately in some cases. To help out with this, Campus Philly has a FREE Job Board!

    Whether you’re looking for an internship or part-time job based in or around the Philadelphia region, there are a lot of companies that are currently hiring, and looking for young professionals just like you. Head to the Job Board to search through all of the job opportunities available to you right now! 

While you’re there, make sure to check out the Campus Philly Contributor Program! We’re currently accepting submissions for contributors to write for the Campus Philly blog and/or contribute photo and video content. This could be the perfect gig for you! 

  • Enter into the Gig Economy: For students who have skills in areas such as writing, graphic design, or other creative areas, freelancing offers similar flexibility and exposure to a marketplace with plenty of contract work opportunities.

Our friends over at REC Philly have all the resources you need to get your career in the gig economy started. REC Philly is a community for creatives who want to turn their artistic passions into a sustainable career. They also have a 10,000-square-foot co-working and studio space at 9th & Market, making it a great resource for networking and exposure. Learn more here!

Post-Graduation Finances

We understand that it can be a little scary figuring out how to set up your finances for post-grad life. Citizens provides some really cool resources for those who are in grad school or are thinking of going! 

  • Interested in going to grad school? Fully understanding all of your options is really important as you prepare to head back to school. Check out these tools below and find even more on the Citizens website

  • Have a post-grad budget in mind, but not sure if it will work? Check out this Budget 101 article on how a 23-year-old art teacher successfully uses these monthly budget tips since graduating! 

  • Thinking about refinancing your student loans? This Citizens Guide breaks down everything you need to know about a fixed vs. variable interest rate, how much money you can save each year… and what “refinancing” even means (plus, how easy it is to do it!)

Setting Financial Goals and Investing in Your Future

You Just Graduated… Now What?

First, CONGRATULATIONS! Graduating is a big accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated to the fullest. Being a new graduate is an exciting time—but it comes with some new decisions that we want you to be fully prepared for. 

First, check out this panel discussion from Campus Philly’s JobFEST on how to navigate being a young professional in the Philadelphia region. We cover topics on finances, networking, staying engaged at work, and how to find a true work-life balance in your first job. This conversation includes our friends from Citizens, GLG, Jacobs, and The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.  

You Just Got Paid, Let’s Save!  

Timing is an important factor of any practical savings plan. Since most savings goals are different, the length of time associated with a goal plays a major role in creating an effective plan to accomplish it. 

Traditionally, any goal within a five-year window is considered short term; anything longer is a long-term goal. Some examples of short-term goals are buying a new car or paying off your student loans; while a long-term goal may be saving for retirement. We suggest taking the Paycheck / savings calculator for a spin to determine how much you need to save each paycheck to reach your goals. 

To take it a step further… here are 4 Easy Tricks to Become Better at Saving Money

Create a Consistent Savings Plan

Right now, you might be saving random amounts from each paycheck that you receive. Maybe $50 one pay period, $122 the next. To make things steady, we suggest coming up with a savings target that you strive to hit every month. 

Do your Saving on Pay Day

When your paycheck gets directly deposited into your account, make saving your first action item before making any purchases. It happens often—we spend our paychecks and save whatever’s left over at the end. By saving first, you’ll have a much better idea of what money can be spent on nonessentials!  

Set up Automatic Transfers

Setting up automatic transfers so that the appropriate amount of money gets automatically deposited into your savings account(s) on payday creates even more ease for you. 

Bonus tip: If you have multiple savings goals, set up individual savings accounts for each goal, and make separate automatic transfers into each account regularly. You can then monitor your progress toward each of your goals and watch the money stack up!  

Take Full Advantage of Salary Increases

Getting a raise is a pretty awesome feeling. When that time comes, let’s make sure to maximize that new income! 

Sometimes, we get so caught up in our new salaries—from a promotion or yearly bonus—that we spend too much of the extra income on things we may not necessarily need. Instead, Citizens suggests allocating as much of your extra salary to savings as you can. Not too long ago, you were getting by on a lesser salary. So, you could put all that extra money towards getting closer to your saving goals!  

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of The Campus Philly Instagram Live series with Citizens for more tips on savings!  

Individual Retirement Plans, HSAs, and Other Ways to Invest in Your Future

Many employers offer a retirement savings plan such as a 401(k), but if this option isn’t available to you, or you want to do more to plan for retirement, you can look to other options. For these reasons, many people use individual retirement accounts (IRAs) as part of their retirement savings plan.  

Individual 401(k) Plan 

An Individual 401(k) can be a great tool for anyone who wants to start planning for a secure retirement outside of their job. A great benefit to this plan is that all contributions and earnings to your Individual 401(k) are tax-deferred, meaning you only have to pay taxes on contributions and earnings when the money is withdrawn. Also, it has very high contribution limits. This allows you to contribute more money to your Individual 401(k) each year. The combined result is a retirement savings plan you can’t afford to pass up. Use the 401K savings calculator to determine how much is an ideal amount for you to put away toward retirement each month!  

Health Savings Accounts (HSA)

Have you heard of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)? If not, you might be missing out on arguably the best savings vehicle that can complement your retirement plan. 

An HSA is a tax-advantaged savings account designed specifically for healthcare-related expenses, like copays, prescriptions, and many more. Contributions could grow over time, similar to a 401(k), and funds roll over year to year. HSA’s come with great tax benefits, healthcare expense coverage, and employer contributions! Learn more about starting an HSA with Citizens! 

Should I pay off my student loans, or save for retirement? 

This is a common crossroad that students and recent grads often come to. Ideally, it’s best—in most cases—to do both at the same time, not one before the other. So how do you balance these two big financial goals? Since everyone’s financial situation is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula or equation. It really depends on your unique goals, resources, and circumstances. 

If retirement is low on your list of priorities and wiping away your student loans is your current focus, even slowly saving money towards your retirement plan can help. Even if it’s just a couple of dollars per pay period! This action will start the clock on compound interest, which is a pillar of successful retirement planning. The earlier you start your retirement plan, the more of a return you receive in the long run.  

Vice versa, if you want to take a big leap at starting your retirement now, there are options like refinancing your student loans that can help lower your payments while you focus on your other goals.  

Everyone has different goals with different savings targets, so don’t look for a standard formula on how to tackle paying down student loans and saving for retirement. Figure out what’s most important to you and put that first, and then focus on your other goals over time. 

Planning for Living On Your Own 

Thinking about getting your own place? Planning to live on your own is an exciting decision that comes with new responsibilities and territory. There is a lot to think about and consider as you plan for the moving process. How much can you afford on rent? What are the best ways to save and cut down on utilities? How much do you need for things like furniture and groceries every month? Let’s break it all down!  

Budgeting for Rent 

The first part of your moving game plan should be setting up a solid budget. To do this, it’s critical to know your monthly income and compare it to your essential expenses that you would be taking on. You’ll want to calculate rent, utilities, renter’s insurance, and any other important expenses. This will allow you to have a good estimate of how much you can afford on rent when determining which Philly neighborhood to live in!  

Once you’ve found your dream place, there are still even more ways to save. 

Furnishing your apartment is a fun experience to express your unique style and really make your new home all yours! While this is fun, we don’t want the experience to also break the bank. Utilizing resources like Facebook Marketplace, Facebook exchange groups, and the IKEA Family program is a savvy and thrifty way to style your place with ease and savings!  

Groceries + Food 

We’ve all been there. While eating out in the city is a fun way to explore, it can add up really quickly! Cutting out unnecessary expenses, especially when it comes to eating out, will save you tons in the long run. Here are some simple tips to save your dollars when it comes to food.  

Skip the coffee run: Is it part of your morning routine to pick up a coffee at the local Starbucks? Simply making it a habit to make your coffee at home or at the office could save you roughly $20 per week or $80 per month.  

Dine in, not out: Instead of ordering take-out or stopping at the corner restaurant on your way home, how about getting creative with your meals in the kitchen? Check out our blog on Meals that you can make for Under $20

If you are looking to buy fresh groceries, especially local produce at a great price, try checking out some farmers markets around town. Some of the Philly classics are Reading Terminal in Center City, The Italian Market in South Philly, and the various Food Trust Farmers Markets!   

Avoid the bar: It’s no secret that a drink at a bar is far pricier than a drink at home. While it might not be as enjoyable to have a glass of wine on the couch instead of at the bar, you can rationalize the sacrifice by reminding yourself that the savings are going to a good place. 

Bonus: When you can’t resist the urge to eat out, remember to visit Campus Philly’s Deals and Discounts page for a list of restaurants (and other activities) like Landmark Americana and Revolution Taco that offer discounts with your student ID! 


Managing your utilities is a great way to cut down on costs and save energy in your home! Our friends at PECO (The Philadelphia Electric Company) have resources like home energy assessment programs and rebates and discounts that can allow you to save on some costs early on as you’re getting settled in your place.  

When you move out on your own, there are small decisions that you can make daily that will help to keep the cost of your gas, water, and electricity bills down. According to CNET, leaving household appliances and items plugged in and turned on when you aren’t using them can unnecessarily increase your electricity bill.  

Also, using the dishwasher instead of hand-washing your dishes can save on your water bill expenses! Modern dishwashers actually use less than five gallons of water for a load, while hand-washing can take up to anywhere from nine to 27 gallons of water.  

For more tips, tricks, and facts on saving on your utilities, read the full CNET article!  

Transit: Save on your Commute! 

Philadelphia is a big city with a lot of cost-efficient transportation modes to choose from.

Indego Bike Share 

Indego, Philadelphia’s bike-share program, offers 24-hour, 30-day, and yearly pass options to ride one of the hundreds of pedal bikes and electric-assist bicycles available at over 140 stations around the city. They are accessible 24/7, 365 days a year. 

Station locations are selected based on proximity to community resources, employment centers, bike and transit infrastructure, community groups, and public feedback. This is a great resource that can allow you to budget, exercise, and be environmentally friendly!  

Get your Indego Pass now!  


SEPTA, Philly’s public transportation system, offers a SEPTA Key to passengers for an easy and convenient commute. With a SEPTA Key, bus and subway fares are only $2 per ride. Plus, your SEPTA Key card gets you discounts on food, drink, museums, sports, shops, and more! No special coupons or member cards are needed. Just flash your SEPTA Key card and you’re instantly saving!  

Don’t have a SEPTA Key card yet? Purchase one now, and check out all the great discounts that come along with them.  

Phew! We packed A LOT of gems into this guide! Let’s stay connected. If you have any questions about any of the resources mentioned above, reach out to us or our friends at Citizens (thanks for all the tips, Citizens!). Also, feel free to share this guide with a friend—you never know how helpful it could be.


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