This post was originally submitted to Blavity.com. You can view it here.
There is this magical time in every college student’s life where they get a gift from the financial aid office. It’s a special gift, reflecting that their tuition bill has been overpaid. That “gift” is known as all the all-mighty refund check.
Financial aid at any institution of higher learning can be a blessing, and a burden. It’s an intricate system, requiring just the right amount of finesse, prayer and restraint. Some of you have never heard the term "refund check," so let’s break it down for the ones who can’t hear in the back.
A refund is the amount of surplus financial aid you have left after tuition, fees and any other additional charges applied to your account have been withdrawn. Your refund usually appears within the first few weeks of each semester, and is dispersed in the form of a check.
Not everyone gets a refund check. Each refund check is different, so the amounts will vary. It all depends on how much financial aid you received and how much your college expenses really cost. You could have anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars, to a couple of stacks left over in financial aid. But make no mistake, your refund check comes accompanied by some fine lines to read between.
If your refund came as the result of you borrowing too much money from student loans, it is not free money! You will need to pay it back upon graduation. If you don’t graduate, you will need to repay the moment you withdraw from school. If you drop to less than 6 credit hours a semester, you will need to pay your refund back. The bottom line is: YOU WILL PAY THAT MONEY BACK.
Unless it’s from a scholarship, then hurray! You can keep your refund check without paying it back.
But for the rest of us…
Again, that money is not free. It’s not a bonus. It’s not the government deciding to break you off a lil' something for all your hard work. A refund check is still a part of your loan.
I understand that dropping a couple thousand dollars into a freshly liberated millennial’s bank account and asking them not to spend it recklessly is like going to McDonald's and saying you’re only going to eat one fry. However, with great refund checks, comes great responsibility.
Realistically, you have three options when it comes to what to do with your refund check:
RETURN the check to the Department of Education and lower your loan debt. If you don’t need the extra money, don’t take it.
HOLD the money in your school account for unexpected fees or payments you may need to make throughout the year.
CASH the check and spend the money how you like.
I’m just going to go ahead and hone in on option #3. Since we’ve already established that you’ll be paying back the money anyway, I encourage you to think carefully. If you need the extra money, spend it on things that will improve your quality of life. Pay your rent or buy your books. Get caught up on your other debts (credit cards, bills, car payments etc.), pay for grad school applications, use it toward your standardized testing fees or get a laptop for school.
Now, I know the following may be difficult for some of you.
DO. NOT. BLOW. YOUR. REFUND. CHECK!
What would constitute blowing your refund check?
Buying 10 new pairs of Jordan’s (or any other shoe in surplus).
Financing your bae-cation.
Throwing the most lit party of the year.
Splurging on drugs or alcohol.
Buying a whole new wardrobe.
Restocking your vanity with expensive make-up.
Buying your new $1,000 lace front wig (or other high priced hair style).
Ordering new appliances (TVs, Play Stations, Xboxes, video games, iPods etc.)
Spoiling yourself with expensive jewelry.
Eating out or fast food every night.
Buying elaborate gifts for others.
Indulging in excessive entertainment (this includes bottle service in the club y’all)
A part of growing up means being able to handle your coins and secure your bag. Be smart. Don’t set yourself up for failure on this one.