Textbooks, computers, and loans. Oh my!

Nearly 3 million first-time students start college in the coming weeks – and many will be short on money before the semester ends. With tuition rising steadily, many face the prospect of taking on heavy debt to pay for their degrees.

After talking to school officials and experts in fields ranging from design to finance to publishing, The Associated Press has assembled some tips for staying solvent through Thanksgiving and beyond.


The average yearly bill is $900, but save by buying used books at campus bookstores or through Web sites such as half.com, campusbooks.com, collegebooksdirect.com, and others. Look into whether the publisher of a book you need has more flexible options; Thomson Learning, for instance, lets students download “i-chapters” of some titles instead of buying the full book.

You may be able to get some books for free. A new company called Freeload Press gives away its titles, mostly in business and finance, by supporting them with advertising revenue. And hundreds of textbooks are available for free on online through gateways such as Textbook Revolution, StudentBookWorld and Freebooks4doctors. PIRG, the Public Interest Research Group, recently published a guide to low-cost books, available at http://www.maketextbooksaffordable.com.

Student Loans

Increasingly, students and parents are paying for college with combinations of loans, and comparison shopping is difficult. A new Web site,

http://www.simpletuition.com, let’s customers compare student loan offers in much the same way Orbitz lets users search for airfares. Right now it compares only private loans, and doesn’t include big players such as Sallie Mae, but as part of broader research it could help you find a deal. Later this fall, the site will incorporate options for federally backed loans.

If you’re a good student and need a private loan, you may want to check out a company called MyRichUncle. The company, which is bombarding students with aggressive marketing, says that it looks beyond credit scores and considers factors including program of study and academic history when evaluating how much students can borrow. It also claims to offer more competitive rates on federally backed loans, though in some cases those rates don’t kick in until repayment begins.

Credit Cards

Students will get up to a dozen credit card offers when they first arrive on campus. But Eric Solomon, a spokesman for student loan company Nelnet, advises shopping around. Card companies tend to offer students lots of free goodies up front, but they may get better interest rates by looking at comparison sites including bankrate.com. Of course, pay your bills on time and interest won’t be an issue.