With the start of the academic year, thousands of high-school graduates are entering college and handling their own finances for the very first time. Some will learn quickly on their own, but many others will struggle and end up with more debt than they know what to do with.

Here are four important tips that every college freshman should know to help keep them from getting into financial trouble:

1. Understand Your Meal Plan

Many larger schools are now offering meal plans that will allow students to purchase food at fast food restaurants or use points based on a la carte purchases. Unfortunately, it can be very easy to use up all of your meal plan points during the first six weeks of school if you don’t keep an eye on how much you’re using and how much you have left.

Instead of using your meal plan to indulge your passion for burritos and pizza from local restaurants, figure out ahead of time how often you can afford to treat yourself each week – and stick to it. Otherwise, it’ll be a long, hungry, and/or expensive slog to get to the spring semester.

2. Talk to Your Financial Aid Office

Many college students will talk to the financial aid office only as often as they have to: once when they’re applying to schools, once a year as they resubmit their FAFSA, and once when they have the exit interview before graduating. That’s an excellent way to not understand your loans or what your payback options will be.

Freshmen should schedule an appointment with their financial aid office to talk about their loans and to learn if there are…

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