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5 Must Dos Before Your Child Heads off to College

The weeks leading up to a college send off are a mix of excitement and anxiety for both students and their parents. With so much to do in preparation for the big day, it can be easy to overlook some important tasks. Here are five to-dos that will help ensure a smooth transition.

1. Establish a monthly budget
For some students, this will be the first time they are managing daily expenses on their own. Start by setting clear expectations of who will be responsible for which expenses. For instance, perhaps you agree to pay for a meal plan, but any additional food expenses (i.e. fast food runs) will be the responsibility of the student. From there, work with your child to set a monthly budget that will keep spending in check, help to avoid future arguments and set your student up for financial success.

2. Decide how expenses will be paid
In this age of Venmo and similar online payment apps, getting money to your student is as easy as tapping a phone screen. However, it is important to set your child up with payment tools that offer a bit more accountability. Discuss the difference between a debit card and a credit card with your child and then determine how each should be used. A debit card often offers greater control over daily spending, while a credit card typically offers better security and an opportunity to build a credit history. Sit down with your financial institution to see what options they offer that will help your child learn to manage their own spending while also offering parental controls, and then create a spending plan that both you and your child are comfortable with.

Many universities also offer a payment plan for purchases made on campus. The University of Central Florida, for instance, has Knights Cash, which is money that is loaded onto the student’s ID card to be used at on-campus restaurants, bookstores, laundry facilities, printing services and the student health center. Parents can load a set amount of money on the card and then reload as needed. This is another great tool for keeping spending in check.

3. Discuss healthcare options
Most college campuses have an on-site health center where students can get reasonably priced care for minor issues. Be sure your student is familiar with the location of the center and have them program the phone number into their phone. Many student health centers will ask for payment up front and then bill insurance. Be sure your student has a copy of their insurance card in their wallet and discuss if upfront costs should be charged to a credit card or a health savings account.

It is also important to discuss your child’s mental health and where they can seek help should the need arise. Most universities have on-site counseling centers that offer free services to students. Sit down with your student to review the services available at their school and ensure them that their visits will remain confidential. Students should also be familiar with the closest emergency room, urgent care center and 24-hour pharmacy.

4. Get your paperwork in order
Once a child turns 18, they are responsible for their own healthcare and financial decisions in the eyes of the law, even if they are still listed on their parents’ insurance plan. It is therefore essential that parents put some necessary paperwork in place before sending their children off into the world.

A healthcare proxy (also known as a durable power of attorney for health care) gives parents the authority to make medical decisions on their child’s behalf should they become incapacitated. Without this document in place, if your child is in an accident or becomes disabled, even temporarily, you might need court approval to act on your child’s behalf.

A HIPAA authorization form is a document signed by your adult child naming you as an authorized party to receive information from health care providers about his or her health status, progress and treatment.

A general durable power of attorney grants you the authority to sign documents on behalf of your child to handle any financial or legal matters. This form gives you the authority to manage tasks such as renewing car registration, managing financial accounts held in your child’s name or filing a tax return on their behalf. This form is especially helpful if your child plans to study abroad (in a post-pandemic world).

Your personal attorney can help you with all of these documents. There are also a number of online sites like https://mamabearlegalforms.com where these forms can be set up for a nominal fee.

5. Have a pandemic plan in place
As Floridians, we are used to creating an emergency plan for hurricanes. This year, it is essential to add an emergency COVID-19 plan to the list. First and foremost, it is essential to have a firm understanding of what plans your child’s college has in place in the case of a COVID diagnosis. If your student is living in the dorms, is there a designated space for students to isolate if they or their roommates test positive? For those living off campus, have they put a plan in place with their roommates should one of them show symptoms? Does your child’s campus offer on-site testing? Is it feasible to bring your child home to self-quarantine should they test positive? These are all questions that need to be answered before your child leaves home.

Even if your student has opted to take a gap year or is planning to study from home for the fall semester, it is wise to get a jump on these to-dos. A little planning and paperwork will go a long way in setting your child up for a smooth start to their college career.

By Karen Ring, WOW Assistant Editor

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