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7 Spring Break Money Wasters

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- In the busy and stressful lives of American college students, spring break is often seen not only as a break from daily reading and problem sets, but also as a break from the prudence and moderation necessary to be a model student.

But while the fuzzy memories of drunken debauchery fade mercifully over time, the financial hangover can be much harder to escape. Mitchell Weiss, an author and 35-year veteran of the financial services industry, began teaching a course on financial literacy at the University of Hartford six years ago and has seen students come back from spring break with a mountain of money problems to deal with.

If you can't avoid the temptation to go get drunk on the beach this spring, you can at least avoid the financial hangover afterward.

"I've had students come back and talk about every type of problem imaginable," he says. "They've been ripped off, overspent, misunderstood promotional offers or mismanaged group payments. By far the most common issues, though, are overdraft charges and ID theft issues."

Responding to what he saw as a lack of information for students, this year he published Life Happens: A Practical Guide to Personal Finance from College to Career, which he now uses as the blueprint for his class.

He shared some of the most common mistakes young people make that can turn spring break into spring broke.

1. Paying overdraft charges
Nobody wants to ruin a spring break experience with an OD. And we're not talking about drugs here, but rather the bane of every low-net-worth person: overdrafts. The biggest culprit, for Weiss, is overusing debit cards, which are subject to holds that tie up money in users' bank accounts even if they don't end up spending much on a particular transaction.

"I hate debit cards. I really, truly hate them," says Weiss, who points to gas stations and hotels as the most problematic of merchants. "You go to a hotel and give your debit card to hold the room and they will put a hold on your account for everything they expect you to spend, including the minibar. Or when you first swipe the card in order to pump the gas, the machine doesn't know if you're filling up a Harley or a Mack Truck. These 'holds' may then take as much as a day to clear. "

As long as these holds are on your account, any auto payments you have set up or checks you have written previously could easily send your account into negative territory and slap you with an overdraft fee. Thankfully, Weiss points to an easy way to avoid the problem: Use a credit card.

2. Overusing the ATM
It's important to remember that good financial behavior at home still applies when you're on the road, and in most cases it's even more important, Weiss says.

"There is a lot of advice out there that people should use cards, because if you have money in your pocket, you'll spend it," Weiss says. "But when you're going to the ATM all the time you open yourself up to spending more than you intended, you put yourself at risk of fraud every time and you forget to keep records."

Some banks even charge fees for making too many withdrawals in a month, and when you're out of your home area the chances are much greater that you'll occasionally have to visit unaffiliated ATMs that charge their own fees and expose users to fraud.

The solution? As Weiss said earlier: Use a credit card.

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