In Trouble with the Law

Keep Your College Freshman Out of Trouble

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As a parent preparing their kid for their first year of college, there’s a lot of upfront work, whether it’s toiling through the federal student aid application, picking out a meal plan or buying all the dorm essentials. But have you prepared your freshman for life on their own, including the legal and financial issues they may encounter that could complicate their college endeavors?

Here are six tips you can offer to help them stay on course those first few months of college life:

Underage Drinking at College

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the first six weeks of freshman year are a vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year. In addition to the health-related hazards, there are a variety of legal consequences that make underage drinking an especially troublesome risk for freshman, including:

  • Minor in possession.
  • Public intoxication.
  • Open container.
  • Driving under the influence.

Your incoming freshman may feel like he or she is “insulated” from conviction if they are drinking in their dorm room or at a campus event, such as tailgating before the big game. But they could wind up being arrested or fined according to the specific state, city or local laws where the school is located. They may also be subject to punitive measures or policies established by the institution they are attending, which may involve fines, sanctions, restrictions, counseling or even expulsion from the school.

As Jessica, a college senior, explains, “Carrying a glass of alcohol or ‘disguising’ it in a water or sports drink bottle while walking to a party is one of the most common things college students get stopped for by law enforcement. If they discover what you’re doing, it can lead to a lot of other problems.”

Jessica advises new students to think responsibly about drinking and never give in to peer pressure. When it comes to driving under the influence, she plainly states, “Getting in a car after drinking not only puts you in danger, but also others who are out on the road. For me, Uber is the go-to when deciding to get from one destination to another, even if it’s only five minutes away.”

Legal Issues When Attending College in a Different State

For many parents, there’s a good chance your freshman will be attending college in a different state. If that’s the case, you should be aware of the potential differences in residential status, income and taxation.

ResidencyA common reason for your freshman to establish residency in the state where he or she is attending school is to save on out-of state tuition costs. But keep in mind residency requirements vary significantly from state to state. Generally, before your child enrolls in an out-of-state college, you or your spouse must have established at least one full year of residency in that state.

Working and paying taxes If your child attends school in another state and gets a job there, he or she will need to pay special attention to the tax laws of that state. Typically, all income, wherever earned, is included in determining your taxes in the state of your domicile (or permanent residence).

Some of your child’s income also may be taxed in the state where it is earned. Even if he or she earns income in a state that is not their state of domicile, they may or may not have to pay income taxes to the other state. Many states have developed special rules to address the tax burden on their residents who earn income in other states. It’s a good idea to consult a tax attorney or advisor for additional guidelines.

Campus Vandalism and Pranks

Sometimes even a seemingly harmless prank can go wrong and lead to physical injury, property damage, school disciplinary measures or legal action. If the incident is serious, it can have long-lasting effects on your child’s future, into adulthood.

While you want to teach your child to cooperate with authorities, especially if their own or another’s safety is at stake, they should also know that they always have the right to remain silent and request that an attorney be present if they are questioned or asked to make a written statement. Also, it’s important for them to know that social media posts that reference the case can result in additional charges, extension of a penalty and can even be considered a violation of parole.

Hazing in Campus Organizations

According to stophazing.org, more than half of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing, yet only one in four students simply doesn’t trust what an adult will do if they are told of a hazing incident. Several college campuses across the U.S. have greatly stepped up their efforts to stifle a culture of hazing, and 44 states now have anti-hazing laws.

It’s important to talk with your child now to let them know this behavior should not be tolerated in any capacity, but that you are always there to listen if they need to talk.

Legal Tips for Roommates and Renting

While sharing expenses with others is economical, it can lead to complicated financial matters. Here are three ways to help protect your child from legal and financial issues when renting an apartment or house:

  • Read the lease. Carefully review all of the conditions of the lease agreement before you sign on the dotted line, such as who is responsible for repairs or ongoing maintenance. Also check to see what, if any, utilities or services are billed separately or are included in the monthly rent.
  • Get everything in writing. Roommates can make lots of informal agreements about splitting rent, paying bills, occupying bedrooms and sharing chores. Put your understandings in writing and be as specific as possible. Oral agreements are too easily forgotten or misinterpreted.
  • Know how to break a lease. As a general rule, a tenant is bound to the length of the lease unless the landlord significantly breaks the law or violates its terms — for example, by failing to make necessary repairs or by failing to comply with an important lease clause. A few states do have laws that allow tenants to break a lease because of health problems or a job relocation that requires a permanent move. Federal law and many similar state laws allow tenants who enter active military service and related government positions to terminate a lease early.

College Student Budgeting and Credit Card Use

Ensure your child understands the financial responsibility of being on their own. That means budgeting, saving and planning to ensure money is being spent wisely. Help your child set up their first budget using this guidebook that provides the basics of tracking expenses and making adjustments each month.

Jessica reflects on her financial lessons: “Many students that come to college are more than likely on their own for their everyday expenses. Whether it’s paying for gas or food, it all adds up. Make sure to keep track of your expenses and find ways to save along the way.”  She adds, “Most freshmen have a meal plan their first year, and I highly advise using that option as much as possible to take full advantage of what you’ve paid into it.”

One of the initial discoveries your student might make once they turn 18 is the power of plastic. Credit cards can be convenient and serve as a safety net in an emergency, such as paying for an unexpected car repair. Plus, most companies offer customers fraudulent purchase protection in case the card is lost or stolen. And if used correctly — spending only what you can afford, paying off your statement balance every month, for example — credit cards can help build a good credit history and maintain solid spending habits.

On the other hand, credit cards can be too easy to use on impulse. Teach your child how quickly credit card interest can pile up and inflate the original cost of what was bought. Carefully review the terms of credit card offers and contracts. Encourage a monthly review of what’s been charged and how that compares to the budget you’ve helped them set.  

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