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What college students getting ready to rent their first apartment should know

Every summer, a new wave of college students transitions into apartment living. Whether they're freshmen who know nothing other than the comforts of their parents' homes or upperclassmen stepping away from dorm life, these first-time renters have a lot to learn.

If you're one of the many summer shoppers embarking on an apartment search in advance of the new school year, you probably already realize how much there is to consider. Finding a suitable living space can be easier in a bigger city, for example, but what small college towns may lack in overall options they often make up for through affordability and relative proximity to campus. Personal preferences will play a role in every decision, but if you're a first-time renter, a few uniform guidelines to abide by include the following:

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Determine what you can afford to pay on a monthly basis, using your income and other expenses to help set your bar, and start shopping accordingly. Remember to factor in the upfront cost of a security deposit - often the equivalent of one month's rent - as well as renters insurance, which requires payments of as little as $5 per month and will provide a safety net if your belongings are stolen or damaged. If the location you settle on is further from campus, you may also have to adjust your budget based on the anticipated costs of shuttling back and forth, whether you'll be driving or taking public transportation.

  • Ask what's included. You can't assume that the rent price represents the extent of the monthly payments you'll be making. In many cases, that figure doesn't include utilities, such as heat, water and electricity. Ask the landlord or broker who shows you the unit whether any of these bills are included, and if not, how much tenants typically pay for each. And since this isn't your parents' place or the dorms, remember that amenities you may take for granted - such as cable TV, wireless Internet or an on-site washer and dryer - probably aren't built into the price either.

  • Keep your options open. As the school year nears, the pool of viable living arrangements will quickly shrink. Put your name on any apartment complex waitlist that doesn't require a non-refundable deposit and explore all opportunities for subletting or renting on a shorter-term basis, such as through someone who may be taking a semester off or abroad. Don't overlook the value of roommates either - the more you have, the less your respective costs are likely to be.
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