Toiling behind the ice cream counter or sweating on the lifeguard stand aren’t just rites of passage for college students. You might need summer job money to help cover the rising cost of tuition, living expenses and textbooks, plus visits home.

Money earned from a summer gig may not seem like much, especially if you are working only seasonally. According to the most recent data on median wages from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women ages 16 to 24 earn $206 a week for part-time work and $511 for full-time work. Men in the same age group earn $215 a week for part-time work and $528 working full time.

But even with lean earnings from just a few months, here’s how you can set aside a portion of your pay and change your financial fortune.

Send money directly to savings. “Always use direct deposit if you’re given the option,” said Amelia O’Rourke-Owens, program manager for the nonprofit America Saves for Young Workers, an initiative of the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy organization. 

When you are paid by direct deposit, you will generally have the option to split your paycheck into separate checking and savings accounts. You are more likely to save money you have earned if some of it never hits checking at all.

Consider sending 20 percent of your paycheck to savings to start. Make sure you have enough money in the checking account for regular expenses first; you can always save more.

Invest in your future. You will not regret saving a portion of your summer income for the long term. You will not be able to spend it right away, but it will last long past graduation day.

Say you open a Roth IRA with $50 when you are 20 years old and put $50 in it every month. At 70, you would have more than $175,000. Increase that to $100 a month in two years, and you will have almost $330,000.

A Roth IRA in particular is a good idea because you can withdraw money you have put into it at any time without penalty. So it can function as a backup emergency fund.

Another way to plan for your future: Put down a deposit on a secured credit card. Your deposit — say, $200 — will generally be equal to your credit line. That will help you safely build credit, which could mean lower interest rates on a car loan and an easier time getting an apartment in the future.

Pick the right bank account. A checking account with lots of fees will eat your earnings.

You might be tempted to choose the bank your parents use, but shop around. Make sure you understand minimum-balance requirements and monthly maintenance, ATM and overdraft fees.

While some banks waive fees if your paycheck is deposited directly into an account each month, that won’t help college students who work only part of the year, O’Rourke-Owens said.

Several online banks and credit unions offer free or low-fee checking accounts. Prioritize one that will reimburse ATM charges or has a wide ATM network, and that has low overdraft fees. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website offers a guide to managing your checking account.

Done right, your summer job can lead to new friends, pizza money, a line on a résumé — and a step toward long-term financial security.


Brianna McGurran is a writer at NerdWallet. E-mail: Twitter: @briannamcscribe.