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The cost of books is a big part of your estimated cost of attendance for school. The average college student will pay around $1,240 to $1,460 per year on books and supplies, according to College Board.
Though you can use financial aid, including student loans, to help cover the cost of books, sometimes you might need more — and we’re here to help you consider all of your options.
Here’s how to pay for college textbooks (including how to save money on them):
- How much do college textbooks actually cost?
- Generally, you won’t find free college textbooks
- How to cut down on college textbook costs
- How to pay for college textbooks
How much do college textbooks actually cost?
The University of California, Santa Barbara, as an example, estimates $1,185 per year for books and supplies for undergraduate students.
Textbooks are a big part of the rising cost of going to college. Over four years, the average cost of college books and supplies is around $5,000. You’re allowed to use financial aid proceeds for textbooks. However, your financial aid package from school, including student loans, might not be enough to cover the cost.
Many students consider private student loans as a way to pay for additional costs above what their federal student loans cover.
Generally, you won’t find free college textbooks
It would be great to get a copy of every textbook for free, but unfortunately, that isn’t an option for most students. Libraries might stock a copy of your textbook, but you might not be able to use it as long as you need it. There’s also a risk someone else will pick it up and you’ll be stuck without a book when you need to study for a big exam.
Some textbooks are available for free as open-source textbooks. A group of lawmakers has also started an effort to make textbooks more accessible with the Affordable College Textbook Act. But while you probably won’t get textbooks for free, there are some good strategies you can use to keep the costs down.
How to cut down on college textbook costs
It’s easy to save money on textbooks with creative solutions. Here are some ways students can save money on books:
- Shop for textbooks online: The campus bookstore may be convenient, but searching for the book online could yield big savings. Amazon is just one potential source of textbooks at a discount.
- Go digital: If you’re willing to go from paper to digital, you may be able to save money with digital versions of your textbooks.
- Buy used books: While the cover may be worn and pages could be marked up, getting a used book often shaves a large percentage off of the list price.
- Share with a classmate.: Sharing textbooks with a classmate or roommate can cut the cost per book in half if you share a class.
- Rent your textbooks: Some popular services offer textbooks for rent. Get your books just for the months you need them and you may pay a lot less.
- Find textbook scholarships and grants: Some companies and organizations want to help college students pay for books. For example, Passageway Foundation has a book scholarship for “neglected or delinquent youth.” You can also apply for general scholarships and use the proceeds to help with books and supplies.
- Skip books that are not required: Some professors suggest a book that is only used for one lesson. Or perhaps you only need a section or chapter of a specific book. Think about just getting those books from the library or borrowing from a friend if you don’t need them for the whole semester.
- Use emergency student book loans: If you’re in a tough financial situation, reach out to your school to learn about opportunities for emergency student book loans. This isn’t available at all schools, but it’s a nice option where available.
- Sell your textbooks at the end of the semester: While it doesn’t save you any money upfront, selling your books to get some money back can help you get on track for the next semester.
How to pay for college textbooks
You have multiple options when it comes to paying for college textbooks. Consider these strategies to cover the cost:
- Use your 529 balance: A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged account for education. If you’re lucky enough to have a family who saved or invested for your college in a 529, you can use proceeds for required books and supplies.
- Tap into savings: While you don’t get the tax benefits of a 529, if you can pay for your books from money you have saved, you won’t have a balance to pay back.
- Take out federal student loans: Federal student loans offer unique protections, so most students want to use up federal loans before looking to other types of debt. In many cases, however, federal loans are not enough to cover the entire cost of college.
- Consider private student loans: Private student loans are made for college-related costs like tuition and textbooks. If you have good credit or a cosigner with good credit, you could qualify for an interest rate lower than some federal loans charge.
- Get a personal loan: You might be able to get a personal loan and use the proceeds for college. Read the fine print, however, as some lenders specifically forbid using a personal loan for education costs, so make sure to find a lender that specifically has personal loans for students.
- Pay with a credit card: Credit cards are a quick and easy way to pay. However, they require monthly payments starting the next month and typically carry high interest rates. So, don’t rush to put your loans on a credit card — that can be a very expensive decision and should be a last resort.
To help you find the lowest rate for you, here’s a comparison between student loans, credit cards, and personal loans:
|Interest rate||Loan term||First payment due date|
|Federal student loan||10-year standard term |
(longer with some loan programs)
|6 months after graduation|
|Private student loan||3.53%+ |
(fixed rates on Credible)
|Typically 5 to 20 years||Might be required while in school or in deferment periods|
|Credit card||20.3% average APR||Revolving|
(no fixed payoff date)
|Month following purchase|
|Personal loan||9.41% average APR||Typically 12 to 60 months||About a month after the loan origination date|
If you’ve already exhausted your student loans and savings, you might want to consider private student loans, especially since they tend to have much lower interest rates than credit cards and personal loans.
Luckily, Credible does much of the legwork for you when it comes to comparing private loans. It takes just three minutes to fill out one simple form. From there, you can compare rates with multiple lenders at once without affecting your credit.
|Lender||Fixed rates from (APR)||Variable rates from (APR)|
|4.25% - 12.59%9||1.13% - 11.23%9|
your credit score. 100% free!
Lowest APRs reflect autopay, loyalty, and interest-only repayment discounts where available | 1Citizens Disclosures | 2,3College Ave Disclosures | 7EDvestinU Disclosures | 8INvestEd Disclosures | 9Sallie Mae Disclosures