Cheap Used Books and Financial Aid
Financial Aid is a very tricky aspect of saving money on cheap used books (and saving in college in general). Students who receive FAFSA and other loans are often able to pay inflated prices for college books directly with their financial aid balance at their university bookstore, as if it is a credit card. People in college can't use that same “credit card” to pay for used books from more affordable options like Amazon however. In order to purchase more affordable textbooks from cheaper websites, students are usually required to pay out of pocket and submit receipts in order to get reimbursed. Because of this, the students who have the least money are the ones who are forced to overspend on books and foot the bill for it when they're required to start paying back their loans at the end of college.
Undergraduates who need financial aid are in quite a predicament, but comparing textbook prices and searching around for cheap used books will absolutely pay off in the short and long term, even if they have limited disposable income. For instance, a $100 textbook at the bookstore might be selling for $10-20 online (we see this kind of discrepancy happen all the time). It might be worth it to pay the $10-20 out of pocket and get reimbursed, instead of racking up what you owe by another $100. Assuming that a student on financial aid can save $300 per semester by purchasing the books with the major savings out of pocket, that adds up to nearly $2,500 (plus interest) that the student will not have to pay back when loan repayment kicks off.
The best way to tackle this problem is to apply for a credit card and use this ONLY for textbook purchases. After you have purchased the used books with the credit card, submit the receipt to get reimbursed from your student loan balance, and use the reimbursement to pay down your credit card. The initial credit limit doesn’t even need to be that high - $400 should cover most of the costs, and that amount as paid down each term anyway.
If students were not able to use the "student loan" credit card at their campus bookstores, most students would not be able to purchase their textbooks at all, and no one would buy them. Allowing undergraduates to pay for cheap used books directly with their financial aid balance (while not allowing students to do this on more affordable textbook sites) is quite literally a bail-out for bookstores and feeds the vicious cycle of college students getting charged outrageous sums of money that most while struggle to repay that once they graduate.
One of the best-kept secrets in every college is the library. There is a common rhetoric that students have to buy books, but if there is inventory available at the library, this is as good a source as any for cheap textbooks. Some books made available at the library can only be checked out for small periods of time (two hours or less). Sometimes this is better – if there’s an ideal location for cramming over a short period of time, it’s the library.