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Colorado universities offering new textbook options

7:24 AM, Aug 11, 2010   |    comments
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Beginning in fall 2010 students attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the University of Colorado in Boulder will be able to rent many of their textbooks. Textbook rental programs have previously been available to students at Regis University, the University of Northern Colorado, several area community colleges, and on a limited basis at CU Boulder, but the fall semester marks the first time both state schools will offer full fledged rental programs.

Many rental programs promise students big savings, up to 60 percent in some cases, on textbook costs. Higher education experts warn the claims can be misleading.

Colorado State University Bookstore Director John Parry told 9NEWS a student's true savings may depend on the book and the condition the student is buying it in.

"The first student that rents a new book can save a little bit." Parry said. "Most rentals are between 40 percent and 50 percent of the new book price. So a new book that would sell for $100 would be rented for $40 to $50. So there's obviously an up front savings. But that same $100 book, if it's used again on a college campus, is generally bought back at half of the new book price."

In Parry's example, that would mean a student would receive about $50 for selling the book back to the school which about equals the cost of the average rental. However, Parry says when it comes to used books the amount a student could save on that same book could be much higher.

"A used book would be sold for about $75 and if it's bought back, at least from our store, we would buy it back for the $50 price." He explained. "So the used book bought and sold would cost the student $25 versus the $45 that the student rented it for."

The savings rental programs advertise aren't as great as the ads lead people to believe, according to Parry, because they only look at the front end cost of textbooks and not the overall cost. He cautions individual college's and university's buyback programs vary and so will the potential savings. He also adds with purchasing used textbooks there is always a chance the school won't use them again.

"There is some risk if the book isn't used again," Parry said. "Then you've paid the money up front and there is no sell-back side."

He says CSU created its textbook rental program to help students avoid that situation and to give other options.

"Renting may be something that fits into their budget better. It may be something that from a risk standpoint they think is the better way to go," Parry said. "We're also doing it to stay competitive. It's a competitive item in the market right now and even though it may not be the best option for all students in order for us to remain competitive in the market it's something we feel we have to offer so that students can make decisions."

Pamela Mills, executive director of campus service at CU, agrees that students need to have a variety of sources to choose from when it comes to obtaining course materials.

"I really think that students require, need, and appreciate an option." Mills told 9NEWS. "Some like to purchase textbooks, they like to keep them, they like to have a new book, they like to write in themselves, they like to have their own copy. Other students that are perhaps taking a class that isn't in their major but need to have access to information and materials they want to rent the book at the cheapest price they can possibly get it and send it back in and get through the class. They still need the materials, they still want to be able to study with them, they still want to be able to write and underline and work within the materials but they may not necessarily need to keep them in their collection."

According to Mills, when it comes to textbooks value is about more than dollars and cents.

"If you want to keep the book renting is not a better deal. Value is one thing that is personal. It depends on how the student wants to use the material and what price then they want to pay to use those so value that perception between, 'How do I want to use it? Do I want to keep it?' 'What do I want to pay for it?' And what kind of a process do I want to go through to buy or rent and then return it?'" Mills said.

According to Parry and Mills, rental programs can work several different ways. Both CSU and CU Boulder are offering rental textbooks through the campus bookstore and obtaining a book is as easy as walking to the register with it. In order to offer students more rental options, many schools are also turning to online third party providers. Parry warns it is possible for students to incur additional fees with these sites if they return the textbook late or in poor condition which can negate any money the student may have been saving. Parry also says students probably won't be able to find all of their course materials available for rent.

"Students may be able to find some materials but the chances of finding all the materials are not great," He said. "A lot of classes use a compellation of materials that an instructor has put together and so those wouldn't be rentable. There are also some specific titles for colleges. CSU uses some books that are just for CSU. We at the CSU bookstore try to make sure that we have the books in the least expensive formats available to students so sometimes that would make it difficult to rent a book. We may have a book that in a hardback version would sell for $200 when the soft back version that we're able to get for students we can sell for $100, which is about the price that you would see on a rented book."

Parry says if students want to try saving money by buying some of their course materials from a third party, they need to start looking before classes begin.

"If you want to buy from someone else or rent a book online then I would suggest that students start at least a week to ten days before their classes start," Parry said. "Depending on where they're getting it from, if they're buying it from another peer or from someone in a peer to peer online service you might want to give yourself a little bit of extra time on that because you're dependent on how quickly they're going to put it in the mail and get it sent to you."

Mills agrees, saying it's important for to have course materials sooner rather than later because they are intended to compliment the class.

"Make sure that you understand that any course materials you have are an investment in the class and that they need to be seen as something that is important to the academic experience," Mills said. "Most professors require certain materials. Whether it's a lab coat or a book, it makes the experience better for the student." Mills said.

Mills cautions waiting could cost students.

"Many professors let you know the first day what materials are required, what's recommended, how he or she may be using the material so there's some information that sometimes is gained by waiting. The flip side of that is that, often if there are used books available or there are other options available, sometimes by waiting too long there are fewer options for the student. You have to balance some of those things."

Availability isn't the only factor when it comes to renting versus buying. According to Denver-based Ruben Brown LLP Certified Public Accountant Kirby Johnson, changes in tax law mean that textbooks, both rented and purchased, may be eligible for tax credits or deductions depending on where students obtain those course materials.

"When it comes to college tuition, deductions, etc., there's a series of tax credits that parents or their child might be eligible for." Johnson told 9NEWS. "Those have changed over the past couple of years. Starting in 2009 there's the American Opportunity Credit which replaced the Hope Credit. There's also the Lifetime Learning Credit and then there's the possibility of the tuition and fees deduction related to college expenses."

Books and fees paid to the university directly may be eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit and the tuition and fees deduction according to Johnson however the New American Opportunity Credit doesn't limit students to the university bookstore.

"Up until 2009, tuition and fees related to college expenses were either eligible for the deduction or the credit, but, those tuition and fees had to be paid to the university as a condition of being a student there," Johnson said. "What changed with the New American Opportunity Credit is they did away with the provision that your fees, books, etc. had to be paid to the university or school. If you're eligible for the New American Opportunity Credit, you can purchase or rent your books from any vendor. It doesn't have to be from the university."

The New American Opportunity Credit is good for up to $2,500 in tax credits on either the parents or the student's tax return, according to Johnson. But he warns figuring out which credit you're eligible for may be complicated and depends on income as well as other factors. Johnson says if parents or students want to claim any of the credits or deductions, there is paperwork they need to put in a safe place.

"With anything that has to do with taxes keep your receipts," Johnson said. "I can never emphasize that enough. A lot of the burden is probably going to fall to the student to make sure they keep the receipts if they're buying the books and paying the fees themselves."

He says while students will receive some tax related information from their college or university that form may not contain all of their tax deductible purchases.

"Each year the university or college is required to give the student what is known as a form 1098T," Johnson said. "It's just a tax reporting form that the university provides you that will show the total amount of tuition and fees that was paid to the university. If you're buying your books from an outside vendor or the local bookstore or renting them you'll need to keep those receipts because that information wouldn't be included on the 1098T you're going to get from the university."

Whether it is tax or textbook related, Parry agrees, students need to take a hard look at their receipts.

"Really look at things," Parry said. "Make sure that you're getting the deal you think you are. Most college stores in our area do a pretty good job of really going out and finding the least expensive version of books for students. There are many times when individuals think they are getting a really good deal on things they actually may be paying more than walking into the college store and picking a book up off of the shelves...whether it's to rent or buy. You may be saving more than you really think you are if you're paying attention to what you're doing."

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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