Why Buy a Textbook When You Can Rent?

People commonly rent things like cars, apartments and movies, so why not textbooks? Considering the frequently high costs of college textbooks, more students might want to consider renting them a viable option.

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By Jessica Lyons


Study.com Survey

Recently, Study.com surveyed more than 1,200 students to find out how much they spend on their books, what they do to try to keep costs down and what they think are the best ways are to cut down on textbook prices. Close to 600 of those surveyed reported that, in a single semester, they spend $200-$300 or $300-$400 on books. There were also about 500 who said they spend either $400-$500 or more than $500. However, only a relatively small portion - less than 200 - said they were able to keep their spending down to $200 or less.

Of all the students surveyed, the vast majority resorted to buying used books to try to save some cash. Other methods used to keep costs down included not buying all of their required books, using electronic versions, getting books from the library and sharing books with other students.

We also asked the students about the best ways to save money when buying textbooks. Out of the 1,244 respondents, about 241 mentioned renting books. Could even more of these students benefit from pursuing renting as an option?

Save by Renting

According to findings from Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), the cost of renting a textbook can be as much as 61% less than buying one. The organization also estimates 'that students can cut their costs in half by renting all of their textbooks.'

Some of Study.com's survey respondents have seen first-hand how much they can save by renting over buying. One student reported saving over $200. Another said, 'I now rent most of my textbooks; they are a third of the cost of buying new.'

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Before You Rent

Are you starting to think that renting your books, either as hard copies or digitally, sounds like a really appealing option? Here are some things to ask yourself before making the plunge:

  • Am I going to need the books for more than one class? If it's a book that you're going to need for multiple classes it might make more sense to buy it rather than rent. For instance, if it's a constitutional law book and you're a criminal justice major, the book might help you in other courses or even after you graduate. But if it's a textbook for the only science class you'll have to take to complete your degree requirements, renting it would probably be a safe bet. The good news, though, is that even if you rent the book you might be able to purchase it at the end of the agreement if you decide you do want to keep it.
  • Am I good at keeping my books in decent condition? When renting hard copies of books, you have to be conscious that someone is going to rent them after you, so you have to be able to keep your books in good condition. If you typically treat your books so well they always look brand new, you wouldn't have a problem with keeping your rented text in good enough condition to return. However, if your books tend to look like they've been thoroughly abused during their use, renting might not be a good idea.
  • How long do I need the book for? Most rental programs give you several different options for how long you want to rent the book, such as for 30, 60, 90 or 130 days. Before you order your books, take a look at the calendar to see how long your semester will last so you'll know what plan will best fit your needs. This can help you avoid overpaying by renting a book for longer than you need.

Once You're Renting

There are also key pieces of information you should take note of after you've rented your books to make sure you don't end up having to pay certain fees, which could definitely take away the joy of saving so much money in the first place.

  • Avoid making markings in the book as much as possible. If you do too much writing or highlighting in the book, the rental company might think that it's not usable for the next person and you could have to pay replacement fees. Rather than risk having this happen, you might want to just stick to using post-it notes to mark important sections.
  • Keep the book in pristine condition. You might also have to deal with paying replacement fees if you return the book in poor condition, which could mean pages are missing. Take extra care to keep your book safe from coffee spills, ripped out pages or anything else that might hurt it.
  • Make sure you know your return date. Another way to rack up extra fees is if you miss your return date, so it could be a good idea to write all your textbook due dates in your planner or on a separate sheet that you post by your desk. This way you can have a reminder to get your books back in the mail or to the store on time. If you do need it past the return date, you might be able to arrange for an extension on your rental.

It's no secret that expensive textbooks are a problem. But why exactly are textbook prices so high?

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