Destry Adams

As many students are well aware, college is expensive. So it is common that students try to find ways to save money. One such method is by renting textbooks. After all, since students spend more than $1,200 on textbooks and other supplies, it makes sense that undergraduates want to save money on materials that they would only use for one semester. 

However, there is a catch when students are renting textbooks: late fees. Unlike most rentals, where companies charge you a fee per day when something is late, textbook rental companies will charge you a flat fee when students miss their return date.

Unfortunately, these fees often end up costing more than it would cost to buy a brand-new textbook. These fees are predatory and costly to students with limited funds, and they counteract the original purpose of renting a book in the first place. Students need to be more careful and responsible when deciding to rent a textbook.

To give an idea of how expensive these late fees can be, a student at Washington University missed her rental deadline and had to pay a $87.61 fee. Combined with the rental price, she had to pay $118.24, which is more than if she bought the book brand new. Another student missed her return date and had to pay $3,800 to Amazon.

But how is this possible? Normally, when you breach a rental contract, the fees cannot exceed the price of the original product, so a student would be able to sue. An article written by HuffPost explains how students could file a class-action lawsuit against these companies. However, arbitration clauses in the rental contracts make it a difficult and lengthy process.

So what can students do to protect themselves from these predatory fees? Besides returning your books on time, there are some alternatives.

One option is to compare textbook prices online. There are websites like SlugBooks that compare the cost of renting and buying a textbook across different retailers. In some cases, buying a used textbook can be a cheaper alternative. This method could also help students find websites that won’t charge any outrageous fees.

Another way to save money is to use an open-source library like the one NC State provides or websites like OpenStax. These websites contain textbooks that are written by professionals and are peer-reviewed. However, make sure these open-source libraries have the textbooks you need.

The last alternative to renting a textbook is to wait a couple of days after a class has started. Speaking from personal experience, I have had several classes where the professor did not use the textbook that they assigned. Students should be careful though: This method does leave one open to the risk of being unprepared for class.

Keep in mind that it’s okay to rent textbooks, but students need to be aware that they could pay some expensive late fees if they miss their return date. There are cheaper and less predatory ways to save money from textbooks, but it is ultimately up to students to weigh the risk.