One of the less talked about, but certainly pricey, aspects of attending college is buying the books. Sure, used books are an option, but limited inventory often makes these hard to snag. It's estimated that students will each pay anywhere from $1,000-2,000 in the 2010-2011 academic year, just on books and supplies. With those figures, renting textbooks is a trend worth trying. (For more, check out Students, Get More Bang For Your Textbook Dollars.)
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Renting: A Growing Trend
Though renting textbooks became part of the educational vernacular back in 2008, it's taken a while to go mainstream. Last fall, only 200-300 campus bookstores in the United States and Canada offered textbook rentals, according to the National Association of College Stores. This fall, 1,500 stores will offer rental programs. That's good news for college students, who stand to save up to 50% or more by renting rather than buying new textbooks. Those savings amount to hundreds of dollars per year.

So, the next question is: Where do students find these bargains? Aside from college bookstores, college books are generally provided by two traditional suppliers: Follett and Barnes & Noble. Another online option is Chegg.com. Below is the rundown on each.

Follett
When textbook rental was still in its inception, students had the option to either purchase books new or used, either in store or via CafeScribe, the company's electronic bookstore. Enter: Rent-A-Text, Follett's new textbook rental program. Offered online and in more than 750 bookstores, it carries a selection of more than 3 million textbooks. It estimates that 5 million students will use it for the 2010 academic season. Rent-A-Text could result in a total savings of $130 million.

The program can be accessed either on-campus at Follett bookstores, or by purchasing online. The process is similar to checking out a book out from the library. Students pay by cash, credit card, campus credit card or financial aid. Each book comes with a due date sticker. The due date is also printed on the receipt or packing slip, and an email reminder is sent to renters when the return date is approaching.

While there is no set period of time the book can be rented, Follett assures students on the Rent-A-Text site that the date "should give you plenty of time to glean an entire semester's worth of knowledge and carry you through finals." Of course, if you don't return the book, you will be charged for it.

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Barnes & Noble
Another source for textbook rental is through Barnes & Noble's website. Here, you can search for any textbook by title, author or ISBN. Barnes & Noble touts savings of up to 70% off the cover price, and has a 21-day, no questions asked, return policy. Students rent the book online, and shipping is free.

The duration of the rental period is clearly stated beneath the rented price of the book on the site. Similar to the Rent-A-Text program, you are charged for the book if you fail to return it within 15 days of the due date, or if the text is deemed "unusable" for another student.

Chegg.com
Claiming to be the "#1 source of college textbook rentals," Chegg.com rentals take place solely online. Features include a 14-day "any reason guarantee," "lightening quick" shipping and free UPS returns. The site allows students to sell their existing textbooks to the site for cash, and offers an interactive quote system for determining how much they will get for it. Chegg.com also positions itself as "green," by planting a tree every time a student rents.

The Bottom Line
Renting textbooks can offer significant upfront savings over buying new, regardless of where you buy. As long as students can maintain the self-discipline needed to ship the items back in a timely manner to avoid ultimately buying them anyhow, this just could be the wave of the future for college textbooks. (For more, see Pay For College Without Selling A Kidney.)

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Poverty Rates Increase – And So Do Millionaires.

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