Tips on Buying College Textbooks

August 11, 2014

Textbooks are an important factor students need to consider when calculating the overall cost of attending college. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that college textbook prices have risen at twice the rate of inflation from 2002-2012, increasing at an average of six percent per year. The College Board puts the annual cost of books and materials at $1,168. BBB reminds college students and parents to use caution when purchasing college textbooks, as unscrupulous players may try to take your money and run.

“There are several ways for students to save money”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “If you don’t do your homework ahead of time, however, it may end up costing you more.”

BBB advises the following when shopping for college textbooks:

The early bird catches the worm. Your on-campus bookstore is your simplest and fastest route for finding the books you need, and you may be able to save a little bit of money by arriving at the store as early as possible. Returns and exchanges are also most handled more quickly through a "brick and mortar" bookstore. Many college stores offer such money-saving offers as price-matching via price comparison software they offer in the store, free shipping, guaranteed buyback, and sales on textbooks the day before classes begin.

Comparison shop with caution. If you know the ISBN numbers of the books you need, shop around. Consider used books as well. Be cautious when purchasing course materials online. Issues reported are items not arriving on time, incorrect editions, or items not including required access codes. Go to and make sure you are dealing with a company that has a good track record. Consider shipping expenses in the total cost of the textbook, and check refund policies.

Consider renting. Much like online movie-rental services, textbook rental sites allow students to rent textbooks rather than purchase them. As long as the books are returned on time, the savings can be substantial, otherwise, the rentals could be converted into purchases. Some universities offer a textbook rental service to help students save money.

Consider older editions. Sometimes, changes in a new edition may be so minor that there may not be a need to pay the difference for the newer version. However, be sure to check with your professor before making this decision.

Check out the library. Many colleges set aside copies of textbooks at the library, where they can be used for free. Keep in mind, however, that this approach can backfire if the books are not available at the time they're needed.

Keep receipts. Receipts are required for most returns. Textbook receipts are also helpful during tax season when filing for the American Opportunity Tax Credit. For details on how to apply for the credit, go to

Apply for scholarships. Some organizations provide scholarships specifically to help cover textbook costs. College-bound high school seniors may be eligible for the Kay Robinson Student of Integrity Scholarship. Please email for more details.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call the BBB hotline: (903)581-8373.