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Compare textbook rental websites

Avoid a colossal bill from your college bookstore by renting your required reading online.

People talk about the high cost of college tuition, but no one ever mentions the colossal textbook bill every semester. Each class you take likely has required reading from a textbook your professor has thoughtfully selected.

But instead of rushing to your campus bookstore and lugging heaps of books home, you can have your textbooks shipped directly to your doorstep by renting them online from popular services like Chegg or Campus Book Rentals.

And when the semester is over, you don’t need to figure out how to sell them — you simply ship them back the way they came. But this might not be right for everyone, especially if you like to highlight pages and take notes.

How to find the best textbook rental website for you

Many textbook rental services are wrangling for your business. Here are a few things to consider when you’re evaluating a provider:

  • Selection of books available. It almost goes without saying that you’ll need to make sure the rental website you use carries the textbooks you need for class. Because books may have similar titles and author names, as well as multiple editions, you might want to opt for a website that allows you to enter the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), which is unique to a particular edition of a book.
  • Return policy. Consider how long the website lets you return books for a full refund if you drop or switch classes or end up not using the textbook as much as you thought you would.
  • Rental extension. Since most services let you rent textbooks for a specific amount of time, take a look at what options you have in case you need your book longer.
  • Shipping. Look into whether the website offers free shipping, or if you’ll have to shell out extra bucks to have it delivered to you and mailed back at the end of the semester. Many companies offer free shipping for orders over a certain price. For example, eCampus offers free shipping on orders over $35.
  • Annotating in books. Find out if you can highlight and write notes in your book — or if this costs extra.
  • Type of rental. Look into whether the textbook rental website offers digital loans or mails you a physical copy of the book. Some companies let you read a digital copy while you wait for the hard copy to arrive.

How does renting textbooks work?

Renting textbooks is similar to borrowing books from a library, but for a fee. You can rent a textbook for a period of time, generally for a semester. The company will ship your book to you, and when your due date rolls around, you’ll send it back.

If you opt to borrow a digital textbook, everything generally happens in the company’s app. You can browse, rent and return your ebooks on the same platform.

How fast will I receive my textbook if I rent it online?

Many textbooks ship within a few business days, though you may need to allow one to two weeks for it to actually arrive at your doorstep.

For example, Campus Book Rentals generally ship your book within one to two days, and then it may take one to two weeks to deliver. Similarly, Cheapest Textbooks claims that their textbooks arrive within eight business days, on average.

Will I receive a hard copy of the book or an ebook?

Most textbook rental websites offer hard copies. Some companies may dabble in both physical textbooks and digital versions.

Can I write in the book or highlight it?

Most rental companies look down on highlighting or writing in rental textbooks. Some services may charge you for the book if you mark it up excessively. If you’re an avid notetaker, you might want to buy a used textbook instead.

How much does it cost to rent a textbook vs. buy it?

Textbook prices can range from $20 to a few hundred dollars, which depends on whether it’s the hardcover, paperback or loose-leaf version and whether you’re purchasing the book new or used.

In general, buying a new textbook is the most expensive option, and renting is the cheapest. Buying a used version falls somewhere in between, assuming you don’t try to resell your used book to recoup your money.

For example, a new textbook might run you $120. You could also choose to rent it for the semester for $40 with free return shipping or purchase it used for $43.

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Are rental textbooks tax-deductible?

Maybe. If you’re a full-time student, you may be able to count your textbook rental costs as education expenses for the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

What happens if my textbook is lost, damaged or stolen?

Unfortunately, if you don’t return a rented textbook or it’s too damaged or marked up, you’ll be charged the textbook’s entire cost to replace it. And you might not get your rental fee back, either.

What happens if I drop a class after I already rented the textbook?

Most textbook rental companies offer a comfortable time cushion, usually between two and four weeks, that allows you to return your textbook for a full refund. This return policy corresponds nicely to most colleges’ two-week deadline to drop or change classes.

Pros and cons of renting textbooks

Here are the benefits and drawbacks of renting textbooks:

  • Cost-effective in the short term. Renting usually has a cheaper upfront cost than buying used or new.
  • No headache to sell your books. You don’t need to worry about selling your used textbooks at the end of the semester.
  • One-stop shopping. You might be able to rent all of your textbooks from the same place.
  • Deadlines. You must return your textbook by the due date, or you’ll get hit with late fees.
  • You can’t keep the book. Not all textbook rental companies allow you to buy your book if you want to keep it.
  • Can’t take notes in the book. Most rental companies don’t allow highlighting or writing in their textbooks.
  • No chance to recoup your money. When you rent a book, you’re out the entire cost. You might be able to save more money if you buy and sell used textbooks.

What are textbook access codes and can I get them when I rent my textbooks?

Many academic publishers include one-time access codes with their new textbooks so students can download supplemental material not offered in the print edition of the book. Because these access codes are only available to use once, it’s a sneaky way for publishers to get students to buy new textbooks — most used and rented textbooks don’t come with access codes.

While most professors don’t require access codes, on the off chance that your professor does, you’ll need to buy a new textbook that comes with an access code. Or pair a used book with a separate access code purchased directly from the publisher or your college bookstore.

How to rent a textbook online in 5 steps

While the process varies by vendor, you’ll likely follow these steps to rent your textbook online:

  1. Visit the company’s website and search for your textbook by the author, title or ISBN.
  2. Pick your due date and add the textbook to your cart.
  3. Click Checkout and create an account.
  4. Enter your shipping and payment information.
  5. Confirm and place your order.

How do I return the textbook I rented?

To return your textbook, you’ll typically follow these steps:

  1. Put your textbook in a secured package, such as the box or padded envelope that it came in.
  2. Go to your online account to print out a shipping label and packaging slip.
  3. Drop off the package with the shipment carrier listed on your label.

4 tips for saving money on textbooks

Here are four hacks to help stretch your buck on college textbooks.

  • Avoid the college bookstore. You’ll almost always pay a higher markup at the bookstore. While it might be easier to get everything in one place, it’s usually the most expensive option.
  • Don’t buy until after the first class. Some professors will let you know of any changes to the syllabus on the first day of class. Don’t click checkout until your professor confirms what you need.
  • Keep your textbooks in pristine condition. Return your books exactly as you got them. Some companies will charge fees if your textbook is damaged or contains handwritten annotations.
  • Shop around. Compare textbook marketplaces like Campus Book Rentals, Chegg and many others to find the best price for your titles.

Is renting college textbooks worth it?

Renting textbooks might be worth it if you want to save yourself the headache of selling your materials when the semester is over. You won’t have to worry about finding a buyer, shipping the book on your dime or stressing over whether the release of a new edition will significantly devalue it.

On the other hand, buying and selling used textbooks might be more cost-effective if you don’t mind the legwork and can successfully find a buyer.

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