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Textbook Rental Comparison

Whether you opt for a new, used, or electronic copy, you must choose between textbook ownership and textbook rentals. Based on the reviews we read, most students opt for both.

An About.com guide to college life recommends that you consider how you will use the book before deciding whether to buy or rent.

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If you will need the book as a reference long after the course has ended, owning is the best approach. You may also prefer to purchase textbooks because the prospect of getting money back at the end of the semester, however paltry the sum, is appealing. (Seriously, buyback prices are often disappointingly low and change often in response to supply and demand.)

Textbook rentals entitle you to keep the book for a specified period of time, usually for a semester (or about 125 days) but sometimes for as little as 30 days. Most textbook rental sites let you extend the rental period (for a fee, of course) or convert it to outright purchase if you need the book longer than expected. Fines are assessed for late returns. ValoreBooks.com, for example, states outright that you'll be charged list price if the book isn't returned after the one 15-day extension you're allowed. BookRenter.com automatically charges for a 15-day extension if the book is late -- and you only get two bites at this apple before being hit with a charge for the buyout price. Textbook rental sites send email reminders about the approaching due date, although we read some review comments asserting that the notification never appeared in the inbox.

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Student reviews suggest that textbook rentals are often the best option. For one, textbook rental prices are lower than purchase prices and students say the savings add up quickly. Plus, you know where the book is going when you're done with it -- no worries about overcrowded shelf space.

But renting has its downsides. Textbook rentals come "as is," which means you get a used copy and supplements are often missing -- most notably access codes to online materials. One student rented an astronomy text from TextbooksRus.com only to discover that the associated software was a class requirement but not available with the rental, according to a post at Epinions. Additionally, some sites only let you extend the rental one time -- usually for two weeks or so -- which may be too short for your needs. BookRenter.com offers six different extension periods up to 90 days and Barnes & Noble likewise has six options, with the longest for 125 days. Amazon just launched a rental service that lets you keep the book for 130 days, with extensions available for 15 or 130 days.

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And, returning books at the end of the textbook rental period sometimes gets messy. Return shipping is free and sites provide prepaid labels. But we read reports from students who were smacked with overdue fines even though they claim to have returned the book(s) at the appointed time. Moreover, some students assert that the books they returned were in pristine condition although the textbook rental site insists the book was damaged while in the student's possession and thus charge an extra fee.

Textbook Prices by CampusBooks.com

by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile)

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