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How and where to get cheap textbooks online

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According to a recent study, textbook prices have risen over 1,041 percent since 1977. Why? Because capitalism. Roughly 80 percent of all college textbooks printed are published by an oligopoly of five big companies — a publishing cartel that can raise the prices of textbooks without any pushback from buyers. They know that students are a “captive market” that has to buy whatever textbooks professors assign for their classes, so they can (and do) jack up prices without much — if any — loss in revenue.

It’s pretty messed up — but you don’t have to play their game. With a little bit of extra effort and careful shopping, you can save yourself a bundle on textbooks this semester, and to help you do that, we’ve put together this quick reference guide on how and where to get cheap textbooks online. Below you’ll find not only the best websites to snag your books on the cheap, but also a few tips, tricks, and tools that’ll save you time and money.

Best websites for buying used books

Best-websites-for-buying-used-books

If you’re going to be using a book for more than one semester, it’s probably a good idea to purchase the book outright and keep it for as long as you need it. This is best for books that you’ll be keeping for a while — i.e. long enough that renting for that amount of time would end up being more expensive. You can buy books practically anywhere, and you’ll probably want to shop around, but generally speaking, the best places to buy new and used textbooks are:

Amazon Amazon usually has a great choice because of sheer volume. You’ll find tons of resellers.
Half.com Acquired by eBay in 2000, Half.com has been selling used books online for well over a decade. It’s got a huge selection and great prices.
SlugBooks Slug compares prices from dozens of major online booksellers and lets you know which ones have the best prices.
BigWords This one is a lot like SlugBooks, and compares a bunch of different sites to help you find the cheapest books.
Student2Student S2S makes it easy to find students on your campus that are selling the books you need.

*Pro Tip: Buy ebooks whenever you can. Not only do electronic versions typically cost less than the printed variety, they’re also more convenient. Depending on the reader you use, you can highlight certain passages of the book, search the text for keywords, and easily nab screenshots of graphs and visuals. To be clear, you don’t need an e-reader or tablet to read ebooks — there are dozens of apps that let you use them on your laptop.

Best websites for renting textbooks

Best-websites-for-renting-textbooks

If you only need a book for one semester (or less), renting your books instead of buying them can save you a boatload of money. Dozens of book-rental services have popped up in the past few years in response to rising textbook prices, and now students have tons of options to choose from. Here are a few of the best ones:

Chegg The undisputed king of texbook rental. They’ve got a huge selection and pretty decent rates, so it’s a good place to start looking.
Amazon Textbook Rental This is Amazon’s response to Chegg’s success, and because it’s Amazon, it offers some seriously competitive rates.
Barnes & Noble Rentals Unsurprisingly, B&N also runs a textbook rental service. Good selection, OK prices.
Packback Books Rents you ebooks instead of the physical variety, and also offers one-day rentals for books you only need for short periods of time.

*Pro Tip: Check you syllabus and figure out exactly how long you’ll need each book for. If you only need it for part of the semester, most sites give you the option to rent the book for just a week or two at a time.

Best ways to borrow textbooks

Best-ways-to-borrow-textbooks
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Borrow’d This app (available for iOS) lets you borrow or rent textbooks from your friends and classmates, instead of giving your money to a big company like Chegg or Amazon.
Your city/university library This one should go without saying, but if you only need a textbook for a couple weeks, just reserve it and check it out from your university’s collection. Even if your school or city doesn’t have the particular book you need, many universities have inter-library loan agreements with other organizations, allowing you to borrow books from other libraries nearby. Ask your librarian about it!

How to get tax credits for textbooks

How-to-get-tax-credits-for-textbooks

If you live in the U.S., the government offers this awesome program called the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, which allows students to get up to $2,000 in tax rebates for the textbooks they buy. There are certain requirements you’ll need to satisfy (basically, your gross income needs to be below $64K) in order to quality for the credit, but it’s definitely worth looking in to. Here’s the form you need.

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