One of the most exciting parts of adulthood is being financially independent; however, learning to do so can be challenging. While typical college students have a lot to worry about - paying for tuition, classwork, and part-time jobs - a credit score may not fall too high on that priority list. Your credit report and credit score play important roles in your life, and college is the perfect time to start working on them. Building a good credit score earlier on can help you with rental applications after college, land you a dream job, or save on bills like auto insurance and utility bills. While there are various ways you can build credit, one of the best ways you can do so as a student is through a credit card. Here are a few Dos and Don'ts of using credit cards in college:
- Choose a credit card that’s right for you – It’s important to remember that not all credit cards are the same, but when used properly, they have a lot of benefits. Before you apply for or accept a card, be sure to do some research to find a card that will offer you the most benefits.
- Pay off your balance every month – Don’t take advantage of having a credit card. Just because you have one, doesn’t mean you should be living above your means. Use your card for small occasional or re-occurring purchases such as groceries, gas, cellphone or internet bill. If you can’t be responsible with your card, don’t get one.
- Make your payments on time – 35% of your credit score is based on your payment history. If you have a hard time remembering to pay your bill, consider setting up automatic payments to avoid late payments. Late payments can also result in late fees, and some issuers will increase your interest rate after a late payment.
- Apply for a card at your credit union – Most times credit unions will have lower fees and rates than retail or bank credit cards. If you have little or no credit, a secured credit card is the perfect way to start building credit.
- Don’t apply for multiple accounts at once – New credit inquiries make up 10% of your credit score, opening multiple accounts in a short period of time can lower your credit score. One credit card should be enough for most college students.
- Don’t let your card sit unused – Simply having a credit card won’t help you build credit, you’ll have to use the card for purchases over time. Avoid big-ticket items, except in the case of emergency, and use the card only for small, recurring charges that you know you can pay off.
- Don’t co-sign for your friends – You can’t control your friends financial habits, and once they miss a payment your credit will also be negatively impacted. Same goes for making your friend an authorized user on your account – don’t do it.
- Don’t close old credit cards – You don’t want to open cards just to close them – especially your oldest card. Doing so will only shorten your credit history and lower the amount of credit you’ll have available. The exception to this rule would be evaluating the pros and cons if your credit card charges you an annual fee that you no longer want to pay.
As you’re building your credit score, don’t forget to take the time to manage it, checking your report every few months and your actual score a couple of times a year. Doing will help you spot any mistakes in your report, which are very common, before they cause any serious damage to your credit. Members at HFS Federal Credit union can keep up to date on their credit score with SavvyMoney Credit Score, a free service offered on Online Banking that shows your latest credit score.