College students and credit cards: a dangerous combination?

Imagine you are alone for the first time in 18 years. You have no money, no friends, nobody to help you figure things out, you’re alone, and you need to buy books, food, clothes, and pay bills. Life has got you down. And then the heavens open up, it’s like money is pouring from the sky. There’s hope! Or is there? Credit Cards. One big fat financial double edged sword. Necessary to build your credit yet a trap to bring you further into debt.

One thing I’ve learned in my journey of owning my very first credit card is: don’t spend it like it’s a second income. Spend it like it’s your debit card. Now I would like to preface this with the fact that I am not a financial agent and I will not take any responsibility for your financial shortcomings or if something goes wrong pertaining to your credit card journey. 

Credit cards are one of those things in society that are constantly pushed on you. Department stores, hardware stores, phone companies, and even digital wallets like Venmo and PayPal. One thing my mother told me during my freshman year was how when she was in school credit card companies loved trying to hook in college students. I mean why not? College students are the perfect target. We usually are just getting out on our own and parents and guardians start generally making us become more financially independent, furthermore, we think money is expendable. And that is precisely what they want. 

Heck even doing research for this article almost all of the articles were titled something along the lines of “22 best credit cards for students” instead of “the pros and cons of credit cards for students”. However, through the lines and lines of advertisement, I did find an article about the topic at hand. 

Chase, a popular bank and credit card company has an article titled “Pros & Cons of Getting a Credit Card in College”. In this, they answer the big question right off the bat. Should you get a credit card in college? And their response was:

“Establishing a strong credit foundation can set a young cardholder up for a lifetime of credit perks,” Chase Bank said. “ But if you can’t support regular on-time credit card payments, opening up a credit card for a college student may hamper their ability to get everything from apartment rentals to a car loan.”

Some of the perks they list are as follows: you can build your credit score by making your payments on time, learning how to manage money with the understanding of your Annual Percentage Rate (APR), you can have security for emergencies such as a flat tire or as chase says “a frightening lack of instant noodles”, it is convenient to have, and rewards programs which most credit cards have especially for cards aimed towards students. 

Now with the pros, there are also cons. Some of the cons they provide are: that missed or late payments can hurt your credit score, and the temptation to spend money you don’t already have.

Now with the pros, there are also cons. Some of the cons they provide are: that missed or late payments can hurt your credit score, and the temptation to spend money that you don’t already have. 

The last con was something that I was worried about, I like spending money. However, I set up a rule for myself. Only add your subscription services to that card. So my Adobe, Spotify, and phone bill are all tied to that card. It’s very rare that I will use it for anything else. My card is a Discover Student card so it has rewards attached to it so every so often ill use it for what that month’s reward is. And I have already seen the positive effect of having a credit card. My score has gone up since I got it only a few months ago. I pay off my card every month and don’t use nearly the amount I’m able to. 

So if you really want to dive into the world of credit cards here is some of my advice (please remember in the preface that I am not a professional and will not be held accountable for anything that goes wrong):

  1. If you feel like you will spend too much money with it, get a co-signer on the card or look into prepaid, or secured credit cards. Also, give yourself a set amount of rules. Mine is that I won’t spend over 30% of my card limit and I will only use it primarily for repeat purchases. 
  2. Do as much research as you possibly can. Call your bank to see what they offer and talk to representatives of different companies. They are there to help. 
  3. Use Experian or credit karma if you are trying to track your credit score. 
  4. Start building your credit sooner rather than later. You need a good score for good loans. Those loans could be for student debt, buying a car, or a home.