Depending on the hands it falls into, a credit card may serve as an ultra-convenient money stack, or it can—if I may be overly dramatic—lead to financial suicide. For those who can manage their expenses and pay their monthly balances in full, owning a credit card is a great idea. Walking around with large amounts of cash is dangerous, and buying online is quite a hassle a without a credit card. Emergencies that necessitate fast funding also come up, and when they do, a bit of debt pales in importance. As you probably know, building up a credit report is one of the biggest incentives for taking advantage of credit cards. Credit card companies know that many parents will take care of student debt, and they’re not shy about making application offers to students. Booths with pizza and t-shirt giveaways fill up campus corners and busy sidewalks on sunny days. According to CBS, the average student is offered eight credit cards during their first college semester—no job required. Once students graduate, they are less likely to receive financial backing from their parents. With new expenses and student loans kicking in, graduate fledglings are considered to be bigger liabilities to credit card companies. Ironically, just when credit cards become most important, they become most difficult to come by. Renting an apartment involves a credit check, as does taking out a car loan and a home mortgage. People with bare credit reports are big question marks to sellers, landlords and credit card companies. If there is little or no credit history on your report, you may find yourself staring at bigger bills or doorknockers. I’m not saying it’s impossible to make it without a credit card, but having one sure does help. Good track records with a national credit card such as Master Card, Visa, and Discover (lesser-known store cards may not contribute to credit ratings) give lenders some evidence of dependability. Unfortunately, many students have a hard time creating a positive track record, and therein lays the problem. Students frequently look to credit cards for tempting pick-me-ups and tuition aid. Don’t get me wrong, not all indebted students are shopoholics, but those who look to credit cards for financial aid might want to look elsewhere.
Scholarships, grants, jobs and less expensive student loans are a student’s best bet because late payments may hurt in more ways than one. They will show up on credit reports, result in $20-$25 late bank fees, and lead to increases in credit card penalty charges. If you handle your credit card wisely, you won’t need to worry much about penalties and annual percentage fees, but you should definitely shop around before applying. Search for a card with the lowest fixed annual percentage rate (APR). Numerous cards will start you off with a low APR but raise the rate after 6 months. Also, be on the lookout for standard annual fees. There are cards that charge standard usage fees, regardless of payment history. Look for those that don’t. Once you build a good payment history, you may receive credit card offers galore. Little cards with your school logos may arrive in your mailbox. Yes. That’s cute. Chase knows that you go to the University of Illinois, but you already have a card. Refrain from getting another one. According to the United Marketing Service (UCMS), the average Joe carries 2.8 credit cards in his wallet: don’t be Joe. When you apply for a new card or loan, a credit inquiry will be recorded on your report. The more inquiries are made, the lower your credit score. I know, just because you want a discount on American Eagle jeans does not mean that you will not pay your bill in full. Unfortunately, lenders may assume that credit inquiries suggest financial need—even if they don’t. If you can stay on top of your expenses and limit the number of credit cards you own, you should take advantage of college application offers. As long as you can control the card before it takes control of you, using a credit card can bring you one step closer to a secure financial future.