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Managing Credit Responsibly as a College Student





Building good credit in college is one of the best financial moves students can make. Having good credit allows them to qualify for loans, rental applications, auto insurance, phone plans and can help them get a job.

Being responsible with credit is the best way to establish and improve a credit score. For college students without much credit history, there are small but important steps they can take to build up their score.

Obtaining a Student Credit Card

Some credit cards are marketed to students and others who don’t have much borrowing history. Federal laws restrict issuing credit cards to anyone under 21 unless the applicant has the independent ability to repay debt or has an adult co-signer who accepts joint liability for the account.

Student credit cards may have low credit limits, such as $1,000, but they are otherwise indistinguishable from other credit cards. They may even have features such as cash back, no annual fees and budget management tools.

Using Credit Cards Wisely

After getting a credit card, students can start using it slowly and for occasional, small purchases that can be paid for on time. This will help build credit history and help them stay out of debt.

Students shouldn’t let a new card sit in their wallet. They must use it or risk the bank closing it due to inactivity. Putting small, recurring charges on it, such as a Netflix account or other website subscription, is an easy way to maintain use at a low cost.

Students shouldn’t make any big purchases unless it’s an emergency. Having low debt levels on their credit card will allow them to have enough of a credit line available in an emergency, and will increase the credit utilization part of their credit score.

Building Credit With Student Loans

One of the last things college students want is to default on their student loans, as this affects credit.

Borrowers should make at least the minimum payment each month and do it on time. They should borrow only what they need to go to school, instead of using the funds to buy a car or dine out. Once they graduate, they may want to consolidate their student loans to get a better interest rate.

On-time payments and paying off student loans will improve the credit score over time. If students run into problems making payments, they should contact their student loan provider and ask for forbearance. Federal student loans also offer Income-Driven Repayment plans that base payments on a borrower’s income.