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Students and credit use

So now that you finally have your hands on your own piece of plastic, you're probably thinking about taking all your friends out for a wild night on the town. While it may seem like a fun idea, over spending on credit now will leave you bogged down in debt and interest charges that stretch well beyond graduation.

That said, establishing credit as a student is generally a good thing. The relatively lenient credit application process will help you establish a credit standing for the future when you need to buy a car or rent an apartment.

If used responsibly, with small purchases and regular payments, that first card will be followed by new offers for credit cards, often with larger credit limits and lower interest rates. Before signing up for new plastic, do your homework. That means understanding minimum payments, grace periods, finance charges and listing of purchases. To maximize the benefits of new credit, you'll also need to avoid some common credit pitfalls.

  • Check to see when the interest begins to accrue. Some cards post interest from the moment they receive your charge, not the due date of the bill. That means interest accrues immediately. You'll pay interest even if you cover 100% of the balance, and you're on time every month. Only accept cards where interest starts from a definite billing date (cards with a "grace period"), and pay in full by that date.
  • Watch out for "buy now, pay later" offers. "No interest" may seem like a good deal, but if you a miss the due date, they will accelerate the payments and add interest from the moment you made the purchase. Pay attention to the rates - they are usually the highest in the industry.
  • Retail stores, where the world of consumer credit began, is a great way to start building your credit history. Just don't use the card to splurge on items that are not in your budget. Only charge an amount you can pay before the grace period ends because the average rate for retail stores are as high as 21%. Get more information on understanding the fine print in credit cards.

This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.


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