Credit is a tool and, similar to wielding many other types of tools, using credit can have both positive and negative results. Using credit positively can help young adults build a history that may enable them to get better terms for future credit, such as car or home loans.
Federal regulations limit the amount of credit available to teens and young adults. But, it’s difficult to qualify for loans or other consumer credit without a credit history. Here are some tips for students who want to ensure they’re building good credit.
Opt for a student card
Many national credit card companies offer a student credit card for college students, or those soon to be in college. These cards often carry more lenient requirements and low annual fees, and they may offer incentives for certain actions. For example, you may qualify for cash back for achieving certain grades or discounts on purchases.
Don’t go it alone
Work with your parents to become an authorized user on an existing credit account, like a credit card. This means you have a card with your name on it, but the account holder is still responsible for paying the bills. Be sure you understand the card issuer’s policy for reporting credit for authorized users.
Alternatively, look into credit cards that will allow a cosigner. A cosigner would be responsible for any debt if you don’t pay your own bills, so parents or other close relatives are generally the best people to ask. The cosigner must also have good enough credit to qualify on his or her own.
Create a solid work history
A steady record of income from employment indicates that you‘re more likely to repay debt over time. Generally, you need to demonstrate full-time or near-full-time employment to qualify for a credit card or other credit before the age of 21.
Make a deposit
A secured credit card allows you to make a deposit to secure a line of credit. Even if the deposit must be equal to the credit limit, using the card instead of cash and then making regular on-time payments will build credit. Some credit card issuers may offer an unsecured credit card after you demonstrate good use for a period of time.
Take on bill paying
If you share housing with other students, consider holding a lease or utility in your name. This means you will be responsible for collecting your roommates’ share of the bill each month and making the full payment from your checking or savings account. Demonstrating your ability to pay bills on time each month will help build a positive credit history.
Pay early and pay often
Once you qualify for a credit card or other consumer loan, be sure to make payments. Although you may be required to make only a minimum payment, it’s better to pay a credit card balance in full each month to minimize interest. Making more than the interest payment is also a good idea for other types of loans. To help ensure you can make payments, limit your use and carry a low balance.
Check your results
As you build credit, monitor your credit reports and scores for errors and signs of fraud. Each year, you qualify for free credit reports from the three national consumer reporting agencies from www.annualcreditreport.com. (Never pay for a credit report.)
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides resources to learn more about credit reports and scores, building credit and what to do if you suspect fraud or identity theft.