The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Credit Cards in College

Student credit cards are evil.

Credit cards for college students are the best tool to build your credit.

One of those statements is true to you. There’s no in-between area when it comes to student credit cards. Since the new school year is in, we all need to go back to school on credit cards.

There are many different views on student credit cards out there.

  • The professional young lady buying her first home at 26 due to strong credit is happy that she used a student credit card to build her credit.
  • The dude struggling in his late-20s to make his credit card payments and can’t find a place to rent is outraged that he signed up for that credit card just to get a free shirt.

I don’t want to see you stuck in credit card debt until you’re 30. I want you to build up your savings account. I want you to start your own business or find a job that you enjoy. I don’t want your credit card debt to strangle you and limit your options in life. There’s nothing worse in life than feeling hopeless and stuck.

There’s no time to be in debt!

Should you get a credit card in college?

That’s a good question and we need to look at both sides.

What are the benefits of a student credit card?

  • Quick access to credit.
  • Build your credit.
  • Have a credit history.
  • Pay for emergencies.
  • Buy stuff online.
  • Practise discipline.
  • Get into the habit of using credit.

What are the potential negatives of a credit card in college?

  • Massive amounts of credit card debt.
  • Screw over your co-signor.
  • Ruin your credit.
  • Spend money on the most useless crap.
  • Lose your savings.
  • Buy things you don’t need.
  • Create poor spending habits at a young age.

While a student credit card can be a great tool, it can also screw you over if you don’t know what you’re doing.

I compare credit cards to drinking. If you’re responsible, you can have some fun. If you’re clueless, bad things will happen. Most of us are somewhere in between.

Do you have to get a credit card in college?

Absolutely not! 

You don’t need anything in college. You don’t need a credit card. There’s no shame in working with your weaknesses. You don’t need to do anything. You can focus 100% on your studies and networking.

If you have no control, then don’t bother with a credit card.

If you’re not ready to have a piece of plastic that has money attached to it, then don’t get a credit card.

You absolutely don’t need a credit card in college. Don’t feel bad if you choose not to get one.

If you do get a student credit card, let’s move on…

How do you master a credit card?

There are a few rules that I recommend you follow if you want to master your plastic. If you have some time I recommend that you check out how you should NOT use a credit card.

How can you master your student credit card?

  1. Pick the right card. Instead of accepting random offers in the mail or on campus, I suggest that you seek out the best student credit card that you can. This usually includes the following: no annual fee, a low-interest rate, and some perks.
  2. Get the smallest limit possible. As a rookie credit card user, you shouldn’t (and likely wouldn’t) receive more than a $500 limit.
  3. Treat your credit card like a debit card. My rule for credit card spending is simple: if you don’t have the money in your checking account then don’t spend it. How do you plan on paying your balance off if you don’t have the money?
  4. Make your payments on time. This is an absolute must. You’ll get screwed over royally if you don’t make your payments on time. This should be your number one priority with a credit card. Fortunately for me, my credit card is connected to my checking account online so it’s just a quick transfer.
  5. Take advantage of credit card rewards. Credit cards come with different rewards. I personally use a cash back credit card and get some money back at the end of the year.
  6. Ask for a limit increase when you’re ready. If you stay on top of your credit card for an extended period of time, you can eventually call your company up and ask for a limit increase.
  7. Repeat. There are no shortcuts to mastering your credit. Repeat this process and your credit will improve.

Should you use your credit card for emergencies?

This is a tough one. Everyone gets a credit card for “emergencies.”

What exactly qualifies as an emergency? How many emergencies will you have?

I highly suggest that you keep money in savings account for emergencies. If you absolutely need to be bailed out, then sure you can use your credit card. Just please do whatever you can to pay your balance off as soon as possible.

And let’s be honest, we don’t have too many real emergencies in college!

What if you want to learn more about credit?

I’ve written about this topic to death. I have 13,000 words on this topic with my premium guide on how to completely conquer credit.

Completely Conquer Credit
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For a limited time I’m selling this guide for only $7 because I want as many of you to benefit from this as possible!

What if you want more help for free?

I understand that many college students don’t have money. All of my work is available for free here. I put together a colossal piece on crushing credit card debt.

There’s no need to be afraid of student credit cards. After reading this piece, I’m confident that you’ll be ready to master the plastic.

How did/do you handle student credit cards?

5 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Credit Cards in College”

  1. Student credit cards can be great for 18-22 years olds to begin building up credit that is useful in life. I actually didn’t have a credit card until I was a senior in college. I think that was probably the smartest move for me. I was dead broke as a college student and I think I would have been too tempted.

    1. It’s definitely a tough move for broke students to get a credit card. I’m not one to preach, but I just shake my head when someone with no money uses their plastic.

  2. I work in lending for a credit union and think this is recommended reading for anyone new to credit. I would add a couple of other tips:

    Most credit unions also offer credit cards and generally at more favorable rates, and lower fees than bank credit cards.

    If credit makes you nervous, but you want to start building your credit profile, since credit scores determine what rate you’ll pay on future loans, you might want to check out a secured card. On this product, your limit equals the amount you have in savings. So, if you have $500 in savings, our credit union will approve a credit card with a limit of $500. The money in the savings is “pledged” against the limit, so you can’t withdraw it but you will continue to earn any interest on your deposit. The credit is reported, so as long as you make your payments on time, you’ll begin to accrue a credit history. We’ve got case histories from our younger members that we helped go from no credit score to a score over 650!

    Credit is a tool and like any powerful tool, should be respected and protected.

  3. While it can be a good thing for a student to get a credit card so that they can build their credit, it’s really important to make sure they can use it responsibly, otherwise it can be really dangerous. When I went to college, I was really surprised at how many times I saw tables set up with people representing one credit card company or another. They suckered in a whole bunch of students, some of whom may not have really been good candidates.

    1. Hey Pam, thanks for your comment. I’ve seen far too many of these tables. I was there on day one when a new friend, signed up for a credit card just to get a free bag. Then he boasted about how he cancelled the card when it arrived. He was so proud of this accomplishment. I’m pretty sure it would’ve been easier to just buy that stupid bag.

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