The University Network

9 Tips For College Students Considering Their First Credit Card

College is the perfect time to build a credit history, which you will need for the next stages in your life, such as renting an apartment, buying a car, or obtaining a mortgage. Since your credit score will follow you for life, it can either help or hinder your situation. It is therefore critical for college students to build good credit. You can start by having one credit card while in college and learn to be financially responsible.

If you are thinking ahead and would like to get your first credit card, here are 9 things you need to know about applying for, and managing, a credit card.

1. Talk to Someone Knowledgeable Before You Apply

Getting your first credit card is an important financial step, so talk to someone knowledgeable, such as parents, guardians, or another trusted adult, before you apply for one. Many banks offer various consultations for young adults interested in applying for a credit card. Bank employees can walk you through the process and explain key concepts, such as spending limits, payments, interest rate, and late payment fees. While the spending limit on the initial card may be small, it requires fiscal discipline to stay within the limit and manage your first credit card responsibly.

2. Do Your Research

You should also do your research before applying. Check the banks that have locations near your campus or your home. Look for a bank that offers benefits for students, such as cash rewards, low interest rates, and no monthly fees while you are a student. Each bank offers different options for credit cards, so be sure to compare banks near your campus or home to ensure you find the best credit card.

3. Don’t Buy What You Can’t Afford

In movies, we often see young adults get credit cards for “emergency use” and end up charging everything their hearts desire and more. While your credit card may make you feel as if you can buy everything, you shouldn’t do so. Debts can lower your credit score and prevent you from getting approved for future loans or mortgages. You should treat your card responsibly and make purchases that can be paid off in full by the due date. While it may be tempting to purchase every item on your wish list, you should practice fiscal responsibility by saving money and not spending more on your credit card than you have in cash.

4. Pay Your Bill In Full and On Time

Always pay your credit card balance in full each month, so you don’t incur interest on outstanding amounts. Also, always pay on or before the due dates, so you don’t have to pay a late payment fee or interest rate on outstanding amounts. Failure to pay in full and on time each month, plus compounding interest and fees, could easily lead to a high balance and unmanageable amount over time.

5. Don’t Surpass the Monthly Spending Limit

Your bank establishes a monthly spending limit for a reason. Monthly spending limits are calculated using your income, credit history, and other factors. Surpassing the monthly spending limit may result in a suspension or penalty on your account, so be sure never to exceed it. Approaching your monthly spending limit may mean that you are overspending, so be sure to calculate your budget for your credit card with your monthly spending limit in mind.

6. Establish a Budget

Budgets are the best way to maintain your finances. Budgets require you to analyze your current spending and make a plan to adjust future spendings. Having a credit card may tempt you to make excessive purchases, but a budget will make you conscious of how you should be spending.

7. Download a Mobile Banking App

Mobile banking apps are a great way to keep track of your bank account and credit card easily. You can easily view the balances of your accounts, due dates, maximum spending limits, and more with these apps. You can track your purchases to make sure there are no mysterious charges and that you are not overspending. You can also transfer money between accounts and create budgets very easily.

8. Don’t Apply For More than One Credit Card

As you are checking out of a store, many sales associates often ask if you would like to sign up for a store credit card, often promising a nice discount there and then and for future purchases. While the offer sounds great, college students should stay away from applying for a second credit card after only holding a credit card for a short period of time. Store credit cards often have a high APR, which can be a burden to pay off in case you forget, or can’t afford, to pay the balance. So make sure you can manage your first credit card responsibly before getting a second credit card,

9. Read Your Credit Card Agreement

Before you apply for a credit card, you should read and understand all the terms and conditions. It is important to understand penalties, fees, rates, and any other factors related to owning a particular credit card, so you know the ramifications of what you do, or fail to do, and avoid getting in financial trouble.


Many students enter university with limited to no credit, but it is important for them to start building credit. If your credit is not “bad’ because of prior mishaps, you can get a student credit card with your university email address or university ID. While having a credit card may tempt you to spend, think of having a credit card as a responsibility rather than spending frivolously.