How to Start Building Credit

And what to consider if you’re starting in college

Understanding credit is an essential part of financial education. How does it work? Where do credit scores come from? And how long does it take to build credit? 

A major factor of your credit score has to do with credit history. And while college is a time when you’re thinking about building knowledge and experiences—and not necessarily your credit—it could be a great time to start.

There’s no way to definitively answer how long it takes to build credit. But the earlier you start building credit and paying your bills on time, the longer history of good credit you’ll have on your report.

And that can go a long way when you’re trying to get a loan for your first car or your first house. Whatever your plans for the future, a good credit score could make reaching certain milestones a lot easier. 

But how do you approach it while juggling all that college life entails?

That’s where Mira Megs Lathrop comes in. She is the co-creator of the Capital One® Money Coaching program. Prior to that, she spent a decade as a financial advisor for a leading financial services company. A Certified Money Coach (CMC)® and Certified Financial Planner (CFP)®, here she shares some considerations about building credit in college.

Q: Why Is It Important to Develop Good Financial Habits Early?

A: Building good financial habits while you’re still in college sets a good foundation for when you’re out in the real world. How you are with money now sets the stage for your future. Gaining mindfulness regarding your finances gives you peace of mind and can provide you with confidence going into post-college life.

Q: How Do I Build Good Financial Habits in College?

A: Setting up goals when it comes to money is a good way to start. Think about your spending habits. Identify what could be better, and set some intentions. Good goals could be to save three to six months of living expenses or even to cut your grocery costs by $20 a week. 

Making your finances an intentional, regular part of your life will help you generate a conscious relationship with money. If you feel financially empowered, you have more freedom to choose what’s right for you, whether it’s a career, grad school or any major life decision.

Q: How Do I Start Building Credit in College?

A: A good investment you can make is building financial awareness. Once you’ve gained some general awareness of your finances and set some goals, it might be helpful to get your first credit card. 

A good way to start is to use your credit card on a fixed bill or expense, such as your utilities, so you know how much your bill will be every month. Using your card responsibly by doing things such as paying your bill on time and using the card minimally every month will help you start building credit while minimizing the risk.

Q: Am I Ready for a Credit Card?

A: When you’re in college, you’re still figuring it all out. Give yourself some time to get your feet on the ground and develop a good relationship with your money. Start with gaining an awareness of how much money you have in your accounts and generally how much is going out every month. Being conscious of your finances is going to be important when you start building credit.

Q: What Are Some Possible Credit Missteps I Should Avoid?

A: While many factors can affect your credit, there are a few things you can do to stay on the right track. For example, pay off your balance every month. Credit can be built with a credit card when you make monthly payments on time, but it can drop when payments are late. Another thing that can get people is the “out of sight, out of mind” mindset. It can be easy to forget how much you are spending until that bill shows up, so always remain aware of how much you have charged on your card and make sure you can afford to pay it off. 

Build a Foundation for the Future

College is a great time to figure things out—that includes starting the process to build credit. And when you leave school with a good feel for your finances, you hold more control over your path. Whether you’re trying to lease your dream apartment or get a loan for a shiny new car, establishing good credit can help you reach your goals.

As a Capital One Money Coach, Mira bridges money and psychology to help transform people’s relationship with money. Money Coaching does not provide credit counseling or financial advice, but it can help you form a healthier mindset regarding your finances. Learn more about how the Money Coaching program can help you.

We hope that you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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