Should college students have credit cards?

Tuition. Rent. Food. Books. Gas. There’s a lot to handle in college as you build your future. No wonder you’re thinking about getting a credit card. But just because you can use a card to budget and build credit doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing for you.

There isn’t really a right or wrong answer to whether college students should have credit cards. It’s a highly individual choice and depends on your specific situation. So before you make that decision, here are some points worth thinking through.

Reasons to explore having a credit card in college

You’re probably already picturing how having a credit card could help you in college. Shopping online, buying groceries and paying bills can be easier with a card. Here are some other ways that—if you use it responsibly—a credit card could be helpful:

  • Using a credit card responsibly can help you build your credit history. How you use and repay debt affects your credit history and score, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). And companies can use your credit information to decide whether to offer you a car loan, an apartment, a mortgage and sometimes even a job. Building a credit history in school means you won’t be starting from scratch when you graduate.
  • A credit card can be handy in emergency situations. What if your car breaks down or you need to upgrade your laptop? A credit card is one way to deal with an unexpected cost. Just make sure that you don’t overuse this resource. The CFPB notes you should be clear with yourself about what represents an emergency. And be aware that interest and fees could end up costing you more than your original bill.
  • A credit card can help you learn to manage your own finances. Having a credit card can help introduce you to the importance of budgeting and paying bills on time. And the CFPB says that young adults learn financial skills more and benefit when they have opportunities to make their own financial decisions. 
  • A credit card could let you earn cash-back rewards for essentials. Rewards cards can help you get the most out of your spending. And when you’re a student, every little bit helps.
  • Some credit cards offer tools to help you protect yourself. If your cash is stolen, there might not be much you can do about it. But if you lose money through credit card fraud, you might not be held responsible. And if you’re a Capital One customer, your credit card has a number of security features that may help you detect fraud. 

Considerations before applying for a credit card in college

There are lots of good reasons to have a credit card in college. But are you in the right position to have one? To help you decide, here are some questions you could ask yourself:

  • Am I financially ready? Consider your situation. Do you have a regular source of income? Are you able to pay off the statement balance or at least the minimum payment every month? Are you responsible with your spending? 
  • Do I understand the basics? Learning about responsible card use before you apply could make managing a credit card easier. It’s also a good idea to make sure you understand how credit card interest works
  • Can I handle all the possible consequences? You know the benefits, but consider the potential drawbacks. You could be tempted to overspend. There could be fees and interest charges. You’ll be legally responsible for repaying your debt. And if you don’t use your card responsibly, you could damage your credit score. That could hurt your long-term goals—things like owning a home or buying a car.

Credit card options for college students

If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided to go for it, you can start thinking about what type of card makes sense for you. If you use them responsibly, the following options could be a good entry point into the world of credit. 

  • Student credit card: Having a student credit card isn’t that different from having a traditional credit card. But it might be more suited to students, with features like credit-tracking tools that can help you build a healthy relationship with credit. For example, Capital One credit cards for students let you earn rewards while you build credit with responsible use.
  • Secured credit card: With a secured credit card, you deposit an amount of money that the issuer holds as collateral. This is sometimes known as a security deposit. For example, the Capital One Platinum Secured card has refundable security deposits of $49, $99 or $200—depending on your creditworthiness—for an initial credit line of $200. If approved, you’ll get a credit card account with an initial credit limit. You can then use the card to make purchases just like you would with other credit cards. 
  • Authorized user on someone else’s credit card: Becoming an authorized user means you get a card linked to an existing account that you’re authorized to use. The account could belong to a friend or family member—whoever is willing to add you to their credit card account. You’ll get your own card linked to the account’s line of credit. But the primary cardholder is ultimately the one who is responsible for the account. But the CFPB says negative actions, such as late payments, could affect both your credit scores if they’re reported to credit bureaus.

Ready to apply?

Getting a credit card in college is an exciting milestone. If you’ve decided you’re ready for it, you could see whether you’re pre-approved for a student credit card from Capital One.

Or you can see if you’re pre-approved for some Capital One credit cards, like the Capital One Platinum Secured card. The pre-approval process is quick and only requires some basic info. And finding out if you’re pre-approved before you apply won’t hurt your credit score.

Student rewards credit cards

With responsible use, students can earn cash back rewards today while building credit for tomorrow.

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