Years ago, during my first year of college, I was happily walking across the quad when I spied a table filled with bright orange Frisbees.
“I could use a bright orange Frisbee,” I said to myself and walked over to find out how I might score one.
Behind the table was a young person, barely older than me, who told me that all I needed to do was hand over my social security number and personal information, apply for a credit card, and the Frisbee was all mine.
“Uh. Done.” And with a few quick swipes of a pen, it was over. The Frisbee was mine. Granted, it was a pretty sweet Frisbee, but getting this credit card in the mail a few weeks later would lead to impulsive purchases, paying only the minimum, and debt that took years for me to pay off. I’d received a Frisbee in exchange for handing over my credit.
If I could go back in time and have a chat with younger me as I approached the table, here’s what I’d ask myself:
Which credit card are you applying for?
I still, to this day, have no idea what kind of credit card I applied for. I knew which company it came from, but I didn’t read the terms, know my APR (annual percentage rate), or even take into consideration what my actions with that credit card would do to my credit. Before you apply for a card, do some research to make sure that the card is the right card for you. Does it offer a low APR? Does it have a yearly fee? Will it help you to build your credit with responsible use?
What are you going to use the card for?
If I had used my credit responsibly, this could have been the perfect way to start building my credit by making small purchases and paying them off. For instance, if I’d only used the card for books and gas and paid it off each month, I wouldn’t have paid interest and I wouldn’t have gone into debt. Instead, I used it on clothes and a vacation I couldn’t afford and ended up in debt for years because I could only manage to pay the minimum.
How is this going to impact your credit score?
I didn’t know it then, but opening a credit card can impact your credit score in substantial ways, potentially good and bad. When you apply for a loan or credit, the company you apply with often checks your credit history, using what’s called a hard inquiry. If you have too many applications in a short amount of time, it may cause your credit score to decrease. But, if you keep your credit or loan open and use it responsibly, it can increase your credit score over time. I’m the perfect example of someone who turned her credit misstep into a credit success story. I always paid at least the minimum (usually more), never missed a payment or was late on any of my bills (which is really important), and over time my credit score went from average to excellent. Thankfully now there are apps that let you simulate how certain actions you take may impact your score. You can see what applying for credit, paying off bills, or buying a car can do to your credit score—all before you actually do it.
Next time you consider applying for a credit card or loan, especially if it’s your first one, ask yourself the questions above, be familiar with your credit, and you’ll be on your way to having credit success—which is way better than having an orange Frisbee.
To help you on your credit journey, download CreditWise® from Capital One® and get your TransUnion® credit report, credit score and access to a credit simulator for free, for everyone.