By Charlie Ferrelle
Few college students use credit cards to pay for their expenses, but according to the experts they should.
College students in 2015 used debit or check cards for 42 percent of their purchases, cash for 40 percent, and credit cards for only 6 percent, according to Credit.com.
These statistics, which were gathered in spring 2015 by Student Monitor Financial Services, have increasingly become the norm, and Brenda Cude, an expert in credit cards, explained a few reasons why.
“Some students might have seen their parents have some hardships in the economic recession, and, whether that was tied directly to credit use or not, it may be associated with credit use in people’s minds,” said Cude, a University of Georgia professor in the housing and consumer economics department. “And even if they didn’t have a personal experience, it was certainly all over the news.”
Cude also pointed out that a lack of knowledge and understanding among students leads to the idea that all credit is bad. She said students tend to think credit cards are mysterious and complicated because there has been so much said about them, but such is not the case.
“Anybody who can use a debit card can use a credit card. They are exactly the same thing in a sense. If I use my debit card I am spending my money today. If I use a credit card I am spending my money tomorrow,” she said.
Cude said students like debit cards because they can check their balance all of the time, but they can do the same thing with a credit card, and students without credit cards are missing an opportunity.
She said a clear advantage for students who get a credit card and use it responsibly comes from building credit history. “I have heard from students after they graduated and got good jobs who could not get a credit card because they had no credit history,” said Cude.
Cude said lenders are typically more lenient about students getting a credit card because the assumption is that students have more of a safety net given the fact that their parents are still in the picture. This offers students a good learning opportunity.
“This idea of learning while you’re a student, credit card companies get it. After you graduate, if your parents put you on your own and you make a credit card mistake, then you have to bail yourself out,” said Cude.
Stuart Harriott, a landscape architecture student at UGA who got his first credit card during his second year in college, said having a credit card as a student has been a challenge, but a necessary one.
“I think it is definitely more challenging than using a debit card, but it’s something you’re going to have to go through at some point, so I would rather get used to it now while I am still in school,” said Harriott.
Students who are thinking about getting a credit card should not simply sign up with whatever company sends the first email offer. Both Cude and Harriott recommended researching before choosing a card.
Harriott took advice from those around him. “Definitely ask parents or siblings who have been through it. I just relied on my brother,” he said.
If you do not have anyone to turn to for advice, other resources exist.
“There are tons of credit cards out there that might be a better choice for you and plenty of websites let you set criteria and only show cards that meet that criteria,” Cude said. These websites include: credit.com, creditcards.com and creditkarma.com.
Charlie Ferrelle is a student at the University of Georgia.