By Caitlin McCarthy
Books, late night pizza and beer, spring break, and the list goes on. All of these being college student “necessities” for a studious and fun few years. The one setback of these is how expensive it can all be. The possible answer to being able to afford these? A credit card.
Unlike most college students, I have not yet gotten my first credit card. It might be out of fear that I will rack up too may expenditures and not be able to pay it all off. However, it’s a rite of passage into the beginning of being more financially mature and building a credit score, so I can make big purchases once I graduate.
After some financial planning I decided to look into getting my first credit card. I was nervous but wondered what would be the best fit for just starting off. I told myself that I would have to limit myself, so I don’t get too comfortable just “putting it on the card.”
CNBC wrote a story about “Credit Cards 101” for students. I found it helpful that publications that I trust detailed what I should be looking for when trying to find a credit card.
CNBC rated Discover it Student Cash Back Rewards the best for its high return and “rewards” for college students. It basically rewards for shopping at popular places like Amazon.com, restaurants, and grocery stores. Like most college students, I am pinching my pennies so being rewarded for spending money is a pretty sweet deal.
On top of being incentivized to spend money at some of your favorite places, this card also rewards you for getting a 3.0 or higher GPA. This is an effortless way to start building small amounts of credit with no annual fees. The runner up for best credit card for students was the Bank of America Cash Rewards for Students. This one also has no annual fees and will give you $200 if you spend $500 in the first 90 days of opening.
Another piece of helpful guidance was what is a good credit score, so I know what to shoot for when I am building it up. Credit.com published a piece about what a recent college graduate should have as their credit score. With the credit score ranging from 300-800, 700 is the score a recent college graduate should have to be eligible for cards with reasonable terms. The higher the credit scores, the better terms you get in terms of interest, fees and perks.
However, credit cards can be dangerous if not used properly. Despite all of the incentives aimed at students, racking up credit card debt can be very harmful in the long run. Investopedia explained the psychological effects of using the “plastic card” versus cold, hard cash. The study said it is way easier to spend more money with a credit card, but the downside is not being able to pay it off. Most college students leave college with loads of debt, so it important to be mindful when using a credit card regularly.
After all, with the average credit card debt in Missouri being about $5800, it’s easy to build up debt that’s tough to pay off.
Overall, a credit card can be a useful tool in building up credit, so bigger purchases and better credit cards can be obtained after graduation. A good credit score is also needed to get an apartment or buy a car.
Now comes the hard part – the discipline necessary to use the card responsibly, so your good credit score stays high.
Caitlin McCarthy is a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.