By Sara Sammons

It’s common for people to open their first credit card in college, and for good reason. We’re old enough to have one under our name, we’re making big purchases we might want to finance (like furniture) and, eventually, we’re starting to thinking about leasing apartments or buying cars after we graduate.

It also can’t be ignored that credit cards are glamorous. We can buy whatever we want with money that isn’t ours? We don’t have to pay it all back at once, and the payments we do need to make are pretty small compared to the whole balance.

I got a student credit card my sophomore year of college to help me build credit and finance some things for my new apartment. I had a pretty good job at the time, so I got approved for larger balances almost immediately. I’d use it smartly though, I told myself, careful to set aside money to pay it off every month.

Credit card companies know about students’ wants and needs, though, and they’re clever enough to sweeten the deal. The Discover Student Cash back card, for instance, gives the user statement credit for all the money they spend, usually between one and five percent. Many different cards, especially those marketed to students, don’t charge APR for several months, meaning the balance doesn’t accrue interest.

When we’re worrying about classes, part-time jobs, friends and extracurriculars, that balance can shoot up fast. It’s easy to think “Well, there’s no interest on it yet, so I’ll just keep making the minimum payment until I get Christmas money or something.”

But once that interest starts hitting, it’s severe. Cards available to those with no credit history already have higher-than-average APR rates, but those with student perks can charge even more. The Discover Student Chrome card, popular with college students, charges 17.49% on top of the balance. Wells Fargo’s comparable cards charge 19.99%.

So, if you have a $100 statement balance, it goes up to about $120 in just one month. This will continue to grow, charging higher and higher interest as the balance grows.

I tried hard to use my card responsibly, and did pretty well for the first year-and-a-half or so. Then, I lost my job and moved again, and emergency medical bills racked up my balance. This was coincidentally the time my no-APR deal expired. Money became really tight for me, and I struggled to make the minimum payment every month. My card, which originally had a $500 limit, skyrocketed to a balance of over $2000 pretty quickly.

Having debt isn’t necessarily a problem. After all, almost all of us are sitting on an obscene amount of student loans. If you make the payments on time, your credit score won’t suffer terribly. However, that’s still real money you have to pay off. The little number you see in your phone can grow, and it can really affect you in the future if it doesn’t get taken care of.

College is awesome, and the financial freedom we have can be fun and rewarding, but it comes with its responsibilities. Making sure we can handle what gets thrown at us is important to that freedom. 

Sammons is a senior at the University of Missouri, studying journalism.