Credit Cards: The Good and Bad for College Students

By Keshondra Shipp

A national survey revealed that fewer than 7% of college students have a credit card of their own, but Janet Miller has been one of them since 2019.

“A credit card is a tool to safely use while buying things and building credit,” said Miller. “Almost all negative experiences with credit cards can be avoided with responsible use.” 

The University of Georgia senior who is studying environmental health said she was motivated to apply for a credit card because of the rewards and student benefits it offered her, such as cash back on certain purchases and perks for maintaining good grades.

Credit cards can provide benefits to those students who have one, said Beverly Harzog, a nationally recognized credit card expert and consumer finance analyst for U.S. News and World Report. 

 A 2021 nationwide survey conducted by her publication found only 6.4% of undergraduate students possess a credit card of their own. The survey had a total of 17,760 undergraduate respondents with only 790 of those identifying as card-holding students.

The rise of Buy Now Pay Later apps (BNPLs) that allows someone to buy an item and pay for it over a few equal payments means that paying with credit cards is no longer the only way for students to pay over time for larger purchases, according to financial experts from Forbes and NerdWallet.

However, Harzog said students do not all realize the long-term benefit of having a credit card as opposed to these newer apps. She said credit cards can help students make big purchases and give them a sort of financial freedom while building up their credit. She added that if they use credit cards with rewards tied to them, they can profit from them. 

“It’s basically like getting a short-term interest free low,” said Harzog, who is known for educating people of all ages about credit cards.  

Credit cards can have negative consequences if not managed responsibly, she said. Between careless spending and late payments if handled irresponsibly, a person can end up with a bad credit score and one of the most toxic kind of debts a person can have. For college students, this can set them down the wrong path, she said.

Having overcome card debt herself, she now finds that financial literacy is one of her passions and she wants college students like Miller to understand they have a great opportunity to build credit while they are in college, so long as they are being responsible. 

“It has been a good experience. I have learned to not just make the minimum payment and avoid late fees at all costs,” said Miller. “I have never maxed out a credit card. Only get a credit card if you are a responsible person.”

Harzog also recommended that when it comes to using credit cards, decide how much you are going to spend each month. It should not be more than you can pay back when it’s time to pay the bill, she said.

“My rule for everybody, no matter what your age, is always pay your balance in full by the due date every single month,” Harzog said. “You need to compare different credit cards. Don’t just get the one that you read is the best card or that someone or your friend says is the best card. You need the best one for you.”

Keshondra Shipp is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.

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