By Kate Hester
College students have a lot to worry about: grades, roommates, clubs and parties, maybe a job or two, and sometimes, a credit card bill.
“I got my credit card around the fall of my sophomore year, so about two years ago,” said Megan Fitzgerald, a senior at the University of Georgia. That means for two years, Fitzgerald has been building her credit score.
But what is a credit score and when should someone start building it?
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a credit score is used to predict a person’s credit behavior, or how likely they are to pay back a loan on time.
A credit score does not just appear out of nowhere, it must be built. One way to do this is by applying for a credit card and making the steps to pay off the balance each month. Building a credit score is a big responsibility for a college student, and some may wonder if it is really something they need to worry about.
The short answer is no, according to Joe Nemetz, chief credit officer at First American Bank and Trust in Athens, Georgia. However, he suggested that students be mindful that credit scores can impact them in the future.
“A good credit history is earned by an individual not given. You need to be mindful that a bad credit score, a lower credit score, can impact additional credit, new credit or things that somebody either needs or wishes for,” said Nemetz.
Those things could be a new car or buying a home. Nemetz works mostly with people applying for loans to get these big-ticket items and a credit score is one of the criteria for approval. “Our bank has a cutoff point for a credit score, [a borrower’s] base credit score has to be 650 or better,” he said.
Fitzgerald said she first realized the effect her credit score would have on her future when watching the sitcom “New Girl.” In the episode titled “Fancyman, Part I,” the character Nick is denied a cell phone because his credit score was too low.
“That has stuck with me, I wondered ‘wow how does that even affect that, you have a bad credit score so you can’t buy a phone?’ It is just things like that which I did not realize your credit score impacted,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said she only uses her credit card for gas and emergencies as instructed by her parents who pay her bill, but she said the importance of building a credit score was reiterated again in a conversation with her older sister.
“When she found out I had a credit card she was very envious. She is five years older than me and said she wished she had known about getting a credit card in college, so that also put it in a little bit of perspective for me. To be like, oh OK, so this actually will help me in the future,” Fitzgerald said.
Kate Hester is a master’s student in journalism at the University of Georgia.