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Credit Cards: Personal Finance

Monica Levitan | mlevitan@radford.edu

In college, I know a lot of people who have and use credit cards on a regular basis.

You may have had someone suggest getting a credit card early so you can build credit to be able to purchase big things like a house or car, but do you need to have a credit card in college?

As a senior, I tend to think about whether I should open one. I’ve been using a debit card since I started my first job at 15, and it’s worked well. I know how much is in my account and how to make sure I don’t go in the red when I’m spending money.

But I’m starting to think about life after college – getting my first car and renting my first apartment. And that means I need to start building credit.

According to NerdWallet.com, there are several ways to build credit from scratch, such as:

Make all of your payments on time
Keep your balance low – don’t let it exceed 30 percent of your allotted credit limit
Avoid opening several new accounts at once, “new accounts lower your average account age, which makes up part of your credit score.”
Keep your accounts open for as long as you can
Check your credit reports regularly for any possible errors
If you practice most or all of these habits, then you should start seeing your credit score looking awesome after a couple of years.

A 2016 survey from Bankrate.com found that one-third of people between the ages of 18 and 29 have a credit card.

But to answer the question of whether you need a credit card, it depends on the person and their spending habits.

If you’re a freshman and want one so you can go on countless shopping sprees and aren’t good at budgeting, stick with a debit card.

You can build credit without a credit card. But if you’re planning on purchasing big things in the future or are in the early steps of planning your life after college, it could make sense. Make sure you research what type of credit card best suits the type of spending you’re planning on doing.

But since I don’t have much experience in this category, I talked to someone who does.

Julia McCracken, a senior finance major and president of the Financial Management Association at Radford University (FMA) suggests students try some alternatives to credit cards, such as creating an emergency fund “that will support you for a minimum of three months in the event that you have no source of income, during that time.”

“Once a minimum emergency fund has been established, students can start with a low balance credit card, depending on the terms of the card and the student’s individual situation, provided that the student has the resolve not to charge the card frivolously, and provided that the student is responsible for paying it off every month,” McCracken said.

Graham Jolley, a senior finance major and student advisor to the Board of Directors of Radford’s FMA Chapter believes that credit cards can be a double-edged sword.

“If you feel you are mature enough to handle the responsibility of a credit card it can be a great way to build credit,” Jolley said.

“Alternatively, if you do not feel as though you are ready for the responsibility of a credit card then you may consider being added as a secondary user to your parent’s credit card,” Jolley said. “A secondary user need not have any information or actual access to the account. This means that your parents can build credit in your name.”

If you do plan on getting a credit card, make sure you have a secure job that will help you pay your bills on time to avoid ridiculous interest rates and late fees.

But the choice is really up to you.

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