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College students too young for credit cards?

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Remember that “Lizzie McGuire” episode when Gordo received a credit card in the mail and began using it because he didn’t understand what having one actually meant? Though he was only in junior high school at that point, even as college students, we might not be much more responsible with plastic in hand.

Credit cards are tempting. The perpetual state of being a broke college student seems never-ending, and having a credit card offers temporary relief — until the end of the billing period. But many people don’t think that far ahead. Although guilty pleasure purchases like cute new boots or a new video game can consume some of the credit, others are seemingly more acceptable, like going out to dinner for your friend’s birthday. After all, you have to eat, right?

But even those small purchases add up, and because the money isn’t seen, it can be easy to dismiss each item as you swipe away at the cash register. Online shopping can be even more tempting because you don’t have to make the effort to go anywhere.

College students are often torn between getting credit cards or not, especially because they are often told that they need to build credit. While building credit is important in the long run, it is also something that can be done through other means without risking unnecessary debt or having your parents bail you out.

Certainly there are some college students responsible enough to have a credit card, but there are also exceptions to every rule. The brain does not finish developing until around the age of 25, and as such, some people in their late teens and early 20s may not realize the destructive impact of swiping away.

Additionally, many people who do rack up debt in their early years end up having to ask their parents for help. Not onlydoes this  make someone look irresponsible and immature, creating that debt in the first place is not positively building credit. Instead, their credit score would be looking dismal – which is exactly what they were trying to avoid initially.

However, the problem with credit cards is that they are often the only way to purchase large items. While most college students are not trying to buy a house and pay a mortgage, some do order items online, where credit cards are required. Additionally, large purchases while in college are often not made without the consultation of the student’s parents, or one of them at least. This is largely due to the level of independence that college students actually have versus how much they think they have.

People who are concerned about building credit at this age should focus on getting debit cards that can function as credit cards. Not only is there still a set amount of money in the account, they still have the capabilities of credit cards, including making online purchases. This can help people build credit in a restrictive, yet constructive way that encourages responsibility. This Editorial Board knows about the temptations that ensue with being in college: eating out, clothes, books, games and even alcohol. All of those purchases would add up on a credit card and lead to a person possibly obtaining a large amount of debt. Using a debit card that can act as a credit card is a much safer alternative. In addition, paying off student loans can help build credit.

There is no perfect age to apply for a credit card because even with all of this advice, this Editorial Board realizes that each person is different. However, after graduating from college, most people go on to either receive more education or enter the workforce. Individuals are usually more mature by this point and would also not have their parents to fall back on if they did accumulate too much debt. When it is time to get a credit card, be sure to pick one that matches what you are looking for in rewards and be sure to start off small with the spending you do. With Spring Break around the corner, however, now is probably not the time to consider getting that piece of plastic.

2 Responses

  1. Lauren

    Debit cards that have the option of charging as “credit” do not actually help build credit since they’re not technically credit cards. I’m also not sure that attributing the fact that the human brain isn’t finished developing until around age 25 is responsible for younger adults not understanding the impact of over use of a credit card. I think that the reason behind that might be that they just simply aren’t educated and/or experienced enough with them. I think once you reach college it’s a good idea to have ONE credit card, and to make sure you fully understand the rules and rates that go along with it. Making small purchases, like food, gas…and paying that off right away is how I built my credit. It’s just important to be responsible enough to know not to go crazy! If you get hired after college and plan on buying/renting a home or taking out a loan for anything like a car, having credit is important – they’ll most likely tell you to get a credit card to start that process, and building that up could take some time. It’s all about just being responsible :)

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  2. Stephen Trevathan

    I have to agree with what Lauren said– building up credit is super important and you should get started young. At the very least, this is a way to build your personal responsibility when you don’t have too many things resting on your shoulders because they really do start to add up after college.

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