I’m going to just get right to the point: whether or not a credit card is needed in college is very specific to the individual. The below offers some tips on how to think about credit cards and how they might be used as a beneficial tool OR could create big problems down the line.
I considered getting one when I was a freshman but came to the conclusion that it would be a bad idea. I felt that it would be easy to get out of control with spending and end up racking up very large bills rapidly.
Looking back on this decision I am so thankful I did not get one, especially as a freshman.
Now this is not to say that a freshman or a student of another year does not need, or should not have a credit card. Everyone has unique financial circumstances and therefore different expenditures. So, for this piece I believe that it would be most beneficial to list potential pros and cons of a credit card, and then leave you, the reader, to make the ultimate decision.
Credit cards for emergencies. As a college student, it is not uncommon to find yourself having to pay a large chunk at once – like on books. It is not also crazy to think that you might find yourself in an emergency situation where you have a sudden, unexpected expense. Credit cards give a little of that safety net for these emergency situations when you need to pay a large sum for whatever reason, but cannot wait for your parents to transfer you the money.
Begin to build your credit score. Your credit score is an extremely valuable tool. And one that you will definitely need after college. Your credit score is what a potential landlord or car dealership would use to determine if you’re trustworthy to loan to. One big factor for your score is credit history – so starting in college could pay off for you later in life, as you’ll have a longer history of having an account. To read more about building credit in college, check out Farnoosh Torabi’s post on this very subject.
Young people tend to make silly decisions. If you use credit irresponsibly it cannot only jeopardize your future, but your co-signers (parents) as well. It is easy to mark things as “emergencies” or use your credit card on a bunch of small costs. These small costs can quickly add up which can begin a long line of bad credit.
Spending money you don’t have. When some people thing of credit cards, they think of it as available cash. It is so important to only spend on your credit card what you know you will be able to pay off at the end of the month. Mastering this habit is extremely difficult when you don’t have income or really low income. This was one of the big factors that lead to me deciding not to get a card myself.
Fraud. Everyone who has a credit card is vulnerable to fraud. Essentially, fraud is any activity on your account that was not initiated or approved by yourself. This is not necessarily a downside to having a credit card, but is something credit card users definitely need to be aware of.
There are obviously more pros and cons to evaluate, but as a college student these are the main points to take into consideration. Once again, I believe it is important for you to evaluate your current situation, and make a decision if a credit card is right for you.
Connor Sweet is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and has deep aspirations to invest his money in the future. He is in the process of getting his finances in order and paying off his student debt in order to reach this goal. As he begins this journey he wants to offer his personal experience, advice, and findings in order to help college students/young adults in this very confusing time/pivotal point.