Charge It! Pros and Cons of Student Credit Cards

It’s the age old question: should I get a credit card in college?

With companies such as MasterCard and Discover soliciting business from you by sending letters offering their services that are “specifically for college students like YOU!” it’s difficult to decipher fiction from fact.

It’s hard to determine whether or not you truly need a credit card while you are in college. There are many advantages to having one in your wallet, but the disadvantages to using one irresponsibly can be much more than just a small annoyance.

Below, we break down some common defenses for and against credit cards, and what the real reasoning behind it all is.

Emergencies

  • Having a credit card can help you out in emergencies big time. Think about it: you’re off at college, any number of miles away from home, and your car dies. Or you unexpectedly need to buy something really expensive for class. If there’s something you have to have, and you simply don’t have the money to do it, a credit card can be a lifesaving option in a pinch. It can mean not having to choose between gas or groceries for the week, and can help you for a month or so when you’ve fallen behind on your rent. But remember: everything you charge, you have to pay back

Which leads into the bad side:

  • If you overuse your credit card, you can get into some serious financial trouble. Just because you have it at your disposal does not mean you should use it for every little thing. If you get it for emergency use, that’s fine, but you should know that “oh man, those are really cute shoes at Target” doesn’t typically count as an emergency. And emergencies, all legitimacy aside, are generally expensive. If you have one too many of them, you’re going to dig yourself a hole regardless. The golden rule to keep in mind when charging anything is that if you don’t pay it back right away, it’s going to add interest and could snowball into a nightmare that you can’t keep up with.

Long-Term Credit

  • Often people use credit cards to build up their credit score in college and early adulthood. By charging things to the card and paying it off consistently, it helps beef up your score, and proves to people later on that you’re trustworthy when it comes time to rent an apartment or purchase a vehicle or other big ticket item. Doing this can give you a better foundation later in life, and may prevent you from having to find a cosigner for loans or large purchases. You can easily do this by charging something that you would normally pay money for (like gas) and then paying it off promptly and in one go each month, before the interest can roll over.

However, there is another side to the coin:

  • Once again, if you start charging too much to your card, it can cause major  problems. It’s not just a game anymore, and anything that you do could have a major and lasting impact on your credit rating, and consequently, your future. If you charge too much to your card and are unable to make the payments, you will be reported to the credit bureau. Then, of course, you’ll have creditors calling you constantly in an attempt to get their money, and your credit score will go down the toilet. 

In the end, whether or not it’s a good idea to get a student credit card while in college should be examined as a case by case basis. If you truly feel that you’re responsible and mature enough to handle having one, and you know you won’t use it for silly, unnecessary things and run up a bunch of charges, then you’ll probably be fine.

It’s a good way to learn how to pay bills on time, and to be responsible for your money. Just remember to use it wisely and with caution!

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Elizabeth Benson

Elizabeth Benson

Elizabeth Benson is a freshman at Central Michigan University, currently pursuing a degree in Journalism. Elizabeth is a member of the CMU Honors Program, and is a staff reporter at Central Michigan Life, the student run campus newspaper. When she’s not in school, she can usually be found reading, writing, or watching movies, and enjoys traveling and performing in plays.
Elizabeth Benson

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