9 Essential Tips for College Students Applying for Their First Credit Card

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By: Aquib Nawab


1 - Check Your Credit Profile

Before applying, request and review your credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Also check your FICO credit score, which lenders use to assess your creditworthiness. This provides insight on where your credit stands, any errors that need disputing, and areas for improvement. Knowing your detailed credit health history helps you qualify for the best card rates and terms.

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2 - Consider a Student Card

Research major credit card issuers that offer student cards with lenient qualification criteria for those with little or no credit history. Opt for student cards that offer cash back or travel rewards on spending categories relevant to students, like groceries, gas, dining, or streaming services. Building history with a student card makes other credit products more accessible later.

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3 - Match Your Spending

Analyze your monthly budget and identify major spending categories like groceries, gas, online shopping, or travel. With this spending insight, compare rewards credit cards and select one that provides the highest cashback or points for those categories where you spend the most. Picking the right rewards match helps your points accumulate faster.

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4 - Avoid High Fees

Look for credit cards that do not charge an annual fee, especially beneficial for students on limited incomes. Also pay attention to the APR rate, ideally in the 15-25% range, so that interest charges remain relatively low if carrying a balance month-to-month. Read the fine print for other fees like late payment or over-limit fees.

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5 - Request a Low Limit

When approved, request the issuer initially grant a low credit limit, like $500 or $750 instead of $2000. This helps students carefully manage spending within their budget, avoiding overextending on the card. Once responsible habits are built, you can contact the issuer and request periodic credit limit increases as your income and credit profile grows.

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6 - Understand Credit Impact

Research and understand how using your first credit card wisely can positively or negatively influence your credit score over time. Paying bills on time, keeping balances below 30% of the limit, and maintaining long credit history with the card helps build your score. But missed payments, maxing out limits, and closing the card early damages your credit.

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7 - Pay in Full Each Month

When the bill comes, always make at least the minimum payment listed, but try to pay the entire statement balance by the due date. Carrying a balance from month-to-month leads to accumulating debt and higher interest charges. Pay in full if possible.

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8 - Set Up Autopay

Set up autopay through the card issuer website to have your monthly bill automatically paid in full from your checking account every month. Autopay prevents missed or late payments that result in fees along with credit score dings. It also saves the hassle of manually making payments.

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9 - Track Your Spending

Check your card account frequently to review charges, confirm legitimate transactions, and watch for fraudulent activity. Many issuers provide real-time notifications when the card is used. Downloading the issuer app aids monitoring, as does budgeting software to analyze spending habits.

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