Going to college means entering a new world of freedom, and responsibility. Students are free to stay up until dawn playing video games, eat top ramen for every meal and never do homework – but they’re also responsible for the consequences.
Of course, most students are able to handle the freedom of college while keeping up with their responsibilities; but many college students – and certainly their parents – are still unsure if a student credit card is a good idea. On the one hand, credit cards give students the freedom to take control of their finances, but having a student credit card is also a major responsibility. So do you need a credit card in college? Here, we evaluate the pros and the cons.
One major advantage to having a credit card in college is that if there’s an emergency or even just an unexpected large expense, the student can deal with it right away. This could be anything from buying additional books halfway through the semester when an English professor decides to switch around the syllabus, to lending money for a week’s worth of groceries to a roommate whose financial aid check got lost in the mail.
For students who prefer to shop for course books, school supplies, clothing and even food online, a credit card is a necessity. Considering the low prices on textbooks and other supplies that can often be found on the internet, online shopping alone is a fantastic reason for student credit cards.
By choosing the right credit card, students can also enjoy great benefits every time they spend. There are lots of expenses in college; from books every term, to school events, housing and so on. With the right credit card, students can earn rewards every time they spend. For example, the HUECU Student Credit Card offers great cash back rewards – 3% on gas, 2% on groceries and 1% on everything else.
In the long term, having a credit card in college enables students to establish good credit early on. So long as the student pays off their card in full every month, they will be on their way to graduating from college with a great credit score – meaning they will be more likely to qualify for a loan for graduate school, a loan to start their business or an eventual home mortgage.
Even with all those advantages, some students and their parents are still nervous about the idea of having a credit card in college. The biggest concern is debt. If the student does not regularly pay off their credit card on time, they could end school with a pile of debt that takes years or even decades to recover from. Just as paying off a credit card on time will mean a great credit score with lots of financial opportunities, graduating with debt will mean just the opposite – and could result in a low credit score that prevents the student from taking out a personal loan or buying a house, at least for a few years.
Credit card debt is the result of spending money you don’t have, which some college students can be very, very tempted to do. Especially if some of all of the money tied to the credit card belongs to their parents, or if the student hasn’t been responsible for their own finances in the past, the student may be less than cautious when it comes to spending.
Then again, college students can also get into trouble by simply forgetting to pay their credit card bills on time, even when they have the money to do so. College is a hectic time in which a student’s schedule differs from day to day, they may change address once a year or more, and factors like living with roommates, school stress or frequent social activities all add up to a situation where credit card bills might be lost or misplaced, and not paid on time.
Do you need a credit card in college? A student credit card will undoubtedly be useful, convenient, and maybe even necessary at some point during school. At the same time, the risks of credit card debt can be severe.
In light of the pros and cons, college students and their parents must find the right balance. Some students take out a card in their own name, but pay off their bills from an account that’s partially funded by their parents. Others may choose a student credit card that’s linked to a bank account and automatically paid off every month, so there’s no need to worry about debt – assuming the linked account always has enough funds.
With all the great benefits that credit cards can offer – from easy online shopping to the opportunity to build a healthy credit score, to spending benefits like cash back rewards – it’s certainly worth taking a look at all the options for having a credit card on hand in college, while being careful to avoid the potential pitfalls.