Building Your Credit with Student Credit Cards
Getting your first student credit card allows you to start establishing credit history and responsibly build your credit score. The right student card used prudently sets you up for financial success down the road.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss how to get approved for student cards, avoid predatory offers, manage payments and credit limits, maximize security, transition after college, and more. Let’s explore proven strategies to launch your credit journey.
Why Build Credit as a Student?
Here are some key reasons to begin establishing credit early:
- Start building history – Length of credit history is a major factor
- Qualify for better rates on loans and credit cards after college
- Rent an apartment without large deposits after graduation
- Get approved for financing needed to buy a car
- Maintain access to credit in case of emergencies
- Learn financial skills and responsibility while still on a student budget
With the right habits, student credit cards provide huge advantages later as you begin adult financial life.
Choosing the Best Student Credit Card
Here are key factors that make up ideal student credit cards:
- No annual fee – Avoid unnecessary costs
- Low credit limit – Lessens overspending risk
- 1% – 3% rewards on purchases – Earn something back for responsible usage
- 0% intro APR period – Interest-free grace period on purchases
- Reporting to all 3 credit bureaus – Build history efficiently
- Student focused resources – Learn good financial practices
- Fraud protection – Peace of mind against identity theft
The top issuers for student cards include Capital One, Discover, Bank of America, and your local credit union.
Getting Approved for a Student Card
To get approved for a student credit card:
- Check card requirements before applying – Most require proof of college enrollment
- Meet any minimum GPA requirements – Typically 2.0 or higher
- Ensure you have sufficient income – Some require $2,000 in annual income
- Apply for your first card individually only – Don’t joint apply as an authorized user
- List student loans or grants as income – If you don’t have formal taxable income yet
- Start with your bank where you have existing accounts
- Have a plan to pay your monthly bill on time – Even if it’s your parents funding payments
Banks offer student cards knowing limited credit history exists. Just focus on proving responsible usage.
Be Wary of Predatory Offers
Some pitfalls to avoid when researching student cards:
- Credit card offers marketing heavily around campuses – Talk to your bank instead for the best rates/terms
- Secured cards requiring hefty upfront deposits – Discover and Capital One offer unsecured student cards that don’t require this
- Promises of credit increases before establishing responsible usage – Time and good habits are required to grow limits
- Offers preapproved without soft credit check – Banks screen applicants to prevent overextending limits
- Non-bank lenders offering preapproval – Big issuers like Visa provide the best card options and terms
Let your first card be from a major bank willing to extend credit cautiously as you build history. Avoid too good to be true offers.
Maintaining Good Payment Habits
To use student cards responsibly after getting approved:
- Never miss a monthly payment – Set calendar reminders for your due date
- Pay more than just the minimum when possible – Show you can manage higher payments
- Contact issuers immediately if you may miss a payment – They can offer hardship options
- Avoid maxing out your limit – Stay under 30% of your credit limit when possible
- Carry a small balance month-to-month only if it’s 0% APR – Pay in full if interest applies
- Set up autopay – Guarantees on-time payment if funds available
- Review statements monthly – Verify charges and avoid unwanted fees
Payment history makes up 35% of your credit score. Establish diligent payment habits now.
Handling Credit Limit Increases
As you demonstrate responsible usage, issuers may increase your limit. Here’s how to respond:
- Consider timing – Avoid requests for increases 6 months before major applications like an auto loan
- Review your budget – Only accept increases you can manage based on income and spending needs
- Beware lower utilization – Higher limits mean lower ratios unless you increase spending
- Don’t overspend just because more credit is available
- Be conservative – Ask for smaller increases that maintain utilization under 30%
- Use new limits to your advantage – Show you can handle more credit wisely
Allow your spending needs, not just your credit hunger, dictate when a higher limit is beneficial. Don’t let your eyes get too big.
Maintaining Solid Credit Standing
To keep your student card in good standing:
- Make payments on time every month – Set up autopay if needed
- Try to keep balances under 10% of your limit – Pay off big purchases quickly
- Limit card applications – Too many dings your score temporarily
- Check your credit report annually – Dispute any errors
- Know the penalties – Late fees, jump in interest rates, lower credit limits
- Contact issuer with financial hardships – They may offer assistance
- Cancel unused cards – If they have annual fees or tempting spending limits
Financial prudence requires diligently monitoring your accounts and asking for help when needed.
Maximizing Security as a Student
To keep your accounts ultra secure:
- Check statements weekly for any unauthorized charges
- Use credit monitoring and fraud alerts – Many banks offer this free
- Set up account alerts – Get notifications for charges over a limit you predetermine
- Use virtual card numbers for online purchases – Keep your real card number safe
- Avoid public computers or networks when accessing accounts – Use your private student email for communication
- Report lost or stolen cards immediately – Call issuer 24/7 fraud line
- Use chip cards with tap-to-pay when possible – More secure payment processing
$0 fraud liability offers peace of mind against losses, but vigilance prevents hassles.
Transitioning After Graduation
Once you graduate and have income, consider switching to more rewarding credit cards like:
- Flat-rate cashback cards for universal spending
- Travel rewards cards offering signup bonuses
- Cards with higher bonuses for your largest spending categories
- Cards that better fit your post-college lifestyle
- Upgraded rewards cards as income allows
Don’t maintain expensive student cards solely for legacy. But keep your first card open indefinitely to anchor your length of credit history.
Closing Unused Student Accounts
Consider closing student cards if:
- They charge costly annual fees after graduation
- You have multiple unused cards open
- Your income can’t justify a large available credit limit
- The card frequently tempts overspending or poor habits
- It doesn’t offer a clear reward for continued use
- Your oldest active account remains open (key for history)
Check that closure won’t slash your total available credit and hike utilization ratios.
Tips for Managing Student Cards
Here are final tips for maximizing value from student credit cards:
- Have an active bank account for your first card to facilitate payments
- Discuss card habits openly with parents or guardians
- Make quarterly reviews of rates as new offers become available
- Use tools like Mint or Excel to manage payments and balances
- Pay more than the minimum when possible to build goodwill
- Set a budget with your income and expenses before getting a card
- Ask issuers about graduation programs as your credit grows
Financial literacy is crucial. Approach your first card as a privilege with responsibilities, not free money.
Concluding Thoughts on Student Credit Cards
Getting approved for your first student rewards card marks a financial milestone. But managing it prudently requires diligence and focus.
Apply with a major bank offering fair rates and credit limits in line with your income. Maximize security features. Layer in other accounts over time responsibly.
With a properly used student card that supports your goals, you’re off to an ideal start establishing your financial profile for adulthood.