Ask the Readers: Should College Students Have a Credit Card?

By Ashley Jacobs on 28 August 2012 (Updated 4 September 2012) 86 comments

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Building credit at a young age is an important part of having a well-rounded financial picture. College students tend to get bombarded with offers from credit card companies offering incentives like free shirts if they sign up for a credit card. While some students can handle the potential risks of credit cards, others may fall into deep debt if they aren't able to properly use their credit card.

Should college students have a credit card? If yes, what are some good rules of thumb for them to follow? If not, at what age should people get their first credit card?

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Guest's picture
lostAnnfound

Our first kid is going off to college, freshman year, so we've discussed this recently. We have told her we will not cosign for a credit card, that this is something she will need to get on her own, and recommend waiting until she is at least 21 before doing so.

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Guest

I say yes -- but not right away. My parents made sure my siblings and I could responsibly handle money in college before allowing us to get credit cards. We got our credit cards in part way through so we could start building credit experience. We used them as debit cards though -- they got paid off immediately.

I don't think there's one right or wrong answer. It depends on how responsible the student is. Still, I think it's better to get that "hooray I'm free!" impulse long out of the way before getting a credit card.

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Kate

College students should have a credit card, especially if they're studying far from home, have a car, or are even studying abroad. I got my first credit card before studying abroad just in case any unexpected expenses came up. I didn't need it while abroad, but once I got back I started to use it once a month or so to build credit. Now I use it much more freely, but I still make sure to pay it all off each month.

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Christie

Only for emergencies! And they should have been taught how to use them by their parents in grade school and beyond. Credit card debt is just DEBT that they will have to pay back and they need to understand that first and foremost. You can't get something for nothing!

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Joli L

I don't think that they need one. I'm sure there are people who have done just fine building credit in other ways. I plan on researching and teaching my kids alternate ways to build credit when the time comes. Hopefully, businesses will have moved away from that being the main way to show that you are trustworthy with a loan.

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Matt

When I was in college, I had only a debit card. If I had to worry about paying bills while getting a tough degree, I would have messed up my credit.

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NancyH

Not if they aren't making the payments. If mom and day are making the payments, the student is sheltered from the consequences. But if they have a job and are managing their own financial affairs, that's a different story. Still, not a good a idea.

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Rebecca B. A. R.

Yes, college students should have a credit card. It should have a very low limit, and be paid off every month.

Guest's picture
rm

It really depends on the person. I think a credit card is great for a student assuming he/she can use it responsibly. They need to understand how it works. They should only use it for purchases they can afford and pay off the balance immediately. This advice goes for anyone who might want a credit card.

Guest's picture
Guest

For the most part I don't feel like college students should have credit cards. At least not in their first two years. Once they have been in school for a couple years and there is a need for a credit card, then it can be ok. This way they have had some time to adjust to being on their own and hopefully have a better undestanding of how to handle their money.

Too many times college students get a credit card and in a short amont of time build up debt and start to have credit issues.

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Ben

I think weather in collage or not has no bearing on weather someone should or should not have a credit card! It all depends on the discipline and how mature that person is! My son has had his own personal credit card since he was 10 (checking account at 5) (he is now 18)! He understands exactly how it works and chooses not to carry a balance because he does not want to pay any interest. He has never had any problems with any of his accounts, because he revived the proper education about them before they where opened!

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Scott

I work at a bank and have this discussion all the time. I feel that responsible students should most definitely have a credit card. Being hours away from their parents makes it difficult to get them money at times and you jus never know when you might need an emergency car repair. It is also good to have the established credit history as it may help them avoid deposits on utilities once they get out on their own.

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steph

yes - but only to spend in true emergency or if cash is in the bank

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steph

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Raina

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Raina

That's kind of a silly question since there are people of all ages and life stages who are college students. For instance, I'm a college student, but I also work full-time and pay all of my bills. I have classmates in their 30s and 40s with kids. So yes, I think there are college students who should have credit cards. I'd be more inclined to look at the person's level of personal responsibility, employment, income, etc. in order to differentiate between who should and shouldn't have a credit card. No one should have a credit card if he or she is just going to treat it like free money.

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Pat

Yes. How are they going to learn how to use responsiblity if they don't start managing early.

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Selene M.

Yes, they should, but it should be limited in value, and if tied to parents' account, monitored closely.

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Selene M.

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Selene M.

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NJJ

Yes, if your college student is independent and responsible with money than they should have a credit card. They should try getting one w/ no more than a $500 limit until they graduate so they aren't overwhelmed with so much debt so fast on-top of student loans.

If mom and dad are footing the bill for everything absolutely not. The best financial mistakes for people to make are on their own so they can be held accountable for their own financial mistakes. Its not right for mom and dad to have bill collector calls for debts that aren't there's!

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NJJ

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Tamara B.

I think they should have a credit card with a credit limit amount of no more than $200 to teach them financial responsibility.

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Tamara B.

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Gail Luther

I think yes; depending on the kid and their maturity level. If the parents can find a card that has a low limit (and won't automatically increase it), it could be a good learning experience. At some point, they are going to get a card on their own anyway. I would be concerned about handing over a card to a 18-year old without some kind of limit on it. The temptation would be too great.

Guest's picture

I didn't have a credit card until after college and during college I used a debit card for grocery money and such. I don't see a reason why a mature college student shouldn't have a credit card. They just need to treat it as debit and never charge more than they will pay off that month. As long as you are committed to staying out of debt, credit cards are just a useful tool.

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Geekmom

My opinion is no, college kids do not need credit cards. I do not think young adults need credit cards until they have a job and can pay the bill. A debit card works fine with an allowance while they are still students.

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Dan

Most students will need a credit card to purchase textbooks, supplies, rent or something for their schooling. So yes, they should have one. However the maximums on the cards should be something around $500 to ensure they can be managed and not something taken for granted that builds up with student debt.

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Arthur

No. At that age they often are in debt enough. Better to use cash.

Guest's picture

One credit card would be enough to build credit. Don't go overboard like me! I'm still paying for it now, 10+ years later!

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Betty

In my household, the answer is a big NO! My daughter is terrible with money. She spends as fast as she makes. I bought the meal plan so she doesn't go hungry. There's also some school 'money' attached to the card for shampoo, etc. She can't spend it at the liquer store.

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Betty

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Happy Love

I think college students should be strongly cautioned against having and using credit cards. I was able to use a credit card resposibly in college (paid in full every month), but my sister graduated with thousands of dollars of credit card debt. I don't think that these outcomes would have been difficult to predict based on our prior financial behaviors, however.

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Betty

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Kristy

It all depends on the kid, but I say sure, especially one with a low limit. They have to learn sometime.

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KelR1

If the student's card will be monitored by his/her parents or if the student has a job, some savings, and has demonstrated responsibility, then yes.

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KelR1

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Guest

absolutely. teaches them responsibility. if they spend too much--let them fail. do not bail them out.

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Christie

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RebeccaD

I think college kids can get a low-limit credit card in order to build up their credit score. They should understand that it is for emergencies only and use it responsibly.

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Brenda Faulkner

I think a pre-paid card is in order if only to learn how to budget, but no credit cards/

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Brenda Faulkner

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Theresa

I have 2 college freshmen this year, and neither has a credit card. I set them both up with checking accounts (debit cards) and they have online access to manage those accounts (I can see them as well). They have the responsibility of making sure that there are enough funds in their accounts to cover any expenses, but I'm the safety net if they don't. So far, so good - they're responsible guys, and were raised to be careful with their funds. To answer the question, I think that whether a college student should have a credit card completely depends on the student, and on the situation. If the kids is responsible or is very far from home, then it might be a good idea. If he's not so responsible, or there isn't a need for one, probably not.

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Angela

I think they should have a low limit card that they should be expected to pay off each month. That way, they can learn to manage credit in a positive way.

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Monica P

I think it depends on the person. For example, if the student is already responsible with money, a credit card would probably be fine since they would not over-spend and would pay it off every month. But some people can't handle it. So maybe with a low limit and education on how a credit card works and how much one ends up paying in interest if only making minimum payments.

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Monica P

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MELISSA HANSSON

College students should have 1 low balance credit card, in order to build credit. I had 3 major credit cards and a handful of department store cards before I was 22. I wasn't responsible with them and had no income to justify the amount of credit I was given. I ended up going through credit counseling and ruining my credit for over 7 years. My story isn't uncommon, either.

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MELISSA HANSSON

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Diane

I guess it depends on how responsible they are... my older son had one in college, and I monitored his use of it & payments. It helped him build a good credit rating. AFTER college he used it too much while looking for a job, and now it's locked up! My younger son is in college & on one of my credit cards, which shows up on his credit report & is helping him to establish his credit rating. I also monitor us of that, and he pays for his personal charges.

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Chloe

College students can build their credit rating with a card, if used correctly. If they can learn to charge only small amounts and pay the entire balance each month, they are ahead of most adults. Then when they graduate they can use their credit for an apartment lease, car loan and other expenses needed to start their new career. Parents should not co-sign the card, and require the student to take full responsibility. It is a great learning opportunity.

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Therese

Yes, I think it's important for them to start learning to manage their money.

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DeeDee

This is a tough one, I think it really depends on the maturity of the child.

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Guest

They should get one as long as they can pay it off in full every month.

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Guest

It does depend on the individual, but for the most part, all college students should have a credit card. Not only does it let the student start building a credit score, but it is also a indispensable lesson in responsibility. My parents made me go to the bank myself and get my own credit card. They didn't touch the statements and explained to me the dangers of debt. It was useful for things like buying books and making online purchases, but I never spent beyond my means.

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Guest

Sure but it should have a low limit (under $1000) and parents should explain how credit balances work.

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Guest

yes b/c of the extra warranty that is sometimes provided if a purchase (for example, of an electronic item) is made via credit card as opposed to by a debit card or cash.

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Lynda

yes. they need to learn about financial responsibility. the more it's put off, the worse it might get.

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Lynda

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JennBee

It depends on the kid. I would rather find a cheap debit card connected to the same bank I use and if there is an emergency I can just transfer the money. Credit cards seem to multiply like rabbits. When they are out of school and working they can get one on their own. Hopefully I have taught them well.

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Lani C

Yes. As long as it will be used in a responsible manner. My parents gave all of us a credit card (we were authorized users on their cards) as soon as we started driving. That way we always had it for emergencies, gas, etc. We never abused it and the bill was always paid in full. I am planning to do the same thing with my kids.

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Guest

It depends on the student if they should have a credit card or not. If they are responsible and can handle their money, then it is a great idea to start building credit early. If they aren't very good and usually spend money as soon as they get it, then a credit card is a bad plan that will just get them into debt quicker.

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Ruth Ann

I think a lot depends on the student and the situation.
I went to school out-of-state and had a credit card from one of my parents' accounts. They made it clear to me that it was for use for emergencies and parental approved expenses only (car maintenance, flights home for break, etc). If I used the card for anything else, I was required to have a check in the mail to them ASAP (ideally before Dad got the statement, got a call from the credit card company about unusual use, etc). And that worked out well. It taught me to not buy things I couldn't afford (or face the wrath of Dad!) and got me into the habit of paying off the card regularly.
I've never had any problems with credit cards. But I've also always been very responsible with money. So I had that going for me from the start.

For student going away to school, it's great to have a card for use in emergencies. But it's also important that the student be responsible enough to handle the responsibility before it's given to them.

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Z.R.

If the college student is 18 years old or older, then s/he should be allowed to receive a credit card. Colleges and universities, however, should consider providing free financial guidance during orientation sessions regarding the use of credit cards and potential debts, especially if the same colleges and universities allow credit card companies to set up "shop" on their campuses and peddle their debt incurring wares.

It's bad enough that some of these students have to take student loans to get their education, but it's worse when the colleges and universities compound the debt problems by not educating the students, or should I say their customers, about the potential setbacks of signing up to use a credit card.

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cwaltz

In my opinion, it depends. I don't believe a parent should co-sign for a credit card for students. However, if a student has a job, is paying for most of their school debt and is just attempting to establish their credit then why not? Recently we started talking to our 20 year old about starting to establish a credit history. He's going to need one if he ever decides that he'd rather have his own place.

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Robert Fernandez

College kids should have one credit card with a manageable limit (anything that they could pay off with no more than a month's salary). This should not only build credit, but also financial discipline, both of which they'll need further along in their lives!

Guest's picture

If they're responsible enough to pay them off each month, then it's a great way to build credit, and it's a lifesaver in emergencies. I had one, and it worked out fine. My sister knew herself well enough, however, and she opted to not get one when she went.

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Elena

I don't think college students need to be in debt that early. Prepaid cards or cash will work fine.

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Elena

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take_flight

I think it's dependent on the child. If my oldest son had a credit card he would be in big trouble, yet my daughter on the other hand...total tightwad, (I'm so proud!).

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Christie

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kathleen

I think so. They need to start building credit somehow.

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Guest

Given that this society requires consumers to build up a credit rep, I suppose it might be OK for college students to make use of some sort of limited credit card, so they don't foolishly run up staggering amounts of debt which they will never pay off in their lifetimes owing to the way debt is structured to favor the banks and slimy financial outfits that lure foolish people into thinking they can't live without a credit card.

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Alissa A

I work with college students for a living, and I'm torn. I think they can be valuable in teaching financial responsibility, but can also go the other way!

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Katie

I think it depends on the maturity of the individual. I wouldn't cosign for my child, and I would make sure it was understood that the balance was to be paid in full every month. Our family uses cards for most purchases in order to take advantage of the cash back.

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Carmen

I think it would be ok for a college student to have a credit card if it allows for a low balance and they learn to pay it off every month.

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Carmen

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Sara N

Nope - too dangerous, I would wait!

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Robyn Thon

If the student first has a job and is at least partially paying for college then I think having a credit card would be beneficial. They can track and trend purchases assuming the are great at budgeting, this would provide them with the necessary skills later to both save and spend. If the student is getting by on mommy and daddy then I would say no, simply because they have no understanding of how many hours worked a tube of toothpaste or a roll of toilet paper costs after taxes and other withholdings.

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kate

I say yes. I had a credit card right when i turned 18. It came in handy for emergencies. I would like to note that i have no credit card debt. I do not understand why people assume that just having a card leads to debt. Also i do not understand cosigned cards. Its not hard to get a low limit card by yourself without your parents. Really its not rocket science to not end up in serious debt. Sure occasionally something will come up where you NEED to use the card without having the money already in the bank. (Like when you pop a tire and need a new one, or when the refrigerator/toilet breaks) but really its not that bad. If you have to use the card you simply budget for paying back the emergency money fast. I do not understand why anyone would think that college students are automatically too stupid to use credit wisely. Iif i could do it in high school im sure any college student could handle a low limit card ($500 seems reasonable)

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Rissa

I have always had my own bank account, and my parents paid $0 for me to go to college. Before going abroad for a class, my dad forwarded me one of the many credit card applications I had been receiving and told me to apply for that one in case something came up. I didn't have to use it, but when I got back I started using it to pay my monthly cell phone bill to build my credit line. I have always paid off my monthly bill in full, and have since got two credit cards with good rewards-and have an awesome credit score. Parents should engrave smart spending moves into their child at an early age. I think a college student should have a credit card-but only one that is linked to their personal accounts. They then figure out smart use of it at an early age, and start off with good credit.