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Building Credit While In High School and College

By Meher Mehta


Good Credit Scores and Their Benefits 


If you've ever watched more than ten minutes of regular television, you have likely come across one of Capital One's commercials featuring Jennifer Garner or Samuel Jackson. They all end with the same question: " What's in your wallet?" For many high school and college students, the answer is credit cards. According to a survey conducted by, 54 percent of college freshmen carry a credit card. Furthermore, roughly 20% of the surveyed high schoolers carry credit cards. Given their popularity, we wanted to share a few tips before you add one to your wallet.


Many students who use credit cards do so without having the proper education about how they work. For example, some don't take into account that they have to repay (with significant interest) whatever money they spend. According to WalletHub, the average credit card interest rate is 21.5%.  Even items that are on sale look expensive when you take interest into account. So why carry a credit card?

There are two main reasons college and high school students should carry a credit card: emergencies and credit history. You may be in an emergency situation where you desperately need money but aren't carrying cash. In such a case, a credit card would be helpful to address the emergency and pay it back immediately when the payment is due. The other reason to carry a credit card is to build your credit history, represented through a credit score. 

A credit score is a number that ranges from 300 to 850. Think of the score as a GPA. Just as a GPA shows your academic potential to determine college readiness, a credit score shows creditors the "creditworthiness" of a person. In other words, it indicates how likely someone is to repay the money they borrowed on credit and if they should be trusted with other forms of borrowed money, such as loans. While a good credit score is subjective, most experts agree that an ideal credit score should range from 670 to 850.


A good credit score can open many doors for you throughout your life. For example, you won't have to pay as much loan interest as people with lower credit scores. Furthermore, good credit can also open access to better deals on car insurance, apartment rentals and even help you land a job. Employers aren't allowed to check your credit score. However, they can review your credit history with written permission from you. In fact, according to the National Association of Background Screeners (NABS), close to one-third of companies do credit checks on some candidates.


Credit Scores and High Schoolers 


Some people end up getting their first credit card as high school students. While a credit card can create new opportunities and efficiencies in your life, it can also make your life harder later on if used irresponsibly. Thus, achieving and maintaining good credit is a skill that has to be upheld over time. So how exactly can you, as a high school student, reap the benefits of a credit card without risking disastrous repercussions in the future?


Ways to Build and Maintain a Good Credit Score as a High Schooler


Opt For a Debit Card Instead


A debit card immediately withdraws money from your checking account instead of borrowing it. If you feel tempted to spend more money than you can pay back, it might be best to use a debit card instead. Sure, it would feel great to buy those sneakers you saw online.  However, the truth is that you might still be paying them off long after you've thrown them in the trash.


Practice Budgeting


Keep track of the money you spend on credit because you will eventually have to pay it back—with interest. An excellent way to do this is to set limits on how much you spend on the things you want. Credit limits do exist for credit cards, but it is best not to spend the maximum limit (or even to come close to that limit). By doing so, you'll always have enough money to pay back your loans.


If You Can't Repay, Don't Buy


Remember that while you are spending the bank's money when making credit card purchases, you still have to use your own money to repay them at some point. Thus, it would be best to spend only what you have because banks will charge you interest on the money you owe them. It doesn't make sense to buy $200 shoes if you only have $50 in your bank account. Making purchases you can't afford will eventually take a negative toll on your credit score, meaning you may be subject to higher future interest rates.


Pay the Charge As Soon As Possible


Simply being able to repay these loans isn't the only factor in a good credit score. You need to ensure you are paying back the loans on time. However, it is best to repay the loan right when the charges hit your account. To do this, consider keeping deadlines tracked on calendars or creating reminders on your phone to ensure you pay back the money. If you wait until you are close to the deadline, you may be tempted to use that money for other purchases, leading to more charges on your account. 

Build Your Score Now

One of the best ways to establish a good credit history and score while still in school is by becoming an additional cardholder on your guardian's account, provided they have a good credit score. Be sure to add your social security number to the account. Use your card to buy expensive items that your guardian would typically purchase, such as a computer for college or clothes for the new school year. If you use your credit card responsibly during high school and college, you can build a solid credit history and graduate with a high credit score, which will help you achieve financial success in the future.

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