When you’re in college, you have plenty of things to worry about. You’re focused on the looming deadline for your World History paper, the impact of your next exam score on your GPA, and — possibly the most stressful of all — what you’re supposed to do once you finally manage to graduate. While your credit score might not be top of mind, it can impact your financial security after college. It’ll pay off big time if you understand what it is and how you can improve it. Here are some tips on how to build credit in college:
What is a credit score, and why does it matter?
First things first, just what is a credit score?
Put simply; your credit score is a number that gauges how reliable you are when it comes to paying back the money. Credit scores range from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the better your chances are of securing a low-interest rate on student loans you might have to take out in the near future. Or, if you choose to consolidate the loans you already have after you graduate, a good credit score could help you get a lower interest rate, potentially saving you thousands in interest.
Any score below 650 is generally considered fair, The average credit score for college-age consumers between 18 and 24 years old is 630. If you find yourself among the many college students with less than excellent credit, it might be time to start thinking about ways to improve your number.
How can I improve my credit score?
Don’t worry. If your credit score is less than stellar, there are plenty of ways you can build your credit before you graduate. And the good news is, you can do most of them in just a few minutes.
Open one credit card in your name
To build credit, you’ll need to use credit. Credit cards are one of the best options for consumers to demonstrate that they’re able to use credit responsibly. So, if you don’t have one already, your college years are a good time to open one credit card account in your name. Avoid opening more than one, as applying for multiple credit cards at once can cause your credit score to decrease.
Only purchase things on credit you can afford
Once you open a single credit card account in your name, you want to take the right steps to ensure that account improves your credit instead of destroying it. To use your new credit card for good, make sure you only buy items you can afford. Just because the credit card company might say you can use up to $2,000 with that card, it doesn’t mean you should.
Pay your balance in full, on time, every month
When you only purchase things you can afford, you can successfully pay off your credit card balance on time and in full every month. Most credit cards offer the option for auto-pay, so you can set your payment and forget it, allowing your credit score to inch up without you having to waste a second of study time thinking about your payment.
Graduate with confidence
While your credit score might not be at the top of your to-do list while you’re navigating deadlines, word counts, and future employment prospects, it’s a good idea to at least start thinking about it while you’re still in school. After all, your credit score can have a major impact on what you choose to do after you walk across that stage.
Karen is Co-Founder and Chief Banking Officer at Novi Money. She formerly led Retail Banking and Operations at East West Bank, helping to grow its assets from $9bn to $33bn. She received her MBA from The Wharton School and is passionate about personal finance and helping others reach financial freedom.