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Your Money: Do’s & Don’ts of How to Build Credit in College

With card in wallet, here’s how to build credit in college – not destroy it.

Having a good credit score and knowing how to build credit in college is important. It can help recent college graduates become financially successful adults, says Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian. A high credit score may also help you rent an apartment, buy a car, obtain a credit card with great rates, get cheaper insurance premiums and snag the best cellphone plan.

But first, college students must establish a positive credit history, Griffin said. One way to do that is to obtain a credit card in college and use it responsibly.

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Those under age 21 will need to prove they have an independent income or a co-signer. Other options include having your parents make you an authorized user on their credit card, or applying for a secured credit card, which requires a cash deposit that becomes the line of credit.

With card in wallet, here’s how to build credit in college – not destroy it.


  • Only use the card for small purchases that can be repaid by the end of the billing cycle and emergencies. “Beer and pizza do not count as emergencies,” Griffin said.
  • Pay your bills on time.
  • Keep credit card balances as low as possible.
  • Select a card with cash back or rewards programs and no annual fee, said Patrick Sullivan, director of the AAA Member Rewards Visa program.
  • Review your credit report for free once a year at Check for mistakes and negative information reported by creditors. Dispute any errors.


  • Don’t open a credit card just for the free T-shirt. Ask yourself if you really need it. If so, plan how to use it and stick with it.
  • Don’t open too many credit cards at once. Get used to paying back one first.
  • Don’t co-sign for a friend’s credit card. If he or she doesn’t pay, you’re on the hook.
  • Try not to borrow more than you need to pay for college. Late student loan payments can hurt your credit score.
  • Don’t skip credit card payments or stop paying. It can take years to recover from a bad credit score.

For help with student loans, credit cards and more, visit


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