What I Wish I Knew About Credit Cards & Debt Going Into College

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There can be a small gratifying feeling of swiping your credit card to pay for something without really thinking about how it will affect your finances until way later. Especially when you first get a credit card and you’re thrown into a new setting like college. There might be a lot that you don’t know or fully understand when it comes to having a credit card. We asked our own Intuit employees to share some of their early experiences with credit cards and what they wish they knew beforehand.

Building Credit Starts with Having a Credit Card 

Going into college I had a very debt-averse background thanks to my parents. What I didn’t know is that when you don’t have a credit history, you’ll need a cosigner for things like car loans and apartments. Though that wasn’t an issue for me, it turns out if I’d gotten a credit card and developed a payment history, even in a small amount, that would have helped me when I moved out of the dorms. It takes a lot of discipline to have one for the purpose of building credit without extending itself. If you can treat a credit card like a debit card, I’ve always felt that’s the way to go. Michael S.

Plan How You’re Going to Manage Student Loan Debt

I wish I knew more about student loan interest and how it is calculated even though the loan is deferred while you are in school. After paying off my Bachelor’s, I made sure when getting my Master’s to make monthly payments, even though it was not required. I also think it’s helpful to know how to consolidate and refinance student loan debt to save money. I used SoFi and was able to reduce my interest rates, thus helping me pay off the debt faster. – René W. 

Do Some Research on What it Really Means to Have a Credit Card 

If I could go back, I would have not acquired a credit card the minute I turned 18. I wish I would have been more knowledgeable about the fine print that comes with having a credit card, instead of just the buy now and pay later glorification. I wish I would have known what a credit score was, what an APR really entailed, what the hidden fees were and the vicious cycle that a credit card can be if you are not careful. This debt information would have saved me years of headache, extra fees and the lengthy payment plan I was on to clear my debt. – Heather F.

Make the Most of Credit Card Promotions

There are so many credit cards out there. I wish I knew about the various promotions for signing up for a credit card and the ones with great cashback on things that I spend the most on. Found out about them eventually but I wish I knew earlier on. For instance, Chase Sapphire Reserve which had a promotion going on  – 60,000 points (which translated to $600 or $750 if I redeemed it for travel) if I spent $4000 in the first 3 months. As an avid traveler, $750 is a big deal! – Nikita B.

Remember Credit Cards are Not Free Money

I wish I had a better understanding of the obvious: credit cards are not free money. My first credit card was a store card. It was my first month of college and I went with my new friends to the mall where I found a few new outfits I wanted to buy. Of course, I only had enough for part of the purchase, and so I was figuring out which pieces I liked most and which ones I’d leave behind. The store clerk told me not to worry, I could sign up for the store card and walk out of there today with ALL of the clothes. Delightful! 

Months went by and I forgot about it. It wasn’t until I started getting creditor calls that I realized I made a huge mistake. It didn’t take long to pay off the card, but it took years to fix my credit. – Jane L

Make Sure You Know What You’re Signing Up For

There was a credit card tent right outside the main thoroughfare heading into campus. (Smart strategy to not be on campus and deal with campus regulations.) They had a crowd going because they somehow figured out how to give away an appropriately themed UCSB t-shirt for anyone that signed up for the FREE college credit card. This t-shirt was so all the rage, and cool in a way that would not make the Dean proud if you know what I mean. I signed up because they swore it was free, but mostly because I wanted the t-shirt. I was so new to the school that I didn’t even know my new campus address, so I put down my home address. By the time my father called me – two weeks later – to reprimand me, I had completely forgotten about the card. My dad gave me the card back a year later after we had a strict talk about how to use and not to use it. – Clint P.

Personal finance can be tricky, and this is specifically true for credit cards. We hope these #RealMoneyTalk stories will help you learn from past mistakes so you don’t fall into debt or hurt your credit score. Keep researching and arming with yourself with the knowledge to keep your finances in check!

Posts provided by Intuit employees