Should College Students Have Credit Cards?

Matt Bicknell

Starting college can be extremely hectic. You have to worry about getting the right professors, the cost of textbooks, and even whether or not you will like your roommates!

So why would you ever want to add worrying about credit cards to that list?

The unfortunate reality is that many students graduate with loads of student debt, so adding on credit card debt can make things even that much more of a nightmare. Yet, like most decisions, there are both advantages and disadvantages to getting a credit card.

Depending on the type of person you are, a credit card can actually be much more beneficial than you may think! You just always have to remember that when it comes to owning a credit card, responsibility is everything.

If you consider yourself a semi-responsible, almost-adult then a credit card can actually be a good decision for you.

Having a credit card forces you to learn good habits for controlling your spending. You’ll learn to budget so you can understand how to responsibly take on debt, or avoid it altogether. Once you start paying your bills on time, you’ll see that positive impact on your credit score.

In short, a credit card is both a tool for personal growth in financial responsibility and a sign to lenders that you’re financially trustworthy. This means that if you have a great credit score you will have more opportunities for loans, lower interests rates, and affordable insurance policies.

So, if you fall into the category of being a semi-responsible, almost-adult, then a credit card can be a great idea and prep you for the future!

Below are few guidelines to see if you have what it takes:

  1. You always Venmo your friends the money that you owe them within a day or two - this could be sign that you will pay your bills on time
  2. You have walked into Target at least three times without buying anything - you have self-control and you won’t go charging hundreds of dollars on your credit card impulsively
  3. You never go negative in your bank account just to grab a drink at the bar - this shows that you are responsible and have the willpower to know when to stop spending

Now, on the flip side, it is also true that getting a credit card in college may not be a great idea for you. Credit cards and the companies who issue them are often vilified for enticing their customers to spend more than they should. In reality, it’s up to the cardholder to keep their credit card spending within an amount they can pay off at the end of the month. So if you cannot trust yourself to control your spending, a credit card can be a pretty bad idea.

So what are some other signs you are not ready for a credit card? Read below to find out.

Signs you are not a semi-responsible almost-adult:

  1. You’re constantly going out with friends even if you’re broke - reckless spending could cause you to very quickly and very easily rack up a lot of credit card debt
  2. You are always forgetting to do your homework assignments - if you are a forgetful person you could easily miss payments on your card
  3. You still have to ask your parents for extra money every month - constantly spending more money than you have is a huge sign you are not a good budgeter

Once you have decided what type of person you are, here are some things to remember if you do decide to get a credit card.

  • The money you borrowed, plus interest, has to be paid back. While you were super busy downing beers at the bar nightly or attending ultra expensive concerts three times a year, your credit card debt was still quietly there, growing with each bill.
  • A major component of your credit score is the consistency and timeliness with which you pay your bills. If you have a low credit score you may not able to rent the apartment you want or qualify for a loan for graduate school.
  • If you do manage to pay the minimum amount on your credit card bill, the excess charge... plus interest, will be back to bite you in the ass later as a massive mound of money owed to the credit card company. 

All in all, the decision for whether or not you should get a credit card while in college depends on your financial situation and comfort level with owning a tool that makes racking up debt all too easy. Having a credit card is a big responsibility, so only get one if you can trust yourself to be financially responsible. Here are a few pieces of advice if you do decide to get a credit card:

  • Use your credit card to make occasional, small purchases 
  • Talk to your parents or someone with a credit card and ask them for advice! Have them walk you through the basics like “What’s an APR?” and “What is ‘Carrying a balance’?”
  • Sign up for Birch! We can walk you through all the basics and recommend you a card based on your spending habits!


Improving your financial health? Think about opening a savings account! We've listed some of our favorites below.  

About the Author

Matt Bicknell

Matt Bicknell is a student at the University of Florida studying Finance. He is an active contributing author for Birch and is passionate about helping newbies become financally savvy.