Your guide to responsible credit card use for college students

Nov 16, 2019

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Getting your first credit card is super-exciting — I still remember when I successfully earned a 60,000-point sign-up bonus on my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. However, this newfound freedom comes with a lot of responsibility.

To help you navigate your new purchasing power, we’ve put together this guide on how to be a responsible first-time credit cardholder.

In This Post

Get familiar with the credit card world

There are so many credit cards to choose from that picking your first can be overwhelming. Do some research: It’s vital to select the best card for you and your lifestyle. Just because a friend raves about a card doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you.

Since you’re reading this, you’re already off to an awesome start. TPG is dedicated to helping you make informed decisions, so check out our wide-ranging credit card reviews. And once you get a rewards credit card, we’ll teach you all of the amazing things you can do once you start earning points and mies.

Manage your own finances

For most beginners, the first order of business will be building credit.

You probably have checking and savings accounts, but if your parents have been the ones managing them thus far, it’s time to ask for access. Seeing where your money is going and how much you have is key to becoming financially responsible and independent.

The same goes for credit cards. If you and your parents decide to start building your credit by adding you as an authorized user on their accounts, ask for account access. Some parents may not feel comfortable giving their child a view into the family finances, but they may want to reconsider. By allowing the authorized user to see where they stand against the card’s credit limit and what they’re earning on their spending, they will be motivated to be smarter with their purchases.

If you, the student, decide to open a credit card of your own, check on your account frequently. It’s important to keep track of your spending and stay on top of your bills; both play a role in calculating your credit score.

Set financial goals

Whether it’s building your credit or collecting enough points to cover your spring break trip, having a specific goal in mind will help keep you on track. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of successfully reaching a goal.

Remember that a credit card is not free money

When you get your first credit card, you have access to more spending power, but it’s not free and you’re responsible for paying it all back — in full every month.

If you’re new to the travel-rewards world, you’re going to want to get familiar with the 10 commandments for travel-rewards cards. Specifically, Commandment Number One: Thou shalt pay thy balance in full.

When you don’t and you keep an unpaid balance, interest will be tacked on. Most travel-rewards credit cards carry high interest rates — although a few offer 0% APR for an introductory period — so running up a balance will negate the value of any points or miles you earn. Finally, this bad behavior will take a toll on your credit score, hurting your ability to open cards or obtain a mortgage or other loan in the future.

Bottom line

Getting a credit card in college can be highly rewarding. From building your credit to earning points redeemable for spring break travel — the options are endless. However, all of this depends on being a responsible first-time credit user.

Further reading:

Featured photo by Orli Friedman / The Points Guy.

2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
Intro APR on Purchases
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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