You see it all the time on movies and TV! People go shopping and pull out their nice sparkly credit card to pay for the charge, but what exactly is it? Credit cards are actually a staple in adult finances. Read below for more on what credit cards are and why they matter!
Q: What is a credit card?
During a transaction, a credit card will work the same as a debit card. Both cards have a 16-digit number, a security code, and an expiration date; however, the mechanics behind them are different.
While debit cards withdraw your own funds from the bank, credit cards draw from a loan. This “loan” is called your credit line. Banks will approve you for a certain loan amount and this loan is the maximum the bank is giving you to spend. If your credit line is $500, then you can only use $500. If your credit line is $1000, then you can only use $1000.
Because the money is not yours, you have to pay the money back month-to-month. Most banks have a listed minimum payment amount. For example, you may have used $300 of your $1000 credit line, and you’re required to make at least a $35 payment each month. The minimum payments vary from bank to bank.
Notably, credit cards charge you an interest rate. Because the bank is allowing you to use their money, they will charge you interest to make more money back. If your interest rate is 10%, then if you use $100, you have to pay the bank back $110 ($100 + $10 for interest).
There are different types of credit cards. Some are specifically meant for college students! As you grow older, you will have options to cards that are specific to travel, rewards shopping, and more.
Q: Why should I get a credit card?
Importantly, credit cards can help build and increase your credit score! A credit card is a perfect way to show lenders that you are a reliable consumer through on-time payments and credit usage.
If you pay your credit card bill every month on time, your credit score will go up! If you pay more than the minimum payment each month, your credit score will also go up!
Additionally, using only a portion of your credit limit is extremely beneficial! Financial experts recommend using only 30% of your credit limit. This indicates to other lenders that although you have access to more money, you do not need to use it all. So if you have a $1000 credit limit, it is recommended that you only use a constant $300. If you use more than 30%, your credit score may decrease, but if you manage to keep it at 30% or lower, your credit score will go up!
Q: Who can get a credit card?
There are a few requirements for a credit card. You must:
- Be at least 18 years old. At this age, you must have a reliable source of income (your financial aid counts);
- Have a social security number. If you are a DACA recipient, you can use the SSN assigned to you to apply;
Applications will then ask for other basic information such as your residence, birthdate, and more. Note that some banks may require that you have a co-signer. A co-signer is someone who becomes responsible for your debt if you cannot pay it back. If you miss your credit card payments, then the co-signer begins to be charged and becomes liable for the debt.
After submitting an application, you will know if you got approved or not within a few business days. Some cards let you know if you got approved instantly!
Q: How do I get a credit card?
The first step is choosing a credit card to apply to. Because we are not financial experts, we cannot recommend specific cards; however, there is plenty of information available online. Some cards are specifically designed for college students. While your credit limit may be lower, it will have more advantages for college students such as easy approval or no yearly charges.
Google, “best credit cards for college students,” and choose according to what you think is best! Remember that this is a huge financial decision and can impact you negatively if you get rejected. First, make sure that you can prove you have access to financial aid. A work-study or part-time job will always be a plus! If you have not worked for a few months anywhere, you should wait until you have a longer history of income. Credit cards are a safer option for people who have been working for at least a year or two.
Follow the links below for more resources on credit cards! Please remember that we at the Let’s Go team are not financial experts. More individualized advice is required by experts.
- Credit Cards vs. Debit Cards: What’s the Difference?
- How To Apply For A Credit Card (And Approval Requirements)
- Pros & cons of getting a credit card in college
- 7 Excellent Student Credit Cards of 2021