College students can get a head start on a healthy financial road by learning the simple tricks to using credit cards wisely. Instead of falling victim to credit card debt, students can learn how to take advantage of rewards and benefits from the beginning. Here are the best ways for students to choose the best credit cards and earn the most points.
1. Get a Secured Credit Card
A secured card is typically used to rebuild credit. However, it can be the perfect starter card for students. Instead of getting tempted with unsecured credit cards with high credit limits and high APRs, a secured card only allows the user to spend what they have already deposited. The best secured cards offer low fees, good benefits, and even rewards for cardholders.
A secured credit card will build up your credit history like a regular unsecured credit card. So students can enjoy building their credit while learning the ropes of responsible card usage. Another tip: keep your credit utilization low (for example, don’t spend more than $500 of your $1,000 credit limit). This will help boost your score. Besides, since you’ll be paying off your balance in full every month (because that’s rule #1 of responsible card usage), you wouldn’t want to max out your limit anyway.
2. Use Cards to Travel for Free
Even though you are busy with schoolwork, your college years are a great time to travel. The only problem with traveling as a college student is that it can be cost prohibitive. If you take advantage of credit cards with generous sign-up bonuses and special travel perks, you can travel for free. The beauty of traveling when you’re a college student is the flexibility you have in your schedule. (See also: How to Get a Free Vacation from Credit Cards in 9 Months or Less)
Even if you just use a high-rewards credit card for your everyday spending, you can earn enough points for a trip. Get a card that offers bonus points for the categories you spend the most in. Some cards offer bonus points for spending at restaurants. While others will give you cash back for shopping at supermarkets. Or choose a good travel rewards credit card to just rack up as many miles as you can to cash them in for a big trip.
See also: Choose the Best Travel Rewards Credit Card with this Guide
3. Use Scholarships to Boost Your Credit Worthiness
If you are turned down for a particular credit card because you do not make enough money, don’t just accept the online rejection. Instead, call the card company’s reconsideration line. Once you have the card company on the line, be sure to sell yourself. Mention high GPAs, impressive majors, internships, or leadership positions you have taken on as a student.
You can also list scholarships and grants as income on your credit card application. For example, as a college student and Starbucks barista 10 years ago, I only made $1,600 a month. However, I had also won $2,500 in scholarships and tuition reimbursement. I could have added that to my application to boost my chances of getting a card. You can also list allowances, gifts, or parental/grandparent contributions as part of your income.
4. Protect Your Big Purchases
With many credit cards, you can forgo purchasing the extended warranty on purchases because it is automatically included as a cardholder benefit. This can potentially save you a few hundred dollars each year, and even more if you need to get your item repaired or replaced. Be sure you know what your credit card covers before skipping the warranty purchase.
There are other often underused benefits and services that come with each credit card. For example, besides extended warranty, cards offer purchase protection, return protection, price matching, roadside assistance, and even concierge service for travel and entertainment. (See also: 4 Surprising Reasons to Always Use Your Credit Card)
Many college students are prone to falling into the credit card spending trap and leave college strapped with huge amounts of student loan debt, as well as credit card debt. Use credit cards wisely and use helpful budgeting tools and apps to avoid being stuck in debt.