Between classes, extracurriculars, and social activities, most college students have no trouble staying busy. Building credit may be low on their list of priorities, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about it. Being mindful of credit as a young adult can make it easier to land a car and a place to live, and secure lower interest rates on loans. Here are some steps that will set you on the path to stellar credit for the times when you need it most.
1. KNOW YOUR CREDIT SCORE.
The first step to building excellent credit is learning your credit score. Even without car payments or credit cards to pay off, anyone with student loans will have a credit history. A federal law makes it easy to check credit reports from the three main reporting agencies online. Annual reports are free, but according to a recent survey only half of college students take advantage of them. Having an idea of your credit score isn’t the only reason to check it: The report may contain mistakes or traces of fraud you weren’t aware of. Staying on top of your credit status means you can take care of any complications before they become an issue.
If you haven’t been checking your report because you’re afraid doing so will lower your score, fear not: When you check your score yourself, you’re initiating what’s called a “soft” credit inquiry. These kinds of inquiries do not have an adverse effect on your credit score—only the hard inquiries conducted by financial institutions do. (Generally speaking, a hard inquiry can only happen with your consent.)
2. FIND THE RIGHT CARD.
Contrary to popular belief, using a debit card exclusively isn’t a savvy financial move. Responsible credit card use shows credit agencies that you can be trusted to make payments on time. But deciding that you want an extra card in your wallet is half the battle—next you’ll need to narrow down your choices. First and foremost, compare the interest rates on different cards—the lower, the better. Next, consider the extras. Some companies offer cards designed for students with perks like rewards for good grades. Not every student will qualify, however—especially those without any income or bad to nonexistent credit history. If this sounds like your situation, a secured credit…