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How to Help Your College Student Establish Good Credit

By: iTHINK Financial | Nov 09, 2019

From tying shoelaces and riding a bike, to saying “please” and “thank you,” you’ve taught your children countless lessons over the years. As they go off to college and take on life as a young adult, it’s time to share one more—how to establish good credit. 

Building a solid credit score is one of the most important parts of adulthood and managing personal finances. It’s also a long and often complicated process, and one that calls for guidance and support along the way. Keep reading to find out how you can provide that guidance for your college-bound child.

Helping College Students Understand How Credit Works

Before college-age students can begin to build their credit, they must first understand how credit works and why it’s important to maintain a healthy score. Think of this “Credit 101” crash course as a pre-requisite to smarter spending and a financially secure future. Here’s what your student needs to know about credit before adding a credit card to their wallet:

  • Credit is not a substitute for cash or an endless supply of purchasing power. Only use what you can pay off each month or you may find yourself buried under a pile of unmanageable debt. 
  • How you use your credit accounts affects your credit score. Your score takes into consideration if you’re making payments on time, the amount of debt you have, new credit inquiries and your overall credit and payment history. 
  • Your credit score is considered when opening new credit accounts, renting an apartment and even applying for a job, making having a solid score important to countless aspects of everyday life.

How to Help College Students Build Credit While in School

With an understanding of how credit works, it’s time for your student to take matters into their own hands, literally. There are a number of ways for college students to build credit while they attend school—these are five ways to help kickstart their credit journey.

Become an authorized user on parents’ card

It’s a good idea to give young adults a safety net when they are first dipping their toes into the world of credit. By adding your college-age child to your credit card account as an authorized user, they can get the experience of having a credit card in their wallet while you keep a watchful eye on their spending. Plus, if your credit score is in good standing, your student may even get a boost on their own score by being a user on your account. 


Apply for and use their own credit card

Once your student feels comfortable using credit as an authorized user, and you feel confident they are ready to take the next step, it’s time to help them apply for a credit card of their own. Opening a credit card for the first time doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does call for some thought to make sure you’re taking the right precautions and getting decent benefits. While your student’s first credit card may not have the most impressive rewards program or lowest interest rate, it’s still fair to look for features like no annual fees.

Pay off credit card balances each month

Whether they are using a parent’s credit card or a card of their own, teaching young adults to pay off their balance each month is the biggest credit lesson you can impart on your kids. Not only is making payments in full a major factor positively affecting credit scores, it reminds new credit users they should only spend what they can pay. If your student is an authorized user on your account, be sure to give them a due date for their payment and stay firm on timing to prepare them for when they have to manage a card on their own. 

Make payments on student loans

Another way for students to build their credit score is to make payments on their student loans while they are still in school. Although student loans are not considered “bad” debt, like high credit card balances, making a dent in what you owe is always a smart plan. Small payments can chip away at what will have to be paid back once graduation comes and goes, and show creditors your student is a worthy borrower. 

Do not apply for multiple credit cards

It’s likely that tempting credit card offers hit your student’s mailbox or email inbox on an almost daily basis. But when teaching a young adult how to establish a good credit score, it’s also crucial to warn them against applying for multiple cards, even when there is a rewarding introductory offer. Multiple credit inquiries can negatively impact your student’s credit score, not to mention having a number of cards in their wallet may tempt them into spending more than they can manage. 

Seeing your kids off to college can be emotional, but sending them there with sound advice on building their credit while they are in school makes it so there’s one less thing to worry about. And it’s never too early to start lessons! Whether your teen or young adult is entering college or university soon, already in school or still in high school, let the credit course begin. 

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