College students who end up carrying a credit card throughout their college careers need to be aware of the repercussions of credit card spending before they charge those books, tuition fees, and entertainment expenses.
Many students end up graduating with incredibly high credit card bills because they develop a credit card habit early and end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest payments.
According to Sallie Mae’s 2009 study on undergraduate credit card usage, the typical graduate had an average of $4,100 in credit card debt.
Choosing the best low-interest credit card and advising the student to charge wisely may help to deter a heavy debt load upon graduation.
Here are four tips for selecting a credit card for your student who is about to start college:
#1: Don’t Focus Exclusively on the Interest Rates
While choosing a card with a low interest rate is important, focusing only on the interest rate when comparing different credit cards may not be a wise move. Make sure you read the fine print and are aware of any annual fees on the card and other charges. Also take some time to learn about any perks such as rewards points, cash back, and other benefits the card might offer.
For example, some of the best student credit cards are designed specifically for college students and will extend higher cash back percentage rates for purchases like textbooks and other school supplies.
#2: Read the Fine Print Closely
It’s just too easy to miss some key details on the credit card agreement, especially if you’re responding to a promotional offer. Make sure you and the student understands all of the terms associated with the card.
What is the default rate when the student misses a payment? How much will be charged to the card if the student goes over the limit? Make sure you’re both aware of these important details so you can make the best decision when selecting a card.
#3: Set Ground Rules for Purchases
Be specific about what the student can and should use the credit card for – and when it shouldn’t be used. Don’t just assume that they will be making the best decision because you told them to “use it wisely.” Few students will be able to make good purchasing decisions when they’re dealing with school, social pressures to spend, and simply need money to pay their bills.
Set a monthly spending limit on the card and determine whether the card will only be used for emergencies like car repairs or medical bills. If the purchases should only be school related, let them know that as well!
#4: Set up a Co-Signer or Authorized User
Do you want to be a co-signer or an authorized user on your student’s account – or to add them as an authorized user or co-signer on one of your existing credit cards? If you choose to the co-signer route, you will be financially responsible for paying the bill if your child defaults.
Otherwise, your credit rating will be damaged. If the student is an authorized user on your credit card account, they will be able to charge whatever they wish just like you do. In this case, it’s even more important for the student to understand the ground rules for purchases and to be held accountable for their credit card spending in some way.