How to build credit as a student in 5 easy steps

Students sitting on library steps and talking about how to build creditImage: Students sitting on library steps and talking about how to build credit
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If you’re a college student eager to start building a positive credit history, you may have a few options to consider.

But first things first: How old are you? People under 21 can legally open a line of credit, but you’ll probably need a co-signer or proof of income to open a credit card.

Your specific game plan may depend on your age and whether you have a parent or guardian willing to co-sign a credit card with you or add you as an authorized user. With that in mind, you may not find it necessary or possible to follow all of the following steps, but we think they’re a solid blueprint to get the ball rolling on a lifetime of excellent credit.

1. Consider whether you need student loans

If you need financial aid to complete your undergraduate degree, you may want to look into federal student loans. While private student loans may require an established credit history, most federal student loans don’t require a credit check. That means you can borrow the money you need to pay for school and build your credit by paying back those loans responsibly and on time.

2. Become an authorized user on a family member’s credit card

Being an authorized user means you can use someone else’s credit card in your name. You can make purchases and use the card as if it were your own, but paying the charges legally remains the primary cardholder’s responsibility. It can be a great way for you to start building credit — most (but not all) credit card issuers report account activity to an authorized user’s credit reports. This can help you build credit if both you and the primary cardholder manage your cards responsibly.

3. Get your own credit card

Once you’re able to open a credit card in your name, this will be another way to build your credit history. Secured credit cards offer a potentially appealing option if you’re looking to build credit for the first time. To use one, you’ll need to make a security deposit, which then becomes your initial credit line. Just make sure the issuer reports your activity to the credit bureaus so you can start building a credit history.

4. Practice good credit habits

Once you open your first line of credit — whether it’s a credit card or a student loan — you’ll want to manage that credit wisely.

  • Pay off your balance on time and in full. Paying what you owe on time and in full shows lenders that you’re reliable and will pay off your debts. It’s often a significant factor in determining your credit scores.
  • Avoid opening multiple accounts at once. People with short credit histories who rack up lots of new accounts in a short period of time might be seen as riskier borrowers than those with long histories and fewer accounts.

5. Get credit for your rent payments

Several services will help ensure your positive rent payment history is reported, which can help you build credit even without a credit card or loan. If you’ve always paid your rent on time and your lease is in your name, it may be worth trying to get it reported on your credit.

About the author: Kali Hawlk is a writer who’s passionate about using her skills and knowledge to help others. She shares ideas and stories on business, finance, entrepreneurship, and living mindfully and with intention. She’s been fea… Read more.