Cards not the only way to build credit


Katy Klopfenstein/Iowa State dai

Are credit cards a good way for college students to start building credit? Having a credit card while you are a college student helps establish and build a base credit. 31 March 2015.

Greg Zwiers

Good credit is necessary for most people to make big purchases such as a car or house, but getting a credit card is not the only way to start raising that credit score as a college student.

Making payments on utility bills and student loans are also ways to build your credit score, said Roberta Johnson, director of financial aid.

The Student Loan Education Office, located in 0680 Beardshear Hall, offers appointments for students who want to learn about student loans, building credit or budgeting money wisely.

“[We’re] trying to get as may students in here as possible, regardless of if they know they need us or not,” said Jennifer Schroeder, program coordinator at the Student Loan Education Office. “We’re trying to at least get them the information, so that even if they don’t need it now, hopefully when they do, they’ve got that information already in their back pocket.”

Schroeder said the office meets with about 50 to 60 students per week.

After the recession in 2008, credit card companies marketing to 18 year olds faced new regulations, so most students with credit cards now need to have a co-signer with good credit. Johnson said the marketing she’s seen toward ISU students has been significantly reduced, but as the credit market is loosening that may change.

Schroeder said the Student Loan Education Office works with students who have worries about making ends meet as well as students who have questions about their loans. She said they start by looking at where the student is spending money and help them set up a budget while also suggesting places they can cut back.

“Typically what we’ll advise with credit cards is that if you can get by without one that’s great,” Schroeder said. “A lot of times a student will say that they have to have a credit card in order to build credit but having a student loan also builds credit, so if you have student loans already, you’re on the path to building credit.”

Both Johnson and Schroeder said the most important part of building credit is to make payments on time. Johnson said people can exacerbate their financial trouble if they use a credit card to pay bills.

Schroeder said for loans that are not collected until after graduation, each year a student takes out a loan, their credit will build slowly and it starts building much faster once payments begin.

Johnson said credit cards are risky because it’s easy to make a purchase at the store and forget to pay the bill at a later date. Credit card payments first go to the interest amount, so it’s easy to get stuck paying mostly interest if someone only has enough money to make the minimum payment.

Johnson said most credit cards have interest rates between 19 and 25 percent, which is much higher than other financial products. The interest rate on a federal Stafford student loan for the 2013-14 year was 3.86 percent.

The Iowa State financial aid award includes eligibility to borrow money for personal expenses, but Schroeder said she recommends not taking out those loans if students can get by without them. She said most students can earn enough spending money at a part-time job with 10 to 15 hours a week.

“The first thing is to set up a budget so that you know exactly how much money that you actually have and so that you know that you are budgeting it wisely, so that you can pay your obligations that you currently have,” Johnson said.

Johnson said a credit card can be a sort of safety net for unforeseen expenses and emergencies.

“Usually my recommendation is that credit cards should be used for emergencies, so you want to avoid the temptation to define your emergency as happening at the mall,” Johnson said.

She said she recommends if someone is interested in getting a credit card to research a lot of cards to find out their fees and penalties before making a decision.

Johnson said she recommends all students make an appointment at the Student Loan Education Office because they will talk about credit cards, budgeting and making sure students have a financial plan for college and beyond.

Students can make an appointment by calling 515-294-0677 or by emailing [email protected]