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Common Credit Card Mistakes College Students Should Avoid

Last Updated: March 7, 2022
4 min read

So, you’ve made it to college and you’re finally enjoying your first taste of freedom. Congrats! With all that freedom comes some newfound responsibilities, too — should you stay up late hanging out with your new friends, or head home early and study for that exam? Do you want to splurge on a cute new sweater? Pizza or salad? Sometimes it’s not easy to make the “right” decision — I mean, salad is good for you and all, but pizza is delicious!

Thankfully, when it comes to credit cards, we can offer some help in your decision-making process. College should be filled with all sorts of new opportunities — but credit card debt shouldn’t be one of them. Check out some of the most common credit card mistakes and how to avoid them.

Forgetting to pay your monthly bill on time

A missed payment could result in late fees and higher interest rates. One way to steer clear of this pitfall is to set up automatic payments through your card issuer (Discover card has a DirectPay option). Another is to set up alerts through a variety of apps that track when payment due dates are approaching. Your credit card issuer may provide a similar service. The Discover Mobile App, for example, allows you to set a reminder for when your statement is available, when a payment is due and/or when a payment has gone through. Done and done!

Spending more than you have

The impulse to spend more than you have can be hard to resist, but with a safety net in place, you’re more likely to stay in the clear. Consider a secured credit card, which limits the amount you can charge based on how much money you’ve deposited into a linked account. To break it down, once you are approved, if you deposit $300, your credit limit is $300. This option offers the card issuer built-in protection from a cardholder who might default on a payment.

It is not uncommon for those who are new to credit to get a secured credit card, because they don’t have enough credit history for lenders to assess how they are at paying bills on time. This is a great credit card that can be used to build your credit history1, if you use your card responsibly and pay your balance in full every month. Once you use your secured credit card for a set period of time as determined by your issuer, you may receive a full refund of your security deposit and be transitioned to an unsecured credit card.

Avoiding your card altogether

The instinct to pretend your card doesn’t exist may come from a responsible place — i.e., you don’t want to find yourself buried under a mountain of debt. But one of the points of having a credit card is to build credit history — which you do by showing your ability to borrow and repay money. You won’t do a good job of that by letting your card collect dust. If it makes you more comfortable, consider the aforementioned secured card, or open a student credit card account that provides guidance for a new cardholder.

The Discover It® Student Chrome credit card, for example, helps members track spending and makes paying bills simple through the Discover Mobile App. Plus, there are incentives for using the card: you can earn cash back on your next road trip with 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter.2 In order to maintain a balance between building a credit history and overusing your card, consider using your card for set purchases each month, like gas or groceries. That way, you’re still building credit while keeping your monthly bill manageable.

Opening multiple accounts

You might find multiple card offers enticing — especially when your favorite retailers offer a hefty discount just for signing up. But it’s important to stay strong in the face of a one-time 30-percent discount on some jeans! It’s usually best to stick with just one card when you’re starting out; that way you can more easily track your spending and develop smart cardholder habits. If you do decide to open another account, particularly with a retailer, be aware of the interest rates and plan to pay your balance if in full and on time, if possible.


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