When you’re a young adult, you hear everyone talking about how important credit will be in your post-college life. But they never teach you how to establish or maintain it, especially in high school. In many high schools — mine included — there’s no class that teaches you how to build credit and keep it healthy. There’s a lot to credit in general, and I could go on for pages and pages, but for your sake and mine, I’ll limit it. In this article, I’ll teach you how to build credit as a college student using three steps:

  1. Checking credit reports
  2. Applying for a credit card
  3. Using your card

1. Check Your Credit Reports

Even if you’ve never had a credit card or loan before, it’s good to check your credit report before you go about establishing and building your credit. This way, you can make sure that your identity hasn’t been stolen. Use a site like Credit Karma, create a profile, and take a look at your reports. If you haven’t had your identity stolen, and you’ve never had a credit card or loan, you won’t see anything there. No credit is better than bad credit, so you’re off to a good start.


2. Get a Credit Card

This is easier said than done, I know. The selection of credit cards can be overwhelming.

The instant you start searching for credit cards, you’ll no doubt be inundated with ads as you browse the web.

My top pick for college kids is the Discover It card for students. It offers great rewards and typically has lower interest rates than competitor’s cards. Plus, it’s easy to get approved for the card even when you have no credit history. Other options for students with little to no credit history are the Capital One Journey student card and the QuicksilverOne card (also from Capital One).

If you don’t have any credit history and don’t have a massive income, you’ll likely get accepted with lower limits. For example, $500 is typical for the Discover Card, and you’ll likely get $300 on the Capital One cards. This is good because it keeps your potential damage low, while also giving you some room to play with.

Also keep in mind that you should only get one card to start out. This is a mistake that I made: applying for too many at once. If you only get one card to start out with, and focus on it for a year or two, it will pay off in leaps and bounds when you get around to applying for higher-tier cards.

Further Reading: How to Build Credit With a Secured Credit Card.

3. Use Your Card

This may sound obvious, but once you pick out your perfect card and get approved, use it! Payment history is the highest weighted factor in all credit scoring models, and you have to have payments to have a payment history. Don’t go overboard, though. If your overall credit utilization is too high, it can hurt your score.

An easy way to have payments, but ensure that you don’t go overboard with spending, is to automatically charge one or two things to your card every month. Set up a service like Netflix or your phone bill to be charged to that card every month, then pay it off every month. This way, you’re not spending money you wouldn’t otherwise spend, but you’re still building your credit by establishing a perfect payment history.

How to Build Credit as a College Student: The Bottom Line

Those are my three steps to build credit as a college student. As long as you maintain your savings and a job while you’re building your credit, you’ll be on your way to financial freedom throughout college and after you graduate. Be sure to check your credit score about once a month to watch for any changes. It’ll take a year or two to get there; but as long as you’re not afraid of learning how to do it, you’ll get your score into the “good” range or better in no time.