I’m 24 years old, and I don’t have a credit history. I know lots of people get credit cards for that purpose as soon as they turn 18, but I waited until last month. Frankly, I didn’t see the point in getting one. I don’t believe in buying things I can’t pay for, and I always figured that buying the big things was something off in the fuzzy future for me. Since I’m a second year graduate student, I know that I’m probably going to be moving again in less than a year, so I’ve been avoiding making any long-term decisions until then. I had so many reasons not to have a credit card – I felt that I needed to have a fancy high-paying job first, I was worried that I could lose it, or get my identity stolen, I’ve heard so many horror stories (some here on TFD) about people who get too swipe-happy and then spend their lives paying back their debt, it seems risky to add one more thing that could cause debt to my financial life, so I had never stopped to consider the reasons a credit card might be necessary.
When I was a high school student, I somehow ended up in a home economics course during my senior year. I can’t remember what the class was called, but it was not “Basic Adulthood Skills.” Despite this, the teacher took it upon herself to spend two weeks teaching us all how to fill out apartment applications, and how to get a checking account. The part of this crash course in adulting that stuck with me the most was her spiel on credit cards. “If you’re at college and a credit card company is giving out free t-shirts, great! Take a shirt. Cut up the card.” This advice served me well for many years, and prevented me from racking up credit card debt while I was an undergrad. But it also instilled a fear of credit cards in me that may have stuck for too long.
When I was teaching between undergrad and graduate school, one of my friends said something that also stuck with me. Several of us were discussing credit cards, and he said, “I don’t see the point of having a credit card. There is going to have to be a new way to deal with our generation anyway since we all use debit cards the way our parents used credit cards.” At the time, I agreed with him, because as a college student doing my best to avoid a mountain of debt, I favored my debit card because I didn’t want the opportunity to incur any more debt.
My mentality changed when I realized that, when I moved into my new apartment, I was expected to pay a $300 fee to connect to city water (which smells like Miracle-Gro, by the way). Certain utility fees pop up when you move into an apartment and don’t have credit — having good credit can get you out of putting a deposit down with the water company, for example. This was after I had to have my dad cosign on my lease, which, luckily, he was happy to do, but again, wouldn’t have been necessary if I’d built good credit. (I was specifically told that I needed a co-signer because I didn’t have any credit.) I realized my apathetic attitude towards credit was doing me no favors, and finally took the plunge and got a credit card.
I’m not trying to give advice here, but rather am trying to explain why credit cards seemed like such a daunting step, and how I got over the fear as a responsible, ~sophisticated~ 20-something. Because I’m at the height of my “sophistication,” I googled “credit card for beginners” and “credit card no credit” which led me to a ton of websites. If you’re looking to do the same, try to discern between the sites that seem a bit sponsored and stick to some unbiased sources. (I found a few government sources that were incredibly helpful for me.) Then I looked to see which credit cards fulfilled my basic requirements (no annual fee was my most important need), and started reading some fine print.
I was worried that I would be the first person ever without credit to be rejected by a credit card company, but I filled out the form for my selected card, and in three days, they sent me an email saying I was approved. It came in the mail a week after I applied. It was in a super sleek little package. (The packaging is more beautiful than any eyeshadow palette I’ve ever heard a beauty guru gush about, in my opinion.) I called the number to activate it and, after reading all the information that came with it, called the company again to remove myself from their information sharing program as well. (I would recommend anyone look into whether or not their credit card company is sharing their information.)
After that, I went to the company’s website and set up my account to make sure that my statements will go directly to my e-mail inbox. For me, this is the safest solution because my mail-checking habits aren’t stellar. You can set up all sorts of things to remind you to pay off your card. I respond best to emails and remember things by writing them down, but the website I used also offers text reminders, if you prefer that route.
As a credit card beginner, I’ve been using my card for mundane purchases – mostly gasoline and the water bill. I always make sure to put my credit card purchases in my budgeting app as soon as I make them, so I know that I can make my payment in full when the statement comes. I’m also planning to put my student fees and books on it in January for my final semester of school. It feels good knowing that I am not only building credit, but giving myself other options for my purchasing — especially if I’m making a bigger purchase, or buying something online (both of which I would budget for in advance). Hopefully, the next time I move, I will look better on paper.
Chelsea is a graduate student living in Oklahoma. She is on Instagram.
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