Do I Really Need a Credit Card?


Judy Moseman answers a high school senior's question about whether or not to have a credit card in college.

Q. People keep telling me I'll need a credit card when I go off to college next year. But I don't want one. I'm afraid things will get out of control. My cousin had a credit card, and he ran up several thousands of dollars of debt—so much, he had to leave school for a year to pay it off. On the other hand, my older sister didn't have a card in college, and she had a lot of trouble trying to get a loan when she bought her first car a couple of years after she graduated. Do I have to have a credit card? If I do, what's the best way to use it so I don't end up with these problems?

A. You do not have to have a credit card, but you may want to have one for the very reasons you identify in your question. You have the opportunity to learn from both your cousin and your sister and not repeat their mistakes.

There is good reason to get a credit card sometime during your college years. At first, you may want to just hang on to it and keep it only for emergency uses, like car breakdowns or expenses you can't plan for—not for shopping or eating out. Eventually, you can begin to charge items that you can easily pay for when your statement comes at the end of the month. That means you have to be careful and responsible with your credit card so it can help you build a favorable credit rating.

A debit card is another good option for you if you're just learning to manage your money. Because it's connected to your checking account, the card limits your spending and allows you to monitor your expenses online. A debit card might be a good way to establish good habits and budget your money before you apply for a credit card.

Answer by Judy Moseman

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